The Vine and the Branches
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also 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.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
- John 15:2 The Greek for he prunes also means he cleans.
When we look at John 15, we come to a break in the farewell discourse at the end of chapter 14 which some consider awkward. There Jesus commands them to rise from the table and depart. Some think this was just to get up from the dinner couches where they had reclined on, and others see chapters 15-17 being said on the way to Gethsemane. Others have different views, but it seems that the idea that they started the journey to Gethsemane seems the most likely, Perhaps, grape vines or grape vine ornaments such as decorated the Temple would be seen. Rabbi’s often used objects in their lessons. Jesus as a rabbi may have pointed to these and compared Himself to it. This is an interesting speculation, but the interpretation of the text does not depend on it. The break in the text does not change the interpretation either. What Jesus begins to say on chapter 14 continues here in chapter 15.
What does it mean when Jesus says He is the true vine? The wording literally reads, I AM the Vine, the True One.
This is a little stilted in English, but the way it is said in Greek it puts special emphasis on the word “true.” If something is true, then its opposite is false. This means that there are other claims being made about the vine which were false. Jesus in this allegory is not saying that natural grape vines are false vines. They are truly grape vines. But the comparison isn’t being made between Jesus and grape vines but of a false vision of Israel. The Old Testament often compares Israel to a grape vine. In many case such as in Isaiah 5:1-2, it is in a negative way. The vineyard which Yahweh planted was supposed to yield sweet grapes. But the grapes went wild and sour. Israel had become false to Yahweh.
Jesus here emphatically states that He alone is the true vine which produces true sweet fruit, and not the bitter fruit of Judaism. The religious leaders of Israel had become utterly corrupt and bore false fruit. True fruit can only come through being connected to Jesus. Here the Father is said to be the gardener who tends the true vine and does what is necessary to produce fruit. Jesus then goes on to describe what the vinedresser does to the branches to produce fruit. The first thing he does is tend to the branches which are not producing any fruit. The verb here, airo, can mean to cut off, but it can also mean to take up. Most commentators hold that it means that fruitless branches are cut off and are the withered branches which are later burned. But Boice makes an interesting comment here that it should be taken “lift up” as in getting a branch which is lying on the ground and tying it up on the trellis. In another parable of Jesus about the fruitless fig tree, it was going to be cut down, but the caretaker said to give it another year. Let’s fertilize it and give it special care. If it does not then produce fruit, then cut it down. This seems good here. God does not give up so easily on his people. He will first do what He can with the fruitless branches.