We are continuing our study of the Upper Room Discourse which takes place in the last 18 hours of our Lord's earthly life. Yeshua was spending His last hours before His execution with the disciples teaching them. Earlier in the night Yeshua exposed Judas as the traitor, and dismissed him. With Judas gone, the Lord teaches His disciples who were all believers. As I have said over and over the Book of Glory is addressed to believers.
As we begin chapter 15 this morning we begin the second major division of Yeshua's Last Discourse found in John 15 and 16. It continues Yeshua's preparing the disciples for His soon death and departure. But the talk of His departure is left behind and the teaching focuses on the way the disciples are to live after Yeshua is gone.
John 14 ended with Yeshua saying, "Arise, let us go from here." But, nothing further is said about Yeshua and the disciples leaving until John 18:1. The very next verse, John 15:1, resumes the teaching of Yeshua as if there had been no interruption. So whether they changed location or not does not affect what is taught.
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. John 15:1 ESV
For our study this morning we are going to just look at these first five words. Theologically these five words are huge! My difficulty this morning will be trying to unpack these five words in just an hour's time. As I said these five words are huge theologically.
"I am the true vine"—what do these words initially say to you? If Yeshua says that He is the true vine, what does that tell us? He is contrasting Himself with a vine that was not true. He made a similar contrast in chapter 6 where He said that He was the true bread. The word "true" here is from the Greek alethinos, which means: "opposite to what is imperfect, defective, frail, uncertain." The word for althinos as used in John means: "real" or "genuine." So who or what is the vine that was not true? In the Old Covenant the vine is the symbol of Israel as Yahweh's Covenant People.
You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. Psalms 80:8-9 ESV
Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine? Jeremiah 2:21 ESV
Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars. Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The LORD will break down their altars and destroy their pillars. Hosea 10:1-2 ESV
The prophet, Hosea, is sent to the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BC and the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are sent to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Isaiah is sent to Judah in the 9th century and the other prophets in the 6th century BC prior to the conquest and destruction of Judah by Babylon. In each case these prophets use Israel/Judah as "The Vine" imagery in the pronouncement of Yahweh's judgment. In each case the judgment resulted in the destruction of the nation of Israel in 722 B.C. by the Assyrians and then Judah in 587/6 B.C. by the Babylonians. Look at Isaiah 5:
Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry! Isaiah 5:1-7 ESV
In the rest of this chapter we see the judgment of the vine. Through His prophet, Ezekiel, Yahweh expresses His anger with His covenant people for breaking their oath of obedience to the Laws of the covenant in the allegory of the "Eagle and the Vine" in Ezekiel 17:1-21. The nation's failure to produce fruit, and its consequent impending divine judgment, are in view whenever the vine represents Israel in the Tanakh.
Those references in the Tanakh to Israel as "the Vine" are also seen in the New Testament passages of Yeshua's parables of "the Vine" found in Matthew 21:33-43; Mark 12:1-12; and Luke 20:9-19. In each parable, the Jews/Israelites are identified with the vineyard that did not produce good fruit and were judged by Yahweh.
The Maccabeans minted coins, and on the coin was a vine illustrating Israel. Edersheim said, "Above the entrance into the Holy Place [of the Temple] hung that symbol of Israel, a gigantic vine of pure gold, and made of votive offerings—each cluster the height of a man." (Edersheim, The Temple, p. 58.) Israel was seen as God's vine.
When talking about the "vine" we are dealing with language and imagery that had special significance for the Jew. We have seen this throughout John's Gospel—it is packed full of allusions that need to be understood in a Jewish context. What would the disciples have thought when they heard Yeshua make this claim? A vine was so much more than just a common sight for the Jews; it had been used as a word picture of God's people in the Tanakh.
When Yeshua began to speak of Himself as the "True Vine," His disciples, who knew the Scriptures, both the Law of Moses and the writings of the prophets, would immediately have thought of these very significant verses from Isaiah and Ezekiel as well as Yeshua's teachings about God's judgment on the vineyard.
Yeshua identifies Himself, not Judah/Israel, as the genuine "True Vine." Christ is now the "Vine" and those of Old Covenant Israel who believe in Him are now a part of the "True Vine," and members of the New Israel, of the New Covenant Church. It is this faithful remnant of the old Israel who are now the new Israel of a new and ever lasting covenant.
"I am the true vine"—this is another ego eimi, "I AM," statement. The "I AM" was a way Yeshua had of drawing the connection between Himself and the great "I AM WHO I AM," Yahweh of the Tanakh. Bereans, this is a claim to deity! The Jews would connect the "I Am" back to Exodus, chapter 3, when Moses came before Yahweh in the wilderness and asked His name, God said, "My name is I Am That I Am," which is "Ehyeh; asher ehyeh," and means: "I am that which exist." The root of Ehyeh is hiya, which means: "to be" or "I exist." So here Elohim tells Moses His name is Ehyeh. Then in the very next verse He says His name is Yahweh. The two names, Yahweh and Ehyeh, are related. Yahweh is , and Ehyeh is . Ehyeh means: "I exist, I will exist, I am." And Yahweh means: "He exists, He will exist, He is." And both of these names are related to each other. They are both conveying the idea that Yahweh is the existing One.
As we have seen in our study of this Gospel, Yeshua continually declared that He is God. Every time He said, "My Father," He was underscoring that He had the same nature as God. And His Jewish audience knew this was a claim to deity.
This is the seventh of the "I AM" statements with the predicate nominative: "I AM" the Bread of Life, 6:35; "I AM" the Light of the world, 8:12; "I AM" the Door of the sheep, 10:7; "I AM" the Good Shepherd, 10:11; "I AM" the Resurrection and the Life, 11:25; "I AM" the Way, and the Truth, and the Life, 14:6, "I AM" the True Vine, 15:1. Symbolically in Scripture seven is the number of fullness, perfection and completion. It is also the number of spiritual perfection.
Yeshua appears in these "I Am" statements as the source of eternal life (resurrection, life, vine), as the means of entry into life (door, way), as the guide who leads people to life (shepherd), as the source of nourishment for eternal life (bread), and as the illumination which lights the way in the darkness (light).Like many of the previous "I Am" claims of Yeshua this claim presupposes certain knowledge His hearers. The "bread" claim presupposed knowledge of the manna which God sent from heaven. The "light" claim presupposed knowledge of God as the Light of Israel, of Israel's intended role of bringing light to the Gentiles, and of prophecies of the Messiah as the one who would bring light. The "shepherd" claim presupposed knowledge of God as the Shepherd of Israel, and of the leaders of Israel as shepherds who failed to fulfil their duty. And this "vine" claim presupposes knowledge of Israel 's failure as the vine.
The significance of the claim to be the "true vine" is that Yeshua viewed Himself as the fulfillment of Israel. Yeshua was the true Israel and Yeshua's followers were the true Israelites. This claim is an exclusive claim. It prohibits and denies the existence of any valid and viable alternative.
So Yeshua comes along and says, in effect, that a person is no longer part of God's people simply by being joined to the nation of Israel; rather a person needs to be joined to Him. He is the true vine, the true Israel.
As I said earlier these five words are huge theologically. And the reason they are is because one of the great theological battlegrounds of orthodox Christianity throughout the centuries has been the nature and character of the Church, especially in relation to its biblical predecessor, Israel. What is the relationship between Israel and the Church? There are four major views and many variations of those.
"Separation theology"—which says the Church and Israel are totally separate. This is a view held by Dispensationalism. Although Premillennial Dispensationalism is a relatively new viewpoint in the history of Christian theology, its position on God's special purpose for Israel has shaped, even dominated, recent debates among evangelical Christians on the relationship between the Church and Israel.
According to classic Dispensationalism, God has two differing peoples, who each respectively have differing covenant promises, different destinies, and different purposes. Membership in Israel is by natural birth. One enters the Church by supernatural birth. Dispensationalists view Israel and the Church as having distinct eternal destinies. Israel will receive an eternal earthly kingdom, and the Church an eternal heavenly Kingdom. Irrespective of anything else that may be found in the system, if one rejects the Israel/Church distinction, one ceases to be a Dispensationalist.
Darby, the father of Dispensationalism, stated the distinction in the clearest of terms, "The Jewish nation is never to enter the Church." Ryrie considers this the most important Dispensational distinction and approves the statement: "The basic premise of Dispensationalism is the two purposes of God expressed in the formation of two peoples who maintain their distinction throughout eternity." What is actually comical is that these same scholars view Pentecost as the birth of the Church. Who made up the new church at Pentecost? It was all Jews. For almost 10 years the church was made up of all Jews.
Here is what troubles me most about Dispensationalism: I believe that there is a connection between the church's view of Israel and terrorism. Because of Dispensationalism and Christian Zionism, MOST American Christians believe that we have a biblical mandate to stand with and protect the nation Israel. This view causes the Arab world to hate us.
Osama Bin Laden said: "Our terrorism is a good accepted terrorism, because it's against America, it's for the purpose of defeating oppression so America would stop supporting Israel, who is killing our children." So Bin Laden says that terrorism is connected to America's support of Israel. And I say that America's support of Israel is tied to bad theology.
"Two-Covenant Theology"—in the recent history of reflection upon the issue of Israel and the Church, a new and more radical position has emerged, which is often linked with the name of Franz Rosenzweig, a Jewish author of a work written shortly after World War I, entitled, "The Star of Redemption." Two- Covenant Theology teaches that there are two separate covenants, one between God and Israel, and the other between God and the Church of Yeshua the Christ. Rather than there being one way of redemption through faith in Yeshua for Jew and Gentile believers alike, God's original covenant relationship with His ancestral people, Israel, remains separate from His New Covenant relationship with the Gentile nations through the Lord Yeshua the Christ. John Hagee holds this erroneous view.
I think that I can dismantle both Dispensationalism and this "Two Covenant" view in sixty seconds:
"Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, Jeremiah 31:31 ESV
What is promised here? A New Covenant. Who is this New Covenant promised to? Israel! Anyone disagree with that? Good. Then let me ask you this, what covenant is the Church under? Writing to the Church that was in Corinth, Paul said:
who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:6 ESV
Jeremiah 31 is undeniably addressed to Israel. The New Covenant is the very heart of the Gospel, yet, if the Church is fulfilling the promise given to Israel under the New Covenant, Dispensationalism and this Two- Covenant view are dead. These views don't explain Paul's olive tree metaphor and Gentiles being grafted into Israel.
Then there is a view called, "Replacement Theology"—the Church and Israel refer to the same group of people. This would be the view of "Covenant theology." This is a system of theology that arose largely through the Calvinists in Holland. Now there are differences of opinion among covenant theologians. But generally speaking, covenant theologians see the time of the birth of the Church to be either with Adam, or with Abraham. So they usually think of the Church as being in the Tanakh, and it's proper to them to speak of Israel as the Church.
Well this view does not seem to fit with what Paul says in Ephesians about the fact that the mystery was not revealed in the Tanakh and about Jew and Gentile becoming one New Man, the Church.
by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, Ephesians 2:15 ESV
"That he might create in himself one new man in place of the two"-this tells us that Yeshua created something new, the Church. The Greek word used for "new" is kainos, which means: "new in point of quality." A thing which is kainos is new in the sense that it brings a new quality, we could say, "one fresh man"— that's the idea of the Greek word kinos. It is not something totally new, but a new quality which did not exist before. It is not as the Dispensationalists say, "something totally different and distinct from Israel." Notice what Paul wrote:
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, Romans 11:17 ESV
Yahweh didn't plant a new tree, but He did create new branches that are grafted into the root of Israel. When the grafting process on an olive tree is started, the olive tree is cut down to almost nothing. There is basically only root stock left. A branch from the good tree would be grafted onto the wild tree. This good branch would then produce fruit while getting nourishment from the wild tree root system.
"The nourishing root of the olive tree"- who or what is the "root"? I would say that the root is Abraham and the promises Yahweh made to him:
"Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him. Isaiah 51:1-2 ESV
It all goes back to Abraham. Tom Holland writes, "Paul saw its root to represent the promises made to Abraham, and its branches to represent his spiritual offspring—believing Jews and Gentiles who are justified and made holy by the same faith as their 'father.'"
So the root of the olive tree is Abraham and the promises Yahweh made to him.
Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Genesis 12:1-3 ESV
Do you see any "if's" in God's word to Abraham? This is not an agreement, it is a promise. You will read in vain in Genesis 12-15 to find anywhere where God says "If you will do…then I will do…" In other words, there were no conditions. This is a unilateral covenant. So I see the "root" as Abraham and the unilateral covenant that Yahweh made with him. So the root is the covenant promises made to Abraham. And the tree is the Church, Jew and Gentile believers who embrace Yeshua as the Messiah. Those of ethnic Israel who did not believe that Yeshua was the Messiah were broken off.
"Now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree"-Gentile believers become "partakers" with the Jews in the rich root. The word "share" here is from the Greek word sugkoinonos, which means: "sharers or fellowshippers together with them in the rich root of the olive tree." With them" is a reference to believing Jews. We become partakers of the rich root of the olive tree.
This is not "Replacement Theology"—we did not replace Israel. We became partakers with the remnant of the Abrahamic Covenant. God did not replace the Hebrew tree with a Gentile tree, He grafted us into the Hebrew tree. This is better called "Remnant Theology" or "Fulfillment Theology," the Church is the fulfillment of all the promises Yahweh made to Israel. The root now supports two types of branches, cultivated and wild, and together they are "one" tree:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Yeshua. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:28-29 ESV
Notice what Paul goes on to say to the Gentiles in Romans:
do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Romans 11:18 ESV
"The root supports you"—the grafted shoot is sharing the same rising sap as the remaining original branches. The Gentiles are totally dependent on the covenant which God entered into with Abraham and the promises made to him. Faith in Christ is the link with the promises made to Abraham. Faith unites us to the nourishing root of the olive tree—the promises of God. Being a Christian means becoming a true Jew. Being a Christian means finding your ancestry in Abraham and his offspring. What does this tells us about the Church? Its roots are Hebrew.
Believers, you and I, Gentile believers, have been grafted into Yahweh's olive tree. Yahweh didn't get upset with Israel and go out and plant a new tree as Dispensationalism teaches. He grafted us into Israel, through Yeshua who is Israel. We cannot exist without our Jewish roots. You cannot exist independently of Yeshua, nor can you exist independently of your Jewish roots. Because Yeshua is not a tree, He is a shoot out of a tree, and the tree is Israel. Believers, our roots are Jewish. If we are to understand Christianity, we must understand our Hebrew roots, which means we must learn the first three fourths of the Bible. The Church is the True Israel of God. We inherit all the promises God made to True Israel.
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ. Galatians 3:16 ESV
Let me tell you what I see this verse as saying and then try to explain why. Paul is saying that the primary recipients of the Abrahamic covenant were Abraham and Christ. This, of course, would include all who are in Christ (believers). This promise is not realized in the physical Israelites, but in the new Israel, the Church. Apart from Paul's divinely inspired commentary, how many of us would have understood that Abraham's seed was Christ? Please listen: When the New Testament authors comment on a passage from the Tanakh, they do not give an interpretation, but THE interpretation. The New Testament interprets the Tanakh.
And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:29 ESV
If we are in Christ who is true Israel we are Abrahams descendants and heirs of the promise. Yeshua is the true Israel, and the church becomes the Israel of God as it unites to True Israel.
One writer commenting on Christ being the "true vine" says, "We must understand an image before pressing its meaning. In those cases the vine represented Israel—that is quite clear. But in our text of John 15, the vine clearly represents Jesus Christ without any parallel to the Old Testament usage's." What? So he sees not parallel between Old Covenant Israel and Christ? This is what you say when trying to defend the dispensational view of the Church and Israel being separate.
Let's look at some Scripture and see if we can connect Christ and Israel.
Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, Exodus 4:22 ESV
Who is Israel here? The Old Covenant people of God.
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. Hosea 11:1 ESV
Who is this talking about? This also looks like Old Covenant Israel. When we study this text in the context of the entire book, we find that Hosea is referring to the Exodus described in the book of Exodus. But where it gets interesting is that Matthew applies Hosea 11:1 to Yeshua as a youth returning to Judea from Egypt.
And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt I called my son." Matthew 2:14-15 ESV
This reference does not seem to fit with the intention of Hosea. But we must remember where the meaning of a text ultimately resides-in the intention of its author, God Himself. And as we read the Scripture in the context of the Bible as a whole, we see that He has made an analogy between Israel, God's son, being freed from Egypt, and Yeshua, God's Son, coming up from Egypt; a pattern that runs throughout Matthew's Gospel. "Out of Egypt I called my son" is Exodus typology, where Yeshua is the New True Israel.
When that writer said, "But in our text of John 15, the vine clearly represents Jesus Christ without any parallel to the Old Testament usage's." It makes me wonder how familiar he is with the Gospels. Because there is a dominance in the Gospel of the replacement motif.
So far in our study of John we have seen that Yeshua has already, in principle, superseded the temple. Yeshua is the true temple, the dwelling place of God with His people (John 2:13-22). Also, Yeshua gives living water that Jacob's well cannot give (John 4:1-42). The "bread" God gave Israel in the wilderness sustained the lives of the Israelites for a time, but Yeshua identifies Himself as the true "bread" that comes down from heaven, because He gives eternal life to all those who partake of Him by faith (John 6:30-35). Further, Yeshua is the new Moses who supplies God's people with true bread (John 6:32-58). This idea of Moses being a type and Christ being the antitype is strong in Matthew's Gospel.
Matthew's Gospel certainly appears to teach that Yeshua, as true Israel, recapitulates Old Covenant Israel's history and purpose. Like Moses, Yeshua will grow up in Egypt. Like the story of Moses, Herod slaughters the male children (2:16-18). Like Moses' exile to Midian, Yeshua's exile to Egypt will end with the death of Herod-Pharaoh. And then we have a New Exodus foretold: "Out of Egypt I have called My son."
Yeshua is baptized (Matthew 3:12-17). As Yeshua emerges from the water, we hear, "This is My beloved Son," which evokes a related image: Israel was adopted and became God's son at the Exodus from Egypt at the crossing of the Red Sea, and so this is New Exodus typology in which New Israel is born.
When we come to Matthew 4:1-11, which describes Yeshua's temptation in the wilderness; if we are familiar with the Tanakh, we will see this pattern again. When we read that Yeshua, the Son of God, spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, this reference may remind us of the Israelites' 40-year trek in the wilderness. But the comparison goes beyond the number 40. The Israelites also were tempted in the wilderness in the same three areas in which Yeshua was tempted: (1) hunger and thirst, (2) testing God, and (3) worshiping false gods. Yeshua, however, shows Himself to be the obedient Son of God, the true Israel, where the Israelites were disobedient. Indeed, Yeshua responded to the temptations by quoting Deuteronomy, the sermon that Moses gave the Israelites at the end of their 40-year sojourn. In Yeshua's temptation in the wilderness He was recapitulating Israel's temptation in the wilderness. Where national Israel failed, Christ obeyed.
What does Yeshua do next in Matthew?
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: Matthew 5:1-2 ESV
Yeshua goes up on a mountain, like Moses, and gives New Torah- the "Sermon on the Mount." Yeshua is the New True Israel.
In our text, Yeshua used the vine metaphorically of Himself. We can't escape the inference that Yeshua viewed Himself as the fulfillment of Israel. Yeshua supersedes Israel as the very locus of the people of God. He is the true "vine," the full and final revelation of all that the "vine" anticipated and foreshadowed in the Old Covenant.
True Israel is faithful Israel and the only faithful Israelite who has ever lived was Yeshua. Only He completely fulfilled all of the Father's righteous laws for Israel. Just as He was the second Adam, obeying in every place where the first Adam failed to obey, He was as true Israel-obeying where Old Covenant Israel failed to obey. And His obedience is credited to us. All who are united by faith alone to Yeshua the Christ are the true Israel of God (Gal. 6:16).
So what happened to old Israel, physical Israel, the unfaithful vine?
But what does the Scripture say? "Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman." Galatians 4:30 ESV
Physical Israel is gone, when Yahweh destroyed Israel in A.D. 70 the Church received her inheritance. The only Israel there is today is true Israel, those who believe in Yeshua.