Discover more from Heaven On Wheels
I AM…The True Vine
““I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 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. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 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. 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.”
John 15:1-5 NASB1995
The seventh “I AM” statement in the Gospel of John occurs just after the Last Supper. Most commentaries refer to seven “I AM” statements in John, with this one being the last, but I will explore three additional “I AM” statements that tie it all together. At the end of John 14, Jesus asks that they all leave that place of the Passover supper. John 15 immediately begins with this statement from Jesus, so perhaps this was spoken as they were standing and preparing to leave the room and walk to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is telling His disciples that the work through Him in advancing the Kingdom of God must bear much fruit, just like a carefully tended grape vine will yield an abundant harvest.
Turning to commentaries, David Guzik has a wonderful overview of this passage and what it means to the lives of believers. I have relied on his commentaries before. David Guzik is the teaching pastor at Calvary Chapel in Santa Barbara, California and has created a comprehensive Bible commentary resource that is found at Enduring Word (click on the link of his name) and is resourced by Precept Austin and the Blue Letter Bible. Once again, I have excerpted the commentary as a quote and have short statements between passages. This particular devotional is rather lengthy because I believe the understanding of this passage is crucial to our active lives as followers of Christ.
a. I am the true vine: This was a familiar symbol. God repeatedly used a vine as a symbol of His people in the Hebrew Scriptures (one example is Psalm 80:8-9). Yet it was often used in a negative sense (as in Isaiah 5:1-2, 7 and Jeremiah 2:21). Just in the previous week Jesus publicly taught about Israel being like a vineyard in the Parable of the Vineyard (Matthew 21:33-44).
i. Jesus spoke this to His disciples, probably as they stood in the upper room and prepared to leave. He used the picture of the vine because there were grapevines everywhere in ancient Israel. Also, there was a large golden vine set as a prominent decoration on the front of the temple communicating the idea that Israel was God’s vine. As well, “The vine was a recognized symbol also of the Messiah.” (Dods)
ii. In contrast, Jesus is the true vine. We must be rooted in Him (not in Israel) if we will bear fruit for God. In the New Covenant community, our first identification is in Jesus Christ Himself, not in Israel or even in the church as such.
iii. Of the many pictures of the relationship between God and His people, the vine and branch picture emphasizes complete dependence and the need for constant connection. The branch depends on the vine even more than the sheep depends on the shepherd or the child depends on the father. As Jesus was about to depart from His disciples, this was important encouragement. He would remain united to them and they to Him as truly as branches are connected to the main vine.
By saying He is the true vine, Jesus is identifying Himself as the One we must be rooted in to bear fruit for God. A branch depends on the vine for all sustenance.
b. And My Father is the vinedresser: In the Old Testament use of the vine as a picture of Israel, God the Father was also presented as the One who cultivated and managed the vine. God fulfills this role also for the believer under the New Covenant.
i. The New Covenant participant has relationship with both the Father and the Son; with both the vine itself and the vinedresser.
Not only is the branch (the believer) dependent on the Vine, it is also in relationship with and dependent on the vine dresser (God).
c. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away: The branches that are taken away were never properly abiding in the vine, demonstrated by the fact that they did not bear fruit.
i. There is an alternative understanding of this passage that bears some consideration. James Montgomery Boice (among others) believes that the ancient Greek verb airo, translated, takes away is more accurately translated lifts up. The idea is that the Father lifts up unproductive vines off of the ground (as was common in the ancient practices of vineyard care). Those caring for ancient grape vines made sure to lift them up off the ground that they might get more sun and bear fruit better.
ii. “The verb translated ‘cut off’ (aireo) means literally ‘to lift up’ or ‘to take away’; the second, ‘trims clean’ (kathaireo), a compound of the first, means ‘to cleanse’ or ‘to purify.’” (Tenney)
By believing in Jesus as our Savior and Redeemer, we are justified. But this passage could create fear that if we also don’t bear fruit that we would be taken away or discarded. I like this interpretation of the Greek verb aireo being translated as “lifted up” to get more sun to bear fruit better. Some branches never properly flourish in the vine, however; we should alway be aware that our justification is just the start of our relationship with Jesus. We are expected to do a lot more than be content in our salvation and then continue in our pursuit of worldly desires.
d. Every branch that bears fruit He prunes: This word for prunes is the same word translated cleanse in other places. The same word could apply to either “pruning” or “cleansing” in ancient Greek. The vinedresser cleans up the fruit-bearing vine so it will bear more fruit.
i. “Left to itself a vine will produce a good deal of unproductive growth. For maximum fruitfulness extensive pruning is essential.” (Morris)
ii. “Dead wood is worse than fruitlessness, for dead wood can harbor disease and decay…God removes the dead wood from his church and disciplines the life of the believer so that it is directed into fruitful activity.” (Tenney)
iii. “And if it be painful to bleed, it is worse to wither. Better be pruned to grow than cut up to burn.” (Trapp)
God cleans the branches that do bear fruit by removing dead wood and disciplining the life of the believer. So often we go to church for an hour on Sunday and hear a message, sing some worship songs and then go right back out to lives filled with unfruitful behaviors. We lack courage to evangelize and bring new fruit to God.
e. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you: The work of pruning, of cleansing, had already begun in the eleven disciples Jesus spoke to. They had heard and received much of His teaching and were in some sense already clean because of the word.
i. In saying you are already clean, Jesus repeated an idea from earlier in the evening: that there is an initial cleansing, and then a continuing cleansing (John 13:10).
ii. The word of God is a cleansing agent. It condemns sin, it inspires holiness, it promotes growth, and it reveals power for victory. Jesus continues to wash His people through the word (Ephesians 5:26).
iii. “The means by which pruning or cleaning is done is by the Word of God. It condemns sin; it inspires holiness; it promotes growth. As Jesus applied the words God gave him to the lives of the disciples, they underwent a pruning process that removed evil from them and conditioned them for further service.” (Tenney)
Jesus recognizes our initial cleansing, when we confirm our believe in Him as the redeemer of miserable sinners and the promise-keeper of eternal life. He is affirming here that we must grow in holiness and righteousness, which is sanctification.
a. Abide in Me, and I in You: Jesus emphasized a mutual relationship. It isn’t only that the disciple abides in the Master; the Master also abides in the disciple. Something of this close relationship is described in Song of Solomon 6:3: I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.
i. Jesus used this picture to assure His disciples of continued connection and relationship even though He was about to depart from them. Yet He spoke this in a way that also indicated an aspect of choice on their part. Abiding was something they must choose.
ii. “When our Lord says: Abide in me he is talking about the will, about the choices, the decisions we make. We must decide to do things which expose ourselves to him and keep ourselves in contact with him. This is what it means to abide in him.” (Boice)
We choose to abide in Jesus and keep the connection established.
b. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine: It is impossible for the branch to bear grapes if it isn’t connected to the vine. The disciple can’t do true good for God and His kingdom if they do not consciously connect with and abide in Jesus.
i. “All our sap and safety is from Christ. The bud of a good desire, the blossom of a good resolution, and the fruit of a good action, all come from him.” (Trapp)
c. I am the vine, you are the branches: Jesus perhaps spoke so perhaps because they were so accustomed to thinking of Israel as the vine and thought mainly in terms of their connection to Israel. They now had to think of Jesus as the vine, and emphasize their connection to Him.
Jesus repeats that He is the Vine and His followers are the branches. It is impossible for the branches to bear fruit if they are not connected to the Vine.
d. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit: Fruit bearing is inevitable with abiding. The quality and quantity of the fruit may differ, but the presence of fruit will be inevitable.
i. The purpose of the branch is to bear fruit. Though there are uses for grape leaves, people don’t raise grape vines to look at the pretty leaves. They take the trouble to cultivate, plant, water and tend the vines so that fruit can be enjoyed. In this sense, we can say that fruit represents Christian character (such as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5). God’s work in us and our connection to Him should be evident by fruit, and perhaps by much fruit.
ii. Fruit also implies inherent reproduction. Virtually every piece of fruit has seeds within it, seeds that are meant to reproduce more fruit.
iii. The concept of abiding is not restricted to our abiding in Jesus; it also includes His abiding in us (and I in him). It is a mutual dynamic that expects our life to be spiritually and practically in vital connection with Jesus, and that expects Him to indwell us in an active, real way. In no way is the responsibility for abiding only upon the believer.
e. Without Me you can do nothing: It isn’t that they disciples could do no activity without Jesus. They could be active without Him, as were the enemies of Jesus and many others. Yet they and we could do nothing of real, eternal value without Jesus.
i. “The ‘I am’ comes out in the personal word ‘me,’ and the claim of all power unveils the Omnipotent. These words mean Godhead or nothing.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “It is only by union with Him that any branch can bear fruit: once that union is broken, the sap no longer flows; and fruit in that branch is no longer possible, though the remains of the sap that lay in it may be enough to bear leaves and so for a time give semblance of life.” (Trench)
iii. “Paul does not use the Johannine idiom but he expresses the same truth when he says, ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20), and ‘I can do all things in him who strengthens me’ (Philippians 4:13).” (Bruce)
iv. “‘Without me ye can do nothing;’ if this be true of apostles, much more of opposers! If his friends can do nothing without him, I am sure his foes can do nothing against him.” (Spurgeon)
Bottom line: We can do nothing of eternal worth without Him, although we can pretend that all of our busywork and activities and hobbies are “fruitful”. To serve the Kingdom and bear fruit, we must be constantly connected to the Vine.
Jesus is the Bread of Life. Jesus is the Light of the World. Jesus is the Door of the Sheep. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus is the True Vine.
The final devotional in this series will examine the “I AM” statements in John that directly reveal His divinity and eternal nature. Jesus reveals that He is the great “I AM” to the woman at the well in Samaria, to the Pharisees after they accuse Him of being a demon, and to Judas and the temple guards who come to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane.