Jesus—His Life and Message: The “I Am” Sayings
May 22, 2018
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: The “I Am” Sayings
Jesus’ final “I Am” saying, like His statement I am the way, and the truth, and the life, was spoken on the night before He died. Judas, who betrayed Him, had left the gathering, and Jesus spent His final hours comforting and teaching the rest of the disciples. He started speaking about the vine, the vinedresser, and branches:
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 does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.1
Throughout Galilee in Northern Israel, it was common to grow grapes, olives, and figs. Farmers would sometimes plant all three of these close together.2 Other farmers would plant larger vineyards and would have their own winepress to make the wine.3
Pruning vines has been part of managing a vineyard since ancient times. The Law of Moses spoke of it:
For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard.4
For before the harvest, when the blossom is over, and the flower becomes a ripening grape, he cuts off the shoots with pruning hooks, and the spreading branches he lops off and clears away.5
Pruning grapevines is essential to having healthy fruit. Generally it is done during the winter when the grapevines are dormant. Then, later in the year, some side shoots and unnecessary growth are cut off in order to allow the stronger branches to bear more fruit. If the vines aren’t pruned, then the vine will produce too many grape clusters, resulting in all of the clusters being of poor quality. The pruning process means less, but stronger, bigger grapes.
The Father is called the vinedresser or the gardener, reflecting the Old Testament imagery of Israel as God’s vineyard:
You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.6
What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste … For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel.7
As the vinedresser, God is involved with the vineyard and the vines. He watches over it and participates in order to make sure the vineyard is fruitful. He removes branches which are fruitless, and prunes branches which are bearing fruit. In the original Greek, the two verbs used here—removes or takes away, and prunes or cuts back—rhyme with each other.
The pruning or “cleaning” of the fruitful vines causes them to bear much fruit. Jesus made the point that His disciples have been pruned (cleaned), and that cleansing has happened because of all that He had taught them. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. He goes on to say that these pruned and cleaned branches will bear more fruit, and how.
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. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.8
Jesus explained that only by abiding—or dwelling—in Jesus can the disciples bear fruit. The tense of the Greek word translated as abide conveys the idea of a definite act of the will, a conscious decision to “dwell” or make a home in one’s present relationship to Jesus. And not only are His disciples to dwell in Him, but He will dwell in them. The sentence conveys the idea that making one’s dwelling with Jesus is the equivalent of Jesus making His dwelling in you.9
The concept of Abide in me, and I in you was introduced in the preceding chapter, when Jesus told His disciples:
In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.10
Jesus most likely was referring to the time after His resurrection and ascension, when the disciples received the infilling of the Holy Spirit. One author wrote:
The Spirit abiding with them would teach them, hence Jesus’ words would remain in them. As they continued in this union, they would know Jesus better and hence begin to reflect the “fruit” of his character.11
What is the fruit that comes from abiding in Jesus? One fruit is those who become connected to the vine through our witness.
Lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.12
In this instance, it seems that the primary fruit being spoken of is “moral fruit,” as spoken of in other verses throughout the New Testament.
Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.13
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.14
The fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.15
Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.16
Jesus stated that those who abide in the vine bear much fruit, but those who don’t abide in Him can’t bear fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.17 He then focused on the fate of those who don’t abide in Him, stating:
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.18
Unfruitful vines have no use, and are thus discarded and burned. While Jesus is speaking about unfruitful vines, His point is clear—those who do not abide or dwell in Him are in danger of being cast out. This point is made in similar language elsewhere in Scripture. John the Baptist said:
Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.19
One author wrote:
These are strong words that emphasize the necessity of remaining in vital contact with Christ if fruitfulness is to continue.20
Having spoken of the fate of the unfruitful vine, Jesus once again focused on those who abide in Him.
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.21
Moving on from the dangers of not abiding in Him, Jesus offers insight in how to dwell in Him and He in us. We dwell in Him when His Word takes root within us. In the previous chapter, Jesus said:
If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.22
When God’s Word dwells within us, when it influences our decisions and actions, when it speaks to us and guides us, then we dwell in Christ and He in us. If we are dwelling in Him, obedient to His words, then we can pray with faith that He will answer and we will bear fruit.
Earlier, Jesus said that whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.23 Now He says, By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.24 Those who abide in Christ glorify God in their fruit-bearing. As mentioned earlier, bearing fruit doesn’t only mean winning souls. In this passage the focus is on “moral fruit.” Bearing fruit in this sense means spiritual growth and inner transformation, living in a godly manner through applying God’s Word in our lives, manifesting the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.25
In the book of 2 Peter, we find advice on spiritual growth and becoming partakers of God’s nature through Jesus, the one who called us by His own glory and goodness.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.26
The fruit of spiritual growth, which leads to godliness, is made available to us in Jesus.
Peter continues with counsel on how to partake of that divine nature:
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.27
As we truly abide in the vine—Jesus—we will bear fruit in the sense of spiritual growth and godliness. It is in this fruit, this growth, that the Father is glorified and we are proven to be disciples of His Son. Such growth is meant to be continual, so that as disciples we constantly grow in our discipleship, devotion, service, witness, faith, and abiding in Christ.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 John 15:1–3.
2 Keener, The Gospel of John, 989.
3 Jesus used an example of such a man in one of His parables in Matthew 21:33.
4 Leviticus 25:3–4.
5 Isaiah 18:5.
6 Psalm 80:8–9.
7 Isaiah 5:4–7.
8 John 15:4–5.
9 Michaels, The Gospel of John, 803.
10 John 14:20.
11 Keener, The Gospel of John, 997.
12 John 4:35–36.
13 Matthew 3:8.
14 Galatians 5:22–23.
15 Ephesians 5:9.
16 Colossians 1:10.
17 John 15:5.
18 John 15:6.
19 Matthew 3:10. See also Matthew 7:19.
20 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 596.
21 John 15:7.
22 John 14:23.
23 John 15:5.
24 John 15:8.
25 Galatians 5:22–23.
26 2 Peter 1:3–4.
27 2 Peter 1:5–8.