“I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener … I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit” (John 15:1, 5).
The Apostle John is the only gospel writer to transcribe Jesus’ farewell discourse with His disciples (13:31-17:26). His extended address lasted an estimated two hours, commencing during the Passover meal in the Upper Room and not concluding until Jesus and His band of disciples reached the Garden of Gethsemane just before midnight. The final portion of this celebrated colloquy (chapters 15, 16 and 17) contains Jesus’ tender words of assurance to His disciples as they walked together from the Upper Room, across the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane.
The Passover meal, known as the Seder (meaning “order”), usually lasts four to five hours. The sun had set by the time the meal concluded and Jesus bid His disciples, “Come now; let us leave” (14:31). Jesus then led the group of eleven (Judas having departed the meal early) across the Kidron Valley to the western slope of the Mount of Olives.
Well-known in Jesus’ day for its spacious natural caves, olive trees and presses, the entire area provided an escape for people seeking relief from the heat of the crowded city streets. Gethsemane (meaning “olive oil press”) was in reality a section of Jerusalem’s first century “city park.” While leading His followers to the comfort and protection of Gethsemane was not unusual for Jesus, the disciples had little idea of what they were to face later that ominous night.
On the road to Gethsemane Jesus comforted His disciples with some of the most compassionate words found in scripture:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful … Remain in Me, and I will 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. I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:1-5).
THE SYMBOL OF THE VINE IN THE
OLD TESTAMENT IS ALWAYS USED IN
CONNECTION WITH THE DEGENERATION.
JESUS—THE TRUE VINE—IS THE
It is not surprising that Jesus used an illustration of vines and branches to comfort His disciples. The Mount of Olives was heavily wooded. When Nehemiah restored the Feast of Tabernacles, he commanded the people to “Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches and myrtle branches, and palm branches and branches of thick trees to make booths …” (Neh. 8:15, KJV).
The disciples understood the metaphor of a vine and its branches. As in Jesus’ day, vines continue to grow throughout Israel. Vines require much attention if they are to produce the best fruit. While vines grow quickly and in all directions, it is critical that the soil is clean and full of nutrients.
A young vine is not allowed to flower for three years. Each year it is drastically cut back to conserve its life energy. When the vineyard does yield a harvest, branches that have not borne fruit are cut off. The farmer knew well that the vine cannot produce a large crop without drastic pruning.
Beyond a practical understanding of vines, the disciples also grasped the theological implications of Jesus’ illustration. The Old Testament often portrays Israel as the vine in the vineyard of God. The prophet Jeremiah recorded God’s confirmation: “I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” (Jer. 2:21). The Psalmist praises the One who “brought a vine out of Egypt; [and] drove out the nations and planted it” (Psalm 80:8).
The vine became the symbol of Israel. One of the glories of the Temple was the vast golden vine that hung on the front of the Holy Place. The vine was the emblem emblazoned on national coins during the brief period of Jewish independence known as the Maccabean Period (164-47 BC).
Jesus referred to Himself as the “true vine” (15:1). The Greek adjective is alethinos (pronounced a-lay the-nos), meaning true, real, genuine. “True” is one of the Apostle John’s favorite words. He used it 23 times in his New Testament writings. It is only used five other times in the rest of the New Testament. Alethinos means “that which has not only the name and semblance, but the real nature corresponding to the name.” It is the opposite to that which is fictitious, counterfeit, imaginary or simulated, Alethinos is the genuine article—”the real thing!” By all criteria, Jesus is authentic. He is true God and true man.
Jesus is the true vine. The symbol of the vine in the Old Testament is always used in connection with degeneration. The point of Isaiah’s prophecy is that the vine has run wild. Jeremiah complains that the nation of Israel has “degenerated and become a wild vine.” Jesus—the true vine—is the Divine Regenerator. The Bible tells us that one-day, God, the Father, will seat Jesus on the throne of heaven and declare, “I am making everything new!” (Rev. 21:5)
Commissioner William W. Francis is a retired officer. He is also the author of The Stones Cry Out (USA Eastern Territory, 1993) and Celebrate the Feasts of the Lord (Crest Books, 1997), and is a frequent contributor to the War Cry and other Salvation Army publications.