“I am the true vine and my father is the gardener. . . . Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.”
Jesus in John 15:1, 4 (NET)
I am the last person to question about anything that grows. I have no green thumb and am totally dependent on my husband for keeping plants alive—inside or out! Although horticulture is foreign to me, it would not have been to those who heard Jesus in the Jewish culture of that day. He often used everyday images to show people eternal truths, calling Himself bread, a light, a door, and a shepherd, and now a vine.
Before we get into this snapshot of Jesus, let’s review the context. Scan back from John 15 until you remember where Jesus was, when this was, and to whom He was speaking.
Diamonds in the Word: Instead of simply scanning for the context, read from John 13:18-15:27.
Read John 15:1-4, which includes the final I Am statement and your memory verses.
The vine picture was a familiar one to the Jews; it was used in the Old Testament as an image for the Jewish nation. During the Maccabean period they even adopted it as their national symbol.
1. Let’s look at this picture in the Old Testament because Jesus’ disciples would have known these passages and interpreted Jesus’ words with them in mind. Write down what it says about the vine and the message for God’s people:
a. Psalm 80:7-8, Psalm 80:14-17 (To whom does v. 17 refer?)
b. Isaiah 5:1-7
c. Jeremiah 2:21
d. Hosea 10:1-2
The use of the vine image in the Old Testament emphasizes that Israel’s unfaithfulness to God meant that the nation did not bear the fruit that God intended. In the same way in which Jesus had already represented Himself as superseding many of the Old Testament pictures (the temple, the Jewish feasts, Moses, etc.), He now declared that He was the true Vine, replacing fruitless Israel.
2. If you had been a good religious Jew and heard Jesus make this claim, what do you think you would have thought and felt about it?
3. Think back through Jesus’ previous I Am statements. How does this one compare with the others? In other words, what is He saying that is similar and what is different? What common threads do you see?
4. Sharing question: Which I Am statement is most meaningful to you personally? Why?
5. Responding to God: Draw a picture of a vine that has many branches bearing much fruit. (You can do it!) Ask God to produce fruit in your life.
Read John 15:1-8, which is not a parable (story to teach one main truth). It is more of an extended metaphor with many elements that express truths in picture form.
6. To assure your grasp of the details, fill in the right column of this chart.
Element in the metaphor
What it represents
Vine (15:1, 5)
Vinedresser or gardener (15:1)
7. What does the branch need to do in order to bear much fruit (15:4-5, 7-8)?
Diamonds in the Word: Read about vines and grapes online or in resources that you have. Consider which information applies to Jesus’ metaphor and which don’t.
8. Sharing question: How do you practically make sure that you are staying attached to Jesus? (We are not talking about staying attached for salvation but so that Jesus’ life is affecting your life in such a way that you are productive.)
9. Responding to God: Ask God if you are bearing much fruit or little fruit. Draw a picture of yourself in the Vine as a branch bearing much fruit.
Review John 15:1-8.
10. What work does God do to the various branches (15:2)?
“In each case the assumption is that fruit-bearing is the test of life-giving attachment to the vine. . . [It] is a by-product” of the connection.31
11. Read Hebrews 12:5-13; how does it explain what it means to prune a branch?
12. Read Eze. 15:1-8. What do you learn about the usefulness of branches on a vine that do not produce fruit? How does this apply to Jn. 15:6?
Many have taken the phrase “in me” in John 15:6 to say that believers can lose faith and their salvation. Burge suggests that this presses a metaphor beyond its purpose. He describes the essential message this way: “The principle is simple: Jesus (and the vine) are the source of life; to fail to have him is to fail to have life. To refuse to ‘remain in Jesus” (15:6a) is to refuse the gift of life he offers.”32
13. What person involved in this final night of Jesus’ life appears connected to Jesus but will prove that he is not really connected to the life of the Vine by his actions? Why would Jesus need to explain that situation to the eleven who are with Him?
Diamonds in the Word: Read about these verses in commentaries or on a reliable online resource.
14. Sharing question: Do you know someone who appeared attached to the Vine for a short time but who eventually disavowed the faith and never bore real fruit? How would you explain that situation by the teaching in this metaphor?
15. Responding to God: Write a prayer that God will produce much fruit through your life.
Review John 15:1-8 and read John 15:9-17.
16. What is the relationship between loving Jesus and obeying Him (15:9-10)?
17. Read Jesus’ message to the church at Ephesus in Rev. 2:1-7. For what did Jesus criticize them? How did He tell them to fix the problem (2:5)?
18. Sharing question: Has your love for Jesus lost any of its fervor? How can you practically apply Rev. 2:5 so that you return to your first love? Share with your group your plan.
19. What is the prayer promise that leads to much fruit (15:7-8)?
Diamonds in the Word: Look for other prayer promises in the New Testament. Use your concordance and look for words like “ask” or “pray”. Or use a topical Bible for help.
20. Responding to God: Pray a kingdom prayer (see p.99) that is true to God’s words and to Jesus’ character and which will lead to the production of fruit. Write it below.
Read John 15:18-16:4, 33.
21. List the things that Jesus says about His relationship to the world.
22. What did Jesus tell His disciples to expect from the world? Why?
23. Why did Jesus say He was telling them such hard things (16:1, 4)?
Diamonds in the Word: Read John 16:5-33, which we are skipping. Pay particular attention to Jesus’ teaching concerning the work of the Holy Spirit.
24. Sharing question: How does it help you to know in advance that you will not be accepted as part of the world? Share with your group a situation where it was clear that it was your faith that caused you to be on the outside of someone’s life.
25. Responding to God: Pray for the world, knowing that God loves those caught up in it (Jn. 3:16).
I pray that we all learn to prioritize time with God so that we stay vitally connected to the Vine and bear much fruit. Bob Ann shares that it’s okay to work out that time into our schedules; when we spend time with God is not as important as the fact that we do it!
Because I accepted Christ so late in life, I was eager to spend time in the Word. I began going to Bible studies and working with a wonderful lady in our church who encouraged me in spiritual disciplines. I began reading the Bible from cover to cover. I found that if I missed a day or week it took me forever to catch up, so I began making it a priority out of self defense. Soon I began to look on it as a time of joy and spending time with the Lord rather than a task to be done. As a new Christian I had my quiet time while the girls were napping or at school; now it’s first thing in the morning with a cup of great coffee with a great Lord. I even find myself looking forward to waking up early, and disappointed when I wake up after 6:00.
31 Burge, 418.
32 Burge, 427-428.