The following was preached on March 6, 2011 by Rev. Joe Troutman, pastor of Mid Cities Presbyterian Church, in Bedford, Texas. This just happened, in the providence of God, to be the weekend after the controversy about which I’ve been posting for the past couple of weeks. The heresy of some becomes an opportunity for the orthodox to proclaim the truths of the Bible with all the more clarity. I hope you find the following words at the same time edifying and challenging.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:47-50 ESV)
The third parable, which is found in verses 47-50, is the longest of the four. There is some similarity here to the first two, but overall it is different. Some commentators group it with the parable of the wheat and the tares because it describes a harvest–a harvest of the sea, as opposed to a harvest of the field. In this parable, Jesus says again, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea, and gathered fish of every kind. Like the second parable, there is a great search taking place. But instead of a search for a precious pearl, it is a search for fish. This search is being done, it says, by angels.
The first two parables describe men who find the Kingdom, but this parable is about the Kingdom finding men. We may think we found God. We may think that in some way we stumbled across him; that in our search in the marketplace, we have found the pearl of great price. But in reality, the parable shows, Jesus is continuing to tell us that it is God who found us. It is God, the Lord Jesus Christ himself—who sought us out. Jesus said in Luke 19:10, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” The value of God’s Kingdom, and the place of God’s elect in it, are so great that the purchase price was nothing less than Jesus Christ himself. It is, in fact, more than you and I could pay. More than we could ever pay. It is a debt that is too great for us. Because God made a covenant with himself to save a people for himself, he was willing to go to any length to procure his people’s salvation. He was willing to give his Son as a ransom for lost sinners like you and me. This is what the Lord was willing to do for all who truly believe.
In this parable, the Kingdom of heaven is compared to a net. Don’t think of a fishing net, don’t think of a net that’s at the end of a pole, that people use to scoop up a fish at the end of a fishing line. Don’t necessarily even think of a net that is cast out into the water. This is a large net. This is a dragnet. This is what may be termed a seine. One of the things my dad, my grandfather, my brother and I would do when we were younger, we had a creek running through the property of our farm, and every so often we would take a seine and we would go, men on one side and men on the other, and go up the creek and catch whatever we could find–turtles, snakes, fish–whatever it was, we would try to catch it. This is the kind of thing that Jesus is describing here in this parable. The angels, the reapers, are catching whatever they can get, and the sorting of the good fish from the bad ones would take place on the shore, which is what Jesus says in verse 48. He says, “When it was full, men drew it ashore, and sat down and sorted the good into containers, and threw away the bad.”
Then he explains this part of the parable in verses 49-50. He says, “So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” What is Jesus talking about? He’s talking about the final judgment. He’s talking about when he returns; when he returns as the Savior of his people and the Judge of those who have rejected him. What is he saying will happen? He is saying that some will be kept, and some will be thrown away. There will be a final sorting that takes place: some will be welcomed into glory by their Savior, and others will be cast into hell by their Judge.
This is what Jesus is teaching. Yet if we affirm this, we are in danger, we need to know, as being regarded as radical fundamentalists by most of the people in our society–even by fellow evangelicals. Yet there is an inconvenient truth for those who would deny the existence of hell and eternal punishment in it by the Lord. And this is it: Scripture says it exists! Scripture repeatedly talks about the existence of hell. The weeping and the gnashing of teeth, the casting of those who refuse to believe into hell, Jesus himself–regarded by many on the more liberal side of the church as just a friendly and nice guy, a lovable teddy-bear type of Savior–Jesus himself talks about hell. It is inescapable.
Now we are not to revel in it; it should sadden us that some are lost. And yet, in God’s casting unbelievers into hell, he is glorified. This may be difficult for us, but just because it is difficult does not give us the right to throw this doctrine away. In so doing, we are throwing portions of Scripture away. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus warned his followers not to fear someone who could kill the body but not the soul; he says instead to fear him who can destroy both the body and the soul in hell. In other words, fear God.
The book of Revelation also has something to say about that. It is the place where Satan and his angels and everyone whose name is not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. It is described in Revelation 21:8 as the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the Second Death. There are many today who are challenging Jesus’ teaching in our passage, and many others that say he will save some and send others to hell, but they are denying God’s Word. If they’re denying that he sends some to hell, they are denying his Word, and they have nothing left to stand on when they make their own pronouncements.
In the photo above, Rev. Troutman is posing with Dr. K. Scott Oliphint, professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He came to town as a speaker at the recent Full Confidence Conference, about which I posted a few weeks ago. In the Q & A Session at the end of the conference, Dr. Oliphint concludes the entire event with some very compelling words on the nature of hell as eternal, conscious torment. I highly recommend you give it a listen as well.