Text — John 15:1-8
Broadest Context — Re-capitulation
Broader Context — Johannine “I am” discourses
Narrow Context — Upper Room Discourse … Last teachings before Cross in John
“I am Statements of John”
“I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger.” John 6:35
“I am the light of the world; he who fallows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.” John 8:12
“I am the gate; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” John 10:9
4. Good Shepherd
“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for His sheep.” John 10:11
5. Resurrection and Life
“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies.” John 11:25
6. Way, Truth, Life
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” John 14:6
7. True vine
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.” John 15:1
The fundamental role of the “I am” statements is to reveal the person of Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and imagery. We should note that when Christ speaks of Himself as “The Vine” He is taking upon Himself the supreme symbol of Israel. This is seen in the great golden vine that trailed over the Temple porch. Further, when Israel would revolt against Rome after Christ’s death it would be the vine that they stamped on their coinage.
Israel itself was often compared in the Old Testament to a vine (Hosea 10:1-2, Isaiah 5:1-7, Jeremiah 2:21, Ezekiel 15:1-5, 17:1-21, 19:10-15, Psalm 80:8-18). The overwhelming preponderance of the Old Testament passages which use the symbol of the Vine appear to regard Israel as faithless or as the object of severe punishment. So, just as when the Lord Christ speaks of Himself as “the good shepherd,” in contrast to faithless shepherds of Hebrew establishment leadership up till His arrival, so now He speaks of Himself as the “true vine” in contrast to the false vine of failed Israel. Just as the Good Shepherd gives His Life for the sheep so the true vine is the Life for the branches unto the reproduction of Christ in the branches. Mixing the metaphors of the Good Shepherd and the True Vine we might say that the Good Shepherd gives His life for the Sheep to the end that, as the True Vine, He might reproduce Himself in His people.
All of this reminds us that it is Christ Himself who put Himself as the central reality in the Christian faith. It is Christ as the Good shepherd who takes upon Himself our death and it is Christ as the True Vine who nourishes life within us. Christ is the central truth of Christianity. Note here that it is not the Lord Christ as our great moral example to follow that is emphasized with these metaphors but it is the Lord Christ who gives His life for the Sheep and as the one in whom the nourishment of life is found that is emphasized. This means that those “Theologies” that focus on our work in following Christ’s moral example, to the neglect of articulating Christ’s work on our behalf and for us are “Theologies” that are not Biblical.
We would also note that while the Good Shepherd emphasizes the work of the Christ for the Sheep, the True Vine emphasizes the work of Christ in the branches. The Good Shepherd emphasizes the mission of Christ. The True Vine emphasizes the mission of the branches (Fruitfulness) as in the True vine.
These “I am” statements of John’s Gospel as well as other motifs that we find in the Gospels remind us again that there is much in the life of Christ, as given in the Gospels, that communicates recapitulation. Christ, as God’s faithful Son, recapitulates with victory, where God’s faithless Son Israel failed. Christ is the Israel of God and was all God called faithless Israel to be. OT Israel was to be a Good Shepherd … it was to be a True Vine but it failed of its calling. The Lord Christ is the True Israel of God and in gathering to Himself the Church (Branches) as reconstituted Israel the mission work of God’s people is taken up again in the Church’s call to be a light to the Nations.
And it is this idea of Mission, as we shall see, that is emphasized in this passage. Christ recreates Himself in His people just as the vine recreates itself in the fruit of the Branches. As the Lord Christ is our sustenance what is produced in us, as the fruit of the vine, is the Character of Christ. And that Character of Christ is to the end that God is glorified (John 15:8). Think about this for just a moment. As the fruit of the branches, drawing its life from the vine, we reproduce the Character of Christ. This is axiomatic. We become that which we draw our life source from.
Now, if the Character of Christ is the incarnation of God’s Grace and God’s Law that means that what is recreated in us, who abide in Christ, is God’s Grace / Law. As we abide in Christ we become living and breathing instantiations of God’s Grace and God’s Law. It might be bold to say it but we increasingly become embodied Scripture as we, as branches, draw our nourishment from Christ the Vine.
Well having now drawn together some threads of thought from the passage as it is informed by its broader context, let us turn directly to the text.
I.) The Occasion
We should keep before us that this “I am” statement was spoken during the evening of the Passover meal and more precisely either during or shortly after the the institution of the Lord Table. On that night the company of Christ would have had before them the lamb, the bread, and the fruit of the vine (wine.)
The lamb, the bread, and the fruit of the vine. In John’s Gospel the Lord Christ is spoken of repeatedly as the great embodiment of the Symbology of Israel. John the Baptist spoke of Christ as “the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the World.” The Lord Christ spoke of Himself saying that “I am the bread that comes down from heaven,” and now here Christ says “I am the true vine.” Perhaps He said this prior to saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
It is interesting to note the association. We understand that the Wine at the Table is the elixir of eternal life when we drink in faith but at the same time we are to recall that we ourselves find only find life as we abide in Christ as a branch to a Vine.
II.) The Participants
Father — Vine-Dresser
Christ — Vine — Giver of life
Church — Branches — Receiver of Life … bearers of fruit
Note the harmony of interests between the Vine-dresser and the Vine. They are both interested in producing fruit. We might note this harmony of interest between the Father and the Son points us again towards a Trinitarian understanding of the harmony of interests that exists between the members of the Trinity. They always work in concert together.
By this Vine-Dresser / Vine Metaphor the Lord Christ is affirming His equality in essence with the Father. We affirm this by acknowledging that in this metaphor, both vine and Vine-dresser — Father & Son) are source and sustainer of the life of the Branch.
Yet the Lord Christ is also emphasizing the fundamental difference in His role and that of the Father. The point is that the Father cares for the Son and for those joined to the Son by faith. Thus we see in this passage the Unity of the Father and the Son and the diversity of roles of the Father and the Son. We see then the continued reliance of the Son upon the Father. The Son see’s Himself as the agent of the Father. His concern is for the glory of the Father but as we know the glory of the Father is reflected upon the Son. We thus see here again the unity of purpose between the Father and the Son.
The Father, as the owner of the Vineyard, does what it takes in order to insure that the vineyard produces fruit. We should remind ourselves that this is really the emphasis of this passage. The passage is concerned with insisting that fruit production and the Father is the one responsible for the care of the vineyard to that end.
Well, what does the Father do? (Read vs. 2)
The text says (vs. 2) “He takes them away.” However, I’m not confident that what is being aimed at here is the same that is aimed at in vs. 6 where the unfruitful branches are gathered up and burned. The Greek word here can be translated also as “Lifts up” or as “purgeth.”
If it should be translated as “lift up” the idea communicated is seen by what was often done by Vindressers in the ancient world. Often the branches would run along the ground and get diseased by mildew as the dew would not dry soon enough off the branch. In such a case the Vinedresser would take several thin shale rocks and build up a small elevation in order to place the branch upon it so as to expose it more readily to the sun in order to heal it.
If it should be translated “purgeth” (as in the Geneva Bible) the idea would be pruning. Branches that don’t produce fruit are pruned back to the end that they would produce fruit. This idea of pruning is painful to think about. What would a plant say if it could talk during the pruning process? And yet God prunes us as His people to the end that we might better produce fruit for the Kingdom that His Name might be honored.
If and when the pruning seasons come in our lives we must keep in mind during the pruning that,
11 No chastising for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: but afterward, it bringeth the quiet fruit of righteousness, unto them which are thereby exercised.
In either case the idea is that the Vinedresser will do whatever it takes in order for His branches to produce fruit.
The passage also says that the Vindresser cleanses.
Peeling off the old crusty dead bark where disease and damaging insects might hide.
Christ informs the disciples that they are clean because of the Word Christ has spoken. This idea of cleansing reaches back to 13:10 where, in this same “Upper Room Discourse” the Lord Christ says,
10 Jesus said to him, He that is washed, needeth not, save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.
This cleansing doubtless refers to the fact that the Disciples had faith in Christ as the Word.
III.) Branches necessity to Abide and be Fruitful
Both John’s Gospel and 1st Epistle as this theme of “abiding.” We find this idea of abiding 118 times in the NT … 64 of those occurrences are in John. Such frequency and focus supports understanding the word “abide” as an synonym a mutually defining word for “believe.” Together “believing” and “abiding” point both to the reality of “life in Christ” and to the characterization of that life not in some hope of a future reunion in heaven, but to the promise of that abundant life in the here and now. In this passage the verb abide like the phrase bear fruit appears over and over — eight times in four verses here — and will be repeated in part two of the passage next week when we learn that abiding in Jesus means abiding in Jesus’ love.
So, to abide is to believe on Christ and to continue in faith, the same word Jesus used in John 8:31: “If ye continue (abide, remain) in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed”. Paul said to Timothy: “But continue (remain. abide) thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Tim. 3:14-15). To abide in Christ is to continue believing and obeying the Word of the Gospel.
Perhaps the reason why it is emphasized that we are to abide is because as Christians we are
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the one I love.
As the Branches we are to go from abiding to abiding … from belief unto belief and this abiding and believing is connected to the work of the Word in us (7). Notice, Christ here the Incarnated Word, points to Himself as the Inscripturated Word as the means by which we abide. This is one reason why we attend the Word with each passing Lord’s Day. The intent of our assembling here is that Word might be preached into us that we might go from abiding unto abiding.
So, what is highlighted by the text is the necessity to abide in Christ. Bringing fruit is not a result of personal human effort, but of abiding in Christ.44 The natural, human self can never bring forth the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Believers are called to abide in Christ the same way Christ abides in his heavenly relationship to the Father. They are indeed one single being. Left on their own and by their own power, Christians can do nothing. This is why Jesus says here “for apart from me ye can do nothing” (15:5)
Next we go on to see that the the overwhelming thrust of the passage is fruitfulness. The words bear fruit appear six times in these eight verses. Fruit-bearing is not something that the branches do by force of will. The fruit happens organically because the vine is true and the gardener good. But the branches of this passage do choose to abide.
Now when we speak of Fruit here we needs be careful that we see this text in its largest context. The thrust of this passage is the renewal of the Mission of Israel. Israel was to be God’s light to the Nations. Thus fruitfulness here, in this context, does not primarily have to do with our inward relationship with the Lord Christ, though that is not entirely absent (see vs. 10, 12, 17). The primary emphasis is the objective missionary impulse of spreading the Gospel to the Nations and extending the Crown Rights of King Christ into every area of life. The disciples would be sent into the world to carry on the task of Christianizing the World (i.e. — Discipling the Nations). This is the fruitfulness in mind.
So when we stand for Christ against opposition we are being fruitful. When we build beautiful community for the world to see we are being fruitful. When we evangelize and and when we give a reason for the hope that lies within us we are being fruitful. When we shut the mouths of God’s enemies with a Spirit inspired apologetic we are being fruitful. When we die to the desires of personal glory and rewards so that the Gospel is not embarrassed we are being fruitful. When the character of Christ is reproduced in us to the end of extending Gospel and His Crown Rights we are being fruitful.
All of this is bearing of much fruit so that the Father is glorified (vs. 8)
IV.) The Branches burned up
So we’ve seen the importance of the Christian’s life, which must bear fruit. Should a life be fruitless, that life will be rewarded with punishment. The New Testament clearly explains that the fruit is a sign of the true Christian.
Not all of Israel is of Israel
Wheat and Tares
Matthew 13 — Seed sown that produces plant but no fruit … it is the fruit that identifies the plant as genuine.
Outward attachment to the covenant vs. Inward attachment to the covenant.
Quoting Rev. Mahan
“Many people today have a religion that is outward, external, and formal. It is possible to join a church, give money, sing hymns, confess the Creeds, pray prayers, listen to sermons, partake of the Sacrament, and speak openly about religion with no grace in your heart or inward work of the Holy Spirit.”
I would add here that it is possible to mount a pulpit every Sunday and not abide. It is possible to go to be considered part of the leadership in a Denomination and not be abiding.
Continuing to quote Lutheran Mahan,
“The Christian faith is the new birth by faith in Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus said to the church at Sardis: “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent” (Rev. 3:1-3a). You have two choices, either you will abide in Christ by faith in this life or one day you will be separated from true believers and like withered branches, be gathered and cast into everlasting fire.”