Shelby G. Floyd
At this time of the year the vineyards are fully loaded with fruit that is waiting to be harvested. This is the result of good stock, good ground, and good care. It is wonderful to see a beautiful, fruitful vineyard.
The vine and its branches was a symbol of ancient Israel just as the Eagle is the emblem of America. Over the temple of Herod was a symbolic declaration of a great Golden vine. At one time both Isaiah and Jeremiah use this allegory of the vine and the branches to illustrate how God was displeased with Israel who had become spiritually unproductive. For instance, Isaiah cried out,
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel,
And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.
He looked for justice, but behold, oppression;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help
And also the weeping prophet Jeremiah uttered this rebuke to backsliding Israel,
Yet I had planted you a noble vine, a seed of highest quality.
How then have you turned before Me
Into the degenerate plant of an alien vine?
At one time our Lord Jesus Christ declared to his disciples, “I am the vine and you are the branches” (John 15:5). Jesus used the allegory of the vine and the branches to illustrate the close relationship that should exist between himself and his disciples. An allegory is an extended metaphor. The culture of the vine was a very common occupation in Israel.
Teaching by figures of speech was one of our Lord’s favorite methods of imparting God’s word. The parables and this allegory of the vine and the branches are good examples of this method of teaching. Because this method was easy to understand, “the common people heard him gladly” (Mark 12:37).
Now let us take an extended view of the wonderful lesson that Jesus taught in the story of the vine and the branches as related in John 15:1-8.
THE TRUE VINE
Jesus Christ is the true vine. He claimed to be the one true stock. “I am the true vine and my father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1). Jesus applied the word “true,” to himself which means that Jesus was the genuine and the one true stock.
This would be a bold claim for anyone to make, if the person making the claim were anybody except the Son of God. Jesus not only said “I am the true vine,” but he made also some other bold “I am” statements:
I am the light of the world – John 8:12
I am the bread of life – John 6:35
I am the way, the truth, the life – John 14:6
I am the door – John 10:9
In view of all of these “I am” statements, we are not surprised that Jesus claimed to be the only source of spiritual life and fruitfulness.
Every nursery man guarantees that the plants he sells will always run true to type. Since the word “true” means genuine or real, Jesus claimed to be the one true stock sent into the world from God the Father. Just as there must always be an original vine from which all specimens of a given variety are taken, so Christ alone is the one true source of heavenly life in the spiritual vine.
Jesus is the one true vine because he fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming Messiah. Therefore, the only approach to God is through Christ, who has been ordained by the Father as the only true and living vine.
God the Father, the Grand Architect of the physical and spiritual world is the Owner, Vinedresser, and Gardner of the vineyard. God the father planted Christ in the world as the only true vine and source of spiritual life. Almighty God takes care of the vine and its branches in order that they might bear fruit through his divine Providence and all powerful word. In order to produce spiritual fruit, God as the owner and cultivator of the vine cuts, prunes, and tends to the branches.
The fruit bearing branches must be pruned to bear fruit, more fruit, and much fruit. Jesus plainly declared, “every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away; and every branch that bears fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2 NKJV). “Prunes” means to cut or to cleanse. The vinedresser cleanses his plant by cutting out the superfluous greenery and the dead branches.
God Almighty prunes us in both a positive and negative way in our spiritual life in order that we might bear more fruit. It is always better if the Christian can discipline himself by correcting ones sins and shortcomings. The word of God can discipline us if we allow it to be done. Heaven declares, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 NKJV). If this does not do the job in our life, God can prune us in a more negative way because he loves us as a father loves his son: “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6 NKJV).
In order that the branches might be fruit bearing, they must abide or remain in the vine. This is true in both the physical and spiritual realm. What the vine is to the branches in the natural world, Christ is to his disciples in the spiritual world. The fruit bearing branches cannot produce fruit independently of the vine. To bear fruit the branch must remain or abide in the vine. Jesus declared to his disciples, “Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4). Judas, one of the 12 apostles, did not abide in the vine, did not bear spiritual fruit and was removed by the vinedresser. And Peter declared in Acts of apostles that Judas lost his office and went to his own place (Acts 1:15-18, 25).
The terms “abide” and “in me” are found several times in this passage of Scripture and conveys the necessity of a constant active relationship between the disciple and the Lord in order to be fruitful. Let us notice how many times the words “abide” and “in me” occur in the Scripture:
“Every branch “IN ME” – JOHN 15:2
“ABIDE IN ME,” “ABIDE IN ME” – JOHN 15:4
“ABIDE IN ME” – JOHN 15:5
“ABIDE IN ME” – JOHN 15:6
“ABIDE IN ME,” “ABIDE IN ME” – JOHN 15:7
We all understand what it means to remain or to abide in a person. It means that we must be in a relationship with that person in heart and soul. But the question is, how does one get into Christ where all the heavenly spiritual blessings are to be found (Ephesians 1:3)? We are not left in doubt: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). After one is baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3-4), that person is to remain in Christ and bear the good fruit that is found listed in Galatians 5:22-23).
We can always determine what kind of vine or tree a person is by the kind of fruit that they bear! In his great sermon on the mount Jesus said,
“You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:16-20).
When the branches in Christ bear much fruit they glorify God the Father in heaven (John 15:8). And when we bear good fruit while here on earth we will certainly enjoy the beautiful spiritual fruit on the tree of life in heaven (Revelation 22:1-2). Christ is the true vine and his disciples must remain or abide in him in order to bear fruit. ““I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Today many preachers and the people have the mistaken idea that all of the denominations are branches of the true vine and that all of them together constitute the church. But this cannot be the case because Jesus said that he is the true vine and his disciples are the branches. He used the personal pronouns to refer to the branches and therefore the branches could not be denominational churches.
Furthermore, there were not any denominations in existence until the Reformation movement in the 1500s. Therefore if the branches were denominations it follows that the vine was a branchless and fruitless vine for 1400 years. The church of Christ that Jesus promised to build is not a denomination, nor is it all of the denominations combined. Jesus never promised to build but one church (Matthew 16:18-19). The church is the called out assembly to worship and serve the Lord as he directs in his word. The church is made up of the disciples who remain in the vine and bear much fruit. Those disciples who do not remain in the vine, whither, die and are burned.
Near the end of this allegorical lesson Jesus stated, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6). The pronoun “they” in John 15:6 is a reference to the holy Angels who will gather out of the kingdom of God all the unfruitful branches and cast them into the flames of fire at the last day. Why should it be thought incredible that God will meet out eternal punishment to unrepentant rebels to his divine government? Even human governments have capital punishment for capital crimes. And the greatest capital crime of all time is to reject the love of God in the person of Christ sent to suffer, bleed and die on the cross for our sins.
Jesus probably had more to say about eternal punishment than any other subject while he was here on the earth. He explicitly taught this subject on several occasions:
“Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:40-42).
Jesus said there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Once when a preacher presented this subject a woman cried out, “I have no teeth!” The preacher said humorously, “teeth will be provided!” It is strange that some people want to believe in an eternal heaven but not an eternal hell. But we cannot have it both ways. In one of our Lord statements on this subject, the same adjective that describes heaven is used also to describe hell: “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). The words “everlasting” and “eternal” are from the same Greek word “aionios.” If heaven is eternal then hell is eternal. But the truth is that both heaven and hell are everlasting.
The truth is that at the last day the unfruitful branches (disciples whose names are not found in the book of life) will be cast into a lake of fire (Revelation 20:10-15). But we do not want to leave this lesson on a purely negative note for that would be depressing. And Christ in this allegory did not leave us on a negative note. He made some wonderful promises to all of his faithful disciples.
What are those wonderful promises that our Savior made to the fruitful branches—his disciples?
He promised them that they could always come to the Father and through Jesus their prayers would be heard and answered in the very best way for their good. “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7). But again we notice that answered prayer is contingent upon remaining in Christ and Christ words remaining in the disciples.
Jesus promised his disciples that he would always love them: ““As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:9-10). Again, the love of God in Christ is contingent upon the disciples remaining in the love of Christ. The love of God and of Christ is also conditional upon keeping Christ commandments and remaining in his love. If we love him we will keep his word. He who does not love him will disobey his word. It is plain and simple.
The third promise that Christ makes to his faithful disciples is that they will have an abiding joy both in this life and in the life to come: “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
God wants all of us to have a loving and joyful life. This is best accomplished by faithfully serving the Lord and remaining in him till we have received our final summons. Everyone out of Christ should respond to the gospel invitation without further delay (Matthew 11:28-30).
Are you in the vine?
Have you remained in the vine?
Are you bearing much fruit?
Have you withered and died?
Have you been baptized into Christ?
What will your answer be?*
*Shelby G Floyd delivered this sermon August 17, 2014 at the Heartland church of Christ, 1693 W. Main St., Greenwood, IN 46 142. Copyright © 2014 Shelby Floyd All Rights Reserved
Shelby G. Floyd