Q: I have a question regarding the dragnet in Matthew 13:47-48. The Greatest Man book* in chap. 43 says the dragnet represents all the organizations on earth professing to be Christian who have been doing the symbolic fishing work down through the centuries. So if Christendom has been doing the fishing work for all those years, and under "angelic surveillance" as it says, how then can they at the same time, except for WT-organization, be part of Babylon the Great?

A: The Watchtower of early 1992, in reviewing the Convention program of the previous year, when the Greatest Man book was released, reported on the symposium which was entitled “Serving as Fishers of Men,” and repeated some of the information that was presented regarding the dragnet. It said: “The next speaker dealt with the parable of the dragnet recorded at Matthew 13:47-50. He pointed out that the symbolic dragnet included both anointed Christians and Christendom, the latter because of work done in translating, publishing, and distributing Bibles, although these efforts gathered in vast multitudes of unsuitable fish. Especially since 1919 has there been a separating work, with the unsuitable fish being thrown away, whereas the suitable ones are being gathered into vessellike congregations that have helped to protect and preserve true Christians for divine service.” (January 15, 1992, pages 29-30; bold mine)

(The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived book was released at the “Lovers of Freedom” District Conventions in 1991.)

In view of what the Watchtower said (including many other Watchtowers), your question is well taken: If the symbolic dragnet includes both, anointed Christians as well as Christendom, because both are said to have shared in the symbolic fishing work, then how is it that Christendom is said to be a prominent part of Babylon the Great, while anointed Christians within the organization are not? What exactly is pictured by the dragnet itself? An earlier Watchtower suggested that “the fishermen who handle the dragnet picture the heavenly angels under the direction of the glorified Jesus Christ.” And “since the dragnet pictured ‘the nominal Christian Church’ or ‘the organization of professed Christians, including the true and the false,'" it also claimed that "the symbolic dragnet will actually be done away with. Such a religious device that includes Christendom will be cast away and never be used again. By the end of the ‘conclusion of the system of things’ Jehovah God will have gotten all his good ‘fish’ for the true ‘kingdom of the heavens.’" (w75 10/1 p. 599, 601; pars. 17-19, 24)

That is quite a claim to make! Will God cast away, not only the unsuitable fish but also the symbolic dragnet itself, a religious device, at some future time? A more recent Watchtower article though says that “the dragnet, which represents the Kingdom-preaching work, gathers fish of every kind.” (
w08 7/15 p. 20 pars. 15-16; bold mine) So, perhaps rather than "a religious device that includes Christendom," it is the preaching work itself that will be done away with. Does any of this make sense? What do the Scriptures say?

A number of questions arise due to the above interpretations presented in the Watchtowers regarding the dragnet:
1. Is the symbolic dragnet “the organization of professed Christians,” containing “both anointed Christians and Christendom,” or does it represent “the Kingdom-preaching work”? Can it be both? Or neither?
2. Do the “fishermen who handle the dragnet picture the heavenly angels under the direction of the glorified Jesus Christ”?
3. Will the symbolic dragnet, as “a religious device that includes Christendom be cast away and never be used again”?
4. Can we know what the dragnet symbolizes? Does it even matter?

Any further search into the subject of the symbolic dragnet in other Watchtower issues, or the Society’s many other publications, will not help in clearing up the confusion.

Jesus did not say: “The Kingdom-preaching work is like a dragnet;” or “those who preach the good news of the kingdom are like a dragnet;” nor even, “the organizations of professed disciples are like a dragnet.” (Compare Matt. 13:18-23, 36-39) But what he said was: “The kingdom of the heavens is like a dragnet let down into the sea and gathering up fish of every kind.” Therefore, the dragnet does not represent either the preaching work (symbolic fishing); nor the ones doing the preaching (the symbolic fishermen); but rather symbolizes the "fish of every kind" within the kingdom of the heavens. It is not the means, the instrument with which the fish are gathered, that Jesus has in mind. His focus is on the sort of people who respond to the kingdom, both suitable ones as well as unsuitable ones. That is why he said on another occasion: "Not everyone saying to me, Lord, Lord,' will enter into the kingdom of the heavens." (Matt. 7:21-23)

Two of Jesus' other illustrations leading up to that of the dragnet deal with the types of people that respond to the kingdom, such as the four different types of soil (vs. 18-23); and the weeds and the wheat of the two sowers (vs. 24-30, 36-42). Jesus himself sums up the meaning of the dragnet illustration when he says that once the dragnet is full (the time has arrived), the fine fish will be collected into baskets, while the unsuitable ones will be discarded; then adding: "That is how it will be in the conclusion of the system of things: the angels will go out and separate the wicked from among the righteous and will cast them into the fiery furnace." (vs. 49)

The apostle Paul's many letters, as well as Jesus' own to the Seven Congregations in Asia Minor, indicate that early in the first century there already existed many wicked and unsuitable fish among the righteous ones. That would continue to be the situation until the harvest, which is "a conclusion of a system of things," at which time "the Son of man will send forth his angels, and they will collect out from his kingdom all things that cause stumbling and persons who are doing lawlessness, and they will pitch them into the fiery furnace. There is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be. At that time the righteous ones (the wheat, also the fine fish) will shine as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." (Matt. 13:39-43) The separation of the wicked from among the righteous does not refer to the wicked of this world, but to God's own kingdom, symbolized by the dragnet.

Is anyone really surprised by the fact that within God’s house today there are fish that are unsuitable, "causes for stumbling," and "persons who are doing lawlessness"? For how much longer will Jehovah tolerate them? Yet, there are also the fine fish, the righteous ones who "shine as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of their Father," among which we want to be counted. (Dan. 12:3-4, 10)

The situation was the same in the Sardis congregation which as a whole was considered dead by Jesus, although he gave them time to repent; and yet he took special note of the "few names that did not defile their outer garments," promising them that "they shall walk with me in white ones, because they are worthy.” (Rev. 3:1-5) Whether a person proves to be among the worthy, the fine fish that are collected into vessels; or the unsuitable fish that are rejected and thrown into the fiery furnace, is entirely up to each individual themselves. (Matt. 16:27; 2 Tim. 3:1-7; 1 Peter 1:17; Rev. 2:23-25; 22:12)

The fact that God’s judgment starts with his own house, as the apostle Peter says, indicates that the righteous persons as well as the ungodly and the sinners are still co-existing within God’s house at the time of judgment. (1 Peter 4:17-18) If you belong to God's house, you cannot help but be aware of the things that are surrounding us in fulfillment of the many prophecies regarding God's people in these "last days," developments that are seeing the angels collect out from the kingdom the wicked ones and stumbling blocks. (Mal. 3:17-18)

When the great tribulation begins, all the unsuitable fish will already have been removed from God's kingdom; and will then be thrown into the fiery furnace of Jehovah's day of fury. (Zeph. 1:18) On the other hand, the fine fish will come out of the great tribulation, for their names are written in "the book of life." These were rendering sacred service to God within his temple "day and night," which indicates that they had no time to worship at some other place that God did not approve, such as in the various churches of Christendom! (Rev. 7:1, 9, 14-15; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:14-18)

What is “the kingdom of the heavens,” the misinterpretation of which seems to add to the confusion about what the dragnet symbolizes? Because the Society limits the kingdom to the 144,000, their reasoning is that since there cannot be any unsuitable fish among these anointed ones the dragnet must refer to the means of bringing the people into God's kingdom, such as the preaching work; rather than the variety of people who respond to its message. (w75 10/1 p. 599 pars. 17-19) Thus, one “inspired expression of error” leads to another! The “kingdom of the heavens” is not limited simply to the "little flock" that rules with Christ in his heavenly kingdom, but also includes its subjects. (Luke 12:32; Compare Dan. 7:27; Rev. 5:10)

It is by means of his kingdom that “the tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” It goes on to say: “Anyone conquering will inherit these things, and I shall be his God and he will be my son.” Yes, these are the righteous ones, the fine fish that are left over after the wicked have been removed. (Rev. 21:3,4, 7; Psalms 37:34, 37-38)

What about the fact that many of the churches of Christendom “played a key role in translating, copying, and distributing God’s Word?” That has nothing to do with identifying the dragnet in Jesus’ illustration of the kingdom of the heavens. Since the inauguration of the new covenant at Pentecost, Jehovah has continuously had some of his people on earth who make up his temple and its foundation, as Jesus himself indicated when he promised his disciples before his departure: "And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things." (Matt. 28:20; Eph. 2:19-22; Acts 2:1-4, 41-47)

True to his word, Jesus has been with his faithful disciples right up until the present time. These are the ones who, throughout the centuries, translated, copied, and distributed God's Word faithfully—and were willing to die for doing so. They were of the fine fish in the kingdom, and had nothing to do with Christendom. Instead, they were persecuted by Christendom—of which Satan is the god, some being burnt alive at the stake for keeping their integrity. Christendom has nothing to do with the kingdom of the heavens, nor the dragnet of Jesus' illustration! Christendom makes converts, not for God and his kingdom, but for themselves. With the blessing of "the god of this world," they have acquired authority, power, and glory in return for the worship they render him. (Matt. 23:13, 15; Luke 4:5-8; 2 Cor. 4:3-4, ESV)

At the present time Jehovah still has "a people for his name" who are his temple, and they remain faithful to him. But at the same time, there still exist wicked men within God's temple—especially the "man of lawlessness," and those who follow him. (Acts 15:14-18; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Thess. 2:3-4, 8-12) But these rotten fish do not make God's kingdom part of Christendom, anymore than the wicked among the Jews turned the Jews into Gentiles. The sad fact is that, for the most part, God's people have always been rebellious.

God's present temple came into existence at Pentecost, as we know; whereas Christendom came into being about three hundred years later, in 325 CE at the council of Nicaea, with the Roman Emperor Constantine as its supreme head. That was Satan's version of his own "Pentecost," when he brought into existence a counterfeit religion meant to resemble and replace the one founded by Jesus. But never ever has Jehovah acknowledged this worldly religion as belonging to him, not even as the apostate part of his kingdom. The foretold apostasy, against whom we are warned, exists right within his own temple, among his own people. This is where the danger lurks that we need to be on guard against! (Matt. 24:24-25) What makes it so confusing for some is the fact that the real apostates within God's temple always point to Christendom in an effort to deflect from their own wickedness and condemnation.

Another difference between Christendom and God's kingdom is the fact that a person cannot worship the true God, Jehovah, while at the same time belonging to any of its churches; for he must first "get out from among them and separate [himself], and quit touching the unclean things," before Jehovah will accept him as a son or daughter. (2 Cor. 6:17-18; James 1:27; Rev. 18:4) That of course does not apply to God's own house, where we may still be rubbing shoulders with the wicked, as illustrated in the dragnet. But the wicked among God's people will suddenly be broken, with no warning. (Prov. 6:12-15; Rev. 2:23-25) If anyone within God's house turns wicked, and becomes unsuitable for the kingdom, he will be removed as Jesus explained in his illustration. He may then decide to join himself to Christendom or some other worldly religion, thereby being thrown away. (Heb. 6:4-6; 2 Peter 2:20-22)

God's faithful servants throughout the centuries have never been part of the world that belongs to Satan, including Christendom. (John 15:18-21; James 1:27; 4:4) Many of them translated and printed the Bible, while preaching the good news of the kingdom, for which they were persecuted. Jehovah knows each and every one of them! You will meet them when they return in the resurrection of the righteous. (John 5:28-29; 15:18-21; 2 Tim. 2:19)


It was in connection with the dragnet, besides the many other illustrations about the kingdom, that Jesus told his disciples: “To you [disciples] it is granted to understand the sacred secrets of the kingdom of the heavens, but to those people it is not granted.” Those people were the Jews who were still God's covenant people at the time but who refused to exercise faith in Jesus. (Matt. 13:10-17) The illustrations were meant to instruct those who would benefit from them, teaching them about God's kingdom and its many features; yet remain a mystery to everyone else. A person needs God's spirit to understand "the deep things of God." Paul explains: “People who do not have God’s Spirit do not accept the things that come from his Spirit. They think these things are foolish. They cannot understand them, because they can only be understood with the Spirit’s help." (1 Cor. 2:10, 14, ERV; Matt. 7:6)  

It is important that we “do not believe every inspired expression,” but that we “test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God.” It is God’s holy spirit that teaches us to distinguish between “the inspired expression of truth and the inspired expression of error,” for “the spirit searches into all things, even the deep things of God.” Not that the dragnet is necessarily among “the deep things of God.” (1 John 4:1, 6; 1 Cor. 2:10, 14) You see, when we make God’s word invalid by our own doctrines and traditions, as the Society has been guilty of doing, "going beyond the things that are written," then we should not be surprised that somewhere along the way there will be Scriptures that will clearly expose our “inspired expression of error.” Jesus’ illustration of the dragnet is one such example. (Matt. 15:8-9; 1 Cor. 4:6; Gal. 1:8,9)