John 15:1 opens Jesus’ discussion with him calling himself a vine and his Father the gardener. It says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” What did Jesus mean by referring to himself as the “true” vine? The word is used in other passages with other metaphors. It’s used in the same way back in John 1:9 where Jesus calls himself the “true” light, then again in 6:32 where he calls himself the “true bread.” Also, in the book of Hebrews he’s referred to as the “true tabernacle.” That last reference might be instructive in understanding what is meant. Jesus was the true tabernacle in contrast to the earthly one that was simply a picture of what Christ would fulfill. We must remember that Israel was the vine according to the Old Testament prophets. God refers to Israel as a very productive vine that prostituted itself to foreign gods. Hosea 10:1 says, “Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars.” It was not a “faithful” vine to the one who planted it. Then Jeremiah speaks similar words. Jeremiah 2:21 speaks of Israel as the vine. God says, “But I planted you as an entirely trustworthy, fruitful vine. How have you turned to bitterness as a foreign vine?” We see that the productive vine became and unfaithful vine. When Jesus says He is the “true vine” he means he is the vine planted by the master that has remained faithful. He is the “true vine.”

There have been many suggestions regarding the setting for this statement by Jesus. Some think it was delivered in the upper room, after the meal when Jesus took the wine and blessed it and then established the communion service. He had just taken the wine and the idea of the “vine” from which the wine came, representing his blood, to teach the disciples about their connection with himself. Others see this speech delivered on the steps of the temple before the doors which were adorned with vines all around. Others see it as being delivered at the Garden of Gethsemane which is covered in vines. We don’t know for sure, but the point seems clear. All these other vines are only illustrations. Barnes observes, “The point of the comparison or the meaning of the figure is this: A vine yields proper juice and nourishment to all the branches, whether these are large or small. All the nourishment of each branch and tendril passes through the main stalk, or the vine, that springs from the earth. So, Jesus is the source of all real strength and grace to his disciples.”[1]

Not only is Jesus the true vine, God the Father is the “vinedresser.” Some translations use different words: gardener, farmer, etc. Köstenberger tells us what the gardener does. He uses a passage from Isaiah to explain. He writes, “Isaiah’s first vineyard song, which constitutes the background of this parable, depicts God as spading, clearing, planting, and taking care of the vineyard, only to be rewarded with sour grapes (Isa. 5:1–7; cf. Ps. 80:8–9).”[2] But Jesus is about to expand on this parable by explaining how all that Israel failed to do, He has accomplished on our behalf. We will not produce the fruit that the gardener desires on our own. We are incapable of doing so. But by attaching ourselves to Christ, we enable His life to flow in and through us. Then we cannot help but bear fruit that will honor the Father.

[1] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: Luke & John, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 336.

[2] Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 451.