Each of the “I Am” statements in Scripture uttered by Christ is preceded by the “ego emi” of the Septuagint for God’s sacred name, Yahweh, “I Am who I Am.” Another “I Am” of Christ is given in John 15.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. 2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. 3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:1-5).
In this passage, Jesus says that He is the “True Vine” in verse 1, and the “Vine” in verse 5. This may be a difference without a distinction, or it may be significant. In the statement about Himself, Jesus also speaks of the productivity of His disciples. They must bear fruit. Spiritual fruit is possible only by remaining closely united to Christ, as branches are connected to the vine.
By saying that He was the True Vine, Jesus was placing Himself in contrast with the false vine, or the corrupt vine. Those who heard Jesus speak understood what He was saying because the metaphor of the vine was not something new to those listening. The image of the vine was used in the Old Testament to describe the relationship between God and Israel.
“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth. 2 Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh stir up thy strength, and come and save us. 3 Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved. 4 O Lord God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people? 5 Thou feedest them with the bread of tears; and givest them tears to drink in great measure. 6 Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbours: and our enemies laugh among themselves” (Psalm 80:1-6).
God is spoken of as being the Shepherd of Israel, as Jesus said He was the Good Shepherd. As the Shepherd God, He dwelt between the cherubims, a reference to the Ark of the Covenant where the cherubims guarded the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies.
The Psalmist is weeping before God because Israel was experiencing God’s judgment upon the nation. God had given them “bread for tears.” The prayer is for God to restore His people to favor. The petition to be turned is repeated in verse 7.
“Turn us again, O God of hosts, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved. 8 Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. 9 Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. 10 The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. 11 She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river. 12 Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her? 13 The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it” (Psalm 80:7-13).
The Psalmist remembers the history of Israel. Israel was like a vine brought out of Egypt by God, and planted among the heathen. The Lord caused it to take deep root so that it grew and filled the land. The growth of the vine was spectacular, for it covered the hills. Roots forming new branches were sent out in all direction. Then, suddenly, judgment came. God broke down the hedges which protected the vine. The vine became subject to the will of any stranger to pluck and plunder its fruit. Wild animals came to waste the good vine. God was no longer protecting the vine. A plea is made for the Vinedresser to return to the vine to protect it.
“Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine; 15 And the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest strong for thyself. 16 It is burned with fire, it is cut down: they perish at the rebuke of thy countenance. 17 Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself. 18 So will not we go back from thee: quicken us, and we will call upon thy name. 19 Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved” (Psalm 80:14-19).
The Psalmist pleads with God to bring spiritual renewal to Israel by causing the people to turn to the Lord. The Psalmist recognizes what the vine cannot do, what the people of Israel cannot do. The vine cannot cure, or sanctify itself. it cannot protect itself. The vine is helpless, and hopeless, unless God does something. Only if God acts will the vine, and thus the people of Israel be saved.
The reference to the vineyard, “which thy right hand hath planted,” could refer to the nation of Israel itself. It could also refer to David, or, ultimately, the Messiah. The plea in this prayer is for God to return to the vineyard, to save the vineyard He has planted.
Another illustration of Israel as the vine is found in the prophet Isaiah.
“Now will I sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: 2 And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. 3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. 4 What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? 5 And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: 6 And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. 7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry” (Isa. 5:1-7).
Because the vineyard had become corrupt, God was determined to express His wrath against that which He planted. Specifically, the house of Israel, and the men of Judah would be judged because God found no justice, no mercy, and no righteousness in the land. God expected fruit, but He got wild grapes. In the sight of God, Israel had become the corrupt vine.
Later, Jesus would contrast Himself with the corrupt vine, and declare that He was the True Vine. He was just. He was merciful. He was righteous. His Father was the Vinedresser. Jesus was saying that He was the embodiment of Israel.
The identity of Jesus to Israel is found elsewhere in Scripture, beginning with His infancy, and early childhood. The Christ child is the embodiment of all that took place in the Old Testament whereby the people of God had to flee to Egypt, before they were delivered, and brought to a Land of Promise, flowing with milk and honey.
“And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. 13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. 14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: 15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son” (Matt. 2:12).
Jesus is so representative of His people, that He is Israel. Another cryptic reference conveying the Lord’s identify with Israel is found in the opening chapter of John’s gospel, where the author says that the Word which became flesh, dwelt, or tabernacled, or pitched His tent in the midst of Israel. The allusion would have been to the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, which was a tent pitched in the middle of the camp. “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
In John 15, Jesus began His discourse by saying He was the True Vine, Israel. However, unlike the corrupt Israel, He would bring forth the good fruit, not the wild grapes. A True Vine will bring forth good fruit because the Vinedresser is careful to attend to it.
If a vineyard is allowed to grow without being pruned, eventually, the harvest will be minimized. It is very important that the vines be pruned on a regular basis. This is true even for the branches which are fruit bearing. The flow of the sap is increased when careful pruning takes place.
Normally, ever vine will have branches that die. The vinedresser will come to cut off the dead branches. The dead branches have no value, and so are burned. The dead branches have to be removed. The spiritual point of this narrative is that Jesus is teaching something about the church. The church is made up of sheep and goats, tares and wheat, and dead branches. There are people who are united with the church outwardly for a variety of reasons, but they are not truly converted, just like in the Old Testament expression of the church in Israel. In biblical language, “not all Israel is Israel.” “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6).
Because the church is not pure, she needs a Good Shepherd to protect the flock from the wolves. The church needs a Gardener to root out the tares. The church needs a Vinedresser to prune the dead branches. There are people in the church who are like dead wood. They are like clouds that promise rain, but give no water. John 15 is not discussing Christians who do not bear fruit, because there are no Christians who do not bear fruit.
Not bearing fruit is a clear indication that a person is not a believer. They are dead wood, trying to attach themselves to the living True Vine. It is not going to happen. God will cut such a person off. “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away” (John 15:2).
There are other people in the church, who have been made clean by Christ, and they do bear spiritual fruit, but they too need pruning in order to be able to bear more fruit. “… and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15:2). The branch has to be connected to the vine for the fruit to grow. Jesus is saying that He is the True Vine. His disciples must abide in Him if they want to grow. Those who do abide in Christ will be pruned by the Father, who is the Vinedresser, but that pruning process is fine. It will result in greater spiritual production.
To be productive as a Christian, a person must stay close to Christ. This is determined by several factors such as how much time is spent in His Word, how much time is spent in communion, meditation, and prayer, how often the heart thinks about Jesus, whether or not spiritual songs are sung, whether or not there is gospel obedience, and how often Christ is shared with others.
If there is no evidence of spiritual fruit, there is no evidence of spiritual life. If there is evidence of spiritual fruit, how much spiritual fruit is produced will depend on how close to the True Vine the branch remains. A barely attached branch to the True Vine will barely produce spiritual fruit.
It is the will of the Lord that His people bear much fruit. That is glorifying to the Father. Fruit bearing is not something that Christians should diminish, or neglect. While there is great comfort in the doctrine of eternal security, the believer finds a greater sense of security when there is evidence of spiritual fruit in their life. The Christian is not to live a life of wasted years.
“Have you wondered alone on life’s pathway,
Have you lived without love a life of tears,
Have you searched for the gray hidden meaning,
Or is your life filled with long wasted years.
Wasted years wasted years, Oh how foolish,
As you walk all in darkness and fears,
Turn around, turn around God is calling,
He’s calling you from a life of wasted years.
Search for wisdom and seek understanding,
There is someone who knows and always hears,
Give it up, give it up the load you are bearing,
You can’t go on in a life of wasted years.
Don’t you know Jesus died for all sinners,
He loves you and your guilt he gladly bears,
Come to Him, Come to Him your sin confessing,
You can go on with a life of fruitful years.”
Attributed to Walley Foley