This passage contains one of the simplest and one of the most well-known allegories of the Christian life: the vine and the branches.
The popular belief is that you need to behave well in order to be a good Christian. You get closer to God by acting better, doing good deeds, and being kind to other people. You then make God happy by how nice you have become.
Jesus teaches the complete opposite!
It was late Thursday night, on Jesus’ final night on earth. As he walked through the streets of Jerusalem with his disciples, the great temple would be in full view in front of them. A massive golden vine covered the top of the wall, with the grapes “as tall as a man’s height” (according to Josephus) .
In front of this backdrop, Jesus says, “I am the true vine.”
The great vine was the national symbol of Israel. God himself had used the vine to illustrate Israel, but they had turned away from God. Instead of showing God’s glory to earth, they had become a wild vine bearing useless fruit (see Isaiah 5:1-7 and Jeremiah 2:21).
Israel was supposed to be the means to bring people to God, but they failed. Israel was to showcase God’s glory, but they thought only of themselves. Unlike faithless Israel, Jesus is the true vine. Jesus is the way to God (John 14:6) and he brings glory to God (John 15:8).
All of us who have a relationship with Jesus Christ have a part in Jesus’ mission. He is the vine, the true vine, and we are the branches.
Our job – our essential job – is to abide in Him. As a branch stays in the vine, so we are to stay close to Jesus Christ. Jesus supports and gives life to his people in the same way that the vine supports and gives life to the branches.
Jesus never teaches that you should do good things to get close to God. He says the opposite – stay close to him and he will do the good things through us. This is beyond anything that we can do, and so God gets all of the credit!
Jesus makes several wonderful promises of what will happen when we abide in him.
We produce fruit when we abide in him. Jesus gives us permanent, tangible results when we stay close with him. This fruit in our lives may vary, but it includes repentance, good works, godly attitudes, wisdom, praise, and impact on others (see below for a more detailed list).
We are totally helpless to generate this fruit apart from Jesus Christ. We often think that our problem is that we are not trying hard enough. Jesus says to stop trying altogether. “Just abide in me!”
“We are not handicapped, we are paralyzed!” – Stephen Davey 
We will be pruned when we abide in him. He cuts out the empty parts of us so that we can produce more fruit. This pruning process can be painful, but God wants us to grow into a more fruitful branch for Him.
“And so when we have to pass through great trials, deep waters and many sorrows, it is not an evidence that He does not love us, that He does not care for us.” – H.A. Ironside 
He answers our prayers when we abide in Him. God never promises to answer our prayers when we are avoiding Him (Psalm 66:18). But when we abide in Him, we are able to pray from the very heart of Jesus Christ, asking what he himself would ask (see here).
We radiate the love of Jesus Christ when we abide in Him. We are anchored in the love of Christ and we show it by our love for others. We are no longer slaves, but friends of the Lord Jesus Christ! He demonstrated his love for us, as his friends, by giving his own life for us (see also Romans 5:8).
We keep Jesus’ commandments when we are anchored in His love by abiding in Him. It is no longer a duty to obey him but an act of love. We show our love to Him by loving His children.
We experience full joy when we abide in him. Jesus was only hours from dying on a Roman cross, yet he promised joy to his disciples! This joy is beyond happiness, and can survive through the worst of pain. How do we experience this joy? We experience this full joy when we abide in Him.
We experience this full joy when do what we were created to do – to glorify God!
Jesus gives one more promise in this section. Your time is limited if you do not know Jesus Christ. If you have never believed in Him, then you are as useless to Him as a branch that never produces grapes. You can pretend to be close to Jesus Christ, but take a warning from the useless branch. The destiny of the useless branch is to be thrown away, to wither, to be gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
If you have not believed in Jesus Christ, do not hesitate any longer! This may be your last chance to believe in Him (see here). Be warned, but come to him before you are thrown out like the useless branch.
If you have believed in Jesus Christ, abide in him. Abide in Him! Stay close to Jesus Christ and obey him out of your love for Him. All of the good deeds that you can do are useless if you do them apart from Jesus Christ.
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“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.
The vine was the national symbol of Israel. God had used the illustration of a vine to describe Israel throughout the Old Testament (Psalm 80:8; Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 2:21, 6:9; Ezekiel 15:1-8, 17:1-10, 19:10-14; Hosea 10:1, 14). However, the illustrations in the Old Testament all pointed to Israel’s failures.
In contrast to the failing nation of Israel, Jesus is the true vine. He is the source of life. He holds the branches in place and provides strength and energy for the branches to bear fruit.
Note also that this is the seventh time in John’s gospel account where he uses the name of God, “I AM” to describe himself. I AM the true vine! See here for the complete list.
God the Father is the caretaker of the vine (i.e. “vinedresser”, “husbandman”) in this analogy. He is the one who removes fruitless branches and he prunes the fruitful branches so that they might bear more fruit.
What are the fruitless branches? The best understanding is that the fruitless branches are those who are associated with Jesus Christ but do not know him personally. They are the weeds (i.e. “tares”) in Matthew 13 and the false teachers in Matthew 7:15-23. See below for further discussion about the fruitless branches .
“We are to bear spiritual fruit. And if we don’t bear spiritual fruit we are as useless to the cause of Christ as a branch that bears no grapes.” – Stephen Davey 
But the lesson here is directed to the fruitful branches. The fruitful branches will be pruned in order to bear more fruit. They are kept clean of any tendency to diseased or fruitless growth. This pruning involves cutting away the bad and diseased growth and stimulating proper growth and fruit bearing.
Many commentators point out that the cutting process can be painful. God will often use suffering in our lives in order to make us more fruitful.
These pruning steps have already begun through the words of Jesus Christ.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
The imperative here is to “abide in me”. We cannot bear fruit on our own. We can do nothing without Him.
This same word, “abide”, can also be translated as “continue” or “remain”. It is the same word in John 8 to show the evidence of true disciples:
So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
See here for a discussion about this section in John 8.
We will bear fruit when we abide in Him. We draw close to Jesus Christ and demonstrate that we are his disciples. Spiritual fruit bearing is the direct result of a relationship. 
What is our motivation for doing this? The Father is glorified by this. We glorify God when we abide in Jesus Christ and bear fruit. God gets all the glory because we cannot do it on our own. we can only bear fruit through Jesus Christ.
Note the progression of the fruitless branch. He is thrown away. Then he withers. Then he is gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. It is a slow progression downward. You may fool many people for a while, but the end is a slow death if you do not believe in Jesus Christ.
What is the fruit that Jesus promises here? “Fruit” is a broad term and describes any of the external acts of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The New Testament describes fruit in the following ways:
- Repentance (Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8)
- The outcome of your life that shows who you really are (Matthew 7:15-20; Matthew 12:33; Luke 6:43-45)
- The outcome of your actions (Romans 6:21)
- Allegiance to God (Matthew 21:33-44)
- People saved to eternal life (John 4:36; John 12:24; 1 Corinthians 15:20)
- Rewards from ministry (Romans 1:13; Philippians 1:22; Philippians 4:17)
- Godly attitudes and actions from the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
- Goodness, righteousness, and truth (Ephesians 5:9; Philippians 1:11; Hebrews 12:11)
- Good works (Colossians 1:10)
- Praise to God (Hebrews 13:15)
- The result of wisdom from above (James 3:17-18)
“Part of our spiritual poverty comes from the fact that we are convinced that we can produce fruit. We cannot.” – Stephen Davey 
“Whatever abilities you and I think we have, they are worthless in trying to bear fruit apart from Jesus Christ.” – John MacArthur 
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
When you are totally connected to Jesus Christ, you are abiding in Him, and abide in his love. You will keep his commandments as an outpouring of your love for Him. In the same way, Jesus has kept the Father’s commandments as an outpouring of his love for the Father.
“He says, in effect, ‘If you abide in fellowship with Me and make it the object of your life to glorify Me, you shall share My joy. The very joy that is Mine will be yours, that your joy may be full.'” – H.A. Ironside 
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
In that culture, The king had a select group of people who were called “the friends of the king”. They were his counselors, protectors, and closest companions. They always had immediate access to the King. 
This is our new relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not slaves who are blindly given orders, but friends who are also given the details. Our friendship with Jesus Christ is marked by our love for each other.
Jesus gave the ultimate demonstration of love when he gave up his life for us.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
“Jesus chose them for a mission, and his Father would answer their requests in order to accomplish that mission.” 
- They are believers who are removed from the body of Christ because they failed to abide in Him. In other words, this theory proposes that believers lose their relationship to Jesus Christ when they fail. But this is contrary to scripture, especially Jesus’ teaching in John 10, where he clearly teaches that we cannot be taken from Him (see here).
- They are believers who are under judgment. Therefore, their works are burned up because of their disobedience, but they have not lost their salvation nor their relationship with Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 3:10-15). This is consistent with scripture and is endorsed by many respected Bible scholars, but it hard to find much support for this in John 15. The analogy in John 15 describes dead branches that are removed and burned up.
- They are unbelievers who are like Judas and have never personally believed in Jesus Christ. They continue with believers for a while, but are ultimately removed and destroyed. This is consistent with the rest of scripture and is supported in this analogy. See also Matthew 25:46 and Revelation 20:10–15.
 H.A. Ironside, Address 49, THE TRUE VINE, John 15:1-8
 Flavius Josephus, War of the Jews, Book 5 Chapter 5
 Stephen Davey, When the Tables Are Turned Part I, John 15:1-11
 John MacArthur, Abiding in the Vine, Part 2, John 15:5-8, 11
 H.A. Ironside, Address 50, ABIDING IN LOVE, John 15:9-17
 John MacArthur, The Friends of Jesus, John 15:12-16
 John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, John 15:1-17, pages 325-326