This is part 3 in the series on the farewell discourse of Jesus (John chapters 13 to 17). In Part 1, we have discussed John 13, where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples and commands to wash one another’s feet. In Part 2, we have discussed John 14. This article covers John Chapter 15. This chapter talks about the true vine (Jesus), the gardener (the Father) and the branches (we, the followers/church). We, the branches, must remain in the vine, and bear fruit, by obeying Jesus’ commandments. It is to the Father’s glory that we bear much fruit.
2. The True Vine and the Gardener
Jesus in John 15:1 says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener”. The Old Testament refers to Israel as the vine/vineyard, that God has sought to cultivate (For example, Isaiah 5:1-7 and Psalm 80).
Isaiah 5:7 says “The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in.”
The New Testament writers treated Jesus as the new Israel. Matthew 2:13-15 quotes Hosea 11:1 – “Out of Egypt I called my son” and applies it to Jesus. By claiming to be the true vine, Jesus was redefining what it means to be the true Israel (as those who are in Christ). Only a remnant of Israel came into that and then believing gentiles were added to that. That is called the church.
3. The Vine and the Branches
Jesus says in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
Branches are part of the vine. So Jesus is basically saying that we are part of Him. Apart from him, we can do nothing, just as branches cannot bear fruit on its own.
3.1. The Church
Christ is corporate in the New Testament. He described Himself as the true vine with branches.
1 Corinthians 12:12 “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.”. So, Christ is a body made up of many members.Ephesians 1:22-23 describes the church as Christ’s body and the fullness of him: “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way”.
As the community of followers of Jesus (the church), we are the presence of Christ in a body here on earth.
4. The Branches Must Bear Fruit
John 15:2 says, the Father who is the gardener “cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit”. What is the fruit that we should bear?
4.1. Justice and Righteousness
Isaiah 5:7 says about the vineyard of the Lord Almighty, the nation of Israel: “And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.”
God has always wanted people who are just and righteous, people who cared about what is right and wrong, people that are glorifying him in their behavior.
4.2. The Kingdom of God given to a People who will Produce Fruit
A few days before the farewell discourse, Jesus tells the parable of the tenants in Matthew 21:33-44 (alluding to Isaiah 5, clearly intended for the audience to connect, but with an added dimension that the owner of the vineyard gives in charge to some farmers). When the harvest time approached, the owner sends his servants to collect his fruit, but the servants are beaten, killed and stoned (Matthew 21:34-36). Matthew 21:37 says “Last of all, he sent his son” (our Muslim friends should take note) who they kill – Jesus was basically predicting his own death.
And so the parable concludes in Matthew 21:43: “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”
In other words, it is given to the Church. Those of us who are the followers of Jesus must bear the fruit of the spirit (reflecting the character of Christ). Galatians 5:22-23: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”.
Fruitfulness in love and in the other fruits of the spirit is the proof that we are attached to Christ and that His life is in us.
4.3. Tolerating One Another in the Church
Given that the farewell discourse of Jesus is focussed so much on the church, it bears repeating that one of the fruits we have to produce is in the relationships in the church. We all have our sharp edges and we need to tolerate each other. This is where the many “One Another” passages come into the picture.
5. He Prunes the Branches that Bear Fruit
John 15:2 “every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”. The gardener removes the deadwood so that there is more life available for the branches producing something.
Matthew 13:12: “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”. Those in Israel who already had some response to God/truth, they’d be given more. The faithful remnant of Israel will become more fruitful by being attached to Jesus.
We all have sharp edges that God has to prune. When God gives difficulties In our life, or when we go through a certain discipline of pain from God, we must also understand that it is part of his pruning process, that he’s cleansing us so that we will produce more fruit.
5.1. Accepting Correction from One Another
Not only that God prunes, Jesus instructs in John 13:14 “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”. We must accept correction from one other. We are a community of imperfect people accepting correction from one other.
6. Branches Must Remain in the Vine
Jesus commands in John 15:4 “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”. Again in John 15:6 “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers”.
6.1. Deliberate Act of our Will
So it is a deliberate act of our will to remain connected with Christ. The connectedness is related to obedience.
It is often easy for us to say “I believe in Jesus”, without really meaning much. But as we see, it is not just some recital of faith or merely some intellectual activity or theoretical ideas. Earlier in John 14:15, Jesus says “If you love me, keep my commands”. It is hard-nosed obedience to the commandments of Jesus. It is not something vague.
6.2. Jesus as Example in Keeping Commands
Jesus is giving himself as an example in John 15:10 “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”. So it is by obeying Jesus’s commands we are going to remain in His love. Loving Jesus is not just an emotional activity. It is a commitment of the will to do what He wants us to do.
So in addition to saying “I believe in Jesus”, we should try saying “I obey Jesus”!
6.3. Connectedness through Prayer
Praying is not just going through a list, but connectedness – with God and one another. When we pray for another person, we are connecting with that person and connecting with that situation.
7. Bearing Much Fruit For Father’s glory
In John 15:8, Jesus says, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”.
Matthew 5:16 “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”
7.1. The Purpose of Being a Christian
The purpose of being a Christian is to glorify God (to do good works, showcasing kingdom values, etc) Salvation not only for the benefit of the believer, to be saved from rightful punishment. We benefit, but we are not saved just so we could walk away and claim to be free. We are saved for God and for His glory so that God could have what He wants.
Jesus came to gather and attached us to him. Titus 2:14 says that Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”.
7.2. Why Evangelize
The purpose of salvation is not only to save us from rightful punishment. If it were so, it would be enough to repent in the last minute as the thief on the cross did. While the thief was saved, the problem is still that God is not glorified in his life. We also know that God is the perfect and righteous judge, perhaps, kind to those who respond well to the light they have.
So why do we evangelize? Why risk lives to go on the mission field? It is because God is not glorified in peoples lives if they do not know Jesus. Therefore, our concern in evangelism is not only a humanistic motivation but has that God is glorified.
7.3. Salt of the Earth and Light of the World
Psalm 115:16 says, “The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to mankind.”. Jesus said we are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” – means we influence the world. Conversion is not only about leading people to Christ. It is to bring the values of the kingdom into the world.
7.4. Kingdom larger than the Church
God wants his rules in the world. When Christians reflect the value of the Christ (denying themselves, live selfless lives, being honest, truthful, etc) they influence the world with these values kingdom values are being established (even beyond the church). Christianity should not be limited to personal salvation.
We pray “Thy Kingdom come”. He rules through us. NT Wright says, Jesus becomes king on the cross.
Gospel exists for the glory of God. He created us for His glory. He saved us for his glory.
8. Laying Down One’s Life for Friends
In John 15:12-13, Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”.
In fact, as per Romans 5:6-8, Jesus died for enemies: “when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”
The teachings of Jesus are not new rules. They are descriptions of what it means to love as he loves.
8.1. Less dramatic ways to lay down one’s life
Not everyone gets to physically die for friends. There are less dramatic ways to lay down one’s life. One can just lay down one’s prerogatives or rights to help/bless somebody else or improve a situation for God’s glory. One can just let others have their way instead of having one’s own way. That is laying down life in a small away. What prevents us from having the fullness of joy is that we haven’t denied ourselves and taken up our cross yet.
8.2. That your joy may be complete
By bearing the fruit of Jesus in our life, we will be full of joy, full of love, full of peace. This is a supernatural phenomenon. Some see being a Christian as being part of some club, following the rules of normative behavior. There’s nothing supernatural about their behavior, and that becomes clear when trials come or when faced with adversity or facing difficult people. Even when there are no trials, the joy and the peace and love we are having is not supposed to be generated from our circumstances/nature, but it is supposed to be from His nature.
The fullness of joy comes when we, out of love for Jesus, just lay down our lives, our prerogatives, and our will in order to bless the people around us and thereby glorify God. As Jesus explains in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
9. Not Servants but Friends?
In John 15:14-15, Jesus says “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
9.1. Limited Negative
“You are my friends if you do what I command”? – Not really how friendship works, isn’t it? This is a case of “Limited negative”, meaning not only servants but also friends. If the master wants, he can take his servants into his confidence as a man takes his friends into his confidence. That is the master’s prerogative. We are still serving because that’s our real role. He is the Lord.
That is why every writer of the New Testament refer to themselves as servants of Jesus Christ.
10. Asking in Jesus Name
Jesus says in John 15:16-17 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”
We asking is like Jesus asking because we are his body. One of the consolations about Jesus’ departing is that the disciples will now be in a position to use Jesus’ name and authority to approach the Father. The Father will listen to them just as they were Jesus’ because, in a sense, they are, because they are part of his body.
10.1. Head and the Body
They hold the same status before God as Jesus because they’re the fullness of him. Jesus is the head and we are the body. There’s no real differentiation in the identity between the head and the body. So Jesus is saying that the disciples will be identified with Jesus in such a way that they can use His name. Father will listen as if they were Jesus’. They will do work like Jesus.
11. World Hates the Disciples
In John 15:18-20, Jesus says, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.”
11.1. Love and Hate
If we are like Jesus, the world is going to treat us the way that they treated Jesus. If they hate Jesus, they will hate you. If they listen to Jesus, they will listen to us. Not everybody hates Jesus, and therefore not everybody hates us. The section of the world that hates Jesus, they should hate us.
Jesus was not seeking to make people hate him. He was just being the light of the world. Some people hate the light and love darkness. So for that reason, some hated him.
12. The Advocate Comes
John 15:26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.”
Jesus was going, but the Holy Spirit is coming. When the Spirit comes in us, we are part of Him. We will bear fruit as Jesus did. We will be identified with Jesus in such a way that we can use Jesus’ name as if it is our own.
Father will listen to us if it were Jesus’. We will do the work that Jesus does.