John 15:1 – I Am the True Vine

Owning a vineyard is a labor intensive business. To grow grapes for making wine the owner of the vineyard must invest a great deal of time and money to cultivate vines in the right soil, in the right location, hoping for perfect weather and sunlight in order to bring in a good harvest with is fit for making wine. It takes years for a vineyard to produce sufficient fruit to make a good wine.  Sometimes it takes as many as ten years before new vines are mature and ready for wine-making. During the process the vineyard owner must carefully prune his vines and care for the daily, inspecting for disease or pests. There is a joke among vineyard owners: how do you make a small fortune with a winery? Start with a large fortune and buy a winery.

Vineyards were lucrative in the ancient world, and wine-making was a well known art to most people in the ancient world. It is little wonder that the image of a vineyard was associated with God’s care for his people. Like a shepherd with his sheep, everyone knew the kind of work went into a well-maintained vineyard and the production of good wine.

In this series of parable-like sayings in John 15, Jesus describes God as the owner of a vineyard in which Jesus himself is the vine and his disciples are the branches. This is a vivid image for the relationship of Jesus and his disciples as well as the on-going relationship of Jesus to his disciples in all ages. We will see in these verses Jesus’ intimate relationship with his disciples will result in both friendship with Jesus, but also enmity with the world.

This is Jesus’ final “I am” statement in the Gospel of John. As with the others, Jesus is evoking a very clear metaphor from the Hebrew Bible and applying it to himself. In the Hebrew Bible, Israel is described as a vineyard planted by the Lord (Isa 5:1-7, Ps 80:8-16, Jer 2:21, Ezek 15, Hos 10:1). This metaphor is used in Second Temple Period literature as well (Sirach 24:17-27; 2 Bar. 39.7).

In each of these texts God is the one who planted the vineyard, then he entrusted that vineyard to his people Israel. There is an emphasis on the loving care with which God planting the vineyard, providing all that it needed to succeed But Israel did not fulfill their role as custodians of the vineyard. As a result it is destroyed. In Isaiah this is a prophecy of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, as is the worship reflection on Israel’s history in Psalm 80.

Jesus used the image of a vineyard in a parable during his teaching in the Temple just a few days prior to the last supper (Mark 12:1-12). In this parable he makes a similar point, that God is the one who established Israel as a vineyard and he is the owner of the vineyard. When the Messiah came to the people of God, he expected fruit but there was none. There are several parables which describe the eschatological judgment as a time of harvest, when the wheat will be collected and stored in the barn, but the weeds will be gathered and burned on a fire.

The metaphor is adapted here in John 15 and applied to the disciples as a New Israel. The owner if the vineyard is still God, but Jesus develops the idea of the vine in much more detail than the Hebrew Bible. The vines and branches have an intimate relationship – there is no life for the branch apart from the vine, it must remain in the vine in order to have life.

But the fate of the branch is also tied to the vine. Since Jesus will suffer, so too will his followers. Jesus knows that the sort of abuse he is about to endure will soon be transferred to his disciples. If they abide in him, then they will suffer just like he does.

Jesus has redefined the “vineyard” as himself and he will succeed in fulfilling the covenant as the true Israel. While Israel failed as the custodians of the vineyard, Jesus will succeed and his twelve disciples constitute a new Israel.

13 thoughts on “John 15:1 – I Am the True Vine

  1. How does Paul’s twist to the metaphor add to the overall picture in Romans 11? Paul uses an olive tree for his example but is it still the same metaphor?

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  2. I think that this is a case of apples and oranges, or better, grapes and olives. The metaphor in Rom 11 using an olive tree, rather than a vineyard. I am not aware of “olive tree = Israel” as a live metaphor in Second Temple Judaism, but it might be out there. Part of what is happening in John is that Jesus is redefining key metaphors used for God or Israel in the Hebrew Bible as referring to himself. God is the Shepherd in the HB, but in John the “Good Shepherd” is Jesus.

    So, similar metaphor, but I am not sure they are sharing a common root (so to speak). OTOH, perhaps Paul is riffing on Jesus’ theme of vines and branches, but I would need to be convinced of that.

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  3. This metaphor is very important to understand that God is the owner of the vineyard, Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. But as Kostenberger points out, “it is not believers in Jesus who are depicted as the vine. Rather, the vine is Jesus. Jesus Himself is therefore the new Israel,” (Kostenberger, 149). Some may think that he is talking about the disciples, but John is talking about Jesus himself being the vine. Not only that, but he is laying the way to show people that Jesus is now the new Israel. After Jesus death and Resurrection, there is a new covenant and a new Israel and Jesus represents that. We are to live life like Christ and to be the branches that he calls us to be because we are in relationship with him. Without being in a relationship with God and Jesus, no fruit will grow in our lives and we will not be demonstrating that Jesus is the vine and the new Israel. I believe this verse applies to all believers, not just disciples. I think this whole passage connects well with the verse in 2 Corinthians as it says, “therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come,” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV). We are in Christ just as we are branches on a vine, and with Jesus being the new Israel, the old things have passed away and the new has come. Jesus is the new and we are to live according to what he has done.

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  4. The “I am” statement that Jesus presents here is one of my favorites in the Gospel of John. I love plants and I have many that I have collected and I work hard to keep them alive and well. The plants I have are some of the easiest to keep alive and they already present me with a lot of work. I can only imagine keeping a whole vineyard in a healthy state and producing a good harvest. God has a lot of work to do, making sure that His “crop” stays alive and healthy. When Jesus came, He established a new covenant in which He replaced Israel as the vine (Kostenberger, 149) and through this, we all were presented our best hope of staying healthy as the branches. It is impossible for us all to produce anything healthy in our lives without our connection to the vine, our source of life. Jesus tells us in John 14 that He is the way, truth, and life (John 14:6). By Him, we are able to grow and have true life.

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  5. I would agree that it does take quite a bit of work and commitment to produce a good vineyard for a winery. A farmer cannot always guarantee that he will have a good year of growing. There might be one or two years of being fruitful, but then something happens like a wildfire, hail, an earthquake, or some other natural disaster that could destroy things. Sometimes, for nature to be revived, nature needs to be destroyed in order to be renewed. Israel was God’s original vineyard, but when they did not take care, God sent another nation to destroy Israel. With Israel being destroyed, Jesus was given the opportunity to show the world how good and fruitful he could be as the true vine. Israel needed to be renewed and revived. In the Old Testament, there were a few times God’s people needed to be revived in one way or another. During Moses’s time, the Israelites gave into their temptations. The ones who sinned against God were punished by not being allowed into the Promised Land so before the Israelites were allowed in, the old had to be die and the new Israelites had to be born. Israel continuously failed to produce fruit so Jesus had to come and weed out all the bad fruit so that the vineyard could once again thrive.

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  6. Jesus definitely put a different twist in describing the parable of the vineyard. John ‘s gospel is rich with Jesus’ parables, and reading about the vineyard reminds me a lot about my grandpa’s farm. I think almost all aspects of farming is challenging, and you may not always get rewarded for all the hard work you put into the farm. Though my grandpa had some bad years, he never gave up on his farm because it was drenched with his labor and hard work. He continued to find new ways to get rid of pests and rodents that ruined his crops. Just like in the vineyard parable, God never gave up on his people but sent Jesus as a solution to be the channel into whose He’s blessings flow and who bears lots of fruit (Kostenberger, 159). The work which God placed on man was too much but also filled with corruption and sin, which didn’t allow for good fruit to yield. God has no use for bad fruit and recognized that in order to get the results He wanted, His son would have to replace Israel as His people for salvation. As mentioned in your post, Jesus has given the vineyard a new meaning and now takes the place of Israel.

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  7. In John 15 the theology of the Vine and the Branches gives a metaphor that those who were hearing Jesus speak would have understood. Jesus was known for speaking in parables and using metaphors. This help provide an illustration that would help the listeners remember and understand his teachings. This also gave them something to connect his teachings and theology with. People in the ancient world also in modern times can understand exactly what Jesus was/is saying. In (v.1) Jesus says that he is the true vine and his Father is the gardener. Jesus is saying that only through him the branches grow and bear good fruit. And his Father (God), is the gardener. And whoever does not bear good fruit will be cut from the vine. Anyone who confesses that Christ is their savior but does not act in accordance with Scripture then they will be cut from the vine.

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  8. This I am statement talking about how Jesus is the true vine is a great description of what Jesus came to do. This description of Jesus as the true vine if you think about it makes a lot of sense. If we are in and follow Jesus will be a part of vine and will bear fruit through being in Jesus. But in the same way if you reject him and the things that he has sacrificed for you, you will be cut off and is the dead part of the vine. No life is there if we are not in and follow the plans that God has in our life. When we try to take control of our decisions and our life, we become the dead part of the vine which chokes out the living part. We cannot live a healthy and successful life without God in the middle of it. But in that to have a good ripe crop we need to work at it and nurture our relationship with God. We do not want bad crops because we do not work at our relationship with God. To have a good strong and healthy vine we need to have our roots in Jesus as he is the only way to get to God.

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  9. The main theme that is usually pulled out of this passage is that Christians, in order to remain steadfast in their faith, must be intimately connected to Christ. As Jesus abides in the Father, Christians must also intimate this and abide in Jesus. While this is true, something very crucial is ignored and neglected with this interpretation. When we receive Christ into our lives by believing in Him, we are not merely accepting a certain kind of doctrine or dogma; rather, we are bringing into our lives a certain quality of life–particularly, the life of Christ. In other words, as we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, our lives will inevitably begin to look like His. This means that whatever Christ experienced when He was on the earth, we will also experience. The vine, while it does denote blessedness and peace and fruitfulness, also implies suffering and trials and tribulation, which are indirect blessings, too. Kostenberger makes clear that although God is the owner and Jesus is the vine, this does not exclude us from the suffering that is an integral part of the Christian life. So, let us be warned that as we seek to stay connected to Christ, we are bound to face what He faced while doing His earthly ministry.

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  10. I think that it is really interesting to note how common it used to be to own and take care of vineyards. This was the perfect example for Jesus to use because everyone knew about vineyards. Today this is not quite as common to know what it takes to work in one, but in my background knowledge I understood that they were a lot of work. Even though there might be a gap in our knowledge about vineyards, I think that we are still able to understand what it is that Jesus is trying to say here. Jesus still makes the point of his message clear. I also think that it is powerful that this is the last of the “I Am” statements that John goes over. This metaphor that Jesus tells is one that states how unique the relationship the branches have with the vine; so, does God have such a unique relationship with mankind. Jesus is explaining that He is the giver of life. He is the one who gets to decide when pruning is needed to the good branches and when others need to be cut off. The branches much also stay in contact or relationship with the vine if they want to be able to prosper and live, because without the vine they will perish. Jesus is using this to tell of His relationship with New Israel. He is telling them that there will be trials and hardships that they must go through, but just like the vineyard must be pruned, it is necessary in order to stay in that relationship with God.

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  11. I never knew how labor intensive it is the own a vineyard. I had always wondered why there were certain areas that were more known for their wine than others. It makes sense now though that I know that it takes the right location, soil, and weather to grow great wine. I find it interesting that on this side of Lake Michigan we are able to grow vineyards to make wine, however, in Wisconsin, they cannot really grow vineyards. (Long) It is interesting that just being on the correct side of a body of water or facing the correct direction is a determining factor in how well the vineyard grows and produces. In terms of the Bible, it makes sense why Jesus used the idea of himself as the vine; the ancient world was very aware of vineyards and the work that went into them. They understood that the branches would come from the vine (Jesus). The branch cannot survive by itself. It must be attached to the vine to have any life, which is what Jesus wanted them to get. They cannot say they are believers of Jesus if their branch is not attached to him. Whatever hardships or diseases (or crucifixion) the vine suffers, the branch will suffer as well. Growing a vineyard is not always a positive one, sometimes hardships are needed to prune out the weak branches. Could this have been what Jesus was getting at?

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  12. Throughout the Bible, and even much through Jesus’ life we see this translation of spiritual matters into human terms. What I am implying by this is that Jesus needed a way for us humans to understand what he is saying and be able to apply it to our lives. Jesus is entirely perfect, how would we be able to understand anything he says when we have been fully flawed since the beginning? It is through translations like this in John 15, that we see Jesus communicating a message through a means by which humans understand it. Jesus is using the message and example of the vine and branches because of the context in which he was teaching. He was at a vineyard, speaking to people that knew what the purpose of a vineyard was, which made it easy for him to relate his teachings to the people he was speaking to. This is common throughout the Bible, not just in this passage, and quite frankly is the reason humans are able to understand what Jesus says, because being fully man and fully God can translate it into what man can understand.

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  13. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. -John 15:1-2

    Jesus often used human terms so we can understand what he is trying to say spiritually. The vine metaphor is a perfect example of how Jesus used physical things to describe spiritual things. We need to be on fire for God there is not lukewarm. This passage is very clear that he cuts off the parts of the vine that do not produce fruit. This means that we need to be serving God and our lives should be producing the fruit of the Spirit. If we are not producing fruit as followers of Christ then God is going to cut us off. There will be times in our lives where God prunes us so that we can grow closer to him and it might be painful but he is the gardener and he knows what is best for us. I think the key to this passage in John is that we produce fruit and we do that by seeking his word out and applying it to our lives.

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