[18] Farewell Discourses 3: the True Vine (15:1-25)

Explanation

 

 [D3]   15:1-16........... The true vine

·         The extended metaphor (15:1-8)
·         The metaphor explained (15:9-16)

[D4]    15:17-25......... Persecution

·         Suffering for Christ’s sake (15:17-21)
·         Christ reveals people’s sin (15:22-25)

 

The allegory of the vine brings out the importance of fruitfulness in the Christian life. This is the result, not of human achievement, but of abiding in Christ.

The vine was a symbol of Israel (Ps 80:8-16; Isa 5:1-7; Jer 2:21; Eze 15; 19:10; Hos 10:1). But Israel was faithless and was the object of severe punishment. Here, the vine is the body of Christ.

 

15:1     Jesus is the true vine, possibly pointing to a replacement of the degenerate vine of Israel.

15:2     The branch is clearly the individual Christian. Bearing fruit is not simply desirable; it is imperative.

For maximum fruitfulness of a vine, pruning is essential. Those branches which bear no fruit will be cut off while those which bear fruit will be cleansed to be more fruitful. “Fruit”is not defined here, but no doubt it points to the qualities of Christian character (Mt 3:8; 7:20; Ro 6:22; Gal 5:22; Eph 5:9; Php 1:11) such as fruit of the Spirit and in particular, love (following the previous passage). It may also point to the winning of others to follow Christ.

As the emphasis of this allegory is the bearing of fruit, there is no need to give meaning to each minute detail. Thus, “being cut off” may not mean that believers could fall away. However, there is also no definite evidence that this is impossible. Minimally, it means being abandoned.

15:3     On account of Jesus’ word (His whole message), the disciples were already clean. The perfect tense may mean that the word remains with them.

15:4     The command is to abide in Christ: “Abide in me, and see that I abide in you.”

“Abiding” is the necessary prerequisite of fruitfulness.

15:5     The truth is declared in a positive and a negative way for emphasis. Christians are helpless apart from Christ. The statement is emphasized by the double negative.

15:6     Anyone not abiding in Christ will wither away and is thrown out. The aorist tense points to a complete action. Since the sentence is in passive voice, it is not known who does the gathering and the throwing. Again, the image of fire most likely does not mean the fire of hell. However, such a position is derived from theology, not from this passage.

15:7     Here is a verse that can be read and understood in a wrong way. If only the second part is read, it is: “ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” Is this then a blank cheque from God that God will give us whatever we wish for? No. The second part is conditional on the first part: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you.” When believers abide in Christ and Christ’s word abide in them, they live as close to Christ as well may be. Then their prayers will be prayers that are in accord with God’s will and they will be fully answered.

15:8     The Father is glorified in that the disciples bear much fruit. Their fruitfulness is evidence of the Father at work in them and thus it glorifies Him. The thought is that discipleship is not static, but a growing and developing way of life.

15:9     Jesus commands us to continue in His love. It is possible for Christians to live without being mindful of Christ’s love for them and so break the closeness of the fellowship.

15:10   It is when we obey and keep Christ’s commandments that we abide in His love.

15:11   Jesus had the joy of living completely fruitful life and He wants the same joy to be in the disciples too as they live fruitfully.

15:12   The new commandment of 13:34 is restated: love one another as Christ loved them. The aorist tense is used for Christ’s love while the present tense (continuing) is used for the disciples’ love.

15:13   The supreme test of love is death on the cross.

15:14   Again, obedience is the test of discipleship; moreover, it is habitual obedience.

15:15   Jesus will no longer call them servants or slaves. He has taken them fully into His confidence and called them friends.

15:16   The first function of the disciples is to be emissaries of Christ; the second function is to bear fruit. The fruit they bear is not transient but abiding.

 

15:17   “These things” (plural) are my command. It may mean that all commandments in the preceding discourse really are for a single purpose: Love one another, a mutual love.

15:18   There is a sharp distinction between themselves and the world. The world will certainly hate them as it has hated Jesus. The words “you know” indicates that this is not a new and surprising thing. The perfect tense points to a permanent attitude of hatred.

The disciples are to be known by their love, the world by its hatred.

15:20   The world persecuted Jesus; it will again persecute His disciples. But there is a positive aspect: some had kept Jesus’ word; they would their word too.

15:21   The root cause of persecution is the world’s ignorance of God.

 

15:22   The sin of rejecting God would not have been imputed to the Jews had they not had the revelation of God that was made through Jesus.

15:25   The Jews’ hatred of both Christ and the Father lacked any reasonable foundation.