Union with Christ: Necessity and Benefits Part 7


Jesus taught the True Vine metaphor on the night of the last supper. The metaphor applies not only to the disciples but to all who are “in Christ.” Jesus spoke to the 11 disciples who remained at the supper after Judas left to betray Him.

Jesus’ purpose in giving the metaphor of the True Vine seems to have been two-fold. The disciples were uneasy and concerned because Jesus had been alluding to dying. Jesus’ first purpose was to assure the disciples that, no matter what happened to Him, His relationship with them would continue (John 15:1-11). Jesus knew He was about to die and, though He would be resurrected, He would ultimately be physically separated from them when He went to the Father. But, because He was going to the Father, the disciples relationship with Him would become even more intimate than when they physically walked the paths of Israel together. He would no longer be bodily beside them, but, even better, He would be “in them” spiritually through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. His presence will flow through them like “sap” of a vine bringing nourishment to the branches. Though externally invisible, His presence will be real, powerful, and effective in their inner being. So it is with all believers.

Jesus’ second purpose was to show that the union of each believer to Him would result in all believers being interconnected through Him (John 15:12-17). Believers are to love one another as Jesus loves. Jesus says, “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Laying down His life for others was precisely what Jesus was about to do, not only for the 11, but for all believers. 

The key figures in this extended metaphor are Jesus, God the Father, and believers. Jesus is the True Vine. God, the Father, is the Vinedresser. The disciples (all believer) are “in Christ” as the branches. 

John 15:1-17

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

John 15:1-17

NT Metaphors for Salvation

In the New Testament there are several metaphors which show what it is like to experience the saving regenerating grace of God. (1.) Jesus said that salvation is a new beginning in life so dramatic that it is like being born a second time. (2.) It is like having a friend who willingly gives up his life to save your life.  (3.) It is like a sheep with a good shepherd diligently providing, protecting, and loving his sheep.  (4.) It is like a slave who is redeemed and freed by a friend. (5.) It is like becoming a branch in a vine, drawing life from Christ the True Vine. 

Regeneration begins a new intimate never-ending relationship with God that continues from “new life in the here and now” to life in a more complete sense in the everlasting age to come. Every metaphor helps our understanding. The True Vine metaphor is particularly useful in showing the intimate relationship between believers and Christ. Believers have the “sap” of Christ flowing through them, drawing their life from Him, like branches sustained by the life of a vine. It is the presence of Christ in them that enables believers to produce righteous fruit.

Israel as the “Vine of God”

The metaphor of the true vine has deep historical significance for Israel. In Jesus’ time, the Jews, as had been true for a long time, prided themselves as being the chosen “Vine of God.” They used the vine motif in many places. Especially dramatic and highly visible was the vine located over the entrance to the Temple grounds. Everyone entering saw it. What they saw was an exquisitely carved, gold-leafed vine with branches and luscious looking grapes. That beautiful vine was a magnificent reminder to the Jews of their wonderful direct relationship and exclusive connection to God Himself. The long history of the use of a grapevine and its fruit to symbolize the relationship of Israel to its God is found in many places. A few examples: Jeremiah 2:21, Ezekiel 15:1-6, 19:10-14, Hosea 10:1-4, and Isaiah 5:1-7, 4:2-3, 11:1, 10-11.  

Two Special Examples

In Psalm 80:8-19 Israel is described as a vine brought from Egypt and planted in a new land. It spreads widely, and bears fruit enjoyed by many. But the people forgot how they got to their new land, and the vineyard was allowed to fall into ruin. God had warned them of the necessity of “remembering.” Danger and destruction came to the vineyard. The Psalmist looks forward to Messiah coming to save the vineyard, “But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!” (Psalm 80:17)

Isaiah 5:1-7 emphasizes God’s careful planting and tending of His vineyard, Israel. God expected much righteous fruit from His chosen vineyard. He placed it on a fertile hill, cleared it of stones, planted it with choice vines, built a watchtower to protect it, and hewed out a wine vat. With everything ready and waiting for a good crop, the vineyard produced only wild grapes. This result led God to declare He would allow His chosen vineyard to be destroyed. And destroyed it was – first in 586 B.C. The people were exiled to Babylon. Later, Persia defeated Babylon and the Persian King allowed some exiles to return. The returnees set about reestablishing what had been destroyed. After a long period of ups and down, Messiah was born, grew up, and began to minister. He was rejected by the authorities and eventually executed. Jerusalem was destroyed again in 70 A.D. by the Romans, the people killed or exiled. 

Israel’s Hope

For hundreds of years Israel’s hope for the future was based on Isaiah’s prophecy of a branch, a shoot from the root of the vine which was yet to come:  Isaiah 4:2-3, “In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel. 3 And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem,” Isaiah 11:1, 10 “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples- of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

Isaiah’s One anticipated to save Israel is expressed as a choice vine coming from the stump of Jesse to bear the fruit Israel was not able to bear. That prophecy was realized by the incarnation. Jesus came as the True Vine. Israel’s position as the Vine of God was an imperfect foreshadowing of the true vine. Jesus had all the perfections Israel was called to develop but had never succeeded in doing. In Messiah a new Israel would come into being. The redeemed people of the new Israel would draw their spiritual sustenance from Christ, the True Vine, as do the branches of a vine. Paul recognizes this truth in his view of the Church as the New Israel. He compares it with the old Israel in the metaphor of an olive tree from which branches are broken off, and new ones grafted in (Romans 11:17-24). 

The Vine Imagery in Teaching About the Kingdom of God

Jesus frequently used the vineyard imagery in His teaching on the Kingdom of God. For example: Matthew 20:1-15: Laborers in the vineyard were paid according to God’s generosity rather than what they earned. In Matthew 21:28-32, Two sons were told to work in the vineyard; one said he would go but did not; the other said he would not go, yet went. Jesus used this parable to illustrate the difference between speech and action. Jesus commended the right action. 

In Mark 12:1-9 (and Matthew 21:33-44, etc.) Jesus tells a parable about an owner who sent various messengers to the tenants of his vineyard, all of whom were treated badly by the tenants. The owner then sent his son. The wicked tenants killed the son. This parable illustrated the rejection of the prophets and the coming rejection and death of Messiah. 

Israel’s Failure to be God’s Righteous Vine

The Old Testament reveals Israel’s failure to fulfill its appointed role as the righteous vine of God. After many prophets and kings, many ups and downs, it seemed no person or no single group could fulfill the required role. Israel failed to be God’s fruitful vine, but in the fullness of time, God sent His Son as Messiah to be the True Vine that Israel was incapable of being.

How had Israel failed? God chose Israel to produce luscious, beautiful, choice grapes of righteousness, but instead, forgetting what God had done and ignoring their covenant with Him, she had produced the bad fruit of unrighteousness and rebellion. From the stump of Jesse would come Jesus, the True Vine, who would produce the fruit of righteousness God seeks. Jesus completed His role as the true vine through His atoning death in which He paid the penalty for the unrighteousness of others. Having completed the work the Father sent Him to do, Jesus became the source of all righteousness. It is instructive that we find this metaphor in the midst of Jesus’ discourses on the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit is instrumental in fulfilling Christ’s role as the True Vine. 

Jesus Tells His Disciples He is the True Vine

As the time of His death came near, Jesus increasingly spent most of His time teaching and preparing His small group of disciples for what lay ahead. On the very night of His betrayal, Jesus spoke earnestly to His disciples of many things including that He, not Israel, is the True Vine. He told them the exceptionally good news that the Holy Spirit will be sent to bond them and all believers to Himself in a Union, a Union as intimate as that of branches in a vine. It is a union that will last through all ages and eternity. Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” (John15:1) “I am the vine; you are the branches.” (John 15:5a).  How could a relationship be more intimate? What a comforting picture Jesus paints. His life flows through the branches bringing forth the fruit of righteousness. 

Context of the “True Vine” Metaphor

The declaration by Jesus that He is the true vine is the last of seven “I am” declarations recorded by John. In John 6:35, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” in 8:12 “I am the light of the world,” in 10:9 “I am the gate … who enters through Me will be saved”, in 10:11 “I am the good shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep,” in 11:25 “I am the resurrection and the life,” in 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life,” and now in 15:1 He says, “I am the true vine.”  Each “I am” passage is a rich image. Each one provides a better understanding of who Jesus is and what we can be because of who He is. The “true vine” metaphor is particularly striking. In no other place does Jesus link believers to Himself in so direct a way as in 15:5 when He says, “I am the true vine” and then immediately says “you are the branches.”  

Israel’s Hope Realized

It was about 700 years after Isaiah that Jesus declared, “I am the true vine.” But, those who heard Him had no doubt about what He meant. Jesus was declaring that He is the expected branch, the shoot from the stump of Jesse, the choice vine that Isaiah and other prophets saw coming. Though Israel failed as the Vine of God, Jesus declared He will succeed in producing the righteousness Israel failed to produce. Jesus is the new and true vine of the Lord. The Father is never disappointed when He looks for fruit from the vine of His Son. Yet, in a short time after Jesus’ declaration, He will die on a Roman cross. What is to be made of that? His death, as an innocent man, seems so cruel. But it is a necessary part of the Trinity’s plan for Jesus to become the one source of righteousness apart from the Law. His righteousness is the only righteousness available to fallen humanity, and only available because of Jesus’ perfect life obedient to the Law, His atoning death, and glorious resurrection. 

Jesus’ atoning death on the cross and His subsequent resurrection finished His earthly task. Jesus claimed to be the culmination and fulfillment of all the Old Testament language and imagery about the “Vine of God.” Israel had been planted on good land and carefully tended, but it failed to produce and therefore was pruned. Whole branches had been cut off and thrown away. Jesus came to be the True Vine producing the necessary fruit of righteousness.

As seen in Isaiah 53:2, in His human nature, Jesus grew up before God like “a young plant.” He was perfect and beloved of the Father. But in manhood when He began His ministry, He was soon despised particularly by those in authority. The Father declared Jesus to be His “beloved Son” in whom He was “well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35). Jesus, by His very nature, as the true vine, brings forth the fruit the Father seeks. 

Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” The Father is the One who cares for and tends the needs of the vine. He is the One who receives and rejoices in its fruit. In all things Jesus sought the Father’s will and glory. The divine Son took to Himself humanness, demonstrating what a human creature should be like before its Creator. 

He sacrificed Himself to become the only source of righteousness apart from the Law.  Without that one source of righteousness apart from the Law, no could be saved from eternal destruction. He bought salvation to many, bearing the burden and death due their sins. He seeks to make our life before the Father like His: “Of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things.” (Romans 11:36). He became the True Vine, that we might be true branches. We are absolutely dependent on Him for forgiveness of sins and righteousness. 

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