Jesus: True Vine (15:1-8)

Bible Passage: John 15:1-8

This passage contains the last of the seven ‘I Am’ statements spoken by Jesus in John. The setting is the night before Jesus was crucified, and it is part of a large block of teaching that Jesus wanted to impress upon his disciples before he was gone. Like many of the other ‘I Am’ statements, this one is rich with Old Testament symbolism, and was a powerful encouragement to the disciples to keep going in the faith, even with tough days ahead.

Jesus is the Vine – In saying this, Jesus is drawing on a key Old Testament theme that identified Israel as God’s vine. In passages such as Psalm 80 and Isaiah 5, God calls Israel his vine. Some of the passages have a prophetic edge, looking to a future day when the vine will flourish and bear fruit. Most of the passages look at the vine in the present or past tense, and emphasise how the vine is failing to bear fruit. It is not what God intended his vine to be, and so is liable to his judgment. By declaring himself to be the true vine, Jesus is establishing both continuity and discontinuity with this Old Testament picture. In one sense, he is the continuation of what God was doing in Israel, in that he chooses to apply the same metaphor. In another sense, however, Jesus is something entirely new. Whereas Israel was the false vine, faithless and fruitless, Jesus is the true vine, and it is in him that God’s purpose for his vine will find its fulfilment. Whilst in the past, people had thought that to be connected to God, they needed to be connected to Israel, his vine, Jesus is here establishing that it is in connection with himself that one knows God.

The Father Is the Vinegrower – Jesus discusses the role of the Father pruning the vine. Like any good vinegrower, the Father looks to the fruitfulness of each branch as he prunes. Those branches that bear no fruit are taken away and burnt. Branches that do bear fruit are pruned back in order to make them even more fruitful. This has significant implications for the Christian life. Firstly, that normal Christianity is fruitful. This fruit takes many different forms: character development, spiritual gifts, acts of service, evangelistic success and so on, but the idea that somebody is connected to Christ but no fruit can be seen in their lives doesn’t make sense. Secondly, every branch gets cut back. Even for those who are fruitful, cutting back still happens. Painful, difficult seasons occur for even the most faithful servants of God.

We Are the Branches – It is in him that we are connected to one another and in connection with him that we bear fruit. If we try to make it our own, we will have as little success as a branch cut off from the vine but is still trying to grow fruit. In verse 7, Jesus gives us two of our key fruit bearing strategies. The first of these is his word. Jesus talks about his word abiding in us. As we study the scriptures, come to understand them and take them to heart, letting them shape our attitudes, actions and identities, we will see those words abiding in us and bearing much fruit. Secondly, there is prayer. Jesus promises that whatever we wish, we can ask and it will be done. The context to this is the relationship with Jesus. In the mutual indwelling with Christ, the desire is to be fruitful in our Christian lives. To this end, Jesus gives us a promise for answered prayer. Such prayer glorifies God. His answers enable much fruit to come and it is this fruit that proves us to be disciples.

Potential Applications:

  • A big theme of the passage is abiding. In part this is about long-term commitment, but there is also a short term application of consciously spending time in his presence. Spend some time in worship with a focus on drawing close and abiding in him.
  • Some people will be in a pruning season at the moment. Even though this is normal, it isn’t easy and you could pray for people who are in a season like this.
  • Encourage people to think about their own habits in the word and prayer. Are they making use of these strategies to bear fruit?