The Vine and Its Branches
Jesus’ final “I AM” statement in the gospel of John occurs at a time where he bids farewell to His beloved disciples as He anticipates the coming suffering, death, resurrection and ascension He will experience. In John 15, Jesus spends a relatively significant amount of time speaking about the image of the vine and the branches. This illustrates the importance of Jesus’ message and it encourages us to meditate on the meaning of His message. As was quite a bit of the case with Jesus’ metaphors and parables, this pericope does not necessarily ring our bells right off the bat. The disciples would have understood this illustration without a doubt as would have most of the Jews. But for most of our audiences today, especially in western culture, the message is a little mysterious. Jesus utilizes a well-known agricultural situation of His day to draw an important spiritual conclusion. He Himself boldly asserts in John 15:1: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.”After declaring this statement, He then goes on to describe the relationship shared between the vine and its branches. But what exactly is Jesus saying?
Jesus’ short but profound declaration concerning Himself finds its roots in the OT. The vine metaphor was used primarily in two ways in the OT. The first was concerning the symbol of peace and prosperity (1 Kings 4:25; Psa. 128:3; Mic. 4:4; Zech. 3:10). The second was concerning God selecting Israel and planting them as His chosen people (Psa. 80:8-16; Isa. 5:1-7; Jer. 2:21; 5:10; Hos. 10:1; Ezek. 15:1-8; 17:5-10). Jesus’s use of the vine in John 15 primarily incorporates the second use but in a sense the first is also incorporated. We will discuss more on this shortly. Israel as the vine, was called to bear fruit for God. As Palestine was known for its immense clusters of grapes, so too Israel was to bear immense clusters of spiritual fruit. However, when the image of the vine in Old Testament is considered, the faithful reader will note that it is always in a negative light the vine metaphor of Israel is used (Jer. 2:21; Hos. 10:1). Israel tainted themselves by committing sin and forsaking God. This paves the way for why Jesus says He is the “true vine.”
Israel was planted by God with the intention of them abiding in His will and bearing fruit, but it never happened. Jesus’ bold statement that He is the true vine suggests that where Israel failed, He succeeded. He kept the father’s commands, bore fruit, and accomplished His will (Lk. 23:41; Heb. 4:15; 1 Jn. 3:5). With the understanding of Israel’s OT history, Jesus’ statement not only makes a lot of sense but it also motions us to consider His life and His attitude. Jesus was the Son of God but He was also a human being who was tempted just like us. Yet, he made a decision to reject sin and He remained faithful to His father time and time again. Jesus truly embodied what God wanted for His people in the beginning.
Jesus being the vine also illustrates that He is the source of all life. As the actual grapevine would provide nutrients to the branches, so Jesus is able to deliver life to the branches (His disciples) connected to Him. Jesus as the source of life everlasting is an essential theme in John’s Gospel. Through Him, although we may die physically, we can live again (Jn. 11:25-26). Nothing else matters but living in Jesus and through Jesus. To truly be alive is to be in Jesus. In Jesus, there is true peace and prosperity. And thus, this combines both OT uses in Jesus’ statement. Jesus is the true and faithful one and those that abide in Him, those that are connected to Him in an intimate relationship will have access to true life and true prosperity. What we think is life, peace and prosperity in this world, is nothing compared to what Jesus has to offer to us. We must make a choice to flock to Him for these blessings and He will divulge them gracefully. And that’s where we come in. We are the branches who are called to bear much fruit. Those of us who are Christians, we must do this.
Branches get their source of strength from the vine and thus if we are followers of Christ, it is of utmost importance that we seek to bear fruit in keeping with such a calling with a sense of urgency. As long as we cling to the vine we will justify the calling of our Lord. We would do well to learn from the failures of the Israelites and seek to be better.
If we abide in Jesus and His commandments, we are more than equipped to bear fruit worthy of being called His disciples. In the immediate context, such fruit is loving one another (John 13:34-35). Jesus Himself stated that the greatest commandments mean that we love Him first and love our neighbor as ourselves. When we do this, others will clearly observe the fruit we have borne in keeping with God’s will.
Now, Jesus adds something very important to His message. The relationship between the vinedresser (God the Father) and the branches (the saints) is an intimate one. He comes to know each one in a personal way, much like a shepherd with his sheep and a farmer with his trees. He knows how the branches of the vine are faring from year to year and which ones are more productive or vigorous than others.
He knows what they respond to and what special care certain ones need and the vinedresser comes to know it over the years. The vinedresser cares for each branch, pruning it the appropriate amount at the appropriate times, fertilizing it, lifting them from the ground and propping them or tying them to the trellis, and taking measures to protect them from insects and disease.
God (the vinedresser) has a close relationship with us (branches) and from time to time we need pruning. Pruning is not thought of to be a pleasurable procedure and such is often the case when God prunes His disciples (Heb. 12:10-11). We will need a wakeup call every now and again. We need correction and we need the guidance of God. We must accept this instead of allowing it to deter us from Him. We may not like it but it’s for our own good. Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches. We must abide in Him. If you haven’t done this yet, why wait? What’s stopping you? Choose peace, life and prosperity over sin, pain and death.