Jesus, the True Vine

Under the figure of branches connected to a vine, Jesus was describing the union that his disciples have with Him by faith.

What did Jesus mean when he called himself the true vine? The answer is found by analyzing vine imagery in the Old Testament, which always speaks of national Israel as God’s vine.

In Psalm 80, for example, it says, “You have brought a vine out of Egypt; you have cast out the nations, and planted it.” That was a reference to the Exodus of the Israelite nation from Egypt and their entrance into the land of Canaan during the time of Joshua. God took the vine Israel from Egypt, planted them in Canaan, and he “caused [that vine] to take deep root.”

In Isaiah 5, we read that "...the vineyard of Yahweh of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.” In the Old Testament, therefore, the nation of Israel is specified as God’s vine. They were placed in Canaan to bear fruit for God. But instead of bearing good fruit, Isaiah tells us that they bore sour, worthless grapes.

Jeremiah 2:21 says, “Yet I planted you a noble vine, a seed of highest quality. How then have you turned before Me, into a degenerate plant of an alien vine?”

This background has everything to do with Jesus’ statement that he was the true vine. If Israel was God’s Old Testament vine who produced worthless grapes, when Jesus said he was the true vine he meant that all of God’s redemptive plans for the world were now concentrated in Him. As Israel’s Messiah, he would grant the salvation necessary for a harvest of fruit to be produced in his people (c.f. Matthew 21:43):

“Jesus embodies and fulfills God’s true intentions for Israel; he is the paradigmatic vine, the channel through whom God’s blessings flow [to the nations] and who bears much fruit.”

Jesus' claim to be the true vine, therefore, has immense redemptive-historical significance. It means that God’s purposes for the world are no longer tied to the nation of Israel as a body politic. Because Jesus is God's true vine, it is to him that we must be united in faith if we are to produce fruit for God.

That brings us to our second question.

Union with Christ

In this passage, Jesus uses the figures of a vine, a vine dresser, branches, pruning, and fruit. What is the theological import of these metaphors? Here's the answer:

Under the figure of branches connected to a vine, Jesus was describing the union that his disciples have with Him by faith.

To be in union with Christ means to be attached to him in saving relationship. It means to be vitally connected to Christ. Listen to Paul in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Faith, or personal appropriation of Jesus and his benefits brings us into vital connection with him—whereby his life becomes the source and power of our own spiritual life.

That’s the reality Jesus is describing in John 15. Jesus is saying (in effect), “If you want to know what your relationship to me is like, think of it in this way. It’s like a branch that is connected to a vine, receiving its vitality and fruit-producing power from the vine.”

Jesus was saying, "I am the vine. I am the source of your life. I am the fruit-producing power of your life. I am the secret of a your Christian vitality."

Bearing Fruit for God

What is the point of a Christian’s existence, according to John 15? Why are you in union with Jesus? The answer is found in v. 8, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit.”

Once we see that bearing fruit is the point of a disciples’ existence, we will see how everything in John 15:1–11 is directly correlated to that theme. A Christians is united to Christ in order to bear fruit. Every branch in Christ that bears fruit the Father prunes in order to bear more fruit. Disciples abide in Christ in order to bear much fruit. If we don’t abide in Christ, we won’t bear fruit. And what will bearing fruit produce in my life? “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” In other words, the joy of Christ remaining in me is the product of fulfilling my purpose to bear fruit for God.

This is a key aspect of biblical teaching. In Romans 7:4, Paul says, “Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another, to Him who was raised from the dead [in order] that we should bear fruit to God.”

That sanctified fruit is in contrast to the fruit we bore pre-conversion. Paul says in v. 5, “For while we were in the flesh [that is, in our pre-converted state], the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit unto death.” United to Jesus by faith, however, we have a new purpose—no longer to serve sin, but to serve God in the new way of the Spirit.

Means of Increase

Since everything in John 15 relates to fruit-bearing, we must see that there are means to increase fruitfulness in a disciple’s life. What are those means? The first, according to v. 2, is God’s pruning. The second, according to vss. 4–5, is abiding in Jesus. Finally, in v. 7, prayer is a means to increasing fruit-bearing.

I want to focus on each one of those aspects:

First, in v. 2, Jesus says, “Every branch [in me] that bears fruit he prunes, in order that it may bear more fruit.” This means that God the Father takes an active interest in his people’s sanctification. He does not take a hands-off approach. That is good news. God is at work in you to sanctify you for his glory. Pruning is the process of cutting away dead or overgrown branches or stems, especially to increase fruitfulness and growth. Throughout our lives, God exposes areas of sin and laziness in our Christian walk. He cuts, he plucks, and he disciplines and chastens us. And what begins to happen? Growth. That’s really what pruning is. It’s the process of discipline God uses to make his people more like him (c.f. Hebrews 12:5–11).

The second means of fruitfulness is following the command to abide in Christ. In v. 4, Jesus says, “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.” What does it mean to abide in Christ? It means the same thing as “walking in the light” (1 John 1:6–7). It means to persevere in faith, clinging fast to Jesus. Never leaving him, but instead staying or remaining with him, continuing in the path of true discipleship. This is the point of v. 10, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” What does abiding in Christ result in? V. 5, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in him, bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Through abiding in Jesus, a disciple will bear much fruit.

The final means of fruit-bearing is prayer. V. 7 says, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you…” Now, doesn’t that sound like a dangerous promise? Doesn’t that sound like something an unbeliever could pervert? But notice what is predicated on the asking. “If you abide in Me, and my words abide in you.” If you abide in Christ, and his word abides in you—what do you want to do? You want to follow him. You want to love him. You want to obey him. You will want to ask, seek, and knock that you might be fruitful in his service, in seeking the kingdom. And God will answer your prayers for that.

In Philippians 1:9–11, Paul told the church that he prayed, “that your love may abound still more and more in all knowledge and discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Do we want to bear more fruit? Do we want to be filled with the fruits of righteousness that come from Jesus Christ? Then we need to pray. 


In v. 8, Jesus says, “By this my father is glorified that you bear much fruit; so you will be my disciples.” Fruit-bearing is the proof that a person belongs to Jesus. Every disciple will bear fruit. And by this, Jesus says, my Father is glorified. There is no higher purpose the Christian can serve than glorifying the Father.

As we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, we close with an incredible statement from Jesus in v. 9. It is a statement we ought to reflect on deeply, and ask that God would imprint on our hearts. He says, “as the Father loved me, I also have loved you.” Christians, abide in Christ. No one loves you like him.

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