The Vine and the Branches (John 15:1-11)
Jesus uses a familiar setting to illustrate the disciples’ relationship to their God. Jesus is the one true vine. The illustration of a vine had been used in the past to represent Israel (Psalm 80:8-16; Jeremiah 2:21), but that vine did not remain true to its nature. Jesus alludes to those illustrations, but calls himself the one true vine.
Those in denominations like to claim that the each denomination is a branch off the true vine, but it is evident that Jesus is talking about individual disciples as being the branches. Sometimes we get so caught up in identifying who are the branches, that we forget about the actual point of the illustration.
The Father is likened to vinedresser, a person whose duty is to tend to the vines so they will produce the best results. Grapevines can grow on their own, but they don’t do as well as they do when maintained. A grapevine allowed to grow wild will produce fruit, but it is a poorer quality than one that is regularly pruned. Grapes grow on one-year-old branches. Older branches will produce more shoots for grape producing branches. The problem is if the vine isn’t prune, it will cycle through a year of mostly leaves followed by a year of grapes, but those grapes will be poor because there are too many. Pruning keeps the balance between grapes being produced and branches for next year’s crop without either becoming too heavy. Simply put, grapes do best when they are severely pruned every year.
A branch which doesn’t bear fruit isn’t worth keeping, so it is removed. Christians must be removed when they stray too far from the truth in order to teach them to stay within the truth (I Timothy 1:18-20; I Corinthians 5:4-5).
A branch which is bearing fruit needs to be cut back to cause it to bear more fruit (James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5). Hard times and difficulties are necessary for the health and productivity of Christians. I’ve repeatedly seen mediocre Christians suddenly blossom into productivity when faced with difficulties. When everything appeared to be going smoothly, they sat back content to let others handle things. But when a hardship came, they suddenly realized there was no one else to do the work, and they stepped up to shoulder the burden.
Already the process of improving was occurring in their lives. Jesus’s teaching has been at work within them (John 17:17; Ephesians 5:26; James 1:18; I Peter 1:22). What is required is that the disciples remain in Jesus and that means that his word remains within their hearts (John 14:23; 15:7; Colossians 1:21-23; I John 2:6). Only then can the disciple be fruitful (Philippians 4:13).
What kind of fruit are we talking about? Certainly Jesus is not referring to sitting in pews each Sunday.
• Fruits of righteousness (Philippians 1:10-11; Hebrews 12:11)
• Fruits of changed behavior (Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 5:9; II Peter 1:2-8)
• Fruits of helping the disadvantaged (Romans 15:26-28; II Corinthians 9:9-10; Philippians 4:16-18)
• Fruits of continual good works (Titus 3:14; Matthew 5:16; Colossians 1:5-6, 9-12)
• Fruits of praising God (Hebrews 13:15)
• Fruits of winning souls to Christ (John 4:35-36; Proverbs 11:30; Romans 1:13)
Those who do not stay in Christ and his word, will be removed. Those who remain can ask of Jesus and receive what they need. As we noted earlier (John 14:13), it is not free-for-all because those whose prayers are answered are staying in the bounds of Christ and his teachings (Psalm 66:18).
When Christian follow the teachings of God and this following results in good works which brings praise to the One who commanded such works (Matthew 5:16; 9:8; Luke 17:15; Philippians 4:17).
A chain of love is displayed. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the disciple who abides in him. Thus it is imperative that we keep Christ’s commandments so that we may stay in his love, just as Christ illustrated it for us by following the Father’s commandments and staying in the Father’s love.
Jesus has told his disciples all of this so that his joy could stay with the disciples and that they might experience full joy in their lives (Psalm 45:7). Jesus wants his disciples to experience the happiness that he himself has. The writings of the apostles pass this on to us (I John 1:4; II John 12). Such joy is a mark of Christians (Romans 14:17; II Corinthians 2:3; I Thessalonians 3:9; I Peter 1:8).
Love One Another (John 15:12-17)
Repeating his earlier command, Jesus tells his disciples that they must love each other just has Jesus has loved them (John 13:34). Jesus is about to demonstrate the ultimate example of love by giving his live for those who are his friends (Romans 5:6-8; I John 3:16). They, in turn, can demonstrate their friendship with Jesus through their obedience to his commands, which would include the command to love each other.
Though Jesus’ disciples serve him, Jesus does not see them or treat them as servants, but as friends. Their service is not one of forced servitude but service from a desire to be friends. As his friends, he has told the disciples all that he has been given from the Father. A servant might be kept in the dark as to why his master is doing certain things, but a friend shares intimate facts with his friends. Jesus has told them that he was leaving, why he was leaving, and his concern for them. This is proof of his friendship with them.
The choice was Jesus’ in picking these disciples. And he chose them for a particular duty, to bear lasting fruit (Hebrews 12:28), which they would receive help in doing if they but ask. The relationship is stable because it was the Son of God who picked and not they him. It was a fair selection because they were chosen when they had not yet known Jesus well.
Jesus repeats for a third time that the disciples were commanded to love each other. Clearly this is no light command to be possibly overlooked. Jesus considers it critical to the task he has set before them.
The World Will Hate You (John 15:18-16:4)
In contrast with their love for each other, Jesus warns his disciples that the world will hate them. This should not take them by surprise because the world hated Jesus first (I John 3:17). The cause of this hatred is because they would not be a part of the world and people don’t like people who are different. The disciples are different from the rest of the world because Jesus chose them to leave the world.
This separation from the world must take place. Those who follow will not be treated different from the one they are following. The world persecuted and soon will kill Jesus. The disciples can expect no less. If some accepted Jesus, then they can expect those same people to accept them as well. All of this will come upon them because of Jesus’ authority (Acts 5:28, 41; I Peter 4:14; Revelation 3:8) and because they are unable to understand God.
And they have no excuse for their rejection of Jesus. If they had never knew Jesus existed, they could not have rejected him. But because Jesus had come and taught them, and they have rejected that knowledge, their sin will be held against them. This is not to say they had no other sins for which they were also responsible.
By rejecting Jesus, they also reject the Father since Jesus represents the Father to the world. They might have had an excuse if they had not seen the miracles Jesus had done, but because they had witness them, they have no excuse for their hatred of Jesus and the Father. Thus prophecy was fulfilled (Psalm 35:19; 69:4).
Still, though all this will happen against the disciples, Jesus had a great task for them. When Jesus send the Holy Spirit to them, the Spirit will give evidence of Jesus. This testimony, combined with their own personal witness would instruct the world. It was for this reason they were chose because they have been with Jesus since the beginning of his ministry (Acts 1:21-22).
Jesus has warned them about the hostilities against them in advance, not to scare them away, but so that it would not take them by surprise and cause them to stumble. The persecution would be so severe that they will be thrown out of the synagogues and people will think that they are serving God by killing them (Galatians 1:13-14). It will happen to the disciples because the world doesn’t know God or Jesus (I Corinthians 2:8; I Timothy 1:13).
The disciples may not fully appreciate what Jesus is warning them now, but Jesus told them in advance so that when it does happen, they can remember that they were forewarned. He didn’t tell them earlier because he was with them to shield them. He himself bore the brunt of the persecution. Now that he is leaving, they need to know these things. He had discussed the topic of their being persecuted many times (Matthew 5:10-12; Luke 6:22), but not to this degree. They had to be told as they were ready to accept it.