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This paper relates to John 15:1-8, and forms part of a long dissertation by Jesus that transverses several chapters. In it, Jesus declares that he is the true vine and urges his disciples to remain attached to him, to bear fruit, warning that lack of fruit will lead to dissociation.
Using the analogy of a vine and the vine dresser, Jesus compares himself to the vine and says his father is the vine dresser (Jn 15:1). By implicit comparison, he likens his disciples to the branches of the vine. He continues to describe the relationship by pointing out that his father prunes fruit-bearing branches so that they produce more fruit and cuts off unfruitful ones (Jn 15:2). He declares to his disciples that because of the words he has spoken to them they are already clean (Jn 15:3). Continuing in the analogy of the vine, he states that the disciples cannot function without connection to him and so he encourages them to continue in him. (Jn 15: 4). Jesus moves on to explain that attachment to him is a prerequisite to the production of much fruit. In fact, lack of connection with him results in barrenness (Jn 15: 5). He warns that anyone unattached to him risks permanent separation, occasioned by separation leading to withering and eventual burning. (Jn 15:6)
From this point, he relates a reward of remaining attached. He says that those who remain in him and heed his words will receive anything that they ask for according to their desires (Jn 15: 7). The passage ends when Jesus points out that the production of fruit by those who having a connection with him bring glory to his father.
Jesus was masterful in the use of parables and the application of figurative language in his teachings. The use of the figure of a vine representing him and branches representing his disciples turned out to be a memorable way of explaining a difficult spiritual concept. He refers to his father as the vine dresser in this passage. The main point that Jesus bring across in this passage are the relationship between him, his disciples, and his father. He shows himself as the all-important link.
As a vine dresser, Jesus communicates that the role of his father is twofold, first to prune and secondly to cut off unproductive branches. By pruning, the branch produces fruit. This is the natural process when it comes to vines. On the other hand, cutting off an unproductive branch frees current resources and avails them to other branches. Towards the end of the passage, Jesus points out that the element of producing fruit brings glory to his father, much like the reward a real vine dresser gets when he sees the fruit produced by a vine he has dressed.
As the vine, Jesus establishes himself as the all-important link between his father and his disciples. He holds the branches and sustains them through his word. He stresses the need to remain attached to him because dissociation will lead to death. He uses this figure to illustrate that the role of producing fruit, that his father is interested in, remains that of the branches, but he demonstrates that the branches cannot do it without a direct connection with him. In other words, attachment to him is a prerequisite to pruning without which a branch will not be able to produce fruit.
Finally, he refers to his disciples as the branches. The relationship between him and the branches is to supply nutrients, and the relationship between the branches and the vine dresser is that the vine dresser prunes the branches, which in turn produce fruit. The vine dresser has the discretion to cut off any branch that does not produce fruit and to send it to the flames.
The passage forms part of a larger dissertation by Jesus, which includes varied issues and addresses diverse subjects. He was preparing his disciples for his imminent departure. Immediately before the passage on the vine, Jesus had promised them the Helper, the Holy Spirit who was to come and teach the disciples all things. The Holy Spirit would come to fill the gap after Jesus left. Succeeding it is a passage that addresses love and joy. Jesus tells them that he has told them everything so that they would have complete joy. He calls them friends as opposed to servants because he had revealed everything to them. He contended that servants do not know what their master is doing. Since he had explained everything to them, they were now fit to be referred to as friends.
As a passage in the book of John, this passage serves to enhance the message in the book. John’s gospel stresses on the relational aspects of Gods with man. It records among other things many issues that show Gods love for humanity. In this context, the passage on the vine addresses itself to the special relationship between the disciples of Jesus, Jesus Father, and Jesus himself. It assigns roles and discloses responsibilities, all this for the understanding of the disciples.
Further, the passage resonates with the entire biblical message of the redemption of humanity and its relationship with God. It shows a level of man’s relationship with God restored, and an active partnership that is producing fruit to the glory of God. It demonstrates the remarkable place of Jesus as the vital link between God and man, and shows man’s dependence on him in the ongoing relationship with God. The place of producing fruit as the object of the relationship receives sufficient emphasis.
The discussion in the passage took place towards the end of Jesus earthy ministry. The actual writing took place later. At the time, the Jews were under occupation by the Romans and had hoped that Jesus was the redeemer they needed. However, he came not as a political redeemer, but as one who sought to redeem the souls of men. The writing of this passage that Jesus originally spoke to the disciples present with him shows that it bears relevance for all subsequent followers of Christ who the same author addresses elsewhere when he says he recorded issues meant to inspire faith in Christ for people not present where they occurred. The writer, John, was one of the twelve disciples, hence a firsthand witness of the occurrences. He heard it for himself. This makes the reliability and authenticity of the writings much less contestable. While he does not specify an audience for his work, he writes for a broad audience that did not have the geographical and historical opportunity to hear listen to Jesus.
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The Vine Dresser
Jesus referred to his father as the vine dresser. At the time, the Jews knew the practice of keeping vineyards. Indeed, their whole history is full of references to grapes, vineyards, and wine. One of the popular stories in the Jewish tradition pitting King Ahab and his wife Jezebel against Naboth revolved around a vineyard. Ahab’s wife arranged for the assassination of Naboth so that her husband Ahab could take possession of Naboth’s vineyard, because he was unwilling to sell it. At the wedding in Cana, there was wine at the centre of the story, which shows that the art of keeping vineyards was alive and well in the contemporary culture. In a separate parable, he refers to old wineskin and new ones. This reveals that this use of a picture revolving around the vineyard was not an isolated one. He knew that his audience would understand his picture of a Vine dresser, and this shows why he chose this picture.
By depicting his father as a Vine dresser, Jesus elevates him to the position of one with absolute authority over the vine. A vine dresser relies, on his judgment alone to determine the fate of any branch in the vine. If there is any that requires his action, either pruning of cutting off, the vine dresser applies it without reference. By pruning the branch of a vine, it produces much fruit. Henry (2011) states that, “The purging of fruitful branches, in order to their greater fruitfulness, is the care and work of the great husbandman, for his own glory”. A branch due for pruning has limited productivity. Through this passage, Jesus, assigns the role of punning to his father, who is the Vine dresser. Implicitly, this means that, without pruning, a disciple’s fruit production threshold depend on the pruning. As Clarke (n. d.) points out, the pruning of a vine “removes everything that might hinder its increasing fruitfulness”. By pruning, Jesus refers to personal challenges and lessons, which someone picks up over time as he relates to God.
The other key role the vine dresser is to cut off unproductive branches. In real situations, this frees the nutrients the branch is utilizing for use by other branches that are producing much fruit. After cutting them, Jesus explains that the branch will wither and thereafter their burning follows. He escalates the consequences of not being part of the vine. It does not end with cutting off from the vine, but ends with burning. What Jesus communicates through this is that there are real consequences, unpleasant ones, for anyone who faces separation from the vine. This message is a warning to followers of Christ who backslide because they are unable to produce fruit. It tells them that there will be consequences beyond separation. It does not end there.
The third role the vine dresser plays lie in the closing verse, which says that when the branches produce fruit God gets the glory. At this point, the picture is clear, and Jesus says it directly that by when the disciples bear much fruit, his father is glorified. This is comparable to the satisfaction a Vine dresser feels when branches that he pruned produce much fruit. God has a personal interest in the well-being of the vine.
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In the analogy, Jesus refers to himself as the true vine. The vine is the interface that associates the vine dresser to the branches. Its main responsibility is to support the branches. The branches receive nutrients enabling them to grow and be healthy via the vine. By referring to himself as the true vine, Jesus seems to insinuate that there are false vines. In the context, there were cultivated vines and wild ones. This explains why Jesus used the word true because the disciples could differentiate between the cultivated and the wild vines. This sections intention is to pass a word of caution regarding whom a disciple chooses to follow. Not all vines, even if they are able to provide the invaluable sap, are true. There is only one true vine, and that is Jesus. Jesus is keen to point out that the only way to remain fruitful is by continuing to abide in him. He warns that no one on their own can bear fruit. Jesus message is that there is a need for a continual relationship with him, and there is no point where disciples will be mature enough to survive on their own. This establishes a clear relationship of dependence on him.
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Trying to survive alone is sure death, much like a branch not joined to the vine. There is a curious inclusion in the verse establishing this relationship. When Jesus states that, “you are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (Jn 15: 3), he introduces the element of his word, which elsewhere in the book is referred to as the word of life. It appears that Jesus word is the means by which pruning takes place. “Jesus' disciples have been cleansed by his word, and they will be cleansed in the future (15:2-3), and this word refers to all that Jesus taught, his entire message (logos), conveyed by both word and action” (IVP). In clear terms, Jesus puts it as a condition for the answer to prayer, the abiding in his word. This is because the third verse includes the word “already” which is used immediately after Jesus refers to pruning. A pruned vine becomes clean, in the sense that it is now freed from its former self and can produce multiple fruits as opposed to very few fruits if produces when it is not pruned. As the vine, Jesus states clearly that, without him, the disciples cannot achieve anything. He firmly places them at his mercy and explains to them that the only way to produce fruit is by remaining in him.
The warning Jesus relays here is that it is not possible hide among other branches. The only sure way to remain attached and nourished in by producing fruit. He makes it the objective of the relationship. To someone listening to Jesus in the day and time, Jesus succinctly communicated the centrality of his role in a living fellowship between man and God. He demonstrated to them using a picture they were familiar with, that they required to remain connected to him in order to survive and thrive in their relationship with God. In all this, his word was indispensable.
The third, main component of Jesus picture of the vine was the branches. A branch naturally extends from the main stem of a plant. The branch has one assigned role, which is to bear fruit. According to BibleExplained.com (2011), the fruit may mean either character quality or drawing of souls to Christ. The branch also has one responsibility, to remain attached to the vine. “The consequence of remaining is the bearing of much fruit (v. 5), but the consequence of, not remaining, is being cast out, withered, gathered and burned” (IVP 2011). As a fruit-bearing component of the vine, the vine dresser prunes it to increase its fruit production potential. From a vine, we look for grapes, and from a Christian, we look for Christianity; this is the fruit, a Christian temper and disposition, a Christian life and conversation, Christian devotions and Christian designs (Henry).
In real terms, this is what farmers do. By pruning a plant, a branch produces multiple fruit and not a single fruit from is uppermost bud. By producing fruit, a branch fulfils the Vine dresser whose job it is to ensure the branch is at its maximum fruit producing potential. The message to Christians from this verse is that God has a singular interest in them producing fruit. He prunes them through Jesus’ word so that they are at their maximum fruit producing potential. By doing this, God is glorified. Jesus in this passage said that the key to producing fruit is abiding in him. He locates his word, as the condition which if a disciple meets then the disciple will receive whatever he asks for in his name. This shows that there is a high premium for staying in keeping with the words of Jesus for any disciple. As a reward, God promises to give the disciple whatever they desire.
The relationship between Jesus, His father and the disciples is conditional, but it is not a zero-sum game. It is one where each party has clear roles and rewards. This passage does not speak of those who do not have a relationship but those already relating with Jesus. It defines the duties to it, assigns the resources, and explains the rewards and the consequences. In essence, it clarifies the role of a disciple of Christ in relation to Jesus and his father. Since the vine has a clear relationship with the vine dresser and its own branches, this figure fits perfectly to explain the unique relationship concerning what Jesus taught.
There are three main areas of application for disciples of Jesus based on this passage. They are the need to abide in Jesus’ word, the role of abiding in Jesus’ word in improving efficacy in prayer, and appreciation of the consequences of backsliding. From the passage, it is clear Jesus’ words define the relationship between disciple and Jesus. If a disciple abides in Jesus word, then the relationship is active. It is incumbent upon all disciples of Jesus to ensure that they are keen to remain in his word. This will manifest in bible study and living according to the standards set out in the bible. This is the standard for judging the relationship.
The second element of application from the passage is in the appreciation that efficacy in prayer depends on the continued abiding in Jesus word. When a Christian remains in Christ, God promises to give them whatever they ask according to their desires. This application seems to assume that by dwelling in Christ’s word, a Christian has a better sense of Gods will hence they will not ask for anything that is contrary to God’s will. This way, God answers their prayers.
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The third significant area of application of this portion of scripture is familiarization with consequences of backsliding. It is clear that if someone does not continue to produce fruit and fail to continually aide in Jesus words, the person risks permanent separation and eventual hell fire. This is a hard warning to all followers of Christ that beyond Christ there is no remedy. God does not take turning back after beginning to dwell with him lightly. To secure the future, a Christian must produce fruit incrementally as God pruned them. This passage is a crucial inclusion by John to offer perspective and hope for all people who have decided to take up the Christian walk. Without it, people may fail to appreciate their role in the walk.
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