Let’s be real: Jesus was no stranger when it came to speaking in parables and confusing language. In fact, we’re even told the purpose of much of it was to prevent some from hearing and believing the truth (Mark 4:10-12). But what was Jesus getting at when He said He was the true vine? Was this just another riddle meant to confuse the self-righteous, or was there a deeper meaning behind it? For this post, I’d like to focus on the seventh “I AM” statement made by Jesus in John 15:1-6 and break down exactly what Jesus was talking about.
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.John 15:1-6, NASB
Using the analogy of the vine and vineyard was nothing new. John’s use of it is actually a play on the Old Testament.
“For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel.” (Isaiah 5:7a, NASB)
“Israel is a luxuriant vine;” (Hosea 10:1, NASB)
In John’s gospel, we see Jesus going above and beyond by calling Himself the true vine. There is far more to this than a mere analogy. Through careful wording, He is proving that He is the fulfillment of the promises given to Israel.
14 O God of hosts, turn again now, we beseech You;
Look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine,
15 Even the shoot which Your right hand has planted,
And on the son whom You have strengthened for Yourself.
16 It is burned with fire, it is cut down;
They perish at the rebuke of Your countenance.
17 Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand,
Upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself.
18 Then we shall not turn back from You;
Revive us, and we will call upon Your name.
19 O Lord God of hosts, restore us;
Cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.Psalm 80:14-19, NASB
In verse 14, the psalmist describes Israel as the vine. Verse 15 says that it was God Himself who planted the vine. Though Israel was meant for great things, we see verse 16 says they were perishing. In verse 17, he pleads with God to show His mercy and grace. In fact, he pleads that it would be done through the Son of Man. When Jesus says He is the true vine, He is saying He is the fulfillment of the promise made to Israel. Christ’s church is Israel fulfilled. The nation of Israel was a foreshadowing of the vine to come: Jesus! He is the true, authentic vine and it is the Father who is the caretaker.
This is often used by people to make a case for losing salvation. However, when taken in context with the rest of Scripture, it falls short. The phrase “takes away” comes from the Greek word airo (ī’-rō). The word translated into prunes is kathairo (kä-thī’-rō). Kathairo has multiple meanings. While it does mean to prune, it also means to cleanse of impurity. Jesus is not telling us we are to live a works based faith lest we be cut off. He is actually telling us how we will know one another and is giving us a hope that we will grow in Him. Those who are cut off are those who we are warned of throughout Hebrews as well as in Jude. They are those who appear to be Christian within the visible church but have never truly become members of the invisible Church through faith. They are the apostates and wolves in sheep’s clothing. Jesus promises to cut them out completely lest they sap the strength from the rest of the fruit in the vine. For the true believers who will produce fruit, He will also cleanse and prune them so that they will be even more fruitful. The analogy would have hit home back then because the major fruit grown were grapes in the vineyard and this was exactly how it was done, and for the same reasons. We see a similar warning in Matthew 15:13 where it says, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted.” Those planted by God WILL bear fruit.
Here, Christ is telling us how we are to be cleansed. In fact, we see him using the word katharos. This is the root of the word kathairo used in verse 2. He tells us we will be cleansed by the Word (John 17:17, Ephesians 5:26).
“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (John 17:17, NASB)
“so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,” (Ephesians 5:26, NASB)
By now, you should be seeing the simple fact that we have a complete and utter dependence upon Christ. We may act in obedience, but it’s always in complete reliance upon unity in Christ or else it is of no value. Scripture gives plenty of examples of our unity in Christ and the relationship that follows.
Foundation & Building
“For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11, NASB)
“having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:20-22, NASB)
Head and Body
“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 6:15a, NASB)
“And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church,” (Ephesians 1:22, NASB)
Husband & Wife
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” (Revelation 19:7, NASB)
The union between the vine and the branches is one in which no branch can produce fruit apart from the vine. Unless the nutrients are flowing freely, a branch will wither and die. The use of the word “abide” goes to show that salvation has already taken place in the individual. It is not something that he is working toward. Apart from Christ, we cannot produce any good fruit. As a result, we can rest assured the fruit is not our own but is of the Spirit working in us. We have nothing of ourselves to boast about (1 Corinthians 1:31; Ephesians 2:9). If it were so, we would continue to produce good works apart from the vine and Scripture would be a lie. The Spirit alone produces the fruit in the believer and keeps the believer abiding in Christ until the end. For those who were never a part of the true vine but only appeared to be for a time, they will have their day of judgment. Verse 6 is quite clear they are cut off, thrown away as a branch, dry up, and are burned in the fire. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.”
May we continually trust in the true vine and the vinedresser. Let us continue to stimulate one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24) while remaining steadfast in the faith of a risen Savior (1 Corinthians 16:13), letting the word of Christ richly dwell within us (Colossians 3:16)!
~ Travis W. Rogers