In our study of John's gospel we have arrived at the place where Jesus is preparing His Apostles for His death and resurrection. He does this in several ways:
1. He washes their feet
This is done to impress upon them the need for humility and service after He is gone. They were already fighting among themselves in His presence, He wants them to remember this action and attitude when their pride gets out of hand in the future.
2. He purges them of the traitor
Judas was the weak link and so Jesus reveals his treachery and forces him out before the actual event. Had he stayed he could have led them to disbelief and total abandonment or turned them all in to the Jewish leaders after His death.
3. He prophesizes concerning His death and resurrection
So they will not be caught by surprise, He tells them in advance that He will be killed and eventually resurrect. When the deed is done He wants them to be assured that He is still in control: He predicted it.
4. He promises to take care of them
- He promises to send the Holy Spirit to comfort them in their sorrow and provide the support that usually came from Him.
- He promises to send the Spirit to help them remember and understand all the things He taught them.
- He promises that Satan's attack on Him will fail. (Don't worry, don't be afraid.)
- He promises that He and the Father will be with them as they love each other and obey His word.
These promises are all included in the first teaching or dialogue section we studied in the previous chapter. In this chapter (John chapter 15) we begin the second part of Jesus' long teaching section that takes place just before His death.
Jesus' final teaching and encouragement
In the previous section we learned that Jesus and the Apostles are in the upper room having shared the Passover, and although John does not mention it, the Lord's Supper is instituted as well. In this setting Jesus has been teaching and encouraging them. Before, His teaching was interrupted by questions from the Apostles, but having answered these, He now goes on for a long stretch without any comments from His disciples.
In chapter 15 He touches on three subjects not directly related to the cross, but rather how they should act because of the cross of Christ.
1. They should bear fruit – 15:1-11
Jesus has already taught them concerning obedience along with love, is the response of faith that He requires. In chapter 15 He explains in detail the blessings and the curses attached to one's obedience or disobedience.
Vs. 1-2 – "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.
These two first verses summarize the entire eleven verses that address this subject. This is an allegory (the use of imagery to make a point in concrete terms). I.e. Jesus = real; vine = image; Father = real; vinedresser = image.
Jesus uses many of these "I AM" allegorical statements in order to make a concrete point:
- "I am the bread of life" (John 6:48)
- "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12)
- "I am the door" (John 10:7)
- "I am the good shepherd" (John 10:11)
- "I am the way, the truth and the light" (John 14:6)
Here the imagery is that of a vine and its fruit, a common sight in Israel. Jesus says that He is the true vine meaning the "real" vine, the original vine upon which all of the others are patterned in design and function. He also says that the Father does the work of pruning that vine. Jesus bears the fruit; the Father harvests the good and removes the unproductive. The disciples are the branches that are connected to the vine. The fruit is what the disciples produce because of their relationship to Jesus.
In Galatians Paul tells us that "fruit" produced in the disciples' lives through the Holy Spirit include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control: "the fruit of the Spirit."
In the summary statement Jesus explains the following ideas:
- He is the only vine that produces this kind of fruit. There are other vines but only He is the true vine.
- You must be connected to Him in order to become a fruit-bearing branch of this kind.
- God the Father is active in either pruning for growth or cutting away the dead wood.
- You either produce fruit, in which case you are pruned in order to allow more growth; or you do not produce, then you are cut away altogether.
Vs. 3-11 – You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 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. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.
After His opening statement the Apostles' first question might have been about their own situation, whether or not they were worthy of being branches attached to Jesus. The Lord reassures them that they are "clean", worthy, purified, a state they have reached because they have believed Jesus' word.
In other words, they are not branches because of their closeness to Jesus, they are branches because they believed Jesus' word, and have obeyed it. This is what has made them clean.
Jesus emphasizes that if they wish to produce fruit, they must remain part of Him. Jesus then goes on to mention seven specific details concerning the relationship between the vine, the vine-dresser, and the branch:
- You become a branch by believing and obeying the word of Christ.
- You remain a branch and produce fruit by continuing to believe and obey the words of Christ.
- The more you believe and obey, the more fruit you produce.
- The less you believe and obey, the less you produce and the more you risk being cut away and destroyed.
- The more you believe and obey, the greater power your prayers have in being answered.
- The bearing of much fruit glorifies God.
- The way to a joyful life is to bear much fruit through obedience to Christ's word and the love of others. This will mirror the relationship and joy that Jesus has with the Father. This is how we gain the "experience" of being part of the Godhead because we are in or attached to Christ.
After completing His description and teaching using the imagery of the vine, Jesus picks up on the last idea of "love" and builds another teaching section about what they need to do when He is gone.
2. They should love each other – vs. 12-17
Vs. 12-13 – "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
Jesus continues in the style He has used previously. He summarizes the idea and then explains it in detail. Jesus has given them the instruction to love each other several times and in different ways before (i.e. foot washing). The difference this time is that He establishes the ultimate level of love as the laying down of one's life for a friend.
They may not be called upon to do this but the willingness to do so will mark their love as the kind He had for them. We will die instinctively to protect our family, perhaps an ideal. To die for a friend is a willful act, a straight exchange of one life for another.
Although He mentions death and His death was not only for His friends, it was for His enemies also (which makes His love divine), Jesus does not dwell on this idea.
Vs. 14-15 – You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
Jesus focuses on the word "friends" and brings out the idea that they have become His friends. In reality they are His creation, His slaves, at very best His disciples, but Jesus raises them (and us) to the level of "friends" based on their faith and obedience.
They are friends because they are now privy to the secret, the mystery, the purpose of His coming (His death and resurrection) and how spiritual things work (i.e. bearing fruit, etc.).
Vs. 16-17 – "You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. This I command you, that you love one another."
Their friendship has conditions however. Every friendship does, no matter how laid back it may be. (I.e. keep in touch, be honest and fair, don't mention "touchy" subjects, etc.)
A friendship with Jesus has special conditions but is still a friendship because it yields all the things and more, that a friendship produces: companionship, encouragement, support, joy, communication, edification, etc. All this we receive and give in a relationship with Jesus.
Jesus qualifies the friendship and defines the conditions, this is so because He is God and we are not. For example, when in the military, my daughter was friends with another girl who was a sergeant. In this situation the higher ranking soldier placed limits and defined their friendship because of her higher rank and the orders she was under, but there was still a mutually satisfying friendship that respected these boundaries.
And so Jesus defines the friendship as one where He, as God, chooses us as friends and places the conditions on the friendship: produce fruit, answered prayer in His name, love of the brethren. His conditions for friendship are all those things that will contribute to the friendship: continued spiritual growth, continued dialogue in prayer, continued love in His body.
3. They should persevere in ministry – vs. 18-27
We need to remember that He is preparing them for His departure not only for the three days after the cross, but His eventual departure when He will return to the Father that will take place in forty three days. He must prepare them for what they will face after that departure as well.
Vs. 18-20 – "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.
Again Jesus summarizes the entire thought at the beginning of the passage. Essentially He warns them of 5 things:
- The world will hate them. Just in case they thought that by bringing the good news of life eternal and peace, joy and love to the world the world would be happy to hear it.
- The world will reject them. Be prepared for hatred and rejection because this is how they treated ME.
- The world will not recognize them. The hatred and rejection of this world will be due to the fact that they sense you do not belong here (and you don't, you belong to the world to come).
- The world will persecute them. What the world rejects, the world wants to destroy because it is threatening.
- The world will not obey the Word. If they did not obey with the Lord present in all His glory, they will not obey when the same word is preached by mere men.
This is not the case in every instance, but it will be the general rule as the Apostles will begin preaching when He is gone, and He wants them ready for it.
Vs. 21 – But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.
There is a reason why the world will hate, reject, persecute and disobey them and it will have nothing to do with them. This is how the world will react to the truth of the gospel because they have not accepted the Father in the past: the Gentiles are into complete paganism and idolatry; the Jews have hardened their hearts by refusing to accept the One sent by the Father. In either case the offense begins with an offense against the Father.
Vs. 22-25 – If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well. But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, 'They hated Me without a cause.'
Jesus goes on to say that this rejection of the Father is without excuse. It is without excuse for the Gentiles because, as Paul says, they have a witness of the Father through creation, through conscience and through the Jewish nation. It is without excuse for the Jews because Jesus was among them teaching and performing miracles for three years. It is without excuse because the Word provided warnings about this happening.
To hate Jesus is to hate the Father, and Jesus tells them that the opposition to them because of this even though it might be quite strong, is without basis or excuse.
Vs. 26-27 – "When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.
This warning may shake them and frighten them, but Jesus promises again that He will send the Holy Spirit to be with them. The Spirit will help them in their ministry (bear witness) so they can face all of this opposition without stumbling. There will be difficult and fearful moments when Jesus dies. There will be equally discouraging times when they will have to go out and preach the gospel. Jesus prepares them for these times by encouraging them to continue to bear fruit, continue to love each other and continue to serve in ministry.
Many times when we encounter rejection and discouragement in our faith we tend to retreat and lay low instead of doing what Jesus says we should continue in when there is trouble: be productive, be loving and kind, be useful in service.