Question: "What did Jesus mean when He said 'I am the True Vine' (John 15:1)?"

“I am the True Vine” (John 15:1) is the last of seven “I am” declarations of Jesus recorded only in John’s gospel. These “I am” proclamations point to His unique divine identity and purpose. Jesus said “I am the True Vine” to closest friends who were gathered around Him at a table in Jerusalem. It was only hours before Judas would betray Him. Jesus was preparing the twelve men for His pending crucifixion, His resurrection, and His subsequent departure for heaven. He had just told them that He would be leaving them. Knowing how disturbed they would feel, He gave them this lovely metaphor of the True Vine as one of His encouragements.

Jesus wanted His friends, not only those twelve, but those of all time, to know that He was not going to desert them, even though they would no longer enjoy His physical presence. His living energy—His spiritual reality—would continue to nourish and sustain them just as the roots and trunk of a grape vine produce the energy that nourishes and sustains its branches while it develops their fruit. Jesus wanted us to know that even though we cannot see Him, we are as closely connected with Him as the branches of a vine are connected with its stem. Our desire and energy to know and love Him and to tell others about Him will keep flowing into and through us as long as we are attached to Him as branches to a vine. This is why we must ‘abide’ in Him, remaining attached to the source of all spiritual life.

Then Jesus went on (John 15:4) to remove any misunderstanding about what He meant. He said that no branch can even live, let alone produce leaves and fruit, by itself. Cut off from the trunk, a branch is dead. Just as much as the vine’s branches rely on being connected to the trunk from which they receive their energy to bear fruit, Jesus’ disciples depend on being connected to Him for our spiritual life and the ability to serve Him effectively. The fruit we produce is that of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Our source of life and energy and spiritual fruit is not in ourselves; it is outside us, in Christ Jesus. We can live, live rightly, and serve Him effectively, only if we are rightly connected with Him in a faith/love relationship.

Then Jesus underscored His point even more strongly by saying, “without Me, you can do nothing.” That is no thoughtless generality or careless simile. It is absolute, stark reality. No believer can be anything or achieve anything of spiritual value independently of Christ Jesus. He also reminds us that there are some who are “in” Him that bear no fruit. But these are not, as some would suppose, true branches that just don’t bear fruit. All true branches bear fruit. Just as we know a healthy living tree by the good healthy fruit it produces, so do we recognize fruitless branches as having no connection to the True Vine. This is why Jesus tells us “by their fruit you will know them” (Matthew 7:16-20). Those that do not produce good fruit are cut away and burned. The reference here is to apostates, those who profess to know Christ but whose relationship to Him is self-attached. He neither called them, nor elected them, nor saved them, nor sustains them. Eventually, the fruitless branches are identified as not belonging to the Vine and are removed to their own righteous judgment and for the benefit of the other branches.

So, not only do Jesus’ disciples depend on connection with Jesus for spiritual energy to serve Him, we depend on Jesus for everything, starting with our very life—“for in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28)—and including our reconciliation with God through Him (Romans 5:10). And no one can serve God effectively until he is connected with Jesus Christ by faith. Jesus is man’s only connection with the God who gave life, the true Vine who sustains life, and who produces in them the fruitful life of righteousness, holy living, and service.

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