Our Lord often used things at hand to illustrate or explain spiritual truths. At the Feast of Tabernacles as the priest approached the altar and was pouring out the symbolic water Jesus cried, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” And the next day as he stood in the temple treasury before mammoth, extinguished torches that symbolized the pillar of fire in the wilderness, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” He used those dead torches to proclaim that he was the departed Shekinah glory.
In John 15:1-11 he used a grapevine as an illustration of spiritual truth. What called this illustration to the Master’s mind? Perhaps the closeness of the disciples, or perhaps the moonlit tendrils of a vine at the window. Regardless, the fact that Israel was thought of in terms of a vine reinforced his use of this image. For example, “The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the gardens of his delight” (Isaiah 5:7). The grapevine was a symbol of national life. That emblem appeared on coins minted during the Maccabean period, their regard for it resembling our regard for stars and stripes. So precious was the symbol to the Jews that a huge, gold grapevine decorated the gates of the temple. The famous old Calmets’ Dictionary says:
In the temple at Jerusalem, above and round the gate, seventy cubits high, which led from the porch to the holy place, a richly carved vine was extended as a border and decoration. The branches, tendrils and leaves were of finest gold; the stalks of the bunches were of the length of the human form, and the bunches hanging upon them were of costly jewels. Herod first placed it there; rich and patriotic Jews from time to time added to its embellishment, one contributed a new grape, another a leaf, and a third even a bunch of the same precious materials… this vine must have had an uncommon importance and a sacred meaning in the eyes of the Jews. With what majestic splendor must it likewise have appeared in the evening, when it was illuminated by tapers!
It was a grand symbol of national life.
In John 15:1 Christ gives his seventh and final great “I Am”: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” All the conversation stopped at this powerful pronouncement. The force of his words were, “You all know how Israel is pictured as a vine that is meant to produce refreshing fruit. Well, I am the fulfillment of all that symbol suggests.” To Christian believers, this is a wonderfully deep and mystic parable. Christ is the vine (the trunk), we are the branches, and God the Father is the gardener. The picture taken together is that of a vineyard with true believers organically related to Christ (the sap that runs in his veins runs in ours) and of the Father walking among the vines lovingly caring for them so they will bring forth fruit.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
Not only is fruit-bearing the main emphasis, but our Lord makes it the identifying mark of a true believer. “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit” (John 15:2). Some claim to be in the vine, but the absence of fruit disqualifies them. If there is no fruit in our life, we had better reconsider the authenticity of our Christianity.
Preaching the Word – Preaching the Word – John: That You May Believe.