A consistent theme of Jesus’ teaching was his equality with God, offering repeated affirmation of his deity in sometimes vague but often clear terminology; such as: “I and the Father are one.” John 10:30 “…just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us…” John 17:21 And, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:7 (See also John 1:1-14)
It may not seem as clear to us, but in claiming God as his Father, Jesus was likewise staking a claim to deity for himself; which his Jewish audience clearly understood. John describing how, “For this very reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” John 5:18 (See also John 10:31-33 & 39)
Jesus’ role as Savior was predicated on his claim to be the great I AM of the Old Testament. (Exodus 3:14) Those who refused to recognize him as such removed themselves from his grace. (John 8:24) Jesus routinely incorporated the I AM title into his self-descriptive discourses, John – in particular – recording a number of them; a few examples of which are: “I am the bread of life.” John 6:35 “I am the light of the world.” John 8:12 “I am the gate (or door)…” and “I am the good shepherd.” John 10:7 & 11 “I am the resurrection and the life.” John 11:25 And the aforementioned, “I am the way… truth… and life.”, of John 14:7 But the most direct and startling declaration of his being the great I AM came as a result of a debate he was having concerning his adversaries’ claim of being descendants of Abraham – and what that really entailed. To which he said, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I AM!” Their response being to pick up stones to kill him with. (John 8:58,59) They understood Jesus was claiming to be superior to their greatest patriarchs and prophets, on whose teachings they had based their entire lives – as equal to God – and they weren’t having any part of it.
On the night before his death, alone with his disciples, Jesus characterized himself as the source of all they would need to accomplish the task he set before them. Again, using the I AM formula to declare, “I am the true vine; you are the branches.” John 15:1 & 5a Warning them that, “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” John 15:4 “If a man remains in me and I am him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5b
The imagery of a vineyard should have been a familiar one for Jesus’ disciples. The Old Testament often characterized Israel as God’s vine; being cared for, tended and pruned when necessary by him. (See Is. 5:1-7) Jesus’ use of this imagery was meant to teach the absolute necessity of every believer’s union with him. Living branches, being attached to a central vine, deriving their nourishment and vitality for life from the main stem. They are off-shoots of the vine, being identified by their likeness to it. Their fruitfulness being a direct result of the life flowing from it to them, a branches’ life being dependent on abiding or remaining in the vine.
In this metaphorical story, Jesus then identifies his Father – God – as the vinedresser, whose job is to maximize the production of fruit from the vine/branches. Doing so, in part, by pruning or trimming away non-fruit-bearing shoots from producing branches. (John 15:2) Fruitfulness being the evidence of faith i.e. faithfulness. We are not saved by works (Ephesians 2:10), but works are the visible proof of a genuine, vibrant, living faith. (Ephesians 2:11 & James 2:14-26) Jesus elsewhere describing his followers’ fruitfulness as that which identifies them as truly His. (Matthew 7:17-20)
Spiritual pruning – sometimes expressed as discipline – is the necessary process by which God removes everything limiting our fruitfulness. (Hebrews 12:10) Jesus declaring that, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8 Pruning is done by a loving God to improve life and productivity, the non-fruit-bearing and/or dead branches being removed because they are detrimental to the life and effectiveness of the vine. To the casual observer, the more branches the better, but besides the dead branches – whose lack of value is obvious – the fruitless limbs are an even bigger hindrance because all they accomplish is to draw sap away from the productive ones. A well-tended “vine” is one that reaches its full potential; even if pruning at times brings discomfort. (See John 15:6)
The stark truth being that we are expected to be faith-filled, faithful – fruitful – followers of Jesus. If not, the warning from scripture to those who “deliberately keep on sinning” after receiving the knowledge of the truth may terrifyingly come true. (See Hebrews 10:26-31) Jesus himself saying, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Mark 7:21
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