It is very easy to get confused and off-track here.  In order not to do so, we need to recall who these men were to whom the Lord was talking.  In Matthew 10:1, we read of them,

“And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.”

This was incredible power that these twelve men were given.  Imagine having power over unclean spirits, not to mention all kinds of sickness and disease!  These men did not have to hold a “healing service,” get people all worked up with music, wait for someone to claim to be healed, and then take credit for it.  These men had real power, real authority from God, and they were greatly privileged!  And this is not all the power the Lord gave them for this mission.  For in Matthew 10:40, we read,

“He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”

Imagine being identified with the Lord to such an extent that to receive you was to receive the Lord Himself!  And this was not the extent of the power they were given either.  In Matthew 16:19, we read,

“And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Keys are a symbol of authority, for when you have the keys to something, you have the authority over it.  Thus, these men had authority regarding the kingdom, the government, of heaven itself!  This is further confirmed in Matthew 19:28.

“So Jesus said to them, ‘Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’”

Their identification with the kingdom is made even more clear in Luke 22:28-29.

“But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials.  And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me.”

These men were actually given a kingdom, a government, an authority, just as the Father had bestowed one upon Jesus Christ!  Can there be any doubt that these were the most privileged of men?

We see further the amazing authority the Lord gave these twelve men in John 20:21-23.

“So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’  And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”

Here, the disciples are sent just as the Father had sent the Son.  Moreover, they are given the Holy Spirit, to the extent that they are given the power to forgive sins!  What men on earth before or since, short of the Lord Himself, could ever have claimed such power?

The influence of the twelve apostles continues on even to today.  In Ephesians 2:20, we read,

“Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.”

These believers, coming to the Lord in the current dispensation of the grace of God, are said to be “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.”  These men are a foundation even today!  And understandably so, for so many books of the New Testament, through which we learn of Jesus Christ and build our faith, were written by these twelve men.  Even this book of John, which we are currently studying, was written by one of these men!

Not only are the apostles a foundation today, but they will be in the future as well.  In Revelation 21:14, we read,

“Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”

The city of the New Jerusalem has twelve foundations, and on them is written the names of these twelve men, here called the “twelve apostles of the Lamb.”  These men have a huge place in God’s plan, whether it be His past plan, His present plan, or His future plan.  Mr. Otis Q. Sellers would often say that these men were not twelve fuddy-duddies running around in bathrobes, as they are displayed so often in Sunday school pageants.  Rather, they were twelve of the most powerful men to walk the face of the earth, and as far as we can tell, there we be no twelve men who will have a higher position than these men will in God’s kingdom plans to come.

Now we need to keep this in mind as we study John chapter 15.  Too often, speakers are eager to take this passage as being an excellent text to create a nice little message to preach to the youth, or to give at a social.  Christ is the vine, they say, and we are the branches.  This sounds nice, and such a topic pleases those who listen.  Yet holding to this idea creates many difficulties when we study the passage seriously, and can leave the believer in much distress and confusion.  We cannot take the place of these twelve men as if it were our own.  We must remember whom this passage was spoken to before we begin to try to interpret it.

1.  “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.

We continue the Lord’s discourse with His disciples, now no longer as they sit at the Passover table, but now as they travel on their way to Gethsemane and the place of the Lord’s arrest.

The Lord starts off His teaching to them on the road by proclaiming that He is the true vine.  In Psalm 80:8-19, Israel is compared to a vine that the Lord brought out of Egypt and planted in the land of Israel.

8.  “You have brought a vine out of Egypt;
You have cast out the nations, and planted it.”

Read the rest of the passage to see the full teaching God had here regarding Israel.  In Isaiah 5:1-7, the same figure is used, and this time, Israel is positively identified as the vine.

7.  “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.
He looked for justice, but behold, oppression;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.”

So clearly, the illustration in the Old Testament is that Israel is the vine of the Lord.  Yet here in John, the Lord now reveals to His disciples that He is the true vine.  Only in Him could the nation of Israel truly exist in the way God had always intended it to exist.  Moreover, He declares that His Father is the One Who is the vinedresser.  He is the true keeper of the vineyard.

2.  “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

We need to realize that the Lord is not talking about sinners being taken away from their salvation here.  He is talking about disobedient servants being removed from their position as servants.  Remember, even as Christ spoke these words, Judas Iscariot had been taken away from being a servant.  Yet these eleven disciples remained, and the Lord promised them that every branch that bears fruit He will prune.  The word here in Greek does not indicate pruning, as we think of cutting off part of a plant as being how you prune it.  Rather, this word means to cleanse.  And whereas in the figure of the vine, a plant may be cleansed by pruning off defects, in the reality of His relationship with His disciples, these men were going to be cleansed, and they were going to bear even more fruit.  All we have to do is go ahead a few weeks to Acts 2, when the few words Peter spoke there brought three thousand people to faith in Christ (Acts 2:41.)  These disciples were going to bring forth much fruit indeed!

3.  “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.

Now the Lord reveals the truth: these men were already clean because of the word which He had spoken to them.  This word had cleansed them, and had made them ready to produce fruit, as He desired.

The Word of God has power to cleanse.  Psalm 119:9 declares this truth.

“How can a young man cleanse his way?
By taking heed according to Your word.”

The Scriptures have the power to cleanse us.  This occurs when we receive by faith His words regarding the gospel of our salvation.  Praise God for the power He exercises through His word to us!

4.  “Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

He urges His disciples to abide in Him, as He does in them.  Of course a branch cannot bear fruit of itself.  Once separated from the vine, it will soon wither and die, and certainly no fruit will be produced.  In the same way, the disciples could not bear fruit of themselves.  Once separated from Christ, all their power to do anything for God would have been gone.  So it was crucial to them to remain in constant fellowship and communion with the One Who was their vine.

Although the Lord was not speaking of our relationship to Himself here, it is equally important for the believer of today to continue to rest and trust and abide in Jesus Christ.  Once we separate ourselves from Him, all our service for God comes to a screeching halt.  We too must abide in Him for strength, help, and nourishment day-by-day.

5.  “I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

The Lord reveals to them the point of His illustration.  He is the vine.  (He had already revealed this to them in verse 1.)  They, these twelve men to whom He was speaking, are the branches.  And then He promises them that if they abide in Him, and He in them, they will bear much fruit.  We can see this illustrated for us plainly in the book of Acts, where this promise of the Lord was fulfilled in an amazing and miraculous way.  The fruit the apostles bore was powerful, it was supernatural, and it was in every way a perfect work of God Himself.  We can draw lessons from this and apply them to ourselves, for we too must abide in Jesus Christ if we hope to ever do anything for Him.  Yet even when we do, we will never be able to bring forth the kind of fruit these twelve men did.  Our connection to Christ enables us to live godly lives, to understand His Word, and to be witnesses for Him.  It does not enable us to do the powerful works that these men did.

6.  “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.

Again, this has nothing to do with salvation, but is speaking of His disciples.  Even then, one of His servants, Judas Iscariot, had refused to abide in Him.  He had been cast out as a branch.  And, as any branch will do when separated from its main trunk, he soon withered.  A withered branch is good for nothing but to be gathered by men and thrown into the fire.  This is not an illustration of “eternal torment” or casting into hell or anything like this.  Do men gather other men to be cast into hell?  No, this is an illustration regarding vines.  Withered vines are gathered in piles and burned.  This leaves nothing but a little white ash, which can then be used (when applied correctly) as fertilizer for other plants.  In the same way, Judas was soon seized upon by other men.  How quickly did the Lord’s enemies gather Judas to themselves to make him a traitor to his Lord!  How quickly after this was Judas destroyed!  For a few days from now, Judas would be dead by his own hand.  Once cut off from the vine, he lasted very little time indeed.

7.  “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.

Now the Lord gives them a promise based upon their abiding in Him and His words abiding in them.  This is not a promise regarding prayer, and it certainly has nothing to do with prayer today.  Those who take this passage as applying to us are quick to state that this is what it means.  Yet anyone who operates from a logical mind and takes a realistic look at their own situation knows very well that, no matter how much they abide in the Lord and how much His words abide in them, they can ask for many things and never see them done for them.  If this was supposed to be a promise regarding our prayers, it remains sadly unfulfilled, and the Lord’s power is shown to be much smaller than He claimed it was.  Yet imagine the confusion if everything I asked for I received!  Certainly there have been some times when, looking back on it, I asked for things that it was definitely better for me that I never received them.  It was not that I asked them dishonestly or without good intent, but just that I did not know what was coming and what would really be best.  Imagine the chaos if every believer received everything he asked for!  Surely this could not be what the Lord was promising here.

We need to realize again that these were the Lord’s servants He was talking to here.  The topic is bearing fruit.  The fruit that they would bear would be the work they would do for Him.  That work would not involve marrying a good, Christian wife; having a challenging, well-paying job; or owning a nice house or fancy car.  Rather, that work had to do with the miracles they would be performing, the leadership they would be taking, and the service they would be performing.  In the course of their service for the Lord, it was quite possible that there would come the time when they would need to ask for the power to do a certain miracle.  It could be that they would need to ask for the Lord to punish a certain individual for sin, or to withhold punishment from another individual who might deserve it.  It could be that they would need to ask for guidance in binding a decision upon all believers everywhere regarding important matters.  In these and all other situations, they needed more than anything the inspiration of God.  And they would receive this, along with the power to bear the fruit God wanted them to bear.  All they need do was abide in Him, and keep His words in them.  Then, whatever they asked, it would both be in accordance with God’s will for them, and it would be done for them.  This had nothing to do with them asking for a new fishing boat or a nice pair of sandals.  It had everything to do with empowering them to bring forth the fruit He intended them to bear.

8.  “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

The Father is glorified by this, the Lord reveals: that they bear much fruit.  And indeed, He was glorified many, many times by the fruit these same disciples bore in the Acts period.  That fruit glorified Him, for, from its miraculous character, it was clear that it came from Him, and none other.  And as they bore fruit, so they became His disciples.  A disciple is a learner or a student, similar to a graduate student in our day who is connected to a certain professor as his “disciple.”  These men had been His disciples before, of course.  Yet by bearing fruit, they would continue to learn from Him, and thus continue to become His disciples again and again, learning more and more from Him as time went on.

9.  “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.

It is amazing to consider that, as the Father loved the Son, in the same way the Son loved His disciples!  How incredible and beyond understanding or comprehension must the love of the Father be for Jesus Christ!  How amazing to imagine that the Lord could have that same love for sinful, fallen men like the disciples were!  And the same One Who loved His disciples with such amazing love likewise has love for each of us who in this time have believed in the gospel regarding the truth of His position and His death and resurrection for us.  How incredible to be the recipients of such love!  How blessed we are, to be able to abide, to dwell, to make our place of rest, in such love!

10.  “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.

The last phrase of the following verse might bring the question to our minds: how does one abide in His love?  How would one NOT abide in His love?  The answer is here in this verse.  By keeping His commandments, they would abide in His love.  The Lord had given many commandments to His disciples.  We can read of these commandments as we read through the book of John, and as we read the other gospels.  If they abided in these, they would abide in His love, just as He kept His Father’s commandments and abided in His love.  If they ignored these and lived for themselves, however, they would not abide in His love.  In the same way, we make our abode in the Lord’s love when we live in the Word of God and keep the instructions He has given there for us.

11.  “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.

Now He tells them why He has spoken these things to them.  This is why it is so important to keep His commandments.  When they do this, His joy will remain in them, and their joy will be full.  As He had earlier given them His peace in John 14:27, now He seeks to give them His joy.  Yet this joy must be earned by keeping His commandments.

How sad and frustrated and disappointed and burdened and hurt and discouraged and overwhelmed and beaten down and bitter and unhappy are so many believers today!  Why do so many who believe in Jesus Christ live lives full of such defeat and so lacking in the Lord’s joy?  Because they do not know His Word, and because they do not obey His commandments to us.  How the Lord longs for us to have the joy He can so easily give us!  Yet this joy can only be ours if we abide in the place the Lord wants us to be.  When we leave this place, we leave behind the joy.

12.  “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

This is the commandment that He gave them that they needed to abide in to have His joy.  This was the command He was leaving them with to abide in His love.  They must love one another as He has loved them.  If they want joy, if they want to abide in His love, they must do this.

Now this is good advice to us today.  We need to follow Christ’s example of love, and we need to love our fellow believers.  Yet this was a far different matter for the disciples.  This was not a generic command to them to love all believers.  This was a specific command to them to love their fellow ten disciples.  They had no choice about doing this.  This was their command from their Master, and they could not please Him unless they did this.  That was why this was necessary for them to have joy, and even for them to abide in His love.

13.  “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.

What an incredible statement about love this is!  Indeed, what could one do that would be more loving than this?  And understand that laying down one’s life does not have to result in death.  Going into slavery for the one you love could be laying down your life for that person.  Giving up your dreams for the person you love could be laying down your life for that one.  Giving up your own likes and dislikes and your own desires purely to please and benefit the other person could be laying down your life.  Sometimes, living for someone takes even more love than dying for that person would.  Laying down your life means you no longer consider it your own.  It is the ultimate sacrifice to make through love.  It is the ultimate expression of the true, agape-love of God, the self-sacrificing love that is above all others.  Up until now, the Lord had laid down His life for His friends by living His life to benefit them.  Now, He is going to lay down His life by dying for them as well.  He is truly the ultimate example of this, the ultimate kind of love!

14.  “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.

The word here is not the word for “command,” but rather the idea is “direct.”  Remember, these are the words of a Master to His servants, not a Savior to sinners.  A servant is only the friend of his Master if he obeys his Master’s directives.  This is what these disciples needed to do in order to be His friends.

15.  “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.

The word here for “servants” is doulos, which we have talked about before.  It means “slaves.”  A slave is not privy to all the counsels of his master.  He hears his master’s commands, and he obeys them.  He does not know what his master is doing.  His place is simply to obey.  Yet these men, His disciples, had heard all things that the Lord had heard from His Father, as He had made them known to them.  Thus, they could no longer be called slaves.  Instead, He calls them friends.  For a friend has a right to know what his friend is doing, and why his friend is calling upon him to do things.  A friend can expect to be let in on his friend’s counsels.  Thus, the Lord now calls His disciples “friends” rather than “slaves.”  They had been elevated to the status of being friends with God.  What a privileged place was theirs indeed!