The grapevine is the symbol of Israel as the rose is of England and the thistle of Scotland, it was very common in the early Christian days to have a vineyard on your property, and almost every village had a press. The use of the vine is very fitting because it was so common and well known.
Vines grow very quickly under incorrect conditions, planted deep, they give off one shoot, then lots of branches from that one shoot. If the plant isn’t carefully tended, it will quickly run riot, producing lots of branches and useless wood, but no grapes.
It needs lots of cutting back, each branch needs tending, even each bunch of grapes needs individual care, it will only be productive if it is well trained and strictly cut back, otherwise it will return to a wild state producing no fruit.
Jesus may have made this speech as he walked through a vineyard on the way to the garden of Gethsemane. Many grow in the area surrounding Jerusalem, He had just instituted the Lord’s Supper, with wine a vital component in that feast. In Jeremiah 2:21 and Isaiah 5:1-7, Israel is compared to a vine to demonstrate the vital teaching of Jesus.
As they left Jerusalem they would have passed through the ‘Beautiful’ gate on the east side of the city, which was decorated with a huge golden vine, with bunches of grapes made from Jewels and precious stones.
Then they would have walked by the vineyards on the slopes of the mount of olives, so either the vineyards or the gates could have sparked off this conversation.
There are a couple of ideas, some suggest because of the fruit of the vine used in the Last Supper. Others suggest that tendrils of the vine were an over-hanging window in Upper Room, some suggest that He could see vines on Mount of Olives and He could see fires where dead branches were being burned, still others suggest that He was actually passing the temple and used the great golden vines on its gates as an example.
The truth is we simply, don’t know because the Bible doesn’t say. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action that it doesn’t literally denote, in order to imply a resemblance, for example, ‘he is a lion in battle’.
In Old Testament times, the vine was a symbol of God’s nation and often it shows Israel lacking in something, Isaiah 5:1-7 / Mark 12:1-10 / Psalm 80:8-16 / Isaiah 5:1-7 / Jeremiah 2:21 / Hosea 10:1. Under Maccabees, 163-142 B.C. made a national symbol of Israel used on coins.
Jesus however is the True Vine, the giver of life, the vine is the central component of the plant, giving food and water to the branches. The branches are totally dependent on the vine, God is the gardener.
Just as branches depend wholly on the main stem for life, so vital union must be maintained between disciples and Lord, this is essential to spiritual life and growth.
The vine has only one purpose, to bear fruit, Ezekiel 15:1-3, the vine bearing no fruit is useless.
Jesus describes two kinds of branches, one is fruitless, so it’s taken away, another bears fruit, so it’s pruned that it might produce more fruit. This is an exact parallel to the disciple’s relationship with Jesus. If the vine is to produce good fruit, the branches need to be cared for by the gardener.
Those that produce fruit are carefully trimmed to produce even more. God always demands the very best, and He trains us until we are in a state that allows us to produce the best we can and so, we receive pressure on us to do better all the time.
To produce fruit, we must stay in the vine, to stay in the vine we must produce fruit. Thus, the other factor, the gardener must be allowed to be active in our lives, He will ensure that we are in the best condition to produce the best fruit and receive the best care.
In John 15:4-7 we see the verb ‘remain’ which occurs 7 times, the only difference between the branch broken off and the branch retained, one bears fruit and the other doesn’t. Each begins as a branch in the vine, John 15:2, literally says, ‘Every branch in me that bears no fruit’.
The branch finally burned was formerly ‘in him’ exactly as was the fruit-bearing branch. The word, ‘clean’, ‘prunes’ and ‘cleans’ is the same word in Greek. In John 15:5-8 we see the idea of the vine is taken further and the believers are confirmed as the branches.
We are totally useless without Jesus, He is the creator of all life. As Christians, we are totally dependent on Him for our spiritual well-being, if our relationship with Him is good, so is our spiritual state. To ever accomplish anything in Christ, we must remain as a part of the vine.
The vine feeds the branches, the branches are dependent on the vine, and the horror of being found lacking is revealed. If we fail each year to produce fruit, we are cut off and thrown into the fire. There we die a terrible death separated from the Father and the Son, again the promise made in verse seven is made to the disciples only.
If all Christians ask and receive all they ask for, the entire world would be Christian and we would all be very rich, heaven would be right here on earth.
We must bear fruit, not so the vine can benefit, but so the whole of man can. The branches merely bear the fruit for the benefit of others, that they can give the glory to the Father. This fruit will be displayed, and those displaying fruit will be recognised as Christians, ‘they will know you are Christians by your love’.
We have to remember that a person may be ‘in Christ’ but may be removed by the Lord, Romans 11:11 / Galatians 5:4 / 2 Peter 2:21-22.
Noting the condition by which union with Christ maintained, ‘abide in me’, John 15:4. ‘Remain in me’, ‘Remain united to me’, these all speak of the responsibility for maintaining the relationship as the disciples. The Lord will never randomly end it, He will only cut off the one who ‘doesn’t abide’ in Him.
Notice the spiritual growth and its progression in John 15:2 / John 15:5, ‘bear fruit’, ‘bear more fruit’ ‘bear much fruit’. It’s wrong to think that by ‘bearing fruit’ Jesus is referring to disciples making other disciples. He’s talking about individual spiritual growth, Galatians 5:22-23.
Jesus now introduces the topic of love, in John 15:9-12, we are assured of all love from the Son and encouraged to remain in the love of Jesus, not move out of it.
Love is based on obedience to commands, man’s obedience to God’s commands. Loving fellow disciples in the Lord’s commandment isn’t an optional extra to discipleship.
Notice that we abide in His love by keeping his commandments, John 15:10. Our relationship to Him is maintained by obedience, ‘abide in my ‘Jesus’, ‘love’, John 15:9. His love for the Father was shown by His total obedience to the Father’s will.
If we remain in His love, we too will strive to obey the Father in all things. John 14:15 / 1 John 5:3. God loves the Son, the Son loves us, we ought to love back in return, that love is displayed by obedience. What is the one great command we need to obey? Love one another.
John 15:15-16 refers only to the apostles, ‘all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you’. They had special guidance from the Holy Spirit, John 14:26 / John 15:26 / John 16:13. They were called to the special ministry of apostleship, ‘I chose you and appointed you’, John 15:16 / Luke 6:13
Previously He had likened their relationship to Him as ‘doulos’ which is plural for slaves, to a ‘kurios,’ John 13:16. Now He calls them ‘friends’, ‘philous’, ‘loved or dear ones’.
He ‘chose and appointed’ them that they should go, ‘keep on going’, and bear fruit, keep on bearing and that their fruit should ‘abide’, ‘keep on abiding’.
The friends are friends of Jesus, those He lays His life down for. The true relationship with Christ is as one’s who are friends rather than a master, slave type relationship.
The relationship clearly has a senior partner, Jesus, but that is played down as a more intimate relationship develops. Jesus specifically designates the twelve as the bearers of fruit, this must be for us as well, as we read in other places about the need for all believers to display the fruit of the Spirit.
Each time the promise, ‘then the Father will give you anything you ask in my name’ is used, Jesus uses it while addressing only the twelve, which tells us that this is a promise made to them and for them. If love isn’t present, we don’t have the Lord’s church. No love, no church, no Church, no Christianity.
It’s here we see the relevance of the command to ‘love one another’, John 15:17, that very night, in the Upper room, they had quarrelled about who was greatest, Luke 22:24 / John 13:12-15.
Jesus tells them that persecution is inevitable to discipleship, John 15:20, ‘if they persecute me, they will persecute you’.
‘If the world hates you,’ isn’t meant to suggest that it might or might not. John 15:19 says that because they weren’t of the world, but belonged to Christ, the world did hate them. They were ‘not of the world’, ‘kosmos’, Satan’s domain, which is human society organising itself without God, society in alienation from and in opposition to, God, just as their Master wasn’t ‘of the world’.
The world had hated Him, it would also hate them. 1 John 2:15ff.
The ‘kosmos’ will persecute the apostles because of their loyalty to their Master, ‘on my account’ the KJV says, ‘for my name’s sake’. They do not know Him who sent Jesus, they were ignorant of God. Yet those who rejected and crucified Jesus were mostly religious people, the Jewish Sanhedrin, Pharisees etc.
In John 15:24 Jesus isn’t saying that the Jews would have been sinless if they hadn’t killed Jesus, He is referring to their rejection of Him.
He had proved by words and works to be the son of God, yet they had rejected Him, so ‘they have no excuse for their sin’, John 15:22 / Romans 1:19-20.
When a sick man refuses, the certain cure prescribed by a doctor, and dies, he has only himself to blame.
The Jews, wilfully rejecting the divine remedy for sin, were self-condemned, this fulfilled the prediction, ‘They hated me without a cause’, Psalm 35:19 / Psalm 69:5.
The same conversation continues, because the world has hated and persecuted Jesus, it will hate and persecute the followers of Him as well. We are in the world but not of it.
We have salvation now, but still look forward to it in eternity, we live in God’s world created by Jesus and now dominated by sin. The result is that we are often in a state of confusion but one great and eternal truth is ever-present Christ died for our sin. We can always rely on that.
Those around Jesus, those who don’t believe and are now guilty of persecuting him have no excuse. They have had the chance to believe, they have seen the miracles and heard the truth.
The fact that they chose to hate the son means that they stand guilty for hating the Father as well. This explains why this sorry state of affairs came about, it was long since foretold.
In John 15:26-John 16:15 we read about the ministry of the Holy Spirit and please remember Jesus is speaking to the 11 apostles, it’s wrong to take all He says to them and to apply it to all disciples, e.g. John 14:26.
In John 15:26-27 we see the testimony of the Holy Spirit. The word, ‘Counsellor’ is ‘Parakletos’ and it means, ‘called to one’s side,’ this is used in law courts for defence counsel or one who pleaded another cause, some versions use the words, ‘helper’, ‘comforter’, ‘advocate’.
Notice in John 15:26 that Jesus would send the Holy Spirit, but in John 14:26 it says that the Father would send, this indicates the unity of the Father and the Son.
He is ‘the Spirit of truth’ so called because He would guide the apostles into all the truth, John 16:13. Notice also the words, ‘bear witness’, ‘witnesses,’ John 15:26-27 / Acts 1:8 / Acts 2:32.
The Counsellor is promised to the disciples, He came on the day of Pentecost as the men sat together. He comes to each person today as they are immersed into the Christ and His church, the body of Christ, and they gain a young shoot needing to be cared for on that great vine, the counsellor gives comfort to those in need.
The chapter closes with a command, and exhortation from the Lord to all to be testifiers of the great truth they have experienced, those with the knowledge need to testify.