1 John 4:7-21
This is how my Father will be glorified. Phillips
If the Romans had not destroyed the Temple in 70 AD, we could visit Jerusalem and see it in its glory. As we gaze on the eastern side, we would see the 75 foot tall doors that allow two priests to enter morning and evening. On either side of the doors we would see grape vines ‘growing’ up on either side. Each grape was the size of a bowling ball, and even heavier because it was made of pure gold.
Several passages in the OT refer to Israel as a grape vine. Ps 80:8-16, Isa 5:1-7, Jer 2:21, Ezek 15:1-8; 17:5-10; 19:10-14, and Hos 10:1. When the Herodian Temple was built, the vine was placed by the entrance to God’s House to remind the people of their true nature.
Sadly, most of the references to the vine in the OT also include descriptions of the vine not bearing fruit and being chopped down and thrown into the fire. John included this message from Jesus. Every branch which is part of me but fails to bear fruit, he cuts off. CJB He being God.
To back up a bit, let’s read the first two verses. I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. ESV
Jesus is speaking directly to his disciples. He is telling them that he has been feeding them so that they could grow into healthy witnesses to the Word of God. But he includes the reminder that bearing fruit is the key factor in deciding if a person is thrown into the eternal fires of damnation or pruned to yield even more fruit. Jesus knows he is speaking to one of the Twelve who would be cut off.
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. NIV Again, this is for the Twelve, Eleven actually. Several translations read, You are already pruned.
Every year in any vineyard the gardener must spend hours clipping off long runners that only suck up nutrients without producing fruit. These can grow to fifteen feet and more. The gardener must also clip off last year’s fruit-yielding vines because they will not produce a second time. Looking at the vine above, you see multiple long canes from last year’s growth. Proper pruning will cut off at least 80% of that growth.
How does Jesus prune his disciples? The similarity is removal of the non-fruit bearing canes. Am I angry at my boss or co-workers? Prune that anger. Do I fear foreigners? Prune that fear. Whatever is in your life that prevents you from showing God’s love must be pruned.
We must always remember these words of Jesus, my Father is the vinedresser. I cannot prune myself any more than a grape vine can.
Remember that the disciples were clean because they had heard and taken to heart the teachings of Jesus. We each seek more and more understanding of and closeness to God. We see how Jesus and his disciples lived and we strive for imitation. With the power of the Holy Spirit the imitation becomes better and better.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. ESV
It is instructive that the OT used the vine image mostly as a warning to Israel. If you do not follow My Word, you will be thrown into the fire. In the first 21 verses of Ezekiel 17, we read about King Zedekiah disobeying God and being cut down and thrown into the fires. It is not the image of the coming Messiah that we now associate with Jesus.
Jesus chose the vine image for himself in this passage of John as both a praise and a warning. He pointed to the vine at the Temple and said, I am the true vine of Israel. But that also means that God will prune those who are not of my vine.
In Ezekiel 17:22, God says of the promised Messiah, I will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and plant it. NET This is the OT image of the Messiah. The vine of Israel has failed so God moves to cedar. Jesus does not claim to be the cedar, rather he claims to be the true vine. Does that mean Jesus is not the Messiah?
The Messiah is promised by God. The details of the promise are numerous, and Jesus did not claim every one of them. Jews of the day understood the image of the vine, so Jesus stuck to it. Besides, and more importantly, Jesus is the perfect vine. Where Israel fails, Jesus succeeds.
Back to you and me. Jesus is actually the trunk while we are the canes. It is the canes that produce fruit. But don’t get an inflated notion that we are more important than the trunk. Take away the trunk and the canes can do nothing. The image breaks down a little because Jesus yielded more fruit in three short years than any of us has done in a lifetime.
Be righteous and do good.