We are continuing our study of John 15 which is part of the Lord's "Upper Room Discourse." This discourse covers chapters 13-17 and is presented as the events and discussion of a single evening the night before the Passover. This is our Lord's final teaching to His disciples before His death. In this discourse He encourages His disciples in light of His impending death and the persecution that they will face.
Early in this discourse Yeshua has exposed Judas as the betrayer, and it says in chapter 13, verse 30, that Judas "immediately went out ." So from that point in chapter 13, verse 30 on, He's talking to only believers, the remaining disciples.
The last nine chapters of this Gospel are known as, "The Book of Glory". Unlike the "Book of Signs," "The Book of Glory" is addressed only to those who have believed.
John 15:1-17 is dealing with the Vine and the Branches. So far we have looked at the first 6 verses of John 15 which present the metaphor of the Vine and the branches, then verses 7-17 make the application. The theme of this section is clearly fruit bearing. The word, "fruit,"occurs eight times in these seventeen verses. And only occurs two other times in this Gospel. Fruit bearing is something that only believers can do. There must be a connection to the Vine before there can be fruit.
Some think that the teaching on the Vine and branches is a parable, I don't see it that way. I see this teaching as a metaphor not a parable. A parable uses a story to convey a deeper message. Where as metaphors refer to one subject, while the actual subject is something else entirely. All the details aren't important in a parable, but I think the details are important in our text.
As usual this text is interpreted in many different ways. The main disagreement is over who the unfruitful branches are. Some see the unfruitful branches as unbelievers, or make believers, they see a reference to Judas. Others see the unfruitful branches as believers who lose their salvation. Others see the unfruitful branches as believers who are not walking with the Lord and will therefore be disciplined. It is my understanding that this passage on fruit bearing deals with the subject of discipleship. Fruit bearing is a mark of discipleship:
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. John 15:8 ESV
The problem is that most people don't see a difference between a Christian and a disciple, I do. Disciple is from the Greek mathetes, which literally means: "a learner or follower." In our text I see Yeshua as addressing His followers, His disciples. It was not to unsaved people, not to a mixed audience, but to believers and believers alone, that He said this. The central theme of chapter 15 is not salvation, how it is to be obtained or the danger of losing it. The theme is fruit-bearing, discipleship, and the conditions of fertility.
I'm aware that we all come to a text with bias, we all have paradigms that we filter a text through. So it isn't easy to just let a text speak and not add our own baggage on to it. So as always I ask you to be Bereans, don't accept what I say but study it out for yourself, do some home work.
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. John 15:1 ESV
In the Old Covenant the fruitful Vine is the symbol of Israel as Yahweh's Covenant people. The significance of the claim by Yeshua to be the "true vine" is that He viewed Himself as the fulfillment of Israel. Yeshua was the true Israel and Yeshua's followers were the true Israelites. Understanding this is very important.
So we know who the Vine is, and we know who the Vinedresser is, there is no argument there. The question is about the branches. There are two kinds of branches. There are branches that abide and produce fruit, and there are branches that do not abide, do not produce fruit, are cut off, dried up, and burned. So who do the unfruitful branches represent? Notice verse 3:
Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. John 15:3 ESV
This is our Lord saying to His disciples that they are clean, meaning they are believers. If we go back to chapter 13:10-11 our Lord says to the disciples, "And you are clean, but not every one of you."For He knew who was to betray Him; that was why He said, "Not all of you are clean." "Clean" here clearly refers to salvation. Not all of them were clean because Judas was with them. I don't see any other way to take this verse than that Yeshua is telling those who He is speaking to that they are saved.
So Yeshua then tells those who are clean, those who have believed in Him, His children to:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. John 15:4 ESV
Yeshua is commanding believers to abide in Him. So those who are believers, those who have eternal life, which they can never lose, are told to abide in Christ. There is clearly a distinction between believing and abiding.
If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. John 15:6 ESV
Yeshua was speaking, in this context, of abiding and non-abiding believers, and gave no hint that He was speaking about unbelievers. The context is the "Upper Room Discourse" where Yeshua was alone with His disciples. It is those who are clean that are told to abide.
Some who understand that Yeshua is talking here to believers see this as teaching that believers can lose their salvation. I can't accept that because we have been taught in this Gospel that believers CANNOT lose there salvation. So what is it talking about? I see this as talking to believers about the discipline that they will incur if they don't abide in Christ.
This could be taken to refer to the fire of the A.D. 70 judgment on Jerusalem. It could refer to believers turning back to Judaism and suffering in God's judgment on Jerusalem. But I think that limits the text too much. I believe that this text can be applied to us today. We talk a lot about audience relevance, which is extremely important. But I think we need to be careful not to write everything off as applying only to the original audience. It's not always easy to discern if a text has application to us. But given the subject matter here I believe that our Lord's teaching is timeless. I think that He still wants those who believe in Him to abide in Him. And when Christians don't abide in Christ they are disciplined. We have to realize that "fire" is a common symbol that occurs throughout Scripture to describe the judgment of both believers and unbelievers.
So we have looked at verses 1-6 which present the metaphor of the Vine and the branches in the past couple of weeks, and now we begin to look at verses 7-17 which make the application:
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. John 15:7 ESV
This is a third class conditional sentence, which means: "potential action, maybe you will and maybe you won't."Remember Yeshua is addressing His own disciples, who are clean. So those who are clean may abide, but they may not. It is not assumed that all believers will abide. So there must be some distinction between believing and abiding.
Let's talk about the word "abide" for a minute. The verb "abide" is the Greek meno. The difficulty with meno is that it conveys more than any one English word is able to capture. In John's Gospel, the term is used of "dwelling" in a certain place, of staying somewhere as one's dwelling place. So I think we could say that for Lazarus meno has the idea of "make one's home." To "abide" in Christ is to "make our home" in Him.
The idea of having Yahweh as our "dwelling place" is found in the Tanakh:
A Prayer of Moses, the man of God. Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Psalms 90:1 ESV
Look at what Psalm 91 says:
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. Psalms 91:7-8 ESV
This is a promise of Yahweh's protection. Now notice the next verse:
Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place— the Most High, who is my refuge— Psalms 91:9 ESV
Yeshua, who is Yahweh, is to be the "abiding place" for the Christian. It is only through abiding in Him that we can "bear fruit."
If we think of abiding in terms of a good marriage it may help us understand. Marriage is to be a life long relationship in which the husband and wife grow closer to each other over the years. But it doesn't often work that way. Those who have been married for a while know that it takes work to have a good marriage. If you don't constantly work at your marriage, you and your spouse will drift apart and eventually there will be no relationship at all.
I believe that same is true of abiding in Christ. There will be times when you feel really close to Christ, and at other times you may feel very distant. The key is to make our home in Christ, to continually be spending time with Him. We have to always be working on our relationship with the Lord. You can't put it on autopilot.
In verse 4 He said:
Abide in me, and I in you… John 15:4 ESV
In verse 7 He says:
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you… John 15:7 ESV
So in verse 7 the phrase, "My words abide in you," is substituted for the phrase in verse 4, "I in you." So we could say that for Christ to abide in us is for His Word to abide in us. That is why it is so important for us to spend time in the Word of God. You can't abide in Christ if His Word doesn't abide in you.
"And my words abide in you"—the Greek word used here for "words" is rhema, which usually has the nuance of the spoken word. This refers to specific teachings of Christ. So for them it referred to the things that Christ had taught them, but for us it would refer to the teaching of Christ in the Bible.
The Lord reveals Himself to us through the written Word of God. So if you want to grow closer to Yeshua, spend time in His Word. To grow closer to Christ, read your Bible over and over until you are at home with it. Paul put it this way:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16 ESV
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly"—the word of Christ—Christou can be either the subjective genitive (the Word delivered by Christ) or the objective genitive (the Word about Christ). I think we can take it both ways—we should let the Word delivered by Christ and the Word about Christ richly dwell in us.
"Dwell"—is from the present active imperative of enoikeo, and means: "to live in," or "to be at home." Paul calls upon believers to let the Word take up residence and be at home in their lives. This word is used in the New Testament of God dwelling in believers, faith dwelling in believers, and the Word of God dwelling in believers.
The word "dwell" literally means: "to keep house." We should live in the Word of God like we live in our homes. We are familiar with our home where all the closets are, where we have items stored. We must thoroughly acquaint ourselves with the Word. The Word should become so familiar to us that we know it like we know our homes. The idea is to let the Word of God dwell inside and live at home in our lives. The Word of God needs to inhabit us. This is more than just reading the Bible.
Paul adds that the Word is to "richly" dwell in us. The word "richly" is another infrequent word occurring just four times in the New Testament. "Richly" is from an old adverb plousios, which has the twofold meaning of quantity and degree; it means: "abundantly, applying it and using it in all its teaching, but also using it constantly, at all times and in all circumstances."
Paul says, "Let the word of Christ richly dwell in you…" "In you" is en humin. Not "among you." Paul is referring to what's within believers. This would point us toward a non-collective application.
Now I want you to see something about this text that is very important. Look with me at:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, Ephesians 5:18 ESV
Paul tells the Ephesians to "be filled with the Spirit," then he says:
addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Yeshua Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:19-21 ESV
Paul tells the Colossians, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…," then he says:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Yeshua, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Colossians 3:16-18 ESV
It is clear that these two concepts, "letting the word of Christ richly dwell within you," and "being filled with the Spirit" are identical, because the passages that follow each are so similar. The result of being filled with the Holy Spirit is the same as the result of letting the Word richly dwell in one's life. Therefore, the two are the same spiritual reality viewed from two sides. To be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by His Word. To have the Word dwelling richly is to be controlled by His Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit is the author and the power of the Word, the expressions are interchangeable. In other words, the WORD-FILLED CHRISTIAN is a SPIRIT-FILLED CHRISTIAN.
And this is the same thing the Lord is teaching in our text in John. To abide in Christ is to be filled with the Spirit and have the Word dwelling in us richly.
Believers, we need more than a casual acquaintance with the Bible. God's Word is to dwell in us abundantly—it is to saturate us. It must become part of our very being, transforming the way we think and act. To use an illustration from the area of computer technology, it must be the program always running that controls everything else. Everything depends on it.
How much time do you spend getting to know the God who you claim to love? If you want to live a productive vibrant Christian life, if you want to be controlled by the Spirit, if you want the Word of Christ to abundantly dwell within you, if you want to abide in Christ, you need to discipline yourself to spending time in God's Word. If you neglect to spend time in God's Word, you do it to your own peril.
"Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you"—statements like this have been a stumbling block to many sincere Christians. It appears to be a blanket promise to grant any request that any disciple may ask. Does any believer today really enjoy this extravagant prayer promise? I seek to live my life by abiding in Christ, but I can tell you that many of my prayers are not answered.
Now as I said earlier, we have to be careful when we say that certain things only apply to the first century saints, but this promise of answered prayer may one of them. Our Lord is talking here to His first century disciples who in just 53 days are going to experience Pentecost. They are going to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit and supernatural gifts to minister to the new body of believers, the Church.
So it is my opinion that this promise, like those in 14:13-14, apply to those first century disciples and only those first century disciples. It is these disciples that our Lord will use to take the Church from infancy to maturity during the "Transition Period."
People say, Well our prayers will be answered when we pray that God's will will be done. Well that is a prayer that will always get answered because God's will is always done. But our text says, "Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you."
We need to see this promise of answered prayer in the context of what Yeshua has already spoken. He has made great promises about the work of ministry through His disciples. They would naturally have had fears and reservations about such work, so He gives them the critical key to carrying out their God-given tasks: "Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." So I see this promise as made just to the first century disciples who He is leaving. It is for their work during the "Transition Period."
I am not saying that prayer is not for today. I pray every day. What I'm saying is that I believe that these specific promises were for the first century saints only.
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. John 15:8 ESV
So bearing fruit glorifies God. So what is fruit? The word "fruit" is from the Greek word karpos, which means: "result, outcome, or fruit." In this context "fruit" is Christlikeness produced in us as we abide in Christ. Just as an orange tree bears oranges, and apple trees bear apples so an abiding Christian produces Christlikeness.
Paul prays for the Philippians fruitfulness in:
filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Yeshua the Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:11 ESV
The word "fruit" is karpos and "righteousness" is dikaiosune, which means: "Christlikeness."
The Shorter Catechism states that; "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." And Yeshua says that we will glorify God when we bear much fruit. As others see what God produces in and through us as we abide in Christ, they will get a glimpse of what He is like. The Father is glorified as He sees the character of His Son lived out in our lives.
The real goal of discipleship is not information, but formation of the disciple into Christlikeness. Yeshua put it this way:
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Luke 6:40 ESV
All believers are like Christ positionally, but we are also to be like Him practically.
"Bear much fruit"—the more you abide in the presence of Christ, the more fruitful you become. The more you focus on Christ, the more fruitful you become. The more you focus on yourself, the less fruitful you become.
Notice that there are degrees in fruit bearing. Yeshua had spoken of "no fruit" (v. 2), "some fruit" (v. 2), "more fruit" (v. 2), and now He spoke of "much fruit" (v. 5). The more you abide, the more fruit you produce.
Some expositors argue that fruit is inevitable in the true Christian's life by appealing to Matthew 7:20: "You will know them by their fruits." However, in the context of that verse, Yeshua was talking about false teachers—not believers. And the fruit was what they say. If fruit was inevitable in a Christian's life why did Yeshua command Christians to abide? Why command us to do what we automatically do?
"That you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples"—what does fruit prove? Does it prove that you are a Christian? That's not what the text says. It says that fruit proves discipleship. Faith proves that you are a Christian. As I said in out last study, The problem is that most people don't see a difference between a Christian and a disciple. They incorrectly think that "believer" and "disciple" are synonymous. But these are two different terms describing two different groups of people in relation to Yeshua. Commenting on this verse Hall Harris writes: "The original reading is difficult to determine, because the external evidence is rather evenly divided. The aorist subjunctive of ginomai is supported by most Alexandrian manuscripts including (apparently) 66, along with the Western uncial D. The future indicative of ginomai is supported by the majority of manuscripts of the Byzantine text-type. Thus the two actions are really one and the same: bearing fruit and being Jesus' disciple are not two different actions, but a single action. The first is the outward sign or proof of the second—in bearing fruit the disciples show themselves to be disciples indeed (cf. 15:5). (Hall Harris Exigetical Commentary on John, https://bible.org/seriespage/18-exegetical-commentary-john-15 ).
So fruit bearing is so bound up with discipleship that the one stands by metonymy for the other. To be a disciple is to bear fruit. To bear fruit is to be a disciple.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. John 15:9 ESV
We see here that the relationship between the Father and the Son is again the paradigm for the relationship between the Son and the believer.
D.A. Carson writes, "As the Father has loved me, Jesus says—and the aorist gapsen ('has loved') probably signals the perfection, the completeness of the Father's love for His Son, including His love for Him before time began—so have I loved you. Again the aorist gapsa ('I have loved') is used: Jesus depicts His love for His own as a completed thing, so imminently does the cross stand in view."
Get this believers, the measure and the manner of Yeshua's love for us is; "as the Father has loved me." This is an extremely huge statement. The way that the Father loves the Son is the same way the Son loves us, His elect.
Going through difficult trials can often cause Christians to doubt Christ's love for them. We tend to think, If Yeshua really loves me why would He let be go through this horrible trial? But Yeshua says, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you." So let me ask you, Did the Father's love for His Son spare Him from trials? Isaiah says this of Christ:
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5 ESV
Now notice verse 10:
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Isaiah 53:10 ESV
We don't question the love of the Father for the Son even though He crushed Him. So don't question Yeshua's love for us even though He puts us through grievous trials. He loves us in the same way the Father loves Him.
"Abide in my love"—this is an aorist active imperative. Believers are commanded to abide in Christ's love. Abiding in His love is not automatic; it is something which we are commanded to do, and which takes effort and action on our part.
So how do we abide in His love? Yeshua is very clear on this matter. We abide in His love when we keep His commandments:
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. John 15:10 ESV
"If you keep my commandments"—this is a third class conditional sentence, which means: "potential action. Maybe you will, and maybe you won't." The word "keep" here is from the Greek word tereo, which means: "to guard or to observe." It conveys the idea that you take the commands of Christ seriously; you hold them to be precious; you give attention to closely following what our Lord commands.
Lazarus has stressed Yeshua's obedience to His Father in this Gospel (4:34; 5:19; 6:38; 8:29, 55; 10:17-18; 12:27-28; 14:31). Now Yeshua called His disciples to follow His example; abide in His love by keeping His commandments. The standard for Christian obedience is nothing more than Christ's obedience to God the Father.
Yeshua has stressed this over and over in this Gospel, 14:15, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." 14:21, "He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who love Me." Yeshua inseparably joins love and commandment keeping. Yeshua summed up the whole law by two commandments, both of which were commands to love: Matthew 22:34-40.
The Greek word for love here is agape, was not used much in Classical or Koine Greek literature until the Church began to use it in a specialized sense. It began to be used as selfless, sacrificial, loyal, active love. Love is an action, not an emotion. The New Testament term agape is theologically analogous to Hebrew term hesed, which meant: "covenant love and loyalty."
Barrett writes this, "Love and obedience are mutually dependent. Love arises out of obedience, obedience out of love." The proof that Yeshua was abiding in the Father's love was His obedience to the cross. The proof of our abiding in Christ will be obedience to Christ's commands.
What word comes to your mind when I say, "obedience"? What do you think of? Duty? Drudgery? Rules? No fun? How about, "joy"?
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:11 ESV
"These things"—is everything He's just said in the previous ten verses. The truths of abiding in Christ, particularly the practical applications of abiding found in verses 7-10.
So why did Yeshua say these things to His disciples? So that His joy may be in them and that their joy may be full. In 14:27 He promises them "peace" and now He promises them "His joy." Yeshua explains why He has said what He said. His intention was not to create anxiety, or fear. Nor was His intention to lay the necessity of keeping His commands on us as a legalistic necessity. Rather, His intention for us is joy.
Earlier Yeshua had told them, "Don't let your hearts be troubled." Hearts were heavy that evening, for Yeshua had told them some very distressing things, which troubled them greatly (13:22; 14:1, 27; 16:6, 22). But when we read through the Book of Acts, we find joyful believers, very often in the midst of adversity (see Acts 2:28; 8:5-8; 13:52; 15:3; 20:24).
Joy in the Lord marked the testimonies of countless Christians who died at the hand of executioners throughout pre-and-post-Reformation Europe. The joy of Christ was evidenced in Paul and Silas while singing and worshiping in a Philippian jail.
Thomas Watson wrote, "The more holiness any man has, the more he shall enjoy Him, in whose presence is fulness of joy, Ps. 16:11; and the more any man enjoys the presence of God with his spirit, the greater will be his heaven of joy in this world….Divine joy ebbs and flows as holiness ebbs and flows" [Works, vol. 4, 353].
Joy is something that can grow and increase in our lives, or "ebb and flow" as Thomas Watson put it. This is because joy is a by-product of abiding in Christ. The more you abide the greater your joy.
Believers we are commanded to abide in Christ. This can only happen if the Word of Christ dwells in us and we keep His commandments. As we know the Word and obey the Word we will abide in Christ and bear much fruit, and we will also experience His joy.