Feb 26, 2016

The Vine and the Branches

John 15:1–11

"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 does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. . . . I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (vv. 1–5).

Numerous Christians believe that theology serves little practical purpose in the lives of believers. However, Jesus clearly did not share this sentiment. On the eve of His crucifixion and a time of difficulty for His Apostles, He delivered some of His deepest theological teaching as He gave His Farewell Discourse (John 14–17). Jesus knew that their greatest need was sound theology, for divine truth alone can provide the foundation we need in times of joy and in times of sorrow. So, Jesus spent an extended period of time in His final discourse on the work of the Holy Spirit, the relationship between the Father and the Son, obedience as the necessary result of love for Christ, and many other theological topics. This discourse also featured our Lord's deep reflection on His bond with His people, as we see in today's passage.

Jesus begins His discourse by asserting that He is "the true vine" (John 15:1), a statement rich in ecclesiastical (pertaining to the doctrine of the church) overtones. The Old Testament frequently uses the metaphors of vine and vinedresser for the people of Israel and God, respectively (see Ps. 80; Isa. 5). By calling Himself "the vine," Jesus identifies Himself with Israel. Actually, He reveals Himself as the true Israel, the fulfillment of all that our Lord called Israel to be.

Since Jesus is the true Israel, no one who rejects Him is a true Israelite. Jesus identifies the true Israelite not according to physical ancestry but according to whether one abides in Him (John 15:5). The church is the Israel of God, and the Israel of God is defined not by ethnicity—for it includes Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 11)—but by Jesus.

Moreover, the branches of the Israel of God must bear fruit. If they do not bear a spiritual crop to the glory of the Lord, God will cut those branches off; but those who do yield such a harvest are pruned so that they will bear even more (John 15:2). We cannot press this metaphor so far to say that branches that are cut off were truly saved; after all, Jesus promises that no one—not even we—can snatch us from His hand (10:27–30). Our Lord is alluding to the fact that it is possible to be in the church and not be regenerate. Those who profess faith in Christ falsely can be called "branches" of a sort, because their profession connects them to the covenant communion in a way that is not true of those who openly deny Christ. But apart from true faith, such branches never receive nourishment from the vine. They cannot bear fruit and are therefore finally cut off.

Coram Deo

Jesus may use our difficulties to prune us and make us more fruitful. They also reveal those branches that were never really grafted into the vine, for under hardship, these branches will wither and die. But the faith of the true branches grows stronger under pressure. While we may not be happy about the trials in themselves, we can rejoice that God makes us more fruitful through them. How is God pruning you this day, and what kind of fruit are you yielding?

For Further Study