John 15

The Believer’s Portion on Earth in the Time of Jesus’ Absence
John 15
John 15. The Son was going to leave this world, but the Father’s desire is that Christ be displayed here, even while Christ is absent. The subject of ch.15 is the believer’s portion in the world, both in bearing fruit for the Father and in being rejected by the world. Fruit-bearing is how the moral character and qualities of Christ are reproduced in the lives of believers. The great secret to fruit-bearing is walking in constant communion with Christ.

Characteristics of Jesus’ Disciples: Fruit-bearing (15:1-17)

The Vine-Branch Relationship. It is helpful to understand that the Vine is connected with the earth. The True Vine is Christ as a replacement of Israel on the earth, which is seen as a vine in the Old Testament. This is why even the True Vine can have branches that aren’t real (v.6). However, the only branches that bear fruit are those with eternal life. Fruit is the proof of reality. Strictly speaking, the Vine is Christ on earth12 and the branches are the disciples, the Jewish remnant gathered around Him.3 It is the same contrast that is drawn all through the prophetic scriptures: Christ and the remnant replaces the apostate nation of Israel (e.g. Isaiah 49). This contrast is carried forward and expanded in John’s gospel, highlighting the distinction between Christ and Judaism. This is quite a different relationship than the heavenly connection between Christ and the members of His body, which Paul teaches in his epistles. Not one of the members of the body will be cast out and burned, nor is there any need for a husbandman in heaven. Since Christ is in heaven now, is there nothing on earth that answers to the truth of John 15? 4 Though Christ is absent, we still continue in the place of disciples on earth. In this sense, the relationship described in John 15 still continues for Christians. The exhortations to abide in the Vine and bear fruit is just as applicable to us today as it was to the disciples.

Fruit-bearing and Communion (vv.1-8)

I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. v.1 The Vine and the Husbandman. This is one of the great “I am” statements of John’s gospel. The Jews were familiar with the analogy in the Old Testament of the “vine of Israel”. Israel was brought up out of Egypt and planted in Canaan as a vine. “Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land” (Psa. 80:8-9). A vine is intended to produce grapes, and in a parallel way, Israel was planted in the earth to produce fruit for God. They were to be a light to the nations, and represent God here on the earth. The key to understanding this is Isa. 5, where we read, “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant” (Isa. 5:7). Isaiah 5 traces out the history of Israel as Jehovah’s vineyard; how He did everything possible to cultivate and protect it, but the results was, “and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.” Here in John 15 the Lord declares “I am the true vine”. The Jews believed that the priesthood, the ordinances, the feasts, etc. were fruit for Jehovah. The disciples would naturally have viewed Jesus as a very good branch of the Jewish vine; the best specimen. Christ sets this all aside, showing that He Himself is, not one among many, but exclusively the only source of fruit for God; “I am the true vine”.5 The Father is “the husbandman”, the One who is look for fruit. This was another tremendous truth for the disciples to grasp. In Isaiah 5 it was the vineyard of Jehovah, but the True Vine is in relation to the Father. The fruit of the true vine will reflect the character of the vine. All the pleases the Father is the Son. All fruit for God, in the sense taken up in this chapter, is the character of the Son reflected in the lives of believers.
The “fruit” in John 15 refers not to acts of service, but the qualities of Christ reproduced in the life of the believer by the Spirit of God for the glory of the Father.
2 As to every branch in me not bearing fruit, he takes it away; and as to every one bearing fruit, he purges it that it may bring forth more fruit. 3 Ye are already clean by reason of the word which I have spoken to you. vv.2-3 Purging and Pruning of Branches “in” the Son. The Lord now speaks of the Father’s work as a husbandman, or one one cares for the vine. As we read in v.5, the main vine is Christ personally, and the branches are individual disciples. These verses address those who are true believers, designated as “in” the Son; “every branch in me”. This is confirmed by v.3, where the Lord explains that He was referring to those who were “already clean by reason of the word which I have spoken to you”; i.e. cleansed by the power of the Word of God in quickening (ref. John 13). In ch.13 it was “ye are clean, but not all” because Judas was present. Now it is “ye are already clean”. The branches that are purged or pruned are different from the class in v.6, which are those who do not abide in the Son; i.e. those without genuine faith. The Father is so interested in fruit that He is willing to work with the branches of the vine. Those branches who cease to produce fruit entirely (“not bearing fruit”) are taken away, like when a branch is completely cut off. This represents the most severe action the Father will take in the life of a backslidden believer. In this case, it would be when a believer is taken out of the world in death. We have an corollary to this in 1 John 5:16, where John speaks of “a sin unto death”. (The difference is that here it is not bearing fruit, but in 1 John it is committing a sin. Clearly, there is a connection between the two.) The second case is that of a branch that is bearing fruit, and it is “purged” in order to produce more fruit. This is like a believer that is walking for the Lord, but where there is room for improvement (as there always is, even with the most godly Christian). In this case, the Father is pleased with the fruit already being produced, but He desires “more fruit”. The Father purges the fruitful branches by removing things that hinder fruitfulness. It may be temptations, distractions, or positive sin in our lives that the Father seeks to remove. This purging involves chastening, which is painful in the moment, but results in more fruit; i.e. more of a conformance to Christ (Hebrews 12). In v.3 the Lord confirms that the purging is not to produce judicial cleansing, or an improved standing before God. That is fixed. We will never be more “clean” than we are the moment we are born again; “clean every whit” (John 13:10).
4 Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abide in the vine, thus neither can ye unless ye abide in me. 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abides in me and I in him, “he” bears much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing. vv.4-5 Abiding in the Vine. If vv.2-3 give us the Father’s work with the branches externally, then vv.4-5 give us the role of the Son in fruit-bearing; namely, that the branches are sustained internally by their connection to the Vine. We know what happens to a branch that is cut off from the vine, or even that is choked at the base. Branches without a connection to the vine do not bear fruit, because the branches get their supply of water and nutrients from the vine. In the same way, believers cannot produce fruit for the Father if they do not abide in the Son. How do we abide in the Son? We walk in communion with and dependence on Him. A believer walking in this way will manifest the moral features of Christ in their life. There is a mutual association between the vine and the branches, and between Christ and the Christian; “he that abides in me and I in him…”. They have a shared life; and that is eternal life. Read more… A believer who walks in the shared enjoyment of the life of Christ will “bear much fruit”. But though it is a shared life (we in Him, and He in us), we are reminded that we have the life in us derivatively, not in ourselves intrinsically like Christ. We cannot stand independently; “for without me ye can do nothing”. However the subject in these verses is not the life of the vine. That is hidden, so to speak. The outward association is what is in view, and the reality of that association is being tested by obedience.
6 Unless any one abide in me he is cast out as the branch, and is dried up; and they gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. v.6 Destruction of branches not “in” the Son. In what is like a parenthesis, the Lord addressed the case of branches that are completely disconnected from the vine. The difference between these branches and those in v.2 is that they are not “in” the Son. They are not real. They are branches in the sense that they have an outward association with Christ, but no inward link. Judas is an example of such a person. These branches are “dried up”, picturing how the true condition of those who are false professors will eventually be manifested. These are gathered into a pile to be burned, which is an apt figure of the final destiny of those without genuine faith; i.e. they will end in the lake of fire. Perhaps the gathering is similar to the tares in Matthew 13 who are destroyed at the harvest judgment.
7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will and it shall come to pass to you. v.7 Resources available to the branches. The Lord presents His words as the test of faithfulness. If we abide “in” the Vine, the Lord’s words will abide in us. This means that we obey His word from our hearts. His word is given to us as our guide, as well as the test of our obedience. But if we walk in obedience, we have a tremendous resource: prayer. “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will and it shall come to pass to you.” Just as the natural branches draw their nourishment from the vine, so we as Christ’s disciples can look to Him for all of our needs with confidence that He will provide.
8 In this is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit, and ye shall become disciples of mine. v.8 Results of fruit-bearing. The results of fruit-bearing are twofold. First, the Father is glorified when we “bear much fruit”. All that delights the heart of the Father is His Son. When the qualities of the Son are reproduced in our lives, the Father is glorified. This ought to be our highest motivation in all we do, as it was for our Master; seeking the Father’s glory. But secondly, we will be true followers of Christ; “ye shall become disciples of mine”. But, we might ask, weren’t they already Christ’s disciples? Yes. But there are two kinds of disciples: mere professors, and real disciples, or “disciples indeed” (John 8:31). The mark of real disciples is that they continue in His word, while mere professors walk away (John 6:66). True disciples bear “much fruit”. Read more… In the following verses, the we have a number of things that might be called “fruit”. In each case, Christ Himself is set before us as the example. Whether it be abiding in love (v.9), obedience to divine commandments (v.10), having the joy of obedience (v.11), or demonstrating love for one another (v.12), in each case, Christ is the perfect pattern.
The Vine, the Fig Tree, and the Olive Tree. The “olive tree” is God’s testimony in the earth, connected with outward blessing. The “vine” represents Israel spiritually, connected with fruit-bearing. The “true vine” is Christ Himself (v.1). The “fig tree” represents Israel nationally. The olive tree is something Gentiles are “grafted” into, but the true Vine is a total replacement of Israel.

Love and Obedience (vv.9-17)

9 As the Father has loved me, I also have loved you: abide in my love. v.9 Abiding in the Savior’s Love. A stupendous statement is then made by our Lord: as the Father has loved Him, even so the Son has loved us! Here is something we simply cannot fully grasp, but we must accept it by faith. It isn’t exactly the eternal love between divine Persons that the Son speaks of, but the Father’s love for Him as a man on the earth. “As the Father has loved me” is in the past tense, looking back over His earthly pathway. The Lord had reflected the same love to His disciples here below.6 How had the Father loved the Son? With a perfect, infinite, divine love. Such is Jesus’ love for us. Amazing love! We are to “abide” in His love. To abide in the Savior’s love is to continue in the enjoyment of it, and to depend on it for every need. It doesn’t mean that we should try to manufacture feelings of love for Christ, but rather that we should consider His love for us, and walk in the light of His love. “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine” (Song. 1:2). Better than all earthly joys is the sweet love of Christ! How happy we are if we abide in His love. This is coupled with obedience to His commandments, as we see in v.10. When I am enjoying the love of Christ, there is no room in my heart for lust, malice, anger, or bitterness. Abiding in the Savior’s love is the best place a Christian can be. The pattern set before us is the Lord Jesus. He walked in the conscious sense of His Father’s love for Him. We should do the same.
10 If ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love, as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. v.10 Obedience to the Savior’s Commandments. Dependence (v.9) is coupled with obedience (v.10). How can we keep in the Savior’s love? We must obey His commandments. How can I enjoy the love of Christ if I am walking in disobedience? The pattern set before us is again the Lord Jesus. He perfectly kept the Father’s commandments, and the result was that He perfectly enjoyed the Father’s love. We see glimpses of this all through the Lord’s earthly pathway, such as at the river Jordan, when the voice was heard from heaven; “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”. The Lord knew practically what He was asking the disciples to do, because had walked it perfectly in His own earthly pathway. It isn’t even the scrupulous attention that the Lord showed in His obedience, but the spirit or attitude in which He kept His Father’s commandments. It was not with a sense of legal obligation, but with a heart willing to please the Father.
11 I have spoken these things to you that my joy may be in you, and your joy be full. v.11 The Joy of Obedience. Obedience leads to joy. This includes living with a good conscience, but it goes beyond a good conscience. The Lord Jesus had a certain joy that characterized His pathway, and we can share in that joy. Again, Jesus sets Himself before us as the perfect example. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). His joy was the joy of obedience; that of walking with the conscious sense of His Father’s pleasure and satisfaction.
12 This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, that one should lay down his life for his friends. vv.12-13 Love for each other, according to the pattern of Christ. Those in the family of God are to love one another. This goes beyond loving our neighbor, as the law commanded. This is the love of brethren. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14). Love is not merely a feeling, it is an action. The example once again is Christ. He has loved us with a deep, divine love. We are to love one another with that same love. It appears to be more the character of Christ’s love that we are commanded to emulate, rather than the measure of His love. The character emphasized here is that of a self-sacrificing love. We get another character in Romans 5, that divine love is unconditional and unmerited, because that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Contrast “friend” here with “sinners” in Romans. But the point here in John is that love is willing to sacrifice self for the good of others. Love and sacrifice are linked. The ultimate sacrifice is that of our life; “greater love hath no man than this”. The Lord Himself demonstrated this love by laying down His life for us. His sacrifice is an example for us to follow; “Hereby we have known love, because he has laid down his life for us; and we ought for the brethren to lay down our lives” (1 John 3:16). Often we fail in love far short of laying down our lives; yet that is the standard given to us.
14 Ye are my friends if ye practise whatever I command you. 15 I call you no longer bondmen, for the bondman does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things which I have heard of my Father I have made known to you. vv.14-15 Friendship with Christ: Intelligence and Confidence.

We have been brought into the confidence of Christ, such that He calls us His friends, if we obey His commandments. We cannot be His friends if we disobey His requests. A friend is different from a servant, because a friend can enjoy the full confidence of another. A servant is only told what he needs to know to fulfill his duties. A friend is told much more, those things that interest and are valued by another. A servant is left in the dark on many matters, but a friend is told the truth. So the Father and and the Son are in perfect communion about all that the Father is doing and will yet do (prophetic events, etc.). The Father and Son desire to bring us into that communion of thought.

A nice example is Abraham in Genesis 18. How sad that many in the Church are dismissive of the truths that Christ desires our fellowship in. How often we hear expressions like, “why should I care about that? it has nothing to do with me”. J.N. Darby remarked, concerning prophecy:
It has been said, that the real use to be made of the prophecies is, to shew the divinity of the Bible by those [prophecies] which have already been accomplished. This is certainly a use which may be made of them, but this is not the special object for which they have been given. They belong not to the world, but to the church or remnant, to communicate the intentions of God to that church or remnant, and to be its guide and torch before the arrival of those events which they predict, or during their accomplishment. Shall we use the revelations of God merely as the means of convincing us afterwards that He has told the truth? It is as if someone were treating me as his intimate friend, heaping benefits upon me, communicating his thoughts to me, telling me all that he knew would shortly happen; and I should use all his confidence for no other purpose than to convince myself, when everything had come to pass, that he was a truth-telling person. Alas! alas! where are we? Have we so far lost the feeling of our privileges, and of the goodness of our God? Is there, then, nothing for the church in all these holy revelations? for certainly it is not the church’s place to be discussing whether God, its divine Friend, has told the truth. Dear friends, we wrong the goodness and friendship of God in acting thus towards Him. As Christians, we have no need to be witnesses of an event, in order to believe what God says to be true – that His word is true.7
One important distinction to note is that Jesus calls us His friends. He does not say “I am your friend”, but “you are my friends”. There is no thought of equality in friendship, although there is intimacy and dignity. In His grace Christ calls us His friends, but we must always uphold the reverence that is due His person.
16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and have set you that ye should go and that ye should bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide, that whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name he may give you. 17 These things I command you, that ye love one another. vv.16-17 Election, Purpose, and Calling. Having just presented the ground of man’s responsibility (v.14), the Lord quickly follows it up with the truth of God’s sovereignty. What a comfort to know that, if we are in the family of God, we were chosen!8 Directly the Lord was speaking of the eleven apostles, but by application it extends to all of His disciples. Every true believer was chosen by Christ, elected before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). Yet we were chosen for a purpose: that we might “bear fruit” for the Father (vv.1-8). This circles back to the beginning of the chapter. The Father is so pleased with His Son, that He desires to see the character of His Son reflected in the lives of us, the Lord’s disciples. As the elect, we have access to the Father in a special way, can can take our requests to Him in the name of the Son, with confidence that He will supply every need; “that whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name he may give you”. In closing this section, the Lord says “these things” (plural) “I write unto you that ye love one another”. It is an interesting way the verse is worded. All that we have as Christians, we have in common, so that we might be knit together in love. Being together for prayer, fellowship, and ministry of the Word draws believers together. Aside from the primary purpose of teaching, exhorting, etc. there is a secondary effect that is often overlooked. We we find in the next section, we are also together in our being hated and cast out by the world. We have every reason to carry on in practical love with one another.

Characteristics of the World, and the Believer’s Portion in it (15:18-27)

18 If the world hate you, know that it has hated me before you. 19 If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on account of this the world hates you. 20 Remember the word which I said unto you, The bondman is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my word, they will keep also yours. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they have not known him that sent me. vv.18-21 Hated by the World. Now, turning to a new subject, the Lord speaks of the world and the believer’s portion in it. The world hates the believer because of his association with Christ. The world, which is a system of independence from God over which Satan is the god and prince, loves its own. The world loves those whose interests are aligned with it. (Although the world’s love is of an inferior quality to divine love.) But the believer is chosen “out of the world” by the Master, and therefore “the world hates you”. We have been called completely out of this world, and so we look upon it as judged. We belong to Christ! There is a great moral divide between the world and Christ. This is something we need to come to terms with. It is not possible to be loved by the world and to be faithful to Christ. We cannot expect better treatment than our Master received, and they hated and persecuted Him, and did not keep His words. Why? Because the world is opposed to all that is of the Father (1 John 2:16); “because they have not known him that sent me”. Therefore, the world hates the Son, and all the children in the Father’s family. A Christian is one who knows the Father; knows His heart, His character, His thoughts, His purposes. To the world, the Father is a complete stranger. Notice that “sending” and “coming” are coupled in vv.21-22.

Very often in John when it says that the Father sent the Son, it quickly follows that the Son came into the world; e.g. John 1:8, 9; 5:37, 43; 6:29, 33; 15:21, 22. The Spirit is very careful to guard the deity of Christ.

22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they had not had sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He that hates me hates also my Father. 24 If I had not done among them the works which no other one has done, they had not had sin; but now they have both seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But that the word written in their law might be fulfilled, “They hated me without a cause.” [Psalm 69:4] vv.22-25 Christ’s Words and Works Exposed the World’s Hatred. If the Lord had not come and spoken to the world, the full depths of man’s depravity would not be fully shown. Israel had already failed under the law, and their subjugation to the Romans was proof of this. The law was given to expose man’s condition as totally unable to please God (Gal. 3:19, Rom. 5:20). However, the law was not the highest test of the first man. It did not expose man’s hatred of God. The words (v.21) and works (v.24) of the Son of God here in this world did exactly that. The reaction of the world to the perfect words and works of Christ fulfilled Psalm 16:4; “They hated me without a cause”. The awfulness of rejecting the Son completely eclipsed all other sin of man, such that Jesus could say, “they had not had sin”. But now “they have no excuse for their sin”. The rejection of the Son was so audacious and so nefarious that nothing could possibly lighten or loosen the sentence of judgment on man. The law was only a shadow, a partial revelation of God. But the presence of the Son on earth was the full revelation of God to man. All that God is in light and love was presented to man. What did they do with Him? The best of the world’s professed godliness was now shown to be enmity against God (James 4:4).  The Jews professed to love the Father, although they only thought of Him as Jehovah. They professed great love and devotion to God. But the Son came speaking and doing the Father’s works, thereby perfectly manifesting the Father to them. Therefore, the Jews’ hatred of the Son was also hatred of the Father; “now they have both seen and hated both me and my Father.”9 You cannot do one without doing the other.
26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes forth from with the Father, “he” shall bear witness concerning me; 27 and ye too bear witness, because ye are with me from the beginning. vv.26-27 Two Witnesses of the Son during the Time of His Absence. But though the Son had been rejected, His grace would continue. The testimony could not be stopped! There would be two witnesses of Him on earth after His return to the Father. First, the Spirit of Truth would be sent. In the previous chapter, the Lord said that He would ask the Father, and the Father would send the Comforter in the Son’s name. Here the Son Himself would do the sending. Both are true, but ch.15 gives us an advanced thought. The Spirit of God on earth would bear witness of the rejected Christ. This subject is more fully developed in ch.16. This was first through signs and wonders at the beginning, and it has continued on through more subtle means until the present time. Second, the disciples also would “bear witness”. The apostles were especially given this role as those who had been “with me from the beginning”, although it is not limited to them. Jesus spoke of these two witnesses working together in Acts 1:8. But the witness of the Spirit was seen in more than just giving power to the disciples. There was a work that was done when the Spirit came which went far beyond the reach of any one servant, however enabled by the Spirit. It was the Spirit that gathered together the children of God which were scattered abroad (John 11:52). This was a powerful testimony that went forth in those early days. “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21). But even more than this, the Spirit of Truth testified of Christ in the inspired writings of the New Testament, which has gone forth in power! Note: just as the Son’s personal glory was guarded in vv.21-22 in that He was not only “sent” by the Father but also “came” Himself, likewise in vv.26-27 the Spirit’s personal glory is guarded in that He is “sent” by the Son and also “goes forth”. It is beautiful to notice these complementary expressions.
  1. …the Vine, which is Christ Himself on earth, object of all the active and watchful interest of His Father Who looks for fruit. – Kelly, William. Exposition of the Gospel of John.
  2. The beginning of this chapter, and that which relates to the vine, belongs to the earthly portion — to that which Jesus was on earth — to His relationship with His disciples as on the earth, and does not go beyond that position. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
  3. The union which is in question here is association with Him as disciples. – Darby, J.N. On the Gospel of John.
  4. I do not doubt that this relationship, in principle and in a general analogy, still subsists. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
  5. The disciples would have considered Him as the most excellent branch of the Vine; but thus He would have been only a member of Israel, whereas He was Himself the vessel, the source of blessing, according to the promises of God. The true Vine, therefore, is not Israel; quite the contrary, it is Christ in contrast with Israel, but Christ planted on earth, taking Israel’s place, as the true Vine. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
  6. It is not here a question of the Father’s eternal love for the Son, nor of the unchangeable love that God bears to His children, but of the path in which these should enjoy divine love. – Darby, J.N. On the Gospel of John.
  7. Darby, J.N. Hopes of the Church of God, Lecture 1. Collected Writings, Vol.2
  8. The Lord does not limit His words to the Apostles, or even to such as follow them in the public service of His name. – Kelly, William. Exposition of the Gospel of John.
  9. The testimony was complete; the One Who is the sum and substance, the subject and object of all Divine testimony, was there; and they had seen Him, as well as the Father in Him; and they had hated both! They, the people of God once, had nothing but sin… – Kelly, William. Exposition of the Gospel of John.