I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15:5)
A large sycamore tree grows in my front yard. Its large palmate leaves provide ample shade from the hot Texas sun, but that same Texas heat stresses the tree so that it drops many of its leaves in mid-summer, long before autumn when trees normally defoliate. It also drops limbs constantly making it a self-pruning tree that creates a lot of extra work for me. One thing I have noticed is that the leaves and branches that detach from the tree die. Even though they fall on fertile ground, they do not rejuvenate. Even if I “plant” them in the ground, feed, and water them, they will not take root. They remain dead. They only remain alive while attached to the tree.
Jesus had this image in mind in this seventh and final I AM statement recorded by John. He said, “I AM the vine.” When we think of a vine, we picture the entire plant: trunk or main stalk, limbs, branches, leaves, and (eventually) fruit. However, here Jesus refers to Himself as the trunk or main stalk of the plant. We do not need an advanced horticultural degree to know that the main stalk supports and provides nourishment for the entire plant. Part of the trunk is the taproot that reaches deep into the earth to draw nourishment for distribution to other parts of the plant. Jesus compares Himself to this vital part of the plant.
Next, He says, “ye are the branches.” I like the KJV use of “ye” that distinguishes the second person pronoun as plural as it appears in the Greek. Therefore, in speaking to His disciples, Jesus includes all believers. “You ALL are the branches.” He establishes a vital relationship here. The branches receive their sustenance from the trunk, i.e., “the vine.” The branches cannot live apart from the vine; detached from the vine, they die. Furthermore, the branch attached to the vine has the vine attached to it: “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit” (emphasis mine). In a plant, it is easy to see a branch abiding on a vine, but a vine abiding in the branch is not so obvious. Vein-like vessels made up of xylem cells in the vine grow into the branch from the vine carrying the essential nutrients to maintain the branch alive, so in effect, the vine abides in the branches. Through this mutual attachment, the branches produce “much fruit.” I might be wrong, but only branches produced fruit, never the trunk of the plant; but without the trunk, the branches cannot live to produce fruit: “for without me ye can do nothing.”
Thus, Jesus invites us, the branches, to attach ourselves to Him, The Vine. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me” (John 15:4, emphasis mine). What kind of fruit should a branch of The Vine produce? The Apostle Paul lists several. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance …” (Galatians 5:22-23), and add to that “righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9, emphasis mine). “Against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:23). We cannot produce such fruit unless we are firmly abiding in and drawing nourishment from The Vine.
As I walk around my front yard picking up dead branches from my living sycamore tree, I gather those branches up and throw into the trash. If I lived outside of the city, I would throw them into the fire. In the same way, Jesus said, “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6, emphasis mine). Here Jesus refers to the final judgment where those who reject Him will be cast into hell for eternity (Revelation 20:14-15). In His sixth I AM statement, Jesus said He was The Life. By this, He meant “eternal life.” Apart from The Vine, there is no life, and Jesus said, “I AM The Vine.”