Today we resume our study of John’s gospel. We are in the midst of looking at the Farewell Discourse recorded in John 14–17, and today we begin our study of John 15, wherein Jesus states, “I am the true vine” (v. 1).
As we will see, Jesus discloses His identity as the true vine in order to emphasize spiritual fruitfulness, consider divine discipline, and so forth (vv. 1–11). However, before we look at those aspects of the parable of the vine, we must first consider the Old Testament background of the vine image and what it says about Jesus’ place in God’s plan of salvation. Frequently, the prophets refer to the covenant people of Israel as God’s vine (for example, Ps. 80:8; Jer. 2:21; Hos. 10:1–2), but everywhere they do this, they also condemn Israel for being unfruitful and spiritually degenerate. By calling Himself the true vine, Jesus teaches that He is the true Israel of God, the fruitful servant who will accomplish God’s purposes for Israel. It is not that God set the people of Israel aside as the instrument through which He blesses the world when Jesus came or even that Jesus is a “replacement” for Israel. Instead, in Jesus—Himself an Israelite according to the flesh—the Lord reconstitutes the people in whom He works to save the world. The true Israel of God is Jesus and all who are in Him by faith alone.
John 15:5 helps us understand this point. Jesus is the true vine, but this vine has branches, and we who love and serve Christ are those branches. Thus, we are a part of the true Israel of God. More than that, unlike the old covenant community that, as a whole, was not spiritually fruitful (though individual Israelites were often true to God), the true Israel in Christ Jesus is fruitful (v. 2). In fact, our Creator is continually pruning this true vine in order to increase its yield. No human vinedresser is content with a vine that is unproductive or that produces very few grapes. Such a vine is useless to him. Similarly, God is discontent with branches that yield nothing or very little, and He will do whatever it takes to make true branches bear fruit.
Finally, branches bear fruit only because they are connected to and abide in Christ the vine (vv. 3–5). Augustine of Hippo reminds us that “the relation of the branches to the vine is such that they contribute nothing to the vine, but from it derive their own means of life; while that of the vine to the branches is such that it supplies their vital nourishment, and receives nothing from them.”