THE VINE, THE BRANCHES,
AND PERSECUTION

CONSIDER the important precepts which our Savior taught at the very end of his ministry. His departure was imminent. Those who once may have thought they faced the possible end of their days realize how matters of great importance then occupied their minds. So it was with our Master who knew His death was but a few hours away. He improved the opportunity. "Having loved His own...he loved them to the end."-- John 13:1

They had just left the upper room of the last supper, and were proceeding toward the brook Cedron. Gethsemane was just beyond. He would illustrate a relationship most important to them. "I am the true vine, and My Father is the Husbandman." God had brought Him to this hour by divine guidance and instruction through the holy spirit. A fresh activity was about to commence. Fleshly Israel had been God's ancient vineyard, but it was in the throes of test, judgment and removal. Unsuitable fruitage in the lives of the people of Israel disqualified the continuance of that vineyard. (Isa. 5:1-7, Jer. 12:10, Psa. 80:8-17) The development of its replacement had begun, and the new vineyard would consist of but one vine together with all its branches.

"I am the true vine, and My Father is the Husbandman. Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned."

In this instruction, John 15:1-6, Jesus first mentions Himself who they could see; then the Father whom they could not see, but whom our Master had revealed by His life and doctrine; then the work of the Husbandman regarding the branches. The illustration aptly lends itself to God's labors in the spiritual reconstitution. Two kinds of branches were mentioned in verse two. One had no fruit, and of the other branch more fruit was desired. The first would be taken away entirely, the other would be improved so it might yield bountifully. In a natural branch, this improvement could be accomplished by pruning away excessive wood growth, or any scaly or insect-covered unclean part.

The latter thought nicely fits the spiritual circumstance, which seems intended by the Greek verb kathairo. Our English noun 'catharsis', meaning purification or purgation, is related to the Greek word used. The King James version translates it 'purgeth', while the Marshall Interlinear word for word reads 'prunes'. The author of Young's Literal Translation, apparently moved by both the sense of the illustration and the meaning of the Greek, has rendered a most appropriate reading: "He doth cleanse by pruning it." All whose experiences have taken them not only through victory and joy, but also through failings and sorrow, can be thankful that the great Husbandman does tend the branches in this manner: He cleanses by pruning. The expression in verse 3, "...now ye are 'clean' through the word which I have spoken unto you," not only confirms this meaning of our Master, but also shows His part in the Husbandman's work..."ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you."

The words "now ye are clean" also suggest that Jesus was reflecting back to the ceremony just ended, during which one branch--Judas--had been sent away, and another--Peter--had been corrected to cut away an hindrance to fruitbearing. And those events had to do with cleansing. The result was a blessing to the one who subsequently did bear much fruit. (Luke 22:31,32, John 21:15-19, Acts 2:14-4:4, 10:1-48) This focus shows that the wisdom of the world, together with selfishness and greed, lack of faith, and prideness of heart are things not compatible with fruitbearing.

It is important that we note our Master's mention of "the word which I have spoken unto you." Disciples must abide in Him, trust Him, have confidence in His teaching. It is essential to our blessing. If we do not heed His counsel, He is unable to abide in us, be with us, to guide and direct and comfort us. The counsel of Jesus is learned by study of the Scriptures. Without close spiritual association and strong desire on our part, we cannot bear fruit. This is as true as that a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, but must abide in its vine.

The clearly stated and important truth--"without me ye can do nothing"--does not indicate egotism on the part of our Master. He was not talking to doctors about healing, nor to a repairman about fixing, nor to an accountant about balancing books. He was talking to believers, spiritual branches, regarding the specific purpose for which they have relationship to the vine--to bring forth much fruit.

We can do nothing without Him because without Him we would have no Mediator. The Apostle Paul taught that there is but one Mediator. (1 Tim. 2:4-6) We honor God's appointment and the apostle's instruction when we acknowledge Him as such in our worship and praise. He is the one whose sacrifice has brought us nigh unto God and made it possible for us to be branches in His Father's vine. This teaching that "without Me ye can do nothing" was but another chord in that evening's main theme. The bread represented His body, His flesh which He gave for the life of the world (John 6:5), and the cup represented His blood of the New Covenant. (Matt. 26:28, Luke 22:20) Without Him we could not have come to the Lord, and without faith in Him we could bear no fruit.

"If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."--vs. 7

This confirms the blessed results of faith and trust in our Master, of hearing His words of instruction, and looking unto Him. When we abide in Him so fully as to ask in harmony with His will, His favorable response is assured. His promise seen in John 14:12,13 is corroborated, where He drew a comparison to the miracles He had worked. "He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also: and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto My Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." The promised works having greater effects began almost at once. Jesus did go to His Father and the holy spirit was poured out upon His little flock. Many Jews in Jerusalem were blessed by the ministry of that small band. They taught truth, convicted hearers, and encouraged confession of faith. The words of life began to work eternal spiritual recovery from sin and its condemnation. The promised "greater works" had begun. Not long thereafter the Gentiles were similarly blessed, and the spiritual privileges began to extend worldwide. And it continues to be the privilege of disciples to co-labor together with Him.

"Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples."--vs. 8

Fruitbearing becomes a continuing evidence of discipleship; proof that we are learning from the meek and lowly one. (Matt. 11:29) Its object is the glorifying of His Father and our Father. If our activities do not elevate and improve the majesty and praiseworthiness of God in our own hearts, and in the minds of those with whom we associate, then a renewed approach to God through prayer may be necessary to commence the important process of bearing fruit.

"As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you: continue ye in My love. If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love."--vs. 9,10

Mutual love in the three-part relationship--the Father, the Son, and the brotherhood--is here emphasized. I have loved you, Jesus says, and I will manifest My love for you with all the evidences by which My Father has declared His love for Me. Now, after this example, you must behave toward one another in a way similar to My response to God's love of Me. That in part is what is meant by the commandment of Jesus, 'continue in My love'. The keeping of His commandments will be our necessary response to assure that we abide in His love; for thus He did regarding His Father's commandments, securing the Father's abiding love.

Jesus had kept His "Father's commandments"! Doing so had required our Master's constant spiritual effort, even though He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners." (Heb. 7:26) He maintained His purity and integrity through manifold temptations, having been "in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." (Heb. 4:15) We should render continual thanks and praise for His faithfulness. But we cannot render appropriate thanks in proper dimension if confusion of thought regarding the Father and the Son obscures truth. Only when perceiving that the Son of God is an entirely separate being can we appreciate what an extraordinary example Jesus is to all His spiritual branches.

"These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."--vs. 11

I have told you of these processes and explained these principles because they instruct the relationships which will create in you contentment, happiness, joy; they will even make you full of joy.

"This is My commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you."--vs. 12-14

Having given commandment in verses 9-11 regarding our relationship with Him, Jesus now gives a commandment having an added dimension regarding our relationship with one another. Pattern your relationships with one another after My love for you: love one another as I have loved you, which is such that I lay down life for you My friends. Yes, I do own you as friends, if ye do My commandments. This suggests; no, it directs; really it is a commandment--that we love one another as He loved us. Our love for fellow branches should be such as to create the willingness and desire and even the reality of laying down our lives, denying ourselves, our own personal human interests and pleasures to the spiritual benefit and blessing of others.

"Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you."--vs. 15

In fact, for some time I have treated you as friends, and not as servants who never hear about their Master's plans. All things that My Father has told Me of, I have made known to you. And of course there was a purpose in Jesus revealing God's will to them, and to us, and He proceeds to explain that in verse 16.

"Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in My name, He may give it you."

Who has chosen who is clearly evident from this. "I have chosen you," Jesus affirmed, and appointed you with a purpose in view: "that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain." At least one thing is meant here; even two things may be intended. You should bear abundant personal spiritual fruitage to the praise of God's holy name, to the very end of your days. You should strive to become like Me, your master, lord, and example. The Apostle Paul referred to these spiritual branches as those "who are the called according to His purpose," and He indicates God's purpose is that such be "conformed to the image of His Son, that He [Jesus] might be the firstborn among many brethren." (Rom. 8:28,29) The instruction by Jesus that such "fruit shall remain" suggests that His branches be faithful unto death so to assure a reward which shall remain, that is, be rewarded in the resurrection. Additionally, the instruction "you should go" authorizes believers to 'go forth' with the word of reconciliation as "able ministers of the New Covenant." (2 Cor. 3:6) One end in view is that fruit be brought forth in the hearts of others who remain after their decease. Certainly Jesus anticipated an active, believing, and continuing company of disciples.

The privilege of prayer, and the assurance of God's response in verse 7, has been seen and noted. Now His followers are again adjured to ask in His 'name'. Our supplications in this manner affirm our confidence in the power of His name and of His sin-atonement sacrifice. Our prayer to God in the name of His Son expresses conviction that our Master's faithfulness even unto death (Heb. 2:9) made possible atonement for our sins, and divine acceptance of all who come unto God through faith in Jesus. A prayer frequent among believers is in line with this assurance--that truths expressed might prosper in and nourish the hearts and minds of others. When others are encouraged and enlightened through our faith activities, the Father is glorified. This also evidences fruitbearing.

"These things I command you, that ye love one another. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you."--vs. 17-19

The command of our Master that mutual love maintain in the brotherhood is impressed by this repetition. The hatred of His disciples by the world, regarding which He now gives warning, makes this mutual love essential among His believing flock. And, He said, when you experience distress and hatred from the world, know that it first hated Me. The hatred of the world proves that ye are not of it, that I chose you out of it. Its hatred of you declares that I have set My love upon you.

"Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep your's also."--vs. 20

Jesus had told them earlier, "The servant is not greater than his lord," as He washed their feet. (John 13:16) But they had heard it even before then, as recorded in Matt. 10:24 regarding persecution, and it is probably that to which Jesus here refers. Now He adds, so as to emphasize that persecution is due directly to the truths He spoke, "if they have kept My saying, they will keep your's also." There is a difference of opinion among writers as to what may be meant here. Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich lexicon lists this verse under the definition of the Greek word translated 'keep' as having the meaning "pay attention to." Our Master may have been saying that if the world has paid attention to His sayings so as to know how to accuse Him, they will for the same purpose also pay attention to our sayings. This meaning of the passage seems affirmed by His reference to persecution in the words that immediately follow, verse 21.

"But all these things will they do unto you for My name's sake, because they know not Him that sent Me."

Jesus realized that it is because of Him that the world would persecute His disciples. It is because of the strength of His doctrine and purpose, and of our allegiance to it, that persecution would come. This, He said, means of course that the world also does not know My Father that sent Me.

"If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin. He that hateth Me hateth My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both Me and My Father. But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated Me without a cause."--vs. 22-25

The sin here spoken of is now considered. Jesus did not have in mind their natural sinful propensities inherited at birth as members of an imperfect, condemned race. Nor did Jesus have in mind the sins of which the Jew was made intensely aware by the forbidding commandments of the perfect law which God gave them through Moses, of which the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:7-9. Jesus here speaks of the world's hatred of Him, hate which they would not have had, except He came as a great light preaching truth in a dark world. Their sin of hatred had become openly apparent. No covering or cloke could conceal its reality.

This identification by Jesus of the sin of hatred brings to mind another kind of sin which He identified, as recorded in John 9:39-41. It is the sin of hardness, blindness of heart manifested by the Pharisees. They falsely claimed to see God's precepts and requirements, and to be qualified to interpret His law to Israel. This evidenced their blindness. They insisted on detailed rituals and traditions, binding them as requirements upon worshippers. Matt. 23:1- 33 records our Master's condemnation of them. They gave no comfort to those whom they burdened with ritualistic duties. They overlooked judgment, mercy and faith, the really important matters in God's law. They made long public prayers and professed moral righteousness; but were full of hypocrisy and iniquity, demanding honor of men. They claimed to faithfully represent God: they said they 'saw'. Inasmuch as Jesus came to give sight to the blind, the truths he brought were not discerned as light by those who said, 'we see'. Therefore their sin of hardness remained unturned away. He did not give sight to them.

Part of John 15:25 is cited from the Psalms. "Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me: neither let them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause." "They compassed me about also with words of hatred; and fought against me without a cause." (Psalms 35:19, 109:3) 'Without a cause' is from a Greek word literally meaning 'for nothing'. Indeed, they hated a blameless Jesus. Oh that it might also be with us His disciples, that whatever oppositions and persecutions might come upon us, they come only as a result of the truths we espouse. But due to the many imperfections with which every disciple is beset, there is always some personal failing or inadequacy to which can be attributed much of the grief which accompanies our efforts to make truth known.

"But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of Me: And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with Me from the beginning."--vs. 26,27

What wonderful promise in these closing words. Earlier that evening, when they were still in the upper room, Jesus had promised the Comforter. His focus then was on the personal relationship and closeness with the Father and with the Son which the Comforter would instruct and encourage. Now and in chapter 16 our Lord's reference to the Comforter emphasize its testimony of truth regarding the origin, ministry and future service of Jesus. This would enable His disciples to bear witness regarding both Him and His Father. Jesus described the Comforter as "the spirit of truth." (John 14:16,17, 15:26) It is the helper without which no disciple can be a fruit-bearing branch in the spiritual vine.

In Gal. 5:21-23, the Apostle Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit which the law of the spirit of Christ encourages. He places these in contrast to the unlawful works of the flesh, with the warning that "they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." Branches in our Father's vine must not be conformed to the world, but rather must be "transformed by the renewing of our mind." (Rom. 12:1,2) Knowing these things, the Apostle Peter urged all such branches who abide by faith to diligently add to that faith "virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.--2 Pet. 1:4-8

Jesus foresaw that some of His disciples would be put out of synagogues, forbidden to teach, and some even killed because they dare to preach His Father's truth. The teaching in verse 25 was directed by that foresight. Chapter 15's concluding verse continued his counsel to that little flock, encouraging them that they might not be perplexed nor offended so as to turn away from their divine service. They must persevere in their ministry of reconciliation.--2 Cor. 5:16-20