It is interesting to see the context and time when Jesus says this, and to see the relationship between him and his Father. I have always had a found liking to this particular passage as I grew up on an apple orchard, and was very acutely aware of the process of pruning branches at a young age. The concept of pruning away or cleaning the branches in order to bear much fruit is something that I related to very easily throughout my life. Reading the surrounding verses, Jesus is talking and walking with his disciples when he spoke this statement.
Many theologians agree that this discourse took place right after the Passover meal: “The fruit of which he had been just speaking of at supper with his disciples; and then informs them, that he himself is the vine from whence that fruit must be expected, which should be partook of by them in his Father’s kingdom…” There are many different reasons given as to why Jesus uses this analogy at this particular time but is simply most likely because vines were something very common in the city. “The grapevine was a common sight in Israel.
In fact, vineyards were so plenteous that the vine became the national symbol of Israel”. This statement by Jesus is also coming at a time when His arrest and death are nearing. This statement is sandwiched right in between Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit to his disciples, and His discourse on how and why the world will hate them. As Jesus is telling them these things, he is also comforting them with the fact that they can find rest and security within the true fine. I believe it was very important to Jesus that He portrayed security to the disciples because of the tumultuous times that were to come. That believers are branches of this vine, which supposes that Christ is the root of the vine.
The root is unseen, and our life is hid in Christ; the root bears the tree, diffuses sap to it, and is all in all to its flourishing and fruitfulness; and in Christ are all supports and supplies”. As I mentioned earlier, these various “I AM” statements from Jesus relate back to the OT, and specifically to God in the OT. In regards to Jesus’ statement “I AM the true vine”, we can see a very sharp connection with God in the OT. We should bear in mind that there are passages in the Old Testament that speak of Israel using vine imagery…Each time, however, it seems that God is pointing out Israel’s sin…In the Old Testament the vine is often a symbol of Israel, sometimes of degenerate Israel”.
Going back to our passage in John 15, Jesus also makes it clear that God is the “vinedresser”, and that as we are the branches in the vine, he cuts away or cleans the branches to bear much fruit. “But where Israel failed and had become a false vine, we now see the true vine, the vine in which the purpose of God would be worked out. As Israel was thought of as the “false vine” in the OT, we now have Jesus, the one true vine, the glory of God. I also believe that Jesus’ statement of being the true vine is a direct correlation to His deity. “Jesus was also identifying Himself with Jehovah of the Old Testament.
The emphatic expression ‘I am’ had a particular connotation for the Jews. In the Old Testament the term Lord is a derivative of the verb to be. When Jehovah revealed His name to Moses as ‘I AM’…He was stating, ‘I AM WHO I AM’…The Jews of Christ’s time knew that when He said, ‘I am,’ He was claiming, ‘I am Jehovah of the Old Testament’.
Just as Jesus was pronouncing His deity when he said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. ”(NIV) So also is He proclaiming with His statement “I am the true vine”, that He alone is the only way to the Father. Understanding that only the “branches” rooted in the vine can have life, we also understand that only in Christ, rooted in Him, can we have life. “We become fruitful Christians when we remain in vital contact with Christ and manifest the effects of that vital contact in our character and deeds”.
As we have seen above, Jesus’ “I AM” statements are very clear in presenting His person, deity, and relationship to God. “What makes this so important in John is that we find a similar usage in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. There we find that the translators used the emphatic form of speech when they were rendering words spoken by God”. Specifically with Jesus’ statement “I am the true vine”, we can see and understand that only in a life rooted in Him, and the working of the Father as the vinedresser, can we have a full and fruitful life.