Bible Study Commentary on Jesus the Great I AM
I AM the True Vine - Life in the Vine and the heavenly Gardeners care
by I Gordon
in this study we'll start by quickly
exploring the context and look at why Jesus used this analogy of the vine. We'll
also look at the main themes in the passage. To be fair there is a lot in
these verses and when I first studied it I was looking at the first 11 verses
John chapter 15. But like some unkempt wild grape vine, it got
away on me and my message soon went in all directions! There was a lot of
information for the head but little for the heart. So I have had to do a lot of
pruning on this wild and woolly study. So we'll look at the general themes
of the passage and then zero in on a few verses that spoke to me personally.
But let's start with the passage as a whole.
Joh 15:1-11 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 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, 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. (5) I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in
me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
(6) If anyone does not remain in me, he is 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 given you. (8) This is to my Father's glory, that you bear
much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (9) As the Father has
loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. (10) 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. (11) I have told you this so that my joy
may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
How about beginning with, mmm, context!
As mentioned in a previous study, John chapters 13-17 were given by
Jesus on the night before the crucifixion. Theologian's call it the 'Upper
Room Discourse'. So this means it was all given in the Upper Room... right?
Yeah... Argh, no. Some of it was but not all even though all five
chapters are called the upper room discourse. John 14:31 tells us that at
that point Jesus and disciples left the room.
Joh 14:31 but 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.'
So they left the upper room in
Jerusalem and went through the Kidron valley over to the garden of
Gethsemane near the Mount of Olives. Though not stated some believe
they would have passed by some vineyards. Others believe they could have
passed within view of the temple. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us
that over the Temple entrance had a golden vine with grapes over the top of
the door. Whichever it was, it is likely that something in view brought
about Jesus' statement - 'I AM the true Vine'.
But why say the true
vine? Is that in comparison to something? The disciples would have been used
to the metaphor of the vine. The disciples, as Jews raised with the
scriptures and aware of what was on the temple entrance, would have been
familiar with the imagery concerning the vineyard, the vine and its
relation to the nation of Israel. Here is one example from scripture that
shows the vine used as a metaphor for Israel:
5:1-7 I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one
had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. (2) He dug it up and cleared it of
stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit. (3) Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of
Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. (4) What more could have been done
for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why
did it yield only bad? (5) Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my
vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break
down its wall, and it will be trampled. (6) I will make it a wasteland,
neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will
command the clouds not to rain on it." (7) The vineyard of the LORD Almighty
is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard
cries of distress.
We see in these verses the heart of the Lord yearning
for His people and fruit that displays who He, God, is. Yet He found only
bad fruit...bloodshed and distress. So He would remove its hedge of
protection and allow it to be trampled and destroyed. It would become a
wasteland. If you want the New Testament parallel scripture to this it is
Mat 23:37-39 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and
stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children
together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not
willing. (38) Look, your house is left to you desolate. (39) For I tell you,
you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the
name of the Lord.' "
Now before we start saying 'Oh those Jews!
Always rebelling and falling away from the Lord...' we need to remember what
the word of God says:
Gal 3:22 But the Scripture declares that the whole
world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through
faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
What shall we conclude then? Are we (the Jews) any better? Not at all!
have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.
As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one;'
failed. The Gentiles failed. Man's best attempt at religion failed.
There was only One who wouldn't fail. That is the context and why our
passage starts with Jesus saying 'I AM the TRUE Vine.' He is saying 'I AM
the only One who gives life. I won't fail. I will bring forth good fruit.'
And the miracle is not that He did it in His own life on Earth 2000 years
ago, but that He still brings forth true good fruit in those that experience
His life today.
So what is the main focus of this passage?
Now, when I first read through the passage there was a clear theme that
emerged. Then I read it again and a new theme came forth. Reading it a third
time gave a third focus of the passage! Here is the passage again with some
little hints here and there!
15:1-10 "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. (2) "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. (3) "You are
already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. (4) "Abide
Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it
in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide
in Me. (5) "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. (6) "If anyone does not
abide in Me,
he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast
them into the fire and they are burned. (7) "If you
abide in Me, and My
words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (8)
"My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to
be My disciples. (9) "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved
you; abide in My love. (10) "If you keep My commandments, you will
My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and
abide in His love.
So here are the main themes as I see them::
Bear fruit: When I first read through this passage I saw 'bear
fruit', 'bear fruit', 'bear fruit'. I thought 'ah yes... 6 mentions of bear
fruit in first 7 verses. There is the theme.' It is bear fruit. That's makes
sense - It is a passage about the Vine and its fruit. So come on reader...
bear fruit! And some preachers might just focus on that - 'Bear fruit! You
must bear fruit'. But is that the heart of the matter? Imagine if I went to
my little orchard, otherwise known as the back yard, and kept yelling at my
apple tree 'Come on tree! Bear fruit. Hurry up. Show me some fruit! What are
you doing you miserable sorry-little-excuse for an apple tree?' The fact is
that a branch will bear fruit, in season, if the conditions are right.
Bearing fruit is what it is designed to do. It is actually very good at it
and doesn't really need to be repeatedly yelled at! It simply asks that it
is provided with some necessary conditions and a suitable environment in which it can
bear fruit. So 'bearing fruit' is a very important theme of this passage. It
is important and is repeated over and over... but it is doesn't start there.
Abide: So I read it again a few times and another theme came
through - 'Abide' is mentioned by Jesus 10 times in 10 verses! Jesus says it
over and over. Abide, abide, abide. He said that without abiding there can
be no fruit. Abiding speaks of communion and fellowship with Him. It means
to remain united and joined to the Lord so that the life of the Vine can
come through the branches, resulting in fruit.
Rom 7:4 Therefore, my
brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ,
so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead,
in order that we might bear fruit for God.
In Me: Reading it
again you notice the third theme - 'In Me'. This fruit bearing all happens
and can only happen, 'in Christ'. Jesus said 'in Me' 8 times in 10 verses.
'In Me' speaks of the One where the life comes from. It speaks of
dependence. It reminds us, as Jesus said, that apart from Him we can do
So there is no missing it - Abide in Me and you will bear fruit
- fruit that will last.
So fruit is important - But what is fruit?
Scripture gives us a few different categories of 'fruit' that results from
abiding in Christ. Here are some of the verses and 'produce' to look for and
expect! Check out the brief list on the right.
Here comes the divine gardener
So let's just zero in on a few verses that
spoke to me as I was studying this passage. Jesus is the true Vine. He is
the One that we need to be connected to, to receive life. But note also the
role of God the Father.
Joh 15:1-2 "I am the true vine, and My Father is
the vinedresser. (2) "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
The Father is the gardener. He is the One who takes care
of the branches in the Vine. Some He takes away. Some He lifts up. Where it
says that He 'takes away' the branches that do not bear fruit, the Greek
word for 'take away' literally means 'to lift'. So it can be translated
'takes away' or 'lifts up'1 One speaks of discipline for the fruitless branch. The other
speaks of encouragement, lifting it up to help it to produce. Both fall into
the hands of our divine gardener who knows what is needed. The other action
mentioned is one that all true believers experience - pruning! Does
you here have a grape vine? I have two down the Promised Land of my
backyard. One thing you soon learn with grape vines is that over spring and
summer especially they go nuts! You go have a look one day and it's all very
tidy and in order. The next time you look the vine is escaping and is
growing into your neighbour's yard. Left alone longer she'll be down the
street and making a break for the main highway. A wee bit of exaggeration
there but they just grow lots of branches, fast, and left like that there
would be no fruit for the grapes require light. The branches of the vine adequately represent our fallen
nature that is wild and has a habit of getting away on us! It goes off in
different directions and has to be managed... and there is no One better
than the divine gardener. He is the One who comes with the heavenly
secateurs knowing exactly where and when to cut.
Now there is an art to
pruning. If my grape vine could speak, what would he say when he sees me
coming with the secateurs? He would be yelling 'Noooooo! No no no no no! I
remember the butchering you gave me last year... cutting off all manner of
things I need. No! Go away!' But not so with the divine gardener... He knows
where and when to cut. It doesn't mean the cut feels good to the branch but
He cuts for our good.2
A personal example of the divine gardener
As a personal example, I feel like I'm being
pruned at the moment. Late last year I started getting pains in my heart.
Now when you get pains in other less essential areas you brush it off... but
pains in your heart are a little off-putting. So I went to the doctor and he
listened to my heart, took my blood pressure and finally did an ECG. The
results he said, we're 'not normal'. He wanted me to go on blood pressure
medication as, after discussing it, he said I didn't have a lot of lifestyle
changes I could make. I'm not overweight, I don't drink, smoke or take lots
coffee. I'm fit and eat well... But I still wanted to try a natural approach
first which he agreed to. So, as you do when under pressure, I have been
trying everything I know and have read about. Garlic, hawthorn berry, celery
seed, COQ10, olive leaf extract, cayenne pepper, tart cherry drinks,
flaxseed and omega 3's. Tried it all and more. I'm now nearly 9 months down
the track and really as confused as ever with not much change. I cried out
to the Lord about a week ago saying 'I've been trying all these things for
months and have got nowhere... I'm no wiser about what causes it, haven't
worked anything out and I'm lost about what I should do.'
Maybe you have something that relates. When I prayed that I felt to read
'God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in
trouble. Therefore we will not fear... Be still, and know that I am God; I
will be exalted...'
Writing this study up now, a few months since I got that verse, I can say
that things have got better. Not instantaneous. But the heart has definitely
been better and I haven't had to go back to my doctor or go on any
medication. Yay! God wants to achieve things in my
and our life in such times. He needs to cut some things away. I have been
finding that despite my most valiant attempts to escape this pruning (and I
have tried hard, believe me!) I am in God's orchard and care for His timing.
So pruning doesn't necessarily feel nice. But He cuts, as Jesus said, to
produce more fruit. With my vine down the back I cut and hope. God cuts and
knows. He knows what it will produce. If you are feeling pruned remember
Heb 12:11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be
joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards
it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
What is 'nothing' to Jesus?
Joh 15:4-5 "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. (5) "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.
The second point that stood out to me is
this one of dependence upon the vine. Look at what He repeats here - 'The
branch cannot bear fruit of itself'... 'So neither can you unless you abide in
Me'. 'Apart from Me you can do nothing'3 Jesus was emphatic that we need His
life from the vine because in and of ourselves we can produce and do
nothing. But what is 'nothing' from God's perspective? Because we, proud
humans, can do lots of things without the Lord can we not? We can study hard
and get degrees. We have successful careers and families... we've built cities
and skyscrapers. We can make millions of dollars and buy lots of things. We
can climb Everest. We can split the atom (argh, well, that didn't go so
well!) We've even landed on the moon and we're just about to send people off
on a one way mission in colonize Mars (what could possibly go wrong there?).We can even preach a sermon and look
very Christian without the Lord.
So what do you mean 'apart from Me you can do nothing?' What is 'nothing' to
God? 'Nothing' is the name given to that which will not last into eternity.
Our entire life and work must be tested by fire at the bema seat of Christ
the scripture tells us, to see if it is simply wood, hay and stubble (and
hence reduced to 'nothing' by the fire) or whether it is precious stones and
gems that remain because it was founded upon and produced by, the life of
Christ within. The branch just simply cannot produce anything by itself. Not
in the natural or the spiritual. It needs the Vine.
'Without Me you
can do nothing' Jesus said. Looking at the wider 'Christian' world it is
amazing what we have been able to produce without Christ. We are masters of
the show and substitute many things for the real thing. It may look similar
but ultimately it is a mirage. It promises much yet without His life and
blessing, just delivers nothing but hot air.
An illustration of nothing
What are these pictures of below? I have spoken of my Hazel nut
tree before. I should firstly add that it is now, as of a few weeks ago, the
late great Hazel nut tree. And to be fair, calling it a Hazel nut tree is, I
guess, being a little kind. It was actually a hazel nut shell tree. They are very rare. It produced some of the world's finest,
shiniest, most perfectly formed hazel nut shell's this region, nay, this
country, has ever seen. If you were after hazel nut shell's boy did I have
the tree for you! The only wee small problem was that it could only produce
the shells. There was nothing inside. There was no nut, no fruit... just an
empty shell. For all intent and purposes it looked exactly like the real
thing... and each year it tricked me. Ooooh... 'It's looking good... it's looking
good... I'm going to have some hazel nuts this year' I'd say as I cracked it
open and found nothing but a whole lot of air. My tree knew what he was
meant to do and gave it his best shot... but alas, he was somehow separated from
the life and fertilisation that produced the actual nut... it produced,
literally, just a shell of what was meant to be.
This has always spoken
to me for it speaks of our efforts without the Lord, the life of the vine.
The Christian church has been a fine producer of hazel nut shells. 'Oh... this
is it, this is it... it's going to be great... and poof... nothing but air.'
Without Me you can do nothing Jesus said. How hard is it for a tree to
product fruit? Do they have to try really hard? Not if it has the right
connection and roots. It is the most normal natural thing given the
condition of water and nutrients. It is simply doing what it was designed
for. The believer is designed to produce fruit that will last. This actually
brings glory to God. It too is a normal natural thing for a new creation
believer. But it relies on the connection. 'Abide in Me' Jesus said and you
will bear fruit.
One day, as I mentioned, our life will pass through the fire. We want to
have this first pic and not the second! Yet
can't produce fruit independent of the Lord anymore than a branch could
produce grapes if it was separated from the Lord. But as we abide, fruit is
the most natural and beautiful thing,
The three important themes that produce the first pic and not the second are
But always remember where the fruit starts from! It is abiding in Christ.4