I Am the True Vine, and My Father is the Husbandman
I Am the True Vine, and My Father is the Husbandman.
I. Fruit Bearing (15:1–8)
A. The symbols (15:1, 5a–5b)
1. The Son is the true vine (15:1a, 5a). In the Old Testament Israel is sometimes spoken of as a vine, and sometimes as a vineyard, and that is perhaps the background of the imagery used in this verse. In these Old Testament passages two emphases are made: (1) Israel’s pure and favored origin, and (2) Israel’s degenerate nature. See, for example, such passages as Psalm 80.8–16; Isaiah 5.1–7; Jeremiah 2.21; Ezekiel 15.1–8; 19.10–14; Hosea 10.1. Similar uses of the vine imagery are found in Jewish rabbinical literature, as well as in the New Testament (Matt 21.33–46). The portrayal of Jesus as the real vine is made in order to contrast him with Israel, which God planted like “a real vine” (the Septuagint of Jer 2.21 speaks of Israel as the real vine, the same words used here), but which became degenerate and worthless. In this way John again focuses attention on Jesus as the fulfillment of the Jewish faith
Jesus calls himself the true vine. The point of that word alethinos, true, real, genuine, is this. It is a curious fact that the symbol of the vine is never used in the Old Testament apart from the idea of degeneration. The point of Isaiah’s picture is that the vineyard has run wild. Jeremiah complains that the nation has turned into “degenerate and become a wild vine.” It is as if Jesus said: “You think that because you belong to the nation of Israel you are a branch of the true vine of God. But the nation it is; a degenerate vine, as all your prophets saw. It is I who am the true vine. The fact that you are a Jew will not save you. The only thing that can save you is to have an intimate living fellowship with me, for I am the vine of God and you must be branches joined to me.” Jesus was laying it down that not Jewish blood but faith in him was the way to God’s salvation. No external qualification can set a man right with God; only the friendship of Jesus Christ can do that.
2. The Father is the gardener (15:1b). When Jesus drew his picture of the vine he knew what he was talking about. The vine was grown all over Palestine as it still is. It is a plant which needs a great deal of attention if the best fruit is to be got out of it. It is grown commonly on terraces. The ground has to be perfectly clean. It is sometimes trained on trellisses; it is sometimes allowed to creep over the ground upheld by low forked sticks; it sometimes even grows round the doors of the cottages; but wherever it grows careful preparation of the soil is essential. It grows luxuriantly and drastic pruning is necessary. So luxuriant is it that the slips are set in the ground at least twelve feet apart, for it will creep over the ground at speed. A young vine is not allowed to fruit for the first three years and each year is cut drastically back to develop and conserve its life and energy. When mature, it is pruned in December and January. It bears two kinds of branches, one that bears fruit and one that does not; and the branches that do not bear fruit are drastically pruned back, so that they will drain away none of the plant’s strength. The vine can not produce the crop of which it is capable without drastic pruning—and Jesus knew that. Further, the wood of the vine has the curious characteristic that it is good for nothing. It is too soft for any purpose.
3. The believer is the branch (15:5b). He says that his followers are like that. Some of them are lovely fruit-bearing branches of himself; others are useless because they bear no fruit. Who was Jesus thinking of when he spoke of the fruitless branches? There are two answers. First, he was thinking of the Jews. They were branches of God’s vine. Was not that the picture that prophet after prophet had drawn? But they refused to listen to him; they refused to accept him; therefore they were withered and useless branches. Second, he was thinking of something more general. He was thinking of Christians whose Christianity consisted of profession without practice, words without deeds; he was thinking of Christians who were useless branches, all leaves and no fruit. And he was thinking of Christians who became apostates, who heard the message and accepted it and then fell away, becoming traitors to the Master they had once pledged themselves to serve. So then there are three ways in which we can be useless branches. We can refuse to listen to Jesus Christ at all. We can listen to him, and then render him a lip service unsupported by any deeds. We can accept him as Master, and then, in face of the difficulties of the way or the desire to do as we like, abandon him. One thing we must remember. It is a first principle of the New Testament that uselessness invites disaster. The fruitless branch is on the way to destruction.
B. The steps (15:2–4, 5c–6)
1. We must submit to pruning by the Father (15:2–3). Exactly what the Lord does to the unfruitful branch depends on how the Greek verb airo is translated. It can mean “takes away” as in the King James tradition (also translated that way in John 1:29). Then it would refer to the discipline of physical death (1 Cor. 11:30). However, the same word may mean “lifts up” (as in John 8:59). Then it would be the positive ministry of encouraging the fruitless branch by making it easier to get light and air, and hopefully, to bear fruit. The branch that bears fruit is the Christian who is growing more like the Lord Jesus. Even such vines need to be pruned or cleansed. Just as a real vine must be cleaned from insects, mildew, and fungus, so a Christian must be cleansed from worldly things that cling to him. The cleansing agent is the word of the Lord. The disciples had originally been cleansed by the word at the time of their conversion. Just as the Savior had been talking to them, His Word had had a purifying effect on their lives. Thus, this verse may refer to justification and sanctification.
2. We must abide in the Son (15:4, 5c–6). In this passage there is much about abiding in Christ. What is meant by that? It is true that there is a mystical sense in which the Christian is in Christ and Christ is in the Christian. But there are many—maybe they are in the majority—who never have this mystical experience. [When a Christian is born again, their spirit is instantaneously changed and made new. It is completely pure. But our mind is still programmed to react in the old ways. We have to, as Paul says in Romans 12:1-2, renew our minds. This is an on-going process.] The secret of the life of Jesus was his contact with God; again and again he withdrew into a solitary place to meet him. We must keep contact with Jesus. We cannot do that unless we deliberately take steps to do it. To take but one example—to pray in the morning, if it be for only a few moments, is to have an antiseptic for the whole day; for we cannot come out of the presence of Christ to touch the evil things. For some few of us, abiding in Christ will be a mystical experience which is beyond words to express. For most of us, it will mean a constant contact with him. It will mean arranging life, arranging prayer, arranging silence in such a way that there is never a day when we give ourselves a chance to forget him.
C. The success (15:7–8) – The results of abiding in Him:
1. It results in bountiful fruit (15:7–8a). Finally, we must note that here there are two things laid down about the good disciple. First, he enriches his own life; his contact makes him a fruitful branch. Second, he brings glory to God; the sight of his life turns men’s thoughts to the God who made him like that. God is glorified, when we bear much fruit and show ourselves to be disciples of Jesus. The greatest glory of the Christian life is that by our life and conduct we can bring glory to God.
2. It results in glorifying the Father (15:8b). As the children of God exhibit the likeness of Christ to the world, the Father is glorified. People are forced to confess that He must be a great God when He can transform such wicked sinners into such godly saints. Notice the progression in this chapter: fruit (v. 2), more fruit (v. 2), much fruit (v. 8).
II. Loving (15:9–17)
A. The priority (15:9–12)
1. The Father loves the Son (15:9b, 10b). In the center of this unique abiding relationship is the love of God. Christ exhorts His disciples to continue in my love. It is interesting to note that this is the first fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22. Christ remained in the Father’s love because He obeyed Him.
2. The Son loves the believer (15:9a, 10a, 11). The love which the Savior has for us is the same as the love of the Father for the Son. Our hearts are made to bow in worship when we read such words. It is the same in quality and degree. It is “a vast, wide, deep, unmeasurable love, that passeth knowledge, and can never be fully comprehended by man.” It is “a deep where all our thoughts are drowned.” “Abide in My love,” said our Lord. This means we should continue to realize His love and to enjoy it in our lives.
3. The believer is to love other believers (15:12). One primary command was given by Jesus to believers: they must have mutual love (Love each other; this is repeated in v. 17). Christians grow by caring for and nurturing each other. The standard for that love is Christ’s example of humble sacrificial service: as I have loved you.
B. The proof (15:13–15)
1. What Jesus will do for his disciples (15:13): He will lay down his life. Their love should be of such a nature that they should be willing to die for one another. People who are willing to do this do not fight with each other. The greatest example of human self-sacrifice was for a man to die for his friends. The disciples of Christ are called to this type of devotion. The Lord Jesus is the Example. He laid down His life for His friends. Of course, they were enemies when He died for them, but when they are saved, they become His friends. So it is correct to say that He died for His friends as well as for His enemies.
2. What Jesus now does for his disciples (15:14–15): He calls them friends, not servants. We show that we are His friends by doing whatever He commands us. This is not the way we become His friends, but rather the way we exhibit it to the world. The Lord here emphasized the difference between servants and friends. Servants are simply expected to do the work marked out for them, but friends are taken into one’s confidence.
C. The promises (15:16–17)
1. Our branches will bear permanent fruit (15:16a).
2. Our prayers will be answered (15:16b–17).
III. Suffering (15:18–25) It is always John’s way to see things in terms of black and white. To him there are two great entities—the Church and the world.
A. The facts (15:18–24)
1. All Christians will be hated because Christ was hated (15:18–19).
2. No servant is greater than his master (15:20–21).
3. The reason for this hatred is Jesus’ fearless preaching against sin (15:22–24).
B. The foretelling (15:25) : All this is predicted in Psalms 35:19 and 69:4.
IV. Witnessing (15:26–27): Jesus speaks of a twofold witness.
A. The Holy Spirit will soon witness to the disciples concerning the Savior (15:26) .
B. The disciples should then witness to the world concerning the Savior (15:27) .
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