THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN
LAST SUPPER DISCOURSE continues:
Jesus and the mystery of the "True Vine"
You brought a vine out of Egypt, to plant it you drove out nations; you cleared a space for it, it took root and filled the whole country. Psalms 80:8-9
Yet I had planted you, a red vine of completely sound stock. How is it you have turned into seedlings of a vine that is alien to me? Jeremiah 2:21
Israel was a luxuriant vine yielding plenty of fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; the richer his land became the richer he made the sacred pillars. Theirs is a divided heart; now they will have to pay for it. Hosea 10:1-2b
The Lord Yahweh says this: As the wood of the vine among the forest trees, which I have thrown on the fire for fuel, so shall I treat the inhabitants of Jerusalem. I shall set my face against them. They have escaped one fire, but fire will devour them yet. And you will know that I am Yahweh, when I set my face against them. I shall reduce the country to a desert, because of their infidelity—declares the Lord Yahweh. Ezekiel 15:6-8
Please read John 15:1-6
15:1I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more. 3You are clean already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing. 6Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a branch—it withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire and are burnt.
John 15:1: I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Using the metaphor of the vine, Jesus emphasizes the importance of divine grace in uniting the Christian to Christ. In the Vatican II document Apostolicam actuositatem, 4 the Church instructs the faithful: Christ, sent by the Father, is the source of the church's whole apostolate. Clearly then, the fruitfulness of the apostolate of lay people depends on their living union with Christ." Jesus makes this truth clear in His statement to the Apostles: "I AM the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).
This is the seventh of the "I AM" with the predicate nominative statements:
|John 6:35||I AM the Bread of Life|
|John 8:12||I AM the Light of the world|
|John 10:7||I AM the Gate for the sheep|
|John 10:11||I AM the Good Shepherd|
|John 11:25||I AM the Resurrection and the Life|
|John 14:6||I AM the Way, and the Truth, and the Life|
|John 15:1||I AM the True Vine|
Symbolically in Sacred Scripture seven is the number of fullness, perfection and completion. It is also the number of spiritual perfection and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus' identification of Himself with the True Vine is overflowing with symbolic Old Covenant Church imagery and New Covenant Eucharistic symbolism.
Question: What is the symbolic significance of the
Vine imagery in the Old Testament?
Answer: In the Old Testament the fruitful Vine is the symbol of Israel as Yahweh's Covenant people.
"The Vine" as Israel: In the Old Testament Yahweh used the imagery of the fruitful "Vine" or the "Vineyard" and the fruitful "Fig Tree" as symbols for Israel as Yahweh's Covenant people. During His last week in Jerusalem Jesus will curse an unfruitful fig tree, symbolic of Israel, in Matthew 21:19-22 and in Mark 11:13-21, and He will tell a parable of "The Vine" recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels. In order to understand Jesus' teaching of the "True Vine" in John chapter 15, it important to understand how the disciples associated the symbolic significance of Israel as "the Vine" in the sacred Scripture of the Old Testament. All Israelites and Jews understood that to be ethnically Israelite or to become a convert to the Covenant, like Ruth the Moabitess, is to be identified one as part of "The Vine" of Yahweh that is Israel (see the Book of Ruth in the Old Testament for the story of Ruth). For Old Testament references to Israel as the "Vine" see Deuteronomy 32:32-33; Sirach 24:17; Isaiah 5:1-7; 27:2-6; Jeremiah 2:21; 5:10; 6:9; 12:10; Ezekiel 15:1-8; 17:3-10; 19:10-14; Hosea 10:1; Joel 1:7; Psalms 80:8-18.
Compare those Old Testament references to Israel as "the Vine" with the New Testament passages of Jesus' parables of "the Vine" during His last week teaching in Jerusalem found in Matthew 21:33-43; Mark 12:1-12; and Luke 20:9-19.
Question: What is significant about each of these
Answer: In each Gospel parable, the Covenant people are identified with the vineyard that did not produce good fruit and in each parable Jesus prophesies His death.
Israel as "The Vine" in the Covenant Lawsuit: In the Old Testament when the Covenant People of Israel/Judah fell into sin and apostasy and became disobedient to the Covenant they made with Yahweh at Mt. Sinai, Yahweh sent His holy prophets to call a Covenant Law suit, in Hebrew a "riv," against the Old Covenant Church. As a result of their disobedience and violation of the covenant, the blessings of the covenant became the curses of disobedience (see Deuteronomy 28:15-46). 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 the covenant lawsuit (riv). In each case the "riv" resulted in the destruction of the nation of Israel in 722BC by the Assyrians and then Judah in 587/6BC by the Babylonians.
Please read Isaiah 5:1-30 "The Song of the Vineyard": In the Isaiah 5:1-30, the theme of Israel as "The Vine" chosen and then rejected is the same theme preached by Isaiah's contemporary prophet to the Northern Kingdom, Hosea. A century later, through His holy 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.
Please read Ezekiel 17:1-21, "The Eagle and the Vine" and Ezekiel 19:1-14, "The Lion and the Vine": In Ezekiel 17:19, Yahweh's covenant lawsuit judgment against Judah is exile in the pagan lands of the Kingdom of Babylon, but then these dire prophecies are tempered in verses 22-24 with the promise of the Messiah of Yahweh coming as a "shoot" from the tree of David to restore the people. These passages of judgment and promise are followed by the lament of Ezekiel 19:1-14, comparing the Old Covenant Church as both a mother lion in verses 1-9 (a lion is the symbol of Judah; see Genesis 49:9) and to a vine whose branches and fruit have been devoured in verses 10-14.
In the passages of Isaiah 5:1-30, Israel is compared to a vineyard planted in fertile ground.
In Isaiah 5:2-4, Yahweh recounts how He nurtured his Vineyard/Israel so she would produce "good fruit". In verses 5-7 Yahweh passes judgment on Israel for her failure by removing the "wall" or "hedge" of protection He has given her in the past. Then in verses 8-10, Yahweh pronounces six curses or judgments on Israel/Judah for breaking her oath of obedience to the Sinai Covenant (Exodus 24:3), followed by the promise of the Messiah in 7:14 and 9:1-7. Finally, there is a seventh curse in 10:1-4, followed by another promise of the Messiah in 11:1-16. Compare the 7 curses (or woes) in Isaiah to the 7 curses (or woes) Jesus pronounces against the Old Covenant authorities in Matthew chapter 23 during His last week in Jerusalem just prior to the feast of the Last Supper. Jesus' action in pronouncing the 7 curses in Matthew 23:13-32 is classic prophetic covenant lawsuit language.
In John chapter 15, when Jesus began to speak of Himself as the "True Vine," His disciples sitting with Him at the table, 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 Jesus' teachings about God's judgment before and during His last week in Jerusalem. In addition to the Isaiah passages, they also would have recalled the vine symbolism found in the covenant lawsuit pronouncement found in Isaiah 27:2-5.
Please read Isaiah 25:6-8. Just prior to the passage we studied in Isaiah 27:2-5, there is the passage in Isaiah 25:6-8, which is Yahweh's promise of the divine banquet: On this mountain, for all peoples, Yahweh Sabaoth is preparing a banquet of rich food, a banquet of fine wines, of succulent food, of well-strained wines. On this mountain, he has destroyed the veil which used to veil all peoples, the pall enveloping all nations; he has destroyed death for ever. Yahweh has wiped away the tears from every cheek; he has taken his people's shame away everywhere on earth, for Yahweh has spoken.
Question: What connection is there in this passage to events in
the Upper Room and to the events that will occur the next day?
Answer: Jesus, dressed in the priestly seamless robe (which could only be worn by priests in the Temple liturgical services) offered Himself Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in what only appeared to be bread and wine to the disciples in the Upper Room. This was the first liturgical offering of the sacrifice of the Eucharist Banquet (Jesus' priestly dress signified the liturgical significance of this event). This first offering of the Eucharist looked forward to His sacrificial death and resurrection when He atoned for the sins of men, conquered death, and offered the gift of salvation to all who came to Him. At the moment of His death, the huge the veil that separated the people from the presence of God in the Holy of Holies in the Temple on the Mt. Moriah was torn in half from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:45). Jesus' sacrificial death removed the barrier of sin. No longer will God be separated from His covenant people. There is also in this passage, the promise of the future Eucharistic heavenly banquet' the Communion of Saints in heaven that is intimately connected to the Eucharistic banquet on earth.
These passages in Isaiah are linked to Isaiah 26:16-19, the indictment of Israel for her failure to bring salvation to world. Isaiah 26:16-19 also speaks of the "birthpangs" of Israel as she struggled to bring forth the promised Messiah: Yahweh, in distress they have had recourse to you, they expended themselves in prayer, since your punishment was on them. As a pregnant woman near her time of delivery writhes and cries out in her pangs, so have we been, Yahweh, in your eyes: we have been pregnant, we have writhed, but we have given birth only to wind: we have not given salvation to the earth, no inhabitants for the world have been brought to birth. Your dead will come back to life, your corpses will rise again. Wake up and sing, you dwellers in the dust, for your dew will be a radiant dew, but the earth will give birth to the shades.
Next are the passages concerning Yahweh's judgment in Isaiah 26:20-27:1. It is a judgment that will fall on the Serpent. Yahweh's judgment on the Serpent is followed by the passage in which Yahweh speaks of Israel as His precious vineyard in 27:2-13: 2 That day sing of the splendid vineyard! 3 [Yahweh speaking] I, Yahweh, am its guardian, from time to time I water it; so that no harm befall it, I guard it night and day. 4[Vineyard speaking] 'I do not have a wall, who can reduce me to brambles and thorn-bushes?' [Yahweh speaking] 'I shall make war and trample on it and at the same time burn it. 5Or should they beg for my protection, let them make their peace with me, peace let them make with me. 6In days to come, Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and the surface of the world be one vast harvest. 7Has he struck him as he was struck by those who struck him? Has he murdered him as he was murdered by those who murdered him? 8By expelling, by excluding him, you have executed a sentence, has blown him away with a breath as rough as the east wind. 9For that is how Jacob's guilt will be forgiven,...[.....] vs 12ff When that day comes, Yahweh will start his threshing from the course of the River to the Torrent of Egypt, and you will be gathered one by one, Israelites! 13When that day comes, the great ram's-horn will be sounded, and those lost in Assyria will come, those banished to Egypt will worship Yahweh on the holy mountain, in Jerusalem."
Question: What day is "that day" in the beginning of verse 2?
Answer: The Day of Judgment
Question: What do you notice about the flow of time in verse 3?
Answer: The flow of time is from night to day, as the Jews kept time; the Jewish day began at sundown.
Question: How does Yahweh say He cares for His vineyard that is Israel?
Answer: He is Israel's guardian, caring for her night and day.
Question: What is Israel/the Vineyard's boast in verse 4a?
Answer: Her boast is that she doesn't need God's protection; she is powerful enough, self-sufficient enough, to take care of herself. The reference to "brambles and thorn bushes" refer to the condition of a devastated, deserted nation destroyed by war.
Question: What is God's judgment against Israel for rejecting His protection through her obedience to the Sinai Covenant in 4b and
what is the significant of what follows in verses 5-11?
Answer: God pronounces judgment on Israel, the boast she made will become her punishment. Israel will suffer the punishment of war and a ruined and devastated nation. But God tempers His judgment with the promise of restoration if His "Vineyard" will repent and return to Him in obedience to the Law of the Sinai Covenant. He makes the promise of total restoration if there is repentance and the return to obedience and submission to the will of God for the destiny of His covenant people.
The prophecy concludes with a promise of the Messiah as the corner-stone in 28:16-17: Now I shall lay a stone in Zion, a granite stone, a precious corner-stone, a firm foundation-stone: no one who relies on this will stumble. And I will make fair judgment the measure, and uprightness the plumb-line.
The Messiah is also prophesized as the stone the builders rejected which has become the cornerstone in the great Hallel Psalms 118:22. Remember this Psalms was always sung at the feast of Tabernacles and at the Passover sacrifice and the Passover meal. Jesus and his disciples will sing it, as was the custom, at the closing of the Passover supper (Matthew 26:30). St Peter in his homily before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:11 will use verse 22 of Hallel Psalms 118 in proclaiming to them that it is Jesus who was the stone they rejected: This is the stone which you, the builders, rejected but which has become the cornerstone. Only in him is there salvation...
Question: Please re-read John 15:1. What is the
significant difference between the symbolic imagery of Israel as the Vine of Yahweh in the Old Testament and Jesus' statement to the Apostles?
Answer: Jesus identifies Himself, not Judah/Israel, as the genuine "True Vine".
The fact that "Vine" describes both Israel and the Messiah reinforces the close identification of Jesus with Yahweh's covenant people. In fulfilling and transforming the Old Covenant:
The New Covenant law is a law of love of God and love of neighbor, in which one's neighbor is defined as every member of the human family.
In the New Covenant it is not enough to avoid sexual immorality in the sin of adultery; if one harbors lust in one's heart, the sin is already committed. In the New Covenant ritual purity laws are not enough to cleanse the believer; nor is it circumcised flesh that God desires but a pure, circumcised heart committed to living the "Law of Love" of neighbor and love of God. In the New Covenant the covenant people of God are no longer identified only ethnically as "Israel, the Church" but instead now it is through re-birth in Christ that we become God's New Covenant people reborn into the universal family of God. Christ is now the "Vine" and those of Old Covenant Israel who follow Him are now a part of Christ the "True Vine," and a member of the New Israel of the New Covenant Church.
These men and women will form the nucleus of the New Covenant Israel–the Catholic [Universal] Church.
Question: If Jesus is the "True Vine" what is the "False Vine"?
Answer: Old Covenant Israel. Clothing Himself in the symbolic imagery of the "True Vine", as opposed to the "False Vine" of what Old Covenant Israel has become in the rejection of the Messiah, Jesus is stressing that God's covenant people can no longer find life in the Old Covenant but instead in the New Covenant ratified by Yeshua [Jesus] the Messiah whose very name means "I SAVE".
Question: How does Jesus identify God the Father and what is the
significance of this identification in relation to the Son as the "True Vine"?
Answer: God the Father as the Vinedresser identifies the kind of vine that is Jesus the Son. He is a vine belonging to the heavenly order–He is the True Vine.
Question: How is Jesus the "True Vine" symbolic of the
Eucharistic Banquet? Hint: How is it that the fruit of the vine becomes wine?
Answer: The fruit of the vine produces grapes that are then crushed under foot to be made into wine. Christ was crushed and trampled for our sins, and in His suffering He yielded the best wine of the Eucharistic banquet as was prefigured at the Wedding at Cana. We join in that heavenly banquet on earth in the celebration of Most Holy Eucharist when the fruit of our labors, the wine we offer, becomes through the power of the Holy Spirit the blood of Christ.
John 15:2: Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more.
John is using a play on two similar sounding Greek verbs which we translate as "cuts away"= airein and "prunes" [better translation = trims clean] = kathairein. In the next verse He will use the adjective "clean" = katharos which corresponds to the second verb and unites the idea of cutting with cleansing or purifying.
Question: If God the Son is the True Vine, and God
the Father is the Vinedresser who prunes and maintains the branches, what do
the branches represent?
Answer: New Covenant believers, the Church, the new Israel.
Question: What is the relationship between Jesus
the Vine and the New Covenant believers as the branches?
Answer: The branches are physically and spiritually united to the Vine and receive nourishment, life and fruitfulness, from the True Vine that is Christ.
Question: What is the "fruit" that the branches bear? Who is it
who provides the life-force of nourishment to the branches that is the New Covenant Church?
Answer: God the Holy Spirit is the life-giving "sap" of the Father's Vine which is Christ and God the Holy Spirit produces the fruit of the willing branches. The fruit that the branches bear is a life of obedience to the commandments, especially the commandment to love one another as Christ has loved us (John 13:34-35 and 15:12-17). This fruitful love will result in the works of God working through believers and reaching out to change the world (CCC# 1108).
Question: What happens to a branch that bears no fruit? What
does this symbolism represent?
Answer: The significance of this statement is that to obey Christ's command to love requires active faith. The failure to produce works of love jeopardizes the spiritual life of the branches which may become separated from the True Vine
Question: What does this verse imply about the condition of our
Answer: To be part of the True Vine is to have life eternally = salvation.
Question: Is it possible for a believer to loose his salvation? Hint: see John 15:6; 1 Timothy 1:18-19 and Revelation 3:5; 20:12 Answer: Yes, but only if the believer chooses to separate himself from Christ through unrepented sin. The journey to salvation is a life-long process but he/she who perseveres in faith to the end will be saved!
In His letter to the Church at Sardis, Jesus promised: Anyone who proves victorious will be dressed, like these, in white robes; I shall not blot that name out of the book of life, but acknowledge it in the presence of my Father and his angels. To remain united to the True Vine is to have our name inscribed in the Book of Life and to secure our salvation, if we persevere in faith.
This teaching is consistent with the Old Testament teaching of divine punishment as a result of disobedience to the Covenant in Ezekiel 15:1-6 where the prophet describes fire consuming the unfruitful vine just as Yahweh warns that He will destroy Jerusalem with fire: The fire shall yet consume them, and you will know that I am the Lord, when I set my face against them. And I will make the land desolate because they have acted faithlessly says the Lord God.
Question: What does the God the Vinedresser do to
the fruitful branches? What does He remove and what is the desired result?
Explain the symbolism of this passage.
Answer: He "prunes" the branch to make it bear even more fruit. If you have ever kept a grape wine you know that wherever you prune new life springs back to produce fruit. The pruning sometimes seems sever when seemingly healthy grown has to be removed so the plant will continue to grow in the desired direction to produce the most fruit. So it is in our lives when God the Vinedresser prunes us to keep us from "growing astray". In His fatherly discipline, He prunes out our selfishness and indifference through the trials we experience in this life to encourage us to produce, through the work of the Holy Spirit, the desired "fruit"/works so pleasing to God (Hebrews 12:5-11; James 1:1-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7). The desired result is a fruitful harvest of souls for heaven.
John 15: 3-4: You are clean already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.
As we already discussed, the Greek word used for "clean" in this translation also means "pure". It is the same word used in triple repetition in John 13:10 when Jesus spoke to Peter: ...such a person is clean all over. You too are clean, though not all of you are [clean]. In the Greek, this word means both clean and pure.
Question: Is it possible to achieve "works that yield salvation"
apart from Christ?
Answer: No, one cannot "work" one's way to heaven. Salvation cannot be obtained through works alone, nor through faith alone but by grace through Christ. It is only in union with Him and His gift of grace that the works of God work through us, giving us active, living faith grounded in love to change the world. The Church teaches in CCC# 1816: The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it: 'All however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross, amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks.' Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation. Also see CCC# 150-155, 1815 and the Letter of James chapter 2.
Question: What is it that has cleansed or purified the Apostles?
Answer: The logos, word of the Living Word has purified them. Logos here means the entire sum of Jesus' teaching. 1 John 2:24-25: Let what you heard in the beginning remain in you; as long as what you heard in the beginning remains in you, you will remain in the Son and in the Father. And the promise he made you himself is eternal life. (Also see John 5:38).
Question: What has this cleansing prepared them to receive?
Answer: Through the grace of Christ, they now have a living union with Him.
Vatican II quoted this passage from St. John in teaching what a Christian disciple should be: Christ, sent by the Father, is the source of the Church's whole apostolate. Clearly then, the fruitfulness of the apostolate of lay people depends on their living union with Christ; as the Lord himself said: 'He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.' This life of intimate union with Christ in the Church is maintained by the spiritual helps common to all the faithful, chiefly by active participation in the liturgy. Laymen should make such a use of these helps that, while meeting their human obligations in the ordinary conditions of life, they do not separate their union with Christ from their ordinary life; but through the very performance of their tasks, which are God's will for them, actually promote the growth of their union with him (Documents of Vatican II, Apostolicam actuositatem, 4).
John 15:5-6 I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty [fruit much = karpos polys]; for cut off from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a branch–and withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire and are burnt.
Question: What is the sign that one abides in Christ and Christ
Answer: The believer will bear much fruit. St. Polycarp (poly = much; karpos = fruit) was the name of John's beloved disciple who became the Bishop of Smyrna. He was the leader of the Church in Asia Minor after the death of St. John the Apostle. His Greek name was truly prophetic, for he bore "much fruit" in his service to Christ.
To abide or remain [meno/menein in the Greek] in Christ and Christ abiding in the believer is one of the most important theological terms in John's Gospel. It is what is expressed in the "Bread of Life Discourse" in 6:56-57. One who partakes of Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice enjoys a mutual abiding relationship with Jesus. This theme began in the Prologue in 1:32 with God the Holy Spirit who "remains on Jesus" at His baptism. It is developed in the Eucharistic language of chapter 6 in believers who "remain" in Jesus and He in them (6:56). The theme is expanded to the Father who "remains" in the Son in 14:10, and now comes again in 15:4 to believers who "remain" in Christ and He in them. The implications of this "remaining" are many. A believer enjoys intimacy with and security in Jesus the Savior. Just as Jesus has His life from the Father, so too do believers have life because of Jesus who gives them His very life in the sacrament of the Eucharist and the promise of eternal life if we persevere and continue to "remain" in Him.
You probably noticed the repetition of the word "remain" in John 15:5-6. John has used word repetition frequently in his Gospel. You may recall the 5-time repeat of the word "glorify/glorified in John 13:31-32 and the 7-time repetition of the Greek word "love" = agape in John 14:21-24. It is worth noting the repetition of 5 key words in chapter 15. For example, in addition to the word "remain", which is repeated 12 times, Jesus speaks of "love" 7 times in this chapter. In chapter 15 there are several other key words have an interesting series of repetitions. Please note that the English translations often do not reflect the literal Greek translation of certain words. This chart reflects the repetition of words in the best Greek texts:
|Word from the Greek translation||Verse in John chapter 15|
Love = agape, phileo
Vine = ampelos
Branches = klema
Fruit = karpos
Early Christians were aware of the significance of the repetition of certain words, linking those words to the same word repeated in the next text passage. An example is the triple repeat of the word "man" in John 2:23-3:1. First as "man" of imperfect faith in 2:23 and then using the repeated word "man" in identifying Nicodemus as such a man of imperfect faith, giving the passage both a spiritual and symbolic meaning. Today we do not pay much attention to word repetition and the symbolism of numbers in Scripture, but the ancients did look for such significant repetitions. If we were looking for symbolic meaning in the repetition of words in John chapter 15, we could take notice of these words and the symbolism of the word repetition:
For more information about the significance of numbers in the Bible please see the document
"The Significance of Numbers in Scripture" in the Documents section.
Question: What happens to professed believers who are not united
to Christ by means of grace?
Answer: Like unfruitful branches, they are destroyed by fire. Jesus talks in detail about such unfruitful branches in His Final Judgment Discourse in Matthew 25:31-46.
All of our works will be purified by fire, both the works that bear fruit and the fruitless works. St. Paul speaks about the purification of the Christian's works by fire in 1 Corinthians 3:13-15: The Day which dawns in fire will make it clear and the fire itself will test the quality of each person's work. The ones whose work stands up to it will be given his wages; the one whose work is burnt down will suffer the loss of it, though he himself will be saved; he will be saved as someone might expect to be saved from a fire.
But in this case, Jesus is speaking not of the destruction of "bad works" or accountability for sins in one who is saved, but instead He is speaking of the destruction of the entire branch. He is speaking of Divine Judgment and the damnation that waits for every "branch" that has separated from Christ and has become worthless. John will write of that final "Day of the Lord" in Revelation 20:11-15: Then I saw a great white throne and the One who was sitting on it. In his presence earth and sky vanished, leaving no trace. I saw the dead, great and small alike standing in front of his throne while the books lay open. And another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged from what was written in the books, as their deeds deserved. The sea gave up all the dead who were in it; Death and Hades were emptied of the dead that were in them; and every one was judged as his deeds deserved. Then Death and Hades were hurled into the burning lake. This burning lake is the second death; and anybody whose name could not be found written in the book of life was hurled into the burning lake. Also see parallels with other images Jesus uses in the parable of the sound tree and the bad tree in Matthew 7:15-20, the dragnet in Matthew 13:49-50, and the invitation to the wedding in Matthew 22:11-14 where the improperly dressed wedding guest was not clothed in the "gown of grace." Also see Matthew 3:10 and Hebrews 6:4-8.
Some scholars suggest in this part of Jesus' discourse, that Jesus and His disciples have left the dinner and are crossing the Kidron Valley where there were many vineyards. February through March were the months when the branches of the grape vines were pruned. The dead branches were then destroyed in great bonfires. Other scholars suggest that Jesus and His disciples have entered the Temple precincts and are gazing on the beautiful golden grapevine, the size of a man, which adorned the Temple (Josephus, Wars of the Jews 5.5.4). The Jewish historian Josephus records that the Temple gates were locked securely at night and no unauthorized person could enter the Temple precincts except on the first night of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. At midnight, when the covenant people had finished their sacrificial meals of the Passover victim, the gates to the Temple were opened for those who wished to pray at God's house.
Please read John 15:7-17
7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for whatever you please and you will get it. 8It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit and be my disciples. 9I have loved you just as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Fathers commandments and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete. 12This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. 13No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.14You are my friends, if you do what I command you. 15I shall not longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business; I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father. 16You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last; so that the Father will give you anything you ask him in my name. 17My command to you is to love one another.
John 15:7-10: If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for whatever you please and you will get it. It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit and be my disciples. I have loved you just as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Fathers commandments and remain in his love.
Question: In verse 7 Jesus promises to honor whatever request we
make in His name. Most people stop with that statement and then complain that
what they have asked in prayer has not been fulfilled, but Jesus has placed a
condition on our requests. What is that condition?
Answer: We must remain in Him and keep the commandments. Jesus says He will give whatever we ask, if we abide or remain in Him. The way we remain in Him is to keep His commandments.
Question: What are Jesus' commandments?
Answer: Everything He has taught including His teaching that we must conform to God the Father's will in our lives just as Jesus is perfectly in accord with the Father's will. You see that accord when Jesus prays to God the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, which John does not repeat in his Gospel but which is found in the Synoptic Gospels. In Matthew 26:39 Jesus prays: My Father,[...] if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.
Question: Therefore, when we pray, what must we take into account
when we make our petitions?
Answer: Our petitions must not be contrary to the teachings of Christ and His Church, and our petitions must be obedient to the will of God for our lives. CCC#2611: The prayer of faith consists not only in saying 'Lord, Lord,' but in disposing the heart to do the will of the Father. Jesus calls his disciples to bring into their prayer this concern for cooperating with the divine plan.
John 15:11-13: I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete. This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.
Question: Is this the first time Jesus has given this
commandment to love (agapate, meaning you love)? What did Jesus
tell His disciples in John 13:34?
Answer: Jesus is repeating His command found in John 13:34: I give you a new commandment: Love one another; your must love one another just as I have loved you.
Fr. Brown mentions in his commentary that the use of the present subjunctive tense suggests that this love that disciples have for one another should be a continuous, lifelong love.
Question: What is significant about Jesus' statement in verse
Answer: He will lay down His life; He will sacrifice Himself for them. The significance of Jesus' statement is that Christian love does not only mean the willingness to die for one's friends, or one's faith, but because this love stems from Christ, this love is a love of self-sacrifice.
Question: In what way is Jesus' death held up as an example as
well as a source of the disciples' love? See 10:18 and 14:31
Answer: The laying down of Jesus' life is spoken of as a command of the Father in John 10:18 and 14:31. This is another example of living a life of love as a commandment for the New Covenant faithful. It is also an example and a model of the expression of the intensity of the love Christ is calling us to give. Jesus sacrifice is not only a model and example but it is also the source of our love for others. St. John writes in 1 John 3:16-19: This is the proof of love, that he laid down his life for us, and we too ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone is well off in worldly possessions and sees his brother in need but closes his heart to him, how can the love of God be remaining in Him? Children, our love must be not just words or mere talk, but something active and genuine. This will be the proof that we belong to the truth, and it will convince us in his presence...
It is easy to love the loveable but it is sometime very hard to love those who behave badly or reject our love. In that case it is easier to give love when you remember that Christ loved that person enough to die for him. If you love Christ, through Christ you can also love him.
John 15:14-15: You are my friends, if you do what I command you. I shall not longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business; I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father.
There is nothing derogatory in Jesus describing the disciples as His "servants." The prophets of the Old Testament were "servants" of Yahweh; see Deuteronomy 34:5 for Moses; Joshua 24:29 for Joshua; and Psalms 89:20 for David.
Question: What is suggested by this change in status?
Answer: Biblical scholars have several interpretations of these verses.
John 15:16-17: You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last; so that the Father will give you anything you ask him in my name. My command to you is to love one another.
Question: What is the significance of Jesus ordaining 12
Apostles to establish His New Covenant Church? Remember that they were
selected from a larger body of disciples.
Answer: The Old Covenant Church was established through the descendants of the 12 sons of Israel who were the physical fathers of God's Covenant people. Jesus establishes the Church through 12 spiritual fathers. Later the number of 11 Apostles who remained after Judas defection will be expanded to 12 again with the election of Matthias after the Lord's Ascension in Acts 1:20-26. This election, ordered by St. Peter, establishes the practice of selecting successors of Christ's ministers in the hierarchy of the Church.
In verse 10, Jesus told the Apostles that they would remain in His love if they kept His commandment. Now He has told them 3 times that the basic commandment, from which all other commandments come, is love. It is a love that is commanded to produce more love.
Question: How does the commandment "to love" develop from verse
9 and expand in verses 12 and 17? Look for the progression of love.
Answer: The Father loves Jesus, Jesus loves His disciples; the disciples must love one another.
John revisits this theme in 1John 4:11-12: My dear friends, if God loved us so much we too should love each other. No one has ever seen God, but as long as we love each other God remains in us and his love comes to its perfection in us.
Please read John 15:18-25: 18If the world hates you, you must realize that it hated me before it hated you. 19If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you do not belong to the world, because my choice of you has drawn you out of the world, that is why the world hates you. 20Remember the words I said to you; A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too; if they kept my word, they will keep yours as well. 21But it will be on my account [because of my name] that they will do all this to you, because they do not know the one who sent me. 22If I had not come, if I had not spoken to them, they would have been blameless; but as it is they have no excuse for their sin. 23Anyone who hates me hates my Father. 24If I had not performed such works among them as no one else has ever done, they would be blameless; but as it is, in spite of what they have seen, they hate both me and my Father. 25But all this was only to fulfill the words written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason.' 26When the Paraclete comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father, he will be my witness. And you too will be witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning.
John 15:18: If the world hates you, you must realize that it
hated me before it hated you.
Question: What does Jesus mean when He refers to "the world"?
Answer: All men and women in opposition to the will of God. Satan is the prince of this world.
19If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you do not belong to the world, because my choice of you has drawn you out of the world, that is why the world hates you. 20Remember the words I said to you; A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too; if they kept my word, they will keep yours as well. 21But it will be on my account [because of my name] that they will do all this to you, because they do not know the one who sent me.
Christ has chosen these men to be the earthly ministers of the King of Kings but the job description is not very appealing.
Question: What does Jesus tell them that they can expect in
their life of service to Him?
Answer: Rejection and persecution.
Jesus wants the disciples to understand that this hatred is not a temporary phenomenon. Hatred is just as much the mark of the character of "the world" as love is the essence of the Christian. In the series of 4 sentences in verses 18-21, Jesus repeats that the world's hatred for His disciples is a rejection of Him and His word.
Question: Why does Jesus tell them this rejection is because of
His Name? Hint: This expression is a standard formula used in the Gospels to
express Jesus' entire teaching, character, and identity.
Answer: His Name is the divine Name. The world has rejected His divinity and thereby rejected the One True God. In Matthew 10:22, Jesus tells His disciples: You will be universally hated on account of my name; but anyone who stands firm to the end will be saved." Also see 1 Peter 4:14 and Acts 5:41.
22If I had not come, if I had not spoken to them, they would have been blameless; but as it is they have no excuse for their sin. 23Anyone who hates me hates my Father. 24If I had not performed such works among them as no one else has ever done, they would be blameless; but as it is, in spite of what they have seen, they hate both me and my Father.
Question: Is there any compromise between the "way of the world"
and the "way of Jesus"? Are we permitted to hate those of the world who hates
Answer: No. The "world" has chosen sin over righteousness. There is no compromise with evil. Jesus tells the disciples that the world and the Church are set against each other and there cannot be any reconciliation! It is also a sentiment expressed by St. Ignatius of Antioch (martyred 107AD) in his letter to the Catholic Church in Rome: Christianity is not a matter of persuasiveness, but of true greatness, when it is hated by the world (Letter to the Romans 3.3).
This teaching was also expressed by John in 7:7; 17:14. No, we are not permitted to hate anyone no matter what the reason in 1 John 3:13-15 St. John cautions: Do not be surprised, brothers, if the world hates you. We are well aware that we have passed over from death to life because we love our brothers. Whoever does not love, remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you are well aware that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him."
Question: These verses in St. John's Gospel give the negative
job description, but what is the blessing that is promised those who reject the
ways of the world and face persecution to serve Christ? Hint: see Matthew
5:11-12a; 1 Peter 4:14.
John 15:25-27: 25But all this was only to fulfill the words written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason.' 27When the Paraclete comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father, he will be my witness. 27And you too will be witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning.
The reference to "their Law" refers to the entire Old Testament. The Scripture passage Jesus is quoting is either Psalms 35:19 or 69:4, or perhaps both. Psalms 35 is David's lament to Yahweh over his persecution. In Psalm 35:19, David cries out: Let not my lying enemies gloat over me; those who hate me unprovoked look askance at me. Psalm 69 is a similar lament in which David tells God in verse 4: More numerous than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without reason. Those who seek to get rid of me are powerful, my treacherous enemies. What is interesting is how both these Psalms lamenting unjust persecution end. They end praising God for His goodness to His faithful servant: Psalm 35:27-28: But let all who delight in my uprightness shout for joy and gladness; let them constantly say, 'Great is Yahweh, who delights to see his servant in peace.' And my tongue shall recount your saving justice, all day long sing your praise."
It is Jesus' promise that the persecution of the righteous for His sake will not go unnoticed by God and that He will deliver them in the end.
This is the third time Jesus has mentioned the Paraclete, God the Holy Spirit (see John 14:16, 26). The word parakletos is peculiar to John's writings. In 5 passages in this Gospel: 14:15-17, 26; 15:26-27; 16:7-11, and 12-14, John identifies the 3rd Person of the Most Holy Trinity by the title the Parakletos.
Question: What is the connection between the Paraclete and
Answer: The Paraclete represents Christ's presence among mankind. He is Christ's witness, filling and indwelling believers who will become Jesus' witnesses to the world. This is a profound explanation of why the world will treat Jesus' disciples the same way it treated Him. Through the Paraclete's indwelling presence, Christ lives in the disciples and therefore the world will hate the disciples who are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit (also see John 14:16, 26; 16:7; and CCC# "244-48).
Question: Why does Jesus call the Paraclete "the Spirit of Truth"?
Answer: As the Spirit of Truth, God the Holy Spirit will convict the world of its guilt and sin. The world has rejected Jesus the Truth, His words and His works, and the Holy Spirit will demonstrate and convict the world of this rejection.
Question: What unique position as witnesses do the Apostles
Answer: They will provide the eyewitness accounts of Jesus' ministry: His words and His works, to the New Covenant people and to their successors in the Magisterium of the Catholic (universal) Church. The Greek word katholikos, means "universal; in Latin it is catholicus.
Our understanding of the procession of the Holy Spirit is based on this text in John's Gospel, 15:25-27. In writing about these passages, St. John Chrysostom, the great 4th century Archbishop of Constantinople, contends that there is no contradiction in these statements. In addressing John 14:15-16 he writes: But why said He, 'I will ask the Father'? Because had He said, 'I will send Him,' they would not have so much believed, and now the object is that He should be believed. For afterwards He declares that He Himself sendeth Him saying, 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost' (c 20:22); but in this place He telleth that He asketh the Father so as to render His discourse credible to them. And then in his commentary on John 15, quoting from verse 15, Chrysostom writes: 'Whom I will send.' Behold, it is no longer the Father alone, but the Son also who sendeth." Homilies on the Gospel of St. John, John Chrysostom, Homily LXXVII.
When we recite the Nicene-Constantinople Creed we affirm: We believe in the Holy Spirit...who proceeds from the Father and the Son. This line quoted from the Creed was not part of the original Creed approved by the ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381AD, a document that expanded on the earlier creed formulated by the ecumenical Council of Nicene in 324AD. As a consequence of this addition, the Orthodox churches of the Eastern rites have rejected what has become known as the "filioque clause" which affirms that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son and not simply from the Father. The "filioque clause" was probably added to the Creed in the last decade of the 6th century in the Third Council of Toledo in 589AD, which was a council that did not include Eastern Rite Catholics. At issue was the old Arian heresy which denied the eternal coexistence of God the Father and the Son. In the first decade of the third century, the Alexandrian priest Arius began teaching the heresy that if the Son was a real Son then his Father must have existed before Him; therefore, the Divine Father must have existed before the Divine Son and the Son is a creature created by God. He declared that the Son was the greatest and eldest of all God s creatures is Himself a God but still created and therefore like all creatures of an essence or substance which previously had not existed. It was the Arian heresy that forced theologians to take a new approach to the discussion of the nature of the Trinity. Earlier Christian theologians reflected almost exclusively on the Triune nature of God in the context of the economy of salvation and the aspect of revelation and redemption. After Arius introduced his heresy, it was necessary to focus on the identity of God the Son with the Father and later on the Holy Spirit's relationship with both the Father and the Son. The addition of the "filioque clause" in 589 AD was made with the intention of repudiating the Arian heresy which still flourished among the Visigoths living in Spain. It was at the Third Council of Toledo that St. Leander, Bishop of Seville (577-600AD), is credited with leading the Visigoths away from Arianism and leading them to formally embrace the Catholic faith as expressed in the revised Nicene-Constantinople Creed. This addition to the Creed, although not made in concert with an ecumenical council, nevertheless was accepted in good faith as a further expression of the true nature of the Godhead, and it did not become an issue between the east and the west until two centuries later. Eventually the addition of the "filioque clause" would become one of the issues that led to the Great Eastern Schism of 1054 AD in which the Eastern Rite Catholic churches no longer were in communion with the Bishop of Rome (see CCC #245-248 and the document "The Great Eastern Schism").
Until the controversy over the procession of the Holy Spirit, as stated in the filioque clause is resolved, unity between Western and Eastern Catholics will not be established. This controversy is rooted in the different ways the Latin Rite and the Eastern Rite Catholics approach the Triune nature of the Godhead. Theologian Theodore de Regnon (died 1893) identified the problem as: The Latin theologian says: 'three persons in God,' whereas the Greek says: 'one God in three persons.' In other words, Latin Rite Catholics begin by emphasizing the expressed unity of the divine nature of God (expressed as the ousia, in Greek), and then work to explain how the 3 Persons of the Blessed Trinity differ among themselves, while the Greeks look to the differentiation of the 3 Persons [hypostases, in Greek] and then work to explain how they function together in perfect union and how they form not simply a union but form a full and complete unity.
The Vine as a Eucharistic
In John chapters 6 and 7 Jesus identified Himself as both the "Bread from heaven" and as the "Living Water" that gives life. We can see the drinking of the water and the eating of the bread as sacramental symbols of Baptism and Eucharist. But is the identification of Jesus as the "True Vine" a symbol of the Eucharist?
Question: Is it possible that the True Vine is also symbolic of
the Eucharistic union and the Life-giving of Christ as a figure related to the
Eucharistic Cup of the blood of the vine which becomes, through the miracle of
transubstantiation, the blood of Christ?
Answer: Catholic scholars are divided on this subject. For some it seems obvious, given the context of the Last Supper and the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist in the Synoptic Gospels, that the "True Vine" who is Christ is also Christ in the Eucharist. To others, who point out that St. John does not include the institution of the Eucharist in his narrative, there is no connection. It is interesting that in both Matthew's and Mark's accounts of the institution of the Eucharist, the contents of the Holy Cup are referred to as "the fruit of the vine" (see Matthew 26:29 and Mark 14:25)
The Didache is the earliest account of liturgical practice in the Church. We have already noted in John chapter 6 that the Didache had a very close similarity of words associated with the Eucharistic bread in St. John's account of the multiplication of the loaves in the feeding of the 5,000. Referencing the Didache again notice the following words that were spoken during the Eucharistic blessing of the early Church: We thank [eucharistein] you, our Father, for the holy vine of David your servant, which you revealed to us through Jesus your servant (Didache 9.2). This quote from the Didache clearly equates the "holy vine of David your servant" with Jesus. Given this parallel, the Johannine terminology I am the living bread, in John 6:51 and I am the true Vine, of 15:1 may echo "This is my body" and "This is my blood" of the Synoptic Gospels.
Question: If John intended the "True Vine" as symbolic of Christ
in the Eucharistic cup, what is the relation between of the branches and the
Vine in this symbolism?
Answer: We have already discusses that the branches represent the Church united to Christ the Vine, it fits therefore, that the branches are the Eucharistic communion of believers united with Jesus Christ. The celebration of the Eucharist is primarily a celebration of both love and faith, and these are themes that are developed in chapter 15 as the "True Vine" discourse progresses. In the discourse Jesus insists that the union must bear "fruit," and so too in the celebration of the Eucharist the believer deepens his union with Christ in order to "go forth to love and serve the Lord," the closing words of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
CCC# 1374: The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as 'the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.' In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist 'the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really and substantially contained.' 'This presence is called 'real''by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be 'real' too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem on the Eucharist: Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Savior in faith, for since He is the Truth, He cannot lie (quoted from Navarre Biblical Commentary: St John). Jesus truth in John 15:1 is I AM the True Vine!
Resources used in this chapter:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church references for chapter 15 [*=verse quoted]
459, 1823, 1970*, 2074
363*, 609, 614*
308*, 737, 859*, 864*, 1694*, 2074, 2732
434, 737, 2615*, 2815*
244*, 248, 263, 692, 719*, 729*, 1433*, 2671*
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 1998 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.