Summary: Jesus declare the fruitful union between believers and Him. He will prune us when necessary, but will not forsake us.
When we lived in California and Germany, we admired the many vineyards. Grapes are the most widely grown fruit in the world. They’ve been cultivated as far back as ancient Egypt, 2,500 years before the birth of Christ.
The grapevine is a symbol of Israel, part of its national emblem, as depicted on coins. Grapes represent the nation’s fruitfulness. They’ve always been central to Israel’s agriculture and economy. An important product of ancient Israel was a grape honey made by boiling the grapes into a molasses-like jelly. When Israel is referred to as the “land of milk and honey”, it is referring to this product rather than honey from beehives.
In the time of Jesus, a golden grapevine hung over the entrance of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, a gift from King Herod. It was made of delicately-twisted gold wire and beads. Identifying with Israel, Jesus declared in another “I AM” statement: “I am the true Vine.”
Verse one reveals God-the-Father as the Owner and Cultivator of the vineyard. Grapes require constant, attentive care--more intense labor than any other crop. The Israelites built watchtowers by their vineyards to guard against thieves and animals. Our Heavenly Father tends His grapes, waters and protects them, and cultivates a harvest to produce a maximum yield. We can trust this Gardener to nurture us; His eye is on every branch.
Verse two explains the fruitful union between believers and Christ. It also reveals the essential pruning process, which has 3 aspects…
1. New plants are pruned for 3-5 years to “train” them before they’re allowed to produce a crop. In the same way, new believers require time to grow and training to help them become rooted in their new faith.
2. Pruning is also necessary to remove any deadwood that could cause decay. God prunes from us that which will hinder our growth.
3. Farmers also prune live wood, in order to improve the vine’s potential for fruit-bearing. Untrimmed vines develop unproductive growth--long, rambling branches that produce few grapes because the vine is focused on growing wood.
For its size, a single vine is extremely productive, yielding as much as 80 lbs of grapes in a single season, and can continue to produce grapes for nearly 100 years. Jesus is saying to His followers that we are re-born to re-produce. We’re able to do so, because we abide in Him.
Verse 3 assures us that we are healthy branches. Jesus did not equate the word “clean” with “perfect”. The words “cut off” in verse 2 can mean to take away or remove, but can also mean to cleanse or trim clean. Judas is an example of a dead branch that was cut off; Peter an example of a live branch pruned for greater productivity.
Verses 4-5 highlight the importance of fruitfulness in the Christian life, and reveal the Source of productivity. Our success is not the result of self-achievement, but of abiding in Christ. We are fruitful because of the Vine. We cannot bear fruit on our own. We cannot survive apart from Christ. We cannot accomplish anything of permanent value apart from Christ, the True Vine.