I soon found that the first part of chapter 15 had turned into almost a word-by-word study, so it is presented here as a mini-series: 'The Vine'
First read John 15:1-8
1 “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.
Why not ‘I am the Olive tree’?
a) There are certain characteristics of a vine which fits the application:
What can you tell me about a cultivated vine?
b) This is not the first time a vine has been used in the Bible. We'll look at some now: (People could be encouraged to take turns to read sections)
8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.
9 You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches.
11 It sent out its boughs to the Sea, its shoots as far as the River.
12 Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes?
13 Boars from the forest ravage it and the creatures of the field feed on it.
Would someone like to explain what this is describing? The nation of Israel coming from Egypt and entering the Promised Land.
Verse 11 speaks of the time of David; Verses 12-13 what happened next. The next passage expands on this:
1 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.
21 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?
(Also Ezekiel 15:1-8)
Who are the prophets speaking about when they refer to the vine?
The Children of Israel.
Look again at Isaiah chapter 5 verse 4
After all that had been done for the vineyard it consistently failed to produce a good crop. Where does the blame lie for this? The vine? Or the farmer?
Jesus said ‘I am the true vine’. What is the false vine?
This is the wild vine, the vine of the unrighteous, the Earth’s vine:
(in parts of the world some species of wild vine – Vitis spp. – are considered an invasive weed, difficult to eradicate)
Now let's look at
1 You are always righteous, O LORD, when I bring a case before you.
Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?
2 You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit. You are always on their lips but far from their hearts.
You are always on their lips but far from their hearts. Would someone like to explain this?
How would you answer someone today who has the same question as Jeremiah (v1)?
Revelation 14:14-16, 17-20
14 I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one “like a son of man” with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 16 So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.
This is the harvest of true believers. We'll read on - look out for the 'Earth's' vine
17 Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” 19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.
Jesus also used the vine in his parable in Luke 20:9-19:
9 He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. 10 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. 12 He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.
13 “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’
14 “But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
When the people heard this, they said, “May this never be!”
17 Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: “ ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone’?
18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”
19 The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.
We saw in the Old Testament that God through his prophets lamented the fact that his vine has consistently failed to produce a good crop.
Jesus seems to be suggesting that at least some of the blame lies with the leaders and teachers of the people who have repeatedly ignored instructions from the owner, even to the point of killing the messengers that brought them.
More than that, that the leaders actually regard the people as theirs to control, manipulate and feed off. If there is to be a harvest, then they want it. And to this end they are prepared to kill the righteous heir.
What is Jesus saying in verse 16 (Luke 20)?
Jesus is preparing the way for the thought that the Jews’ precious inheritance is about to be shared with others.
(See the introduction to Ruth for the importance of inheritance)
So it seems that the people fully understood the references to a failing vine to be descriptive of Israel.
Here in John 15 Jesus chooses these final moments to move their understanding on. They have just left the upper room and are on the final walk to the garden of Gethsemane (John 14:31)
Jesus makes an astonishing claim (v5). I am the vine, you are the branches.
Effectively Jesus is saying ‘I have replaced the original rootstock which has consistently yielded poor fruit. From now on the sap flowing through your veins will come directly from me’.
What does this mean for the branches?
Not only did Jesus say: I am the vine, you are the branches, but in verse 1 he said: I am the true vine and my Father is the Gardener.
Before we finish this first study, perhaps we need to look at a vine’s cultivation.
At this point we should notice that this illustration of the vine is only an illustration.
It is a very helpful allegory but there is a danger that we may try to read more into it than was intended. We need to keep to what Jesus says and not wander too far into the realms of viticulture, although some knowledge of that is probably assumed of people who live in a land full of vines.
Various versions of the Bible have translated the word Gardener (v1) differently. We will look at three, and each one will show us a different facet of the work involved.
‘The Message’ uses the word Farmer. What does that suggest to us?
GNB and NIV use the word Gardener. What does that suggest?
RSV has Vinedresser (KJV has husbandman). What does this suggest?
If we could watch someone at work in their vineyard we would get an insight into God’s wonderful care and concern for us. Continually checking each plant, cutting out disease, looking for pests, pruning, fertilising, trimming the eager young growth and tying it onto the support it will need all its life. Even reducing the number of fruit it bears in order that the others grow to perfection. Watering some that seem parched, but leaving others to encourage their roots to grow deeper into the soil to find a more permanent source of nourishment.
Our conversion is not the end – it’s only the beginning. Once a branch has been grafted into a vine there is a period of intensive care. This is followed by a lifetime of cultivation, with the gardener coming and looking not just for fruit, but for a regular and increasing crop of fruit each year.
As we move on in this series of studies we will discover what it means to us individually to be a part of the vine – remember, Jesus said ‘I am the Vine’.