“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just 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. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” - John 15:1-5
John records the seventh and final “I Am” saying as Jesus addresses his followers on their last evening together. The hour is approaching for Jesus’ crucifixion. Within 24 hours, he will be dead. He speaks to his followers about life. He is about to leave his disciples. His words compel them to “abide in” him. His arrest, trial, and death will show the barrenness of the religious leaders’ faith. Jesus’ offer is abundant fruitfulness.
“I am the true vine,” Jesus says, “and my Father is the vinegrower.” The imagery of the vine is rich both in the Jewish scriptures and in Jewish self-understanding. Both Jeremiah and Isaiah speak of Israel as a “choice vine.” Hosea calls the People of God a “luxuriant vine.” All three use the image to speak of how the very people God planted have produced, not a fruitful harvest, but sour, even poisonous, grapes.
As Jesus prepares his disciples for his death, he expresses to them that he will be closer to them in death than he has been to them in life, that they will find life in him, and that as they abide in him – in his love and in his life-giving spirit – they will indeed bear good fruit.
In this extended metaphor John reveals that Jesus is the “true vine,” not replacing, but fulfilling Judaism. Jesus’ followers are grafted into the vine and receive abundant life from him. Just as a branch bears fruit by drawing its nourishment from the life-giving vine, so too Jesus’ followers will bear the fruit of love and unity as they draw grace and truth from Christ Jesus. Just as branches cannot live if severed from the vine, so too Jesus tells his followers, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”
Jesus’ expression and final “I am” saying offer assurance that he is not merely ushering in a new philosophy or a new theology. His offer is newness of life – full and abundant, transcending even death.
Lord Jesus, I draw my very sustenance from you. May you be glorified, as my life blossoms in grace and truth and bears the good fruit of abiding love. Amen
A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston