By Bruce James
It is in John 15:1-16 that we find the picture of Jesus as the Vine. John records Jesus’ words to be: “I am the true vine . . . I am the vine, ye are the branches” (vs. 1, 5). If there is any people that should recognize this figure it is the Jews in that this is a repeated Old Testament symbol of Israel (Ezek. 15:1-8; 19:10-14; Isa. 5:1-7; Jer. 2:21; Hos. 10:1-2; Psa. 80:8-13). It must be noted that in all of these references the picture of Israel as the vine is repeatedly used in connection with the degeneracy of Israel – the vine gone bad, planted pure but grown wild, never fulfilling the purposes of Him who planted it and cared for it. In contrast, Jesus’ claim is that He is the True Vine. And, it is His people who are united with Jesus who are the real Israel, the real people of God.
Let us also consider some possible reasons for Jesus’ use of this figure. This claim was made immediately after the institution of the Lord’s supper, of which the fruit of the vine has an important part. And, if it is as commonly thought, that Jesus spoke this on the way to Gethsemane, then they probably passed through a vineyard on the way. Also, do you remember Jesus speaking of the useless branches to be burned? Well, on the way to Gethsemane, He and His disciples would pass by the valley in which the refuse of Jerusalem was thrown to be burned (what we call the “city dump”). Vine wood and prunings, which were useless, were thrown there to be destroyed. The vine was symbol of Israel, like the Eagle is to the United States, as well. It was on Jewish coins as a national emblem. It was carved over main doors of the synagogues along with the paschal lamb or the pot of manna and Aaron’s rod. Above all, this symbol was in the temple at Jerusalem. Josephus said, “Under the crownwork was spread out a golden vine, with its branches hanging down from a great height, the largeness and the workmanship of which were an astonishing sight to the spectators ” (Antiquities of the Jews, 15, 11:3). So there were many possible reasons for Jesus to use this figure for his great claim.
This symbol is for our time as well. Therefore, we must make the proper application of the Vine and the branches. On the one hand it sets forth the nature of the individual’s contact with Christ (note that each branch is an individual, not a separate church). On the other hand, it shows our vital contact with brethren as we reach out to the lost. One of the perils of today is that a materialistic and secularized world demands so much of the Christian that he can become starved spiritually. The child of God must be renewed daily (Rom. 12:1-2) and without such renewal then the Christian life is put in reverse, that instead of becoming transformed, he becomes conformed to the world.
This is where we can see the importance of “abiding” in the “true vine.” We can see its importance in relationship of obedience (vs. 4, 7-8, 10), of love (vs. 9-10, 12-13), of joy (v. 11), and of friendship (vs. 13-16). We also see the need to abide in the True Vine in that: (1) one who abides will bear much fruit; (2) without abiding there can be no fruit; (3) abiding leads to God’s glory; and (4) if one does not abide he withers, he is bundled, and he is cast forth into the fire and burned. The thought of being “cast forth” is hideous in and of itself.
Jesus said, “I am the vine.” In that claim, He claims to be the chosen one of God in whom the new, the real and the true Israel finds life. Only in Jesus can we find the true life in fellowship with Him, as the branch draws its life from the Vine. And He warns us that separation from Him means uselessness and eternal death.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 39, pp. 633-634
October 4, 1979