Meditating on Great Themes in John: 24. The Vine
John 15:1,5 I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener…. I am the vine; you are the branches
The previous chapter has concluded with Jesus saying, “the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me. “Come now; let us leave.” (Jn 14:31) This we noted two meditations back, but now it comes through even more clearly. Obedience, he has just said, will be the revealing characteristic of my love for my Father, so why does he move into talking about himself as ‘the true vine’? The answer doesn’t come until verse 5 onwards but we need to consider the first four verses first. To say he is the ‘true’ vine suggests that there are false vines.
So what is a vine but a plant common to Israel and vine and vineyard occur quite often in prophetic picture language, for example, “The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel.” (Isa 5:7) where Israel are an unfruitful vineyard. But they are also spoken of as a vine: “I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” (Jer 2:21) Also, “Israel was a spreading vine,” (Hos 10:1) which goes on to speak of their failures. Now when we stop to think of Israel’s role in the world, that sheds light (sorry for the pun). They were to be a light to the Gentiles (Isa 42:6 & 49:6), to reveal God to the world as His people – but so often they failed. Therefore, when Jesus says, “I am the true vine”, he is saying, I am the true representative of the Father, I truly reveal Him to the world. (“He is the image of the invisible God”. Col 1:15)
But then he goes on to talk about branches of the vine, concluding, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” (v.5) i.e. his followers grow out of him. He is the true representative of the people of God and all would-be followers of God grow out of him. But he also adds that, “my Father is the gardener,” and he describes Him as this because of what the Father does: “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (v.2) The Father expects the branches of the vine to produce fruit and it they don’t He will cut them off, which is what the apostle Paul suggests in Romans 11 has happened to Israel; they have been cut off from the life flow of the vine that is God.
But Jesus goes on to emphasise this important point about the vine and the branches: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (v.4) He doesn’t say what it is but it is clear that God expects us to bear fruit and that fruit comes as we commune with and share our lives with Jesus, and he with us. The apostle Paul expected that fruit to be imparting material and spiritual blessings to one another, especially as we see need (See Rom 15:27,28). He also speaks of the fruit of the Spirit (Rom 5:22,23) and of the fruit of light – goodness, righteousness and truth (Eph 5:19 & Phil 1:11), and the fruit seen in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God…. great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father (Col 1:10-12). All of these are examples of the fruit that the Father looks for in our lives as we share in the life of Jesus imparted by his Holy Spirit. Where there is no fruit, there is a question of whether we are truly Christians and He separates us from the vine (or from the body to use a different analogy – see v.2,6) Where we do bear some fruit He trims or prunes (v.2) to we will be even more fruitful.
Now we started off by asking why, when he has just been speaking about his obedience being an indication of his love for the Father, does he go straight on to speak about being the true vine? This, we suggest, now starts becoming clearer. The picture of the vine is of Jesus, the source of all spiritual life out of whom we, all believers, grow, i.e. we are his branches. He has emphasised our need to bear fruit as his branches and we do that by abiding in him, or in sharing his life and it becomes clear that fruit comes with obedience: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (v.9,10).
Do you see the link? 14:31 saw Jesus declaring, “the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” Love is revealed through obedience. He is the source of all life (being the vine) and so we must abide in him (as his branches) and when we are obedient to him we will produce fruit and reveal our love for Jesus and his Father. Abiding in him means abiding in his love and abiding in his love means doing what the Father wants and in so doing we both experience and reveal the Father’s love. It is a vital picture – life flow from Jesus that produces obedience, that reveals love and multi-faceted fruit! Wow! If you haven’t fully taken this in, please reread this whole meditation again for it is critical to your life with him.