Remain in Christ, the true Vine. He is the source of purposeful fruit and true joy, and the means by which the love of God is embodied in the Church and declared to the world.
The illustration comes from the agrarian context familiar to the first-century Palestine.
This is the seventh of the seven formal “I am” statements with a predicate.
In the OT the image of the vine designates Israel (Ps 80:8–16; Is 27:2–6; Jer 2:21; Ezek 15:2–6; 17:5–10; 19:10–14).
Thus, the statement “the true vine” implies a contrast with Israel.
First, the title describes the condition of the true vine, how Jesus entered and took upon himself the failure of Israel (and the sinfulness of the world).
In every occurrence where “vine” is used to represent Israel, it is used to rebuke and judge Israel. For example, in Ezek 15:2–6, the vine is only fit to be burned. Then in Ezek 19:10–14, once a fruitful vine but then it has been uprooted, thrown to the ground and consumed by fire (see also Is 5:1–2).
Second, the title describes the quality of the true vine, how Jesus accomplished everything the Israel-vine was unable to do - He bears fruit.
The qualification “true” is intended to contrast Jesus with Israel. Jesus is the fulfilment of the Israel-vine and the one who completes its mission. He is the true Israel.
The Gospel of John has already taken great care to describe how Jesus fulfils and replaces the old covenant persons and institutions of the temple (ch. 2), sacred places/mountains (ch. 4), Moses (ch. 5), and the Jewish feasts (ch. 6).
As the true vine Jesus also supersedes Israel as the centre and source of God’s people. The places (the land, Jerusalem, temple, altar) and the people (Israel, Jewish bloodlines, priestly heritage) have been fulfilled and replaced by one person: Jesus Christ.
Then, Jesus adds “and my Father is the vinedresser”.
God has always been depicted in the OT as the farmer, Israel’s vinedresser (Ps 80:7–15), but that vine failed.
The Father has not stopped tending his vine; it is the Son who has now “become” the vine tended by the Father, that is, sent by the Father (3:16).
With this further revelation the same mission of God that began “in the beginning” of the OT is continued, though this time there is perfect communion and obedience between the Vine and the Farmer, the Son and the Father.
Some commentators indicate that from the very beginning the Son was the intended vine.
Jesus now introduces a new character to his illustration: the branch. According to 15:5, the disciples are the branches. The illustration explains the nature of the relationship between the vine, the branches, and the farmer. Two things to note regarding that relationship.
The person of Judas is an example of an unfruitful branch.
15:3 - cf. 13:10
Jesus now addresses the situation of the disciples. They are “clean” because of the “word” - the entire message of Jesus.
Jesus is the Word, and his work has been to make God known (1:18). This has been done for his disciples. Thus, Jesus makes them to understand their relationship to him and their identity in him.
The disciples can only fulfil the work of God, their mission by “remaining” in Jesus.
The verb “remain” can be understood to mean “dwell”, “stay” or even “continue to live”. It is an important term in the Gospel (5:38; 6:56; 8:31; 12:36; 14:10, 17, 25).
It seems to be a command and could be rendered as ‘make this your top priority’. Thus, this is the foundation of Christian existence.
The lack of a verb in the second clause is significant. “Remain in me, as I in you” - “remain” is only used once in Greek. Since 1:14, Jesus has been “remaining” or “dwelling” with his people (cf. 14:20). All that is left is for them to “remain” in union with Christ - because the branches cannot bear fruit by itself.
Jesus explains the meaning of the vine (He) and the branches (the Christians).
Jesus again uses only one verb “remain” - so we have here mutual remaining.
Paul expresses the same truth in Gal 2:20 and in Phil 4:13. Without Christ we can do nothing, with Christ we can do all things.
After describing the positive effects of “remaining” (15:5), Jesus now describes the negative.
The opposite to “remaining” is being thrown outside. Notice that the verb is in passive form - the throwing out is not on their own volition.
It is interesting to notice that the wood of a dead vine branch cannot be used for anything - no furniture can be produced out of it. So, if it does not produce fruits, it is only good for fuel (Ezek 15:1–8).
15:7 - cf. 14:13–14
Now it is not Christ who “remains” in them but his words!
Some scholars distinguish between τὸν λόγον - singular (15:3) and τὰ ῥήματά - words in plural (15:7).
The “word” in 15:3 would be Jesus’ teaching in its entirety and the “words” in 15:7 would be the individual utterances which make up the entire Jesus’ teaching.
In John 14:13–14, the promise of answered prayer is made to the one who believes in Jesus; the same promise is made here to the one who remains in him and in whose hearts his words have a permanent residence.
15:8 - cf. 8:31–32; 14:13
In 14:13, the Father is glorified in the Son, here the Father is glorified in the disciples. It seems that receiving an answer to the prayer of faith appears to be one form of spiritual fruit-bearing.
Thus, if our fruitfulness brings glory to God, our fruitlessness robs God of the glory that rightly belongs to him.
As the Father is supremely glorified in the obedience of Jesus (13:31–32; 17:1, 4), so the Father is glorified in those whose lives reproduce the obedient life of Jesus.
Regarding the fruit see Gal 5:22–23.
15:9 - cf. 3:35; 5:20
The Christians are the recipient of the love of God that comes to them through Jesus.
In 15:4, Jesus commanded to remain in him, here he commands to remain in his “love” - participating in the love of God. But, how to remain in this love? Jesus explains in the next verse.
15:10 - cf. 14:15
Jesus’ love for the Father was shown in his obedience to him, so is the same for the disciples.
Remaining in the love of God is not some mystical experience; it is an active response of obedience. Our love for Jesus is expressed in our obedience to Jesus.
The intersection of love and obedience (14:15, 21, 23, 31) are the two pillars of the Christian life and experience.
An important note. Obedience springs from love and is a response to love, not the reverse. The disciples respond with obedience to the love of God that they have experience first (Rom 5:8).
Another note. Just as “love” is not defined in abstraction but by the person and work of God through Jesus, so also is “obedience”.
Our “obedience” is enabled by our participation in God (by the Spirit) and is guided by his person (the example of Christ).
15:11 - cf. 1 John 1:4
In verses 15:10–11, Jesus adds “my love” and “my joy” to “my peace” which he has already bequeathed to the disciples (14:27).
Jesus ends this part of his speech (15:9–11) with the twofold reason for speaking about these things: (1) my joy may be in you, and (2) that your joy may be complete".
Thus, our participation in God involves “peace”, “love”, and “joy” (cf. Gal 5:22).
For “joy” and God’s kingdom see Rom 14:17.
Christian life marked by “obedience” is not burdensome but joyous.
15:12 - cf. 13:34–35
The third section of the pericope (15:12–17) begins and ends with a command from Jesus.
It seems that the commandments (plural) (15:10) are here narrowed to one.
The love of God for Christians becomes the love of God between Christians.
For the twofold love for God and one another - see Mt 22:34–40; Mk 12:28–34; Luke 10:25–28.
But this is not a ‘normal love’, but the one that imitates Christ’ love for us (1 John 3:16).
15:13 - cf. 6:51
While in 6:51, Jesus gives life for the life of the world, here Jesus speaks about his act of love for his friends.
In Greek “φίλος - friend” and “φιλέω - love as friendship” points to the fact that a “friend” is “one who is loved”.
Thus, the one for whom a person would give his life is, by definition, his friend.
“Friendship” was an important category in the ancient world, but it did not always imply social equality - the difference between Jesus - the Lord and Master and his disciples. Yet in spite of this distinction, friendship always included affection and good will between the two parties.
Jesus now defines further the friendship about which he is speaking - friendship is evidenced and defined by obedience. Again the combination of love and obedience is used to define proper relationship between God and the children of God (14:15, 21, 23, 31).
Jesus continues to explain the nature of the unique friendship between God and his children.
“Obedience” is usually associated with “slaves”, but there is difference between a ‘blind’ obedience - doing what the Master tells without the purpose - and an ‘obedience’ of Christ’s disciple who knows what the Lord is doing. It is knowledge that distinguishes a friend from a slave. To his friends, Jesus disclosed all that he himself has learned from the Father.
The disciples are not slaves but “sons” who have been set free by “the Son” (8:35–36). This sonship - the “right” to become the children of God (1:12) depicts the relationship that exists in “my Father’s house” (14:2).
Just as Abraham was the first to be called the “friend of God” (Is 41:8; 2 Chron 20:7; Jas 2:23), the one to whom the covenant of God was announced and initiated (Gen 12:1–3), so also we, the children of Abraham (Gal 3:7), are also those to whom the new covenant is announced and initiated.
On that day, when he called them, “follow me”, he chose them that they might share his ministry. They were called to bear “fruit” - like the branches on the vine - lasting “fruit” (cf. 14:12 - the fruit of their apostleship).
And again Jesus repeats the promise of their effective prayer.
Jesus repeats his commandment “to love one another” (15:12) - the focus here is more on the intended result.
The Christian is so united with Christ that they will experience the world’s hatred of God. This hatred indicates the world’s sinful condition. Yet it is in the world that the Christian is appointed to be a witness to Christ with the Paraclete.
From the love relationship between Jesus and his disciples, Jesus now moves to the hate relationship between the world and the disciples.
The disciples are not only to “know” that they will be the objects of the world’s hate，they should also know two further things.
There is a sharp contrast between the disciples and the world - just as the disciples are to be known by their love, the world will be known by its hatred. This response by the world, therefore, should not come as a surprise (cf. 1 John 3:13).
The word “the world” refers to godless world, opposing God and his people.
Jesus defines further the world’s hatred towards the disciples. The root of this hate is the disciples’ lack of identification with the world. The Christian is no longer “from the world”. They used to be “in the world” (17:11), but Christ himself - “chose” them out of the world (cf. 15:16).
While still in the world (historical reality), they are at the same time no longer from the world. The Christian is so identified “in Christ” that they are now distinguishable from their natural-born origin: they have been born anew “from above” (3:1–11). It is “for this reason” that the world hates the disciples.
Christ’s disciples are now a foreign entity in the world, and so the world will naturally respond to them in force with intent to destroy.
15:20 - cf. 13:16
The identity of the disciples is so grounded in their relation to Christ and his identity that they should expect to receive similar treatment. The world’s treatment of Jesus will continue against his disciples (cf. Acts 9:4).
The Church really is the body of Christ and will physically participate in his real sufferings (cf. Col 1:24).
So, some will persecute the disciples (as they did Jesus) and some will respond in obedience to them (as they did to Jesus). Thus, the actual reaction - either negative or positive - is towards Jesus.
Jesus concludes by giving the ultimate source of the world’s hatred of the disciples. Two reasons are given.
The world rejects the person of Jesus. “Because of my name”. In the ancient world, the concept of a “name” was not merely a label but the character of a person. Thus, the world rejects everything the name “Jesus” means and stands for and therefore will do the same to his disciples, the Church. If the world has rejected the representative of God, Jesus Christ, they will surely do the same to Jesus’ representatives - his disciples.
The world rejects the Father. By rejecting Jesus, the one sent by the Father, the world also rejects the Sender - the Father. The judgment by Jesus that the world “does not know” the Father will be explained in 15:22–25. The knowledge of God is one of the deep existential issues that the Gospel addresses (7:28–29; 8:19). And since the knowledge of God is only grasped through the Son (1:18), the rejection of the Son becomes also the rejection of the Father.
See also 1 John 2:23 - that indicates an enmity between the world and God.
15:22 - cf. Luke 11:31–32; Mt 11:23–24
The generation to which Jesus came bore a greater responsibility than any previous generation, because men and women of earlier days had not heard his teaching or seen his mighty works, as his own contemporaries did. And yet, most of them rejected his teaching and refused to admit the evidence of his works (John 12:37).
The greater the privilege, the greater responsibility, and what a privilege to see and hear Jesus in person.
Thus, Jesus pronounces the judgement.
Jesus’ statement does not mean that there was no sin before his coming (see Rom 5:13). Their sin is viewed in relation to Jesus’ person and his teaching.
The arrival of Jesus made sin known, so that now people have no excuse (9:39–41). Jesus has taken away their “excuse”.
The paradox is that Jesus is both the Judge and the Lamb of God. Based on the world’s response to Jesus, one is either judged or saved.
15:23 - cf. 13:20
Jesus is the “icon of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), the revelation of the Father (John 1:18). The world’s reaction to Jesus equals their reaction to the Father.
Jesus restates and summarises the argument in 15:22–23. Here, Jesus adds “his works” as the evidence against those who rejected him. These “works” are his miracles (5:36; 9:3; 10:32, 37; 14:10), and they inaugurated the judgement of the world.
These “works” reveal the character and power of God the Father; these “works” reveal that in Christ the Father is active in a unique way. The world saw these “works” and yet rejected Jesus and the Father - so, they have no excuse.
15:25 - cf. Ps 69:5 and 35:19
Jesus speaks through the Psalms to declare the betrayal and treachery of the world and its unprovoked hatred. By using a psalm of a righteous sufferer who faces baseless accusation and persecution, Jesus points to fact that he fulfils that psalm by becoming the fullest expression of the righteous sufferer.
The quotation in this context and the phrase “their law” point at the Jews of Jesus’ time. “They hated [Jesus] without cause”.
15:26–27 - cf. 14:16–17
Jesus for the third time speaks about the Paraclete (14:16, 26; 15:26–27). If the world hated Jesus and is going to hate the disciples as well, and if Jesus is about to depart soon, how are the disciples going to face the world and actually continue to perform the works of God in it?
These two verses address this very issue and offer a counter to the forecasted hatred of the world (15:18–19).
The Paraclete was depicted before as the manifestation of the presence of God in the lives of the disciples. Now, the Paraclete is depicted in its unique role in the world.
Just as John the Baptist preceded Christ and testified about him (1:7), so also the Spirit following ‘after’ Christ will testify about him. This testimony of the Spirit takes place through the disciples (see Mt 10:19–20; Mk 13:11; Acts 5:32).
Thus, there is the testimony of the Spirit (1 John 5:6) and the testimony of the disciples (15:27). Probably, it can be understood, the Spirt reveals things to the Church and the Church makes it known to the world.
In final analysis, the source of this testimony is always God.
The witness of the disciples takes many forms in Acts, but it cannot begin until the Holy Spirit descends upon them with power (Acts 1:8).
Jesus connects his disciples’ future witness about him to their current presence with him. They have been with him from the start of their ministry (cf. Acts 1:22). In this unique role of the apostles is rooted the testimony of the Church.