Jesus and His disciples had just finished their last meal together. As they finished, Jesus sent Judas to betray Him—quickly. The work of redemption began in earnest with the sending of Judas. He only had a few more minutes with His disciples before His rendezvous with Judas and the devil. His passion and love for the glory of His Father animated every fiber of His being as His Father’s words filled His heart and mind. The words of the Father were to set all of the children of God apart from the rest of mankind, the children of the devil.
After proclaiming the glorification of His Father had begun, He gave His disciples a new commandment—to love each other as He loved them (John 13:34). Jesus explained how they were going to be able to glorify the Father as they loved each other. He would love through them. He laid out the plan. He was going to the Father to prepare a place for them in Himself so that He could live and love in and through them by the Holy Spirit. In Chapter 15:1-17, Jesus used the illustration of a vinedresser and a grapevine to further explain how they were going to bear the fruit of love for the glory of God. Let’s take a deep dive into the glorious plan of God revealed in God’s vineyard. There’s so much to learn from the vinedresser, the vine, the branches, the fruit, and the burn pile.
God is the vinedresser
God, the Father of Jesus, delights to display His glory through loving His Son. “For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all that He Himself is doing. And greater works than these will He show Him, so that you may marvel” (John 5:20). Also, the Son delights in glorifying His Father by loving Him. Jesus willingly laid down His life in obedience to His Father’s command for this purpose: “so that the world may know that I love the Father” (John 14:31). The love between the Father and the Son by nature had to overflow for glory to be revealed. So the Father planted one vine for the purpose of displaying His glory—the love of the Father and the Son revealed by the Holy Spirit through the branches of the vine. The world is the vineyard that belongs to the Father. He does two things as the vinedresser. He removes branches that don’t display His fruit, and He prunes the branches that do display His fruit so they will bear more fruit. World history is the history of God’s work in His vineyard.
Jesus is the vine
Jesus, God’s Son, is the only vine in God’s vineyard. We should think of the vine as the only source of existence in this world. He is the channel through which everything was created and exists. John introduced Jesus in John 1:1-4. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” The apostle Paul wrote of Jesus, “For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16). When Paul spoke in Athens, he proclaimed Jesus. “For ‘In Him we live and move and have our being,’ as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed His offspring’” (Acts 17:28). In Hebrews 1:3 we read of Jesus, “He upholds all things by the word of His power." Every creature exists and is sustained by Jesus. Jesus is the true vine, and He does one thing. His life produces the fruit on the branches for the glory and enjoyment of His Father.
People are the branches
Out of the vine spring the branches, “the offspring,” as Paul mentioned. The branches refer to all mankind—every human being created by Jesus. The branches have one purpose: display the fruit of the life of the vine for the glory of the Father. What do we all intuitively know about the branches of a fruit tree or vine? As we all know, naturally, there is only one kind of branch on a grapevine, grape branches, but not all branches bear fruit. When the vinedresser or caretaker of the vine inspects the branches, he finds some branches have no display of fruit and others do. Some branches are called “suckers.” Sapping the energy of the vine they grow straight up above all the other branches. They usually have a beautiful array of leaves, but no fruit. The branches that bear fruit usually are low hanging. These two branches illustrate the proud and the humble. The proud branch displays himself or herself by standing out for all to see, whereas the humble branch bows himself or herself low because of the life and fruit of the vine.
The love of God is the fruit
The fruit that is born by the life of the vine through the branches is the love of God. As the life of the vine flows through the branches, the fruit grows into a beautiful display of life. All of creation was made through the Son for the purpose of displaying the love of God (fruit) for the glory and joy of the Father. The passion of the vinedresser and the vine is the glory displayed in the fruit. As Jesus told His disciples, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8). It is the love of Jesus in His disciples that reveals that they have His life, the life of the vine. The love of Jesus is the fruit that the vinedresser envisioned and delights in. It’s the only reason He planted a vineyard (the world). God is love (1 John 4:8), and the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). There’s a common misunderstanding about the fruit. We are not to think that the fruit is the number of people we lead to Christ, or the positive response to our praying, preaching, teaching, compassion, mercy, and service. Rather, it is that all those things are expressions of the love of Christ for others displayed by the branch. We must be careful not to think that the love of Christ is fruitful if people know and respond to His love in us. If they respond in love, that is the fruit of the life and love of Christ in them, not us.
Hell is the burn pile
The vineyard exists for the Father’s enjoyment of the love displayed by His choice Vine, Jesus, in the branches. However, not every branch (person produced by the Vine) bears fruit. The branches are only of value or loved if they bear fruit. We might think of it this way. God loves those who live to love with Jesus because they display the fruit of the life of His Son whom He loves. Why does a vinedresser cut off the fruitless branches? Because He loves the vine and the fruit of the vine. If He were to leave them on the vine, they would ultimately hinder the very purpose of the vineyard.
Sin has corrupted our thinking when we think the primary purpose of the vineyard is happy branches. That’s like the “suckers.” Many people say they can’t believe in a God who would send people to hell. Without realizing it, they expose that they are fruitless “suckers” and think that the whole purpose of life is for them to display themselves for their own glory.
The reason God gave these words to Jesus at that time was to help His disciples think about the vineyard from His perspective or worldview. The world is His vineyard, planted to display His glory in His Son, the one true vine as He lives through the branches. For a vinedresser not to lop off fruitless branches and burn them up would be irresponsible and fall short of the glory of God. It is to the credit and glory of the vinedresser that He does whatever is necessary for the greatest production of fruit on the vine. A burn pile is a necessary part of His responsibility as a caretaker of the vineyard. All the disciples knew this aspect of vineyard husbandry. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were not some dried-up branches being burned within sight as Jesus gave this illustration.
This part of the illustration is given in love. There is a hell. God’s judgment of us is similar to the judgment made by the vinedresser as he determines which branches to remove and which branches to prune. Hell is necessary and loving if the love of God is the fruit and the purpose for which we exist. Contrary to the common accusation, God doesn’t “send” people to the burn pile. Those branches arrive in the burn pile because they live for themselves and therefore do not display fruit for God’s glory—the purpose for which they were made. They are fruitless because they don’t care about their purpose, the vine, or fruit bearing.
The summary of God’s vineyard
There is a vinedresser, one true vine, branches, fruit, and a burn pile so we can understand that God gave His Son so that those who believe in Him might not perish in the burn pile, but display eternal life-producing fruit—the love of God—for His glory. This is one of many reasons I call you to rethink the way and the purpose for which you live. Are you living intentionally to bear the fruit of the love of Jesus for His glory? The only way to avoid the burn pile is to repent of living for yourself. God has revealed that He sent His Son, Jesus, to suffer death on behalf of all who recognize their sinful fruitlessness, God has also revealed that Jesus is the vine and the source of life, by raising Him from the dead. He lives to love in all those who believe in Him and abide in Him. You can tell who the branches are. They live to love with Jesus, and therefore He continually prunes them so that they may bear more fruit. Is the life and love of Jesus flowing in your life?