The Vine, the Wine from Which Makes God and Man Glad
“My Father is glorified in this, that you keep bearing much fruit and prove yourselves my disciples.”—John 15:8.
1. What comparison of himself to a plant did the notable man of whom John the son of Zebedee was a companion make?
TO US today it might seem strange for a person to compare himself to a grapevine. But this is what the most notable man ever on earth did. On the night when he drank wine for the last time with eleven of his loyal companions, he said the following significant words: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the cultivator. I am the vine, you are the branches.” One of his companions, John the son of Zebedee, heard, remembered and recorded those thought-provoking words for us.—John 15:1, 5.
2, 3. (a) According to the parable given by Jotham the son of Judge Gideon, of what plants did the symbolic trees make request for a ruler but without success? (b) Their final choice of a king was to result in what?
2 Many hundreds of years before this a man in the same land told a parable or illustration and in it he compared a man to a vine. He, too, was in danger of his life. As a parting shot he told the parable to show how king-makers, by not picking the right person for kingship, would meet up with national disaster. Likening his own people to trees, he pictured how these searchers for a ruler over them first made their request to an olive tree and then to a fig tree, but they met with refusals by these fruitful trees.
3 “Next,” Jotham, the lone surviving son of Judge Gideon of Israel, went on to say, “the trees said to the vine, ‘You come, be queen over us.’ In turn, the vine said to them, ‘Must I give up my new wine that makes God and men rejoice, and must I go to wave over the trees?’” After this third refusal, the symbolic trees felt obliged to make a fruitless bramble the king over them. (Judg. 9:3-14) Because of this bad choice of a ruler, Jotham indicated that they would not drink the wine of rejoicing such as a fruitful vine would furnish.—Judg. 9:15-20.
4. A little while earlier Jesus had used the product of the vine to picture what, but, then, how did he afterward give a brighter meaning to it?
4 For this reason Jesus Christ, who also was rejected as king over the nation of Israel, was not the first to liken a man, himself, to a grapevine. He had just introduced a memorial for his approaching death, in which he used the wine in the common drinking cup to represent his blood that was to be shed the next afternoon. But, then, to give a brighter meaning to wine as a symbol, he said: “I tell you, I will by no means drink henceforth any of this product of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in the kingdom of my Father.” (Matt. 26:26-29) New wine is especially exhilarating, and the “wine” drunk new in the kingdom of his heavenly Father would certainly be the wine of rejoicing.
5. In his parable of the grapevine, what indicates whether Jesus used it to picture just himself or not?
5 It being Passover night, wine was prominent, at least four cups of it being drunk during this final get-together of Jesus with his disciples in the year 33 C.E. Logically, this led on to his telling a new parable about the grapevine. However, in this illustration Jesus used the grapevine as a whole to symbolize more than just himself. To make this clear, he said to his faithful disciples: “I am the vine, you are the branches.”—John 15:5.
6. Because there were only eleven apostles there, did Jesus mean that the “vine” would have only eleven branches, or not, especially in the light of his words at Matthew 21:43?
6 By those words Jesus did not mean that this Christian “vine” would have only eleven branches, to correspond with those eleven faithful apostles then reclining with him at the table. The Messianic “vine” was to have many more branches, enough to make up an entire new Christian nation. Jesus hinted at this new nation when he said to the representatives of the unbelieving Jewish nation: “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and be given to a nation producing its fruits.”—Matt. 21:43.
7. In Psalm 80:8-15, what nation is compared to a “vine,” and why was there a cry for God’s consideration of it?
7 The likening of a nation to a grapevine was not new. Jesus’ own heavenly Father, Jehovah, used this plant as symbolic of a nation. For example, he inspired the psalmist Asaph to address him and say: “You [Jehovah] proceeded to make a vine depart from Egypt [in Moses’ day]. You kept driving out the nations [from the Promised Land], that you might plant it. You made a clearing before it, that it might take root and fill the land. The mountains were covered with its shadow, . . . O God of armies, return, please; look down from heaven and see and take care of this vine, and the stock that your right hand has planted.” (Ps. 80:8-15) Because Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 B.C.E. and the Gentile Times then began for worldly nations to dominate all the earth, the nation of Israel suffered great inroads by the Gentile nations. Hence, the psalmist’s painful cry for God’s consideration.
8. When did Jehovah plant a new “vine,” and how does Isaiah 5:3-7 explain the need for this?
8 When Jehovah God anointed Jesus with holy spirit after his baptism in the Jordan River, a new “vine” was planted. There was a dire need for this. Why? More than 700 years beforehand, the prophet Isaiah had foretold why. Jehovah inspired him to say: “And now, O you inhabitants of Jerusalem and you men of Judah, please judge between me and my vineyard. What is there yet to do for my vineyard that I have not already done in it? Why is it that I hoped for it to produce grapes, but it gradually produced wild grapes? And now, please, may I make known to you men what I am doing to my vineyard: There will be a removing of its hedge, and it must be destined for burning down. . . . And I shall set it as a thing destroyed. It will not be pruned, nor will it be hoed. And it must come up with the thornbush and weeds; and upon the clouds I shall lay a command to keep from precipitating any rain upon it. For the vineyard of Jehovah of armies is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the plantation of which he was fond. And he kept hoping for judgment, but, look! the breaking of law; for righteousness, but, look! an outcry.”—Isa. 5:3-7.
9. Later, in Jeremiah’s day, what question did Jehovah ask about his national “vine”?
9 Things did not improve with Israel, but, about 100 years later, Jehovah could say to Israel: “Long ago I broke your yoke [of slavery in Egypt] to pieces; I tore your bands [of restraint] apart. But you said: ‘I am not going to serve,’ for upon every high hill and under every luxuriant tree you were lying sprawled out, prostituting yourself. And as for me, I had planted you as a choice red vine, all of it a true seed. So how have you been changed toward me into the degenerate shoots of a foreign vine?”—Jer. 2:20, 21; Hos. 10:1, 2.
10. Because counsel would perish on Israel, what kind of “vine” did Deuteronomy 32:28-33 say that Israel would become?
10 It was just as Moses, back in 1473 B.C.E., had foretold: “For they are a nation on whom counsel perishes, and among them there is no understanding. . . . For their vine is from the vine of Sodom and from the terraces of Gomorrah. Their grapes are grapes of poison, their clusters are bitter. Their wine is the venom of big snakes and the cruel poison of cobras.”—Deut. 32:28-33.
THE NEED FOR A NEW “VINE”
11. According to Jesus’ parable of the vineyard, what kind of treatment was the Messiah to receive at the hands of the cultivators at the time of the vintage?
11 The time was due for the vintage of this symbolic national “vine” when Jesus the Son of God came as the anointed one, or Messiah, in 29 C.E. What would be the fruitage that he as God’s representative would gather from this “vine”? On Nisan 11, 33 C.E., three days before the close of his public ministry of three years and a half, Jesus illustrated the kind of reception that he would get, by telling a parable. Directing this to the chief priests and the elders in the temple by way of comment on their objections to his activities and teachings, he said:
“Hear another illustration: There was a man, a householder, who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and erected a tower, and let it out to cultivators, and traveled abroad. When the season of the fruits came around, he dispatched his slaves to the cultivators to get his fruits. However, the cultivators took his slaves, and one they beat up, another they killed, another they stoned. Again he dispatched other slaves, more than the first, but they did the same to these. Lastly he dispatched his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ On seeing the son the cultivators said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance!’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those cultivators? . . .
“ . . . Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone that the builders rejected is the one that has become the chief cornerstone. From Jehovah this has come to be, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? This is why I say to you, The kingdom of God will be taken from you and be given to a nation producing its fruits. Also, the person falling upon this stone will be shattered. As for anyone upon whom it falls, it will pulverize him.”—Matt. 21:33-44.
12. What fruitage did the cultivators of the typical national vineyard fail to offer, and so how would God make sure of receiving the right kind of fruitage?
12 What fruitage should the Israelite cultivators of Jehovah’s national “vineyard” have offered to his Son Jesus Christ? It should have been faith in the Son as the true, promised Messiah and the acceptance of him as the Son of the One who planted and owned the national “vineyard” of Israel. If they had rendered such kind of fruitage to the Son of God, it would have resulted in their being taken into the real Messianic kingdom of God. Because they did not produce the fruitage that should have marked the typical kingdom of God in Israel, the privilege of being God’s kingdom was to be taken from them as a nation. Hence, another nation of “vineyard” cultivators was to be created. This new nation would produce fruits suitable for God’s kingdom. Those cultivators would render the due fruits to the Divine Planter and Owner of this vineyard.
13. (a) What did the Jewish “vineyard” cultivators think they could do by seizing the inheritance of the Owner’s Son? (b) What did Jesus say would happen to the royal stone that the builders of a structure rejected?
13 In God’s determination of those who should enjoy the privileges of his Messianic kingdom, the important thing is “fruits.” The Jewish cultivators thought that, by withholding the rightly expected fruits and even killing Jesus the “heir” of God’s kingdom, they could grab his inheritance. They thought that they could maintain themselves in the rulership of the typical kingdom of God, under the covenant of the Mosaic law. (John 11:47-53) But not so, according to the conclusion drawn from Jesus’ parable. (Matt. 21:41) What did Jesus say about the royal Stone that the builders of a structure for God had rejected just the day previous after his triumphal ride into Jerusalem? It would be made the chief cornerstone in God’s new royal structure, the heavenly “kingdom of God.”
14. Why did Jesus not think it to be pointless for him to give the parable of the vine and the branches shortly before his arrest at Gethsemane?
14 As regards “the true vine” that Jehovah God had planted and was cultivating, Jesus knew that this could not be deadened, even though the Jewish cultivators of the typical national “vine” were allowed to put him to death later on Passover day. Hence, even though it was just before his going to the garden of Gethsemane and being arrested, Jesus did not think it to be pointless for him to give to his disciples the parable of the vine and the branches.
15. According to John 15:1-5, who is the cultivator of “the true vine,” and what does he do to the branches according to whether they bear fruit or not?
15 “I am the true vine,” said Jesus, “and my Father is the cultivator. Every branch in me not bearing fruit he takes away, and every one bearing fruit he cleans, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Remain in union with me, and I in union with you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it remains in the vine, in the same way neither can you, unless you remain in union with me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He that remains in union with me, and I in union with him, this one bears much fruit; because apart from me you can do nothing at all.”—John 15:1-5.
THE PLANTING AND CULTIVATING
16, 17. (a) When did Jehovah plant “the true vine,” and how? (b) How was Jesus Christ one greater than the patriarch Jacob, and when were “branches” produced on the “true vine”?
16 When did the great Vine Culturist plant this fruitful vine? It was in the year 29 C.E., at the time that he anointed the newly baptized Jesus with his holy spirit. (Isa. 61:1, 2) Then it was that Jehovah established the central stalk of the symbolic “vine” of the Messianic kingdom. Here we recall that the typical kingdom of Israel stemmed from the patriarch Jacob, who was surnamed Israel. He became father to twelve sons, from whom the twelve tribes of Israel sprang. (Acts 7:8-14) Thus Jesus Christ corresponded to Jacob.
17 This Greater Jacob was the central vine stalk. He chose twelve apostles, who became prospective “branches” for this spiritual “vine.” (John 15:16; 6:70) That is why, on that Passover night, he called them “branches.” But 51 days later, on the day of Pentecost, twelve faithful apostles were anointed with holy spirit. In this way they became twelve secondary foundations for the new nation of spiritual Israel. On them, the heavenly New Jerusalem is built. (Rev. 21:14; Eph. 2:20) However, on that day of Pentecost the others of that group of about 120 disciples were among the first to receive the holy spirit and speak in tongues, and by this they too were made “branches” in that spiritual “vine,” Jesus Christ.
18. What opportunity did natural Israel not seize, as set out in Exodus 19:6, 7, and to whom does Peter apply the words of that divine statement?
18 There the new nation, spiritual Israel, came into being. Natural Israel as a nation had not seized the opportunity that Jehovah, by means of his mediator Moses, had set before it according to Exodus 19:6, 7. So the words of that divine statement were applied by the apostle Peter to members of the new nation of spiritual Israel. Where? In his first inspired letter, at 1 Peter 2:9, 10, where it is written: “But you are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession, that you should declare abroad the excellencies, of the one that called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. For you were once not a people, but are now God’s people; you were those who had not been shown mercy, but are now those who have been shown mercy.”
19. After Isaiah 5:5-7 was fulfilled, what happened to the nation of spiritual Israel, and why did Jehovah give it no less attention than he gave to the typical “vineyard” of Israel?
19 Happily, the Christian nation of spiritual Israel continued to flourish after Jehovah carried out his words of warning set out in Isaiah 5:5-7, upon the symbolic “vineyard” of natural Israel. As the Cultivator of what he planted, he gives the needed attention to the “branches” of the “true vine,” Jesus Christ, no less than he gave the former “vineyard” of natural Israel down till 33 C.E. He does so for the purpose of keeping a clean, productive set of “branches” that are disciples of Jesus Christ. Suckers and dead wood should have no place among those “clean” branches. That is why, in his parable, Jesus said to his faithful apostles: “Every branch in me not bearing fruit he takes away, and everyone bearing fruit he cleans, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.”—John 15:2, 3.
20. Because of their accepting what could Jesus pronounce the eleven faithful apostles “clean,” in harmony with the account of John 6:67-69?
20 Judas Iscariot, the traitorous apostle was not present when Jesus said those words. Jesus had already dismissed him from their company at the end of the Passover supper. (John 13:26-30) The eleven remaining faithful apostles had wholeheartedly accepted his word or Messianic message, and for that reason he pronounced them “clean.” For instance, up north in Capernaum, when Jesus asked those apostles, “You do not want to go also, do you?” Simon Peter answered: “Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life; and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”—John 6:67-69.
21. So, from what things were those apostolic “branches” clean, and what effect must Jesus’ word spoken privately have had on them?
21 So there were no dead twigs of fruitless unbelief about those loyal apostles. There were no distracting suckers of unscriptural Judaism attached to them. They were undividedly giving their attention to the cause of “the Holy One of God.” They believed him to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16) On still another occasion, Peter said to him: “Look! We have left all things and followed you; what actually will there be for us?” (Matt. 19:27) In the face of such decisions, Jesus’ words, especially spoken to the apostles privately, must have had a purging effect, leaving them in a spiritual condition that was “clean.” All the “branches” that remain in such a “clean” condition could devote themselves in full commitment to the unique purpose of Jehovah’s “true vine.” This would work out in gladness for both God and men.