Vine imagery spoke deeply to the Hebrews. It also speaks to us.
by Jared Pulliam
“I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.” John 15:1
We all experience how helpful pictures can be. Whether we are working through some graphs before a business meeting or hoping the person who drew our IKEA directions really knew what they were doing, we recognize the important role pictures play in helping us understand.
Jesus is the master teacher, and so it is no surprise that we read in the Gospels of how he used word pictures. Our Lord’s earthly ministry was conducted in an agrarian society, and he speaks in terms that were accessible to those around him. While Jesus uses vine imagery because of the contemporary relevance of the metaphor, this is not the only reason he speaks the way he does in John 15. Vines and vineyards were not only something commonplace in the lives of Jesus’s disciples; this vine imagery carried with it deep, spiritual significance for the Hebrew people.
Reading through the Old Testament, we come to passages where God describes the people of Israel as a vine that he had brought out of Egypt and magnificently planted (Ps. 80:8-11). But we also see that, rather than Israel growing as a fruitful vine and producing a healthy crop, the people of God grow to be a wild vine (Jer. 2:21) that yields bad grapes (Isa. 5:1-7). In other words, while enjoying all the benefits of being cultivated by God’s own divine hand, Israel proved to be unfruitful—they did not produce the works of righteousness that must mark God’s holy people.
Of course, this does not mean that God’s purposes are thwarted. By observing Israel, the unfaithful vine, we are compelled to hope for the coming of the one who would be faithful. Here in John 15:1, Jesus tells us that he is the true vine. Jesus is the one who lived a perfectly righteous life before the Father, bearing good fruit. In so doing, Jesus not only fulfilled the holy calling of God’s people, but in his obedient death and vindicating resurrection, he proves to be the vine that nourishes God’s people with redeeming life. It is only in connection to Jesus, the true life-giving vine that we can be incorporated into the people of God, and it is only in connection to Jesus that we can bear good fruit for God. Jesus is the source.
The question for us becomes one of connectedness. Are we people who, by faith in Christ and obedience to the Word of God, remain attached to the true vine? Or are we tempted to think that it is possible to be God’s productive people without a conscious, active, humble, reliance upon life-giving Jesus and his Word? This picture compels us to turn our attention to Christ afresh, abiding in him, and in so doing we will bear much fruit.
Jared Pulliam is the pastor of Christ Church Sellwood, a USMB church plant in the greater Portland, Ore., area.