Berean Bible Study Notes

John 15:1-8



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"I am the vine."

Today, we're going to tackle something very familiar - Jesus' message about the vine and the branches. We've all heard it many times, but let's see if we can take a fresh look at it. Chapter 14 wrapped up seven teachings that Jesus has given so far:

Jesus' teachings about life among believers in the spiritual kingdom

1. Humbly serve each other, helping each other wash away the sin of daily living.

2. Love each other as Jesus loved - with a greater love than you have for yourself.

3. When you have troubles in this world, remember that a specially-prepared place in heaven waits for you.

4. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life. He is the answer to all your worrying. Trust Him.

5. Pray in Jesus' name. Confidently come before the Father, dressed in Jesus' righteousness.

6. The Holy Spirit dwells in us to lead us, teach us, comfort us, open the Scriptures to us.

7. If you love Jesus, keep His commandments.

 

That chapter ended with Arise, let us go from here. Some people believe that the rest of what's called the "Upper Room Discourse" was spoken on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane. This was the 14th of Nisan, which means there was a full moon. It's possible that Jesus used what they were passing by to teach them. If they passed by the Temple, the light of the moon may have brightly lit the temple doors, which had a huge, beautiful, golden grapevine wrought into them. Josephus says (Antiquities of the Jews, ch. 11)

If that's the case, that Jesus was looking at this enormous, man-made grapevine (each cluster of grapes was supposed to have been as tall as a man), then it makes His next words even more meaningful:

John15:1 "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser."

In the Bible, the vine begins as a symbol for Israel:

Ps 80:8 You have brought a vine out of Egypt; You have cast out the nations, and planted it.

Isaiah 5:1 Now let me sing to my Well-beloved A song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard: My Well-beloved has a vineyard On a very fruitful hill. 2 He dug it up and cleared out its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, And also made a winepress in it; So He expected it to bring forth good grapes, But it brought forth wild grapes.

7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant. He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.

Jeremiah 2:21 (NIV) I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?

But, as Scripture says, Israel became a corrupt, wild vine - first worshipping other gods, and then building a whole religion out of the traditions of men. In contrast to that, Jesus says He is the true vine. The word true here is alethinos (al-ay-thee-nos'). It means (from the Greek Lexicon):

  1. that which has not only the name and resemblance, but the real nature corresponding to the name, in every respect corresponding to the idea signified by the name, real, true genuine

    1. opposite to what is fictitious, counterfeit, imaginary, simulated or pretended

    2. it contrasts realities with their semblances

    3. opposite to what is imperfect defective, frail, uncertain

  2. true, veracious, sincere

    In other words, Jesus is the vine in every sense that it was intended to be, and His Father is the one who takes care of the vine:

    John15:1 "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser."

    This familiar passage from Isaiah 53 is about that same vine:

    Isaiah 53:2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground.

    The vinedresser is the one who makes all the decisions about the vine. The vine makes none for itself.

    John 15:2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

    When Jesus says "Every branch in Me", of course we know that He's referring to believers, as He goes on to say in verse 5: "I am the vine, you are the branches." In the previous chapter, He had said, At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. To be "In Jesus" is to be saved, which makes the end of that phrase sound a little alarming:

    John 15:2 (NKJV) Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

    It sounds especially alarming in the NIV:

    John 15:2 (NIV) 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.

    So, what does He mean? Is He talking about dead faith (which is no faith at all) as in James?

    James 2:17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

    This is one of those places where the English gets in the way. The word translated "takes away" in the NKJV and "cuts off" in the NIV is airo (ah'-ee-ro). It means (from the Greek Lexicon):

  3. to raise up, elevate, lift up

      1. to raise from the ground, take up: stones

      2. to raise upwards, elevate, lift up: the hand

      3. to draw up: a fish

  4. to take upon one's self and carry what has been raised up, to bear

  5. to bear away what has been raised, carry off

      1. to move from its place

      2. to take off or away what is attached to anything

      3. to remove

      4. to carry off, carry away with one

      5. to appropriate what is taken

      6. to take away from another what is his or what is committed to him, to take by force

      7. to take and apply to any use

      8. to take from among the living, either by a natural death, or by violence

      9. cause to cease

    As you can see, its first meaning is to "lift up" as here:

    Matt 4:6 and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you,' and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.'"

    Matt 14:20 So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained.

    Mark 8:34 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

    It can mean "take away," as here:

    Luke 19:24 "And he said to those who stood by, 'Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.'

    It's helpful to know a little bit about grapes. If you've ever seen a grapevine that's just allowed to grow by itself, it goes everywhere. Our land is covered with wild grapevines, and they grow every which way - tons of vines, not much fruit. The only parts of the vine that actually grows any fruit is the vine that's in the sun. Now, a cultivated grapevine is not allowed to just trail on ground and grow by itself. The branches are raised up on wires, so that the whole branch is in the sun.

    Remember what Jesus said. He said:

    John 15:2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

    That "in Me" is talking about believers. The "not" here is me {may}, which is a "qualified negative" not ou {oo}which is an absolute negative. The "bear" is in present tense, so it doesn't mean "has never born" or "doesn't continue to bear." It doesn't even mean "bears absolutely no fruit whatsoever." It just means "not bearing very well right now." That's a really heavy-duty warning if Jesus really means that God "cuts off" and throws away those who simply aren't bearing fruit very well. That's not what the rest of Scripture says. So, how should we understand it?

    If you're familiar with grapes, you know that the ones that are allowed to grow along the ground bear no fruit at all. There are big, long vines, lots of leaves, but no fruit. If you want to get fruit, you've got to lift those vines up and gently tie them to wires, so they're exposed to the sun. The branches aren't going to do that for themselves.

    If a branch, (a believer), is not bearing fruit at present, the Father will "lift up" that branch from the ground where it's been trying to do its own thing, into the light of His Son. In other words, He will expose hidden sins, He will bring conviction about poor priorities, He will call that person back into fellowship with Himself.

    So, the way to understand this is not "cut off" or even "take away" but "lift up." If you have a New King James Version Bible, you'll see that alternate translation in the notes. How does He do that? Through the Spirit, working within you.

    Many places in the New Testament say similar things. Here is just one:

    Gal 5:16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

    19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

    22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

    OK, that verse continues:

    John 15:2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

    What does that mean? "Prune" is kathairo (kath-ah'-ee-ro). It means to cleanse of filth or impurity. It also means to prune trees or vines. So, Jesus is actually making a really clever pun here. We kind of miss the fun of it in English. What does it mean for believers? It means that as we walk with Jesus, spending time in God's Word, doing good works, the Spirit gradually makes us more Christ-like. No one will ever be completely sin-free, but you've probably seen in yourself that same pruning. First, the big, obvious sins are dealt with. Then, as time goes on, the ones that are less obvious to others are pruned away, a bit at a time. It's usually not a painless process. What does God usually use as His pruning shears? Trials.

    1 Peter 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials . 7 These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

    James 1:2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.

    Continuing on:

    John 15:1 "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, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.

    That word "clean" is katharos (kath-ar-os'). It's the word that the verb kathairo came from. It means (from the Greek Lexicon):

    clean, pure

  6. physically

      1. purified by fire

      2. in a similitude, like a vine cleansed by pruning and so fitted to bear fruit

  7. in a levitical sense

      1. clean, the use of which is not forbidden, imparts no uncleanness

  8. ethically

      1. free from corrupt desire, from sin and guilt

      2. free from every admixture of what is false, sincere genuine

      3. blameless, innocent

      4. unstained with the guilt of anything

    Jesus is showing us things from two points of view. From our point of view, the cleaning, the pruning is an ongoing thing. From God's point of view, the cleaning is a done deal. It's kind of like the whole foot washing episode from earlier that evening. In one sense, we are completely clean already. Jesus paid for every single sin we've ever done or ever will do. In another sense, we need ongoing cleaning to wash away the sins from daily living.

    How does this cleaning happen? Through God's Word:

    Psalm 119:9 How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.

    John 15:4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

    There's a whole lot of meaning in that word "abide" (or "remain" in the NIV). It is meno (men'-o). It means (from the Greek Lexicon):

  9. to remain, abide

      1. in reference to place

        1. to sojourn, tarry

        2. not to depart 1a

      2. to continue to be present 1a

      3. to be held, kept, continually

      4. in reference to time

        1. to continue to be, not to perish, to last, endure 1b

      5. of persons, to survive, live

      6. in reference to state or condition

        1. to remain as one, not to become another or different

  10. to wait for, await one

Isn't that last bit interesting? Even "waiting for" is part of abiding. The word is in the active, aorist tense. Active, so it's something that we are doing and called to do. It's a conscious thing, something to work at. But, it's the aorist, so there's an element of it that's outside of time altogether. I think that's kind of intriguing.

So, how do you "abide?" It means that make a concerted effort to keep the connection. You hang on. You stay in God's Word, stay in prayer, stay in fellowship. To abide goes beyond just being attached. To use another analogy, it means being more than a baby Christian. A baby Christian is alive, but not producing a lot of fruit. To produce much fruit, you need an active, conscious connection to your Savior. It's much more than sitting in a pew on Sunday morning. It's a relationship.

John 15:5 "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

Just as a branch cannot grow without being attached, we can produce nothing without staying attached. There are several different explanations for verse 6:

John 15:6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.

Is this talking about someone who completely rejects Christ (having once tasted His goodness) and is cast off and burned? Maybe. Yet, this whole section has been about fruit, or good works. So, it's possible that what's in view here is more like this:

1 Corinthians 3:13 each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

I honestly don't know. Most commentators just kind of skirt around that verse without much discussion.

John 15:7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

This looks back to the previous chapter and what Jesus said about prayer and asking for things in His name. If you are fully connected to Jesus, and His Word is fully in you, then ask, and it shall be done for you. That's a huge promise, but it assumes many things. It assumes that you're asking in accordance with His will. It assumes that what you're asking will bring glory to the Father.

Ps 1:1 Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. 3 He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.

 Here are a couple articles for you:

 The vine and the branches by John MacArthur

Abiding in the vine by John MacArthur

 

 And some horticultural things that may bring some of the symbolism to life for you:

Growing Grapes in Wisconsin 

Grafting grapes

 

Next time we'll continue on in John 15. See you then!