Disciples Remain in Christ
I cannot think of a time I have said used the language of abiding or remaining to describe a friendship. I’ve never told my wife that one of us is a vine and the other a branch. It’s funny language that seems to be almost redundant, unnecessary. Why would Jesus, in the moments before His arrest and death, talk this way?
Maybe because he was going to the Father.
Maybe because he knew the real temptation the Twelve would have to walk away from all they had known in the past three years with him.
Or maybe because Jesus knew that the only way his disciples would have life and bear fruit would be in their attachment to him, not to anything else, including the Judaism they had grown up in.
John 15:1-4 says,
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
Jesus begins by saying He is the “true vine.” Why? In the Old Testament, Israel was called a vine. Vines were on some of its coins, too. In every instance in the Old Testament, Israel as vine meant Israel was being judged by God. For example, in Hosea 10:1-2, God says, “Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself. As his fruit increased, he built more altars; as his land prospered, he adorned his sacred stones. Their heart is deceitful, and now they must bear their guilt. The LORD will demolish their altars and destroy their sacred stones.”
Thus, when Jesus calls himself the true vine, he is saying that he can do what Israel failed to do: produce fruit out of a faithful relationship with God. And those who are connected to him will do the same. This connection with Jesus produces eternal life in his “branches,” in us, and it is this eternal kind of life being lived now that results in fruit.
Jesus says these words on the night of his betrayal. They are some of his last words to his disciples who would, after seeing his suffering and death, be tempted to at the very least question how this metaphor works. How do you remain in a dead Messiah? How do you stay connected to your dead Master? And what if the remaining, abiding relationship you have with him results in your own suffering and death?
Paul’s words of being found in him speak to this. Philippians 3:8-12 says,
8What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.