What Is The Vine: Symbolism Of The Vine In The Bible
Perhaps you have gone through life mentioning this biblical expression without even knowing what it means. Jesus Christ did not express things by doing it, in everything He did there was always a reason and a purpose.
In this article you will learn what a vine is , its elements and the meaning of each of them in the spiritual life so that you understand why Jesus wanted to use this example of the vine to define roles in life.
What is the vine?
By general definition, a vine is a herbaceous or non-woody plant with slender stems that uses neighboring plants, rocks, trees, fences, or other structures for physical support. These plants climb, crawl, and spread, often spreading horizontally, as well as riding vertically.
Despite their inability to support their own weight, vines have remarkable tensile strength. Resistance to pulling and breaking is one of the distinguishing characteristics of vines.
True vs. fake vines
Some climbing plants appear to behave and are often considered vines, but they are not true vines. Scramblers, like various ornamental and fruit shrubs in the rose family (Rosaceae), have long, branching stems with spines that allow them to attach and climb nearby structures.
With the use of wire or string, they can also be “trained” to climb a fence, trellis, or garden wall. These plants are not technically vines even though they display a wine-like growth habit.
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The vines send out shoots looking for an object to attach. Depending on the species, these exploratory buds rotate clockwise or counterclockwise in response to daily circadian rhythms. When viewed in time-lapse digital video, the plant appears to be casting a lasso.
Once contact is made, a tendril bud coils around the object in a touch-sensitive reaction called thigmotropism. The rolled tendril controls the amount of tension needed to stay attached to the object.
Sprout growth is generally accelerated, but leaf growth is postponed until the relative stem has secured support. The vines have larger vessels that conduct water in their stems than those of many other plants, which guarantees survival in times of drought.
The symbolism of the vine in Scripture
If you were a first century Jew and heard for the first time that Jesus was the true vine and that his people were the branches (John 15: 1, 5), you would have mixed emotions.
On the one hand, you would be quite familiar with the idea of comparing people to vineyards and vineyards. Vines were a familiar sight in Palestine.
Your Bible, the Old Testament, often refers to Israel as a vine that God planted . You may have recited Psalm 80 in your morning prayers.
In verses 8-9, the psalmist tells God, “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleansed the land; it took root and filled the land.” You would know how God brought Israel out of Egypt and planted it in the promised land.
You would have read the words of the Hebrew prophets who compared Israel to a vineyard. You will remember the words of Hosea who said that “Israel was a lush vine that produces its fruits.” Hosea meant that Israel increased in prosperity.
As a first century Jew, you would be very familiar with the symbolic meaning of the vineyard and the vine. In fact, the idea was so prevalent in the first century that in one of his parables Jesus made express use of the vineyard motif as symbolism for Israel (Mark 12: 1-12).
Jesus concluded the parable by saying that the owner will destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. In response to the parable, the religious leaders wanted to arrest Jesus because “they realized that he had told this parable against them.” The symbolism of the vineyard was not lost on them.
Jesus is the true vine
Just because you would be familiar with the Biblical references to the vineyard, that would not necessarily make it easier for you to understand how Jesus could be the true vine.
On the one hand, the vine in the Old Testament always represented the entire people of Israel rather than a single individual. How could something that symbolized all the people of Israel be a symbol of Jesus as an individual?
Second, whenever the Old Testament prophets, as well as the parable of Jesus mentioned above, made reference to the vineyard, they always had in mind the impending judgment that God would bring upon his disobedient people.
In other words, the idea of the vine would not bring positive images to your mind. They will remind you of vine branches that are good for nothing but firewood. For this reason, the Gospel of John refers to Jesus not simply as the vine, but more specifically as the true vine.
The implication is that, in contrast to Israel, who became unfaithful and incurred God’s judgment, Jesus remains faithful and thus fulfills Israel’s call to be the vine of God. It is noteworthy that the contrast is between Israel and Jesus, not between Israel and the Church. The Church is not the true vine; Jesus is. Furthermore, Jesus is not the stem or the root; He is the vine.
He is the true vine that fulfilled the destiny to which Israel was called. The Church can be part of that destiny only as branches on the vine. The Church cannot fulfill the destiny of Israel without Christ. Without Christ, the Church is nothing but dead branches.
Does the passage of the vine and branches in John 15 mean that salvation can be lost?
In John 15, Jesus uses the relationship of the branches to the vine to illustrate our relationship to Him: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Take away from me every branch that does not bear fruit, and prune every branch that bears fruit, so that it bears more fruit. . . . If someone does not remain in me, he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered together, thrown into the fire, and burned ”(verses 1–2, 6).
Many take the verses about the fruitless branches that were removed and burned as proof that salvation can be lost. The teaching is that a person who was once in Christ could stop ” abiding in Christ ” and become good for nothing; that person is cut and burned.
Now, if the parable of the vine and the branches were the only passage that addressed the subject of eternal security, then we might have good reason to fear that salvation may be lost. However, this is not the only passage in Scripture that addresses safety, nor is it the only passage in John where these issues are addressed.
Salvation is not lost
There are several passages in John where the safety of the believer is clearly assured ( John 3: 16–17; 6: 35–40; 10: 27-29 ). This is a problem that we find throughout the Bible. There are passages that speak of the security of the believer in very explicit terms and others that make one wonder if salvation cannot be lost after all.
It is always better to interpret darker passages in light of lighter passages. Since John 15 is in the form of an allegory, it is best to let the clearer passages inform our understanding.
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Explanation of John 15
The background of Jesus’ words in John 15 is most likely Old Testament images where Israel is called a vineyard or vine, although one that did not produce the expected fruit ( Isaiah 5: 1–7 ) Jesus replaces Israel with himself as the “true vine”.
Unlike Israel, Jesus will not stop bearing fruit in all the branches that are connected to him. The point of the Jesus metaphor is that He will succeed where Israel failed. The disciples simply need to be connected to Him. According to John 15, it is unthinkable that any branch that is connected to Christ does not produce fruit.
However, according to the illustration, some branches “in Him” will not bear fruit and will be removed. There seems to be a contradiction within the illustration itself that warns us not to push too hard on the details. The apparent problem is the same with all the other passages of Scripture that warn Christians about falling.
If a true Christian cannot lose his salvation, why warn about the fall? The best explanation is that these warnings are directed at professing Christians who appear, externally at least, to be connected to the Vine. They are branches in the vicinity of the vine, but there is a disconnect.
Judas Iscariot is a good example of this. The parable of the seed and the soils ( Matthew 13 ) features young plants that seem to start out well but then wither away.
The book of Hebrews, with its many warning passages, seems to be aimed at those who gave an initial positive response to Jesus but are considering returning. They started the journey but did not complete it.
What identifies true and false Christians?
Based on outward appearances at any given time, it can be difficult to distinguish genuine believers (connected in vital unity with the True Vine) from those who have simply become attached to some of the pitfalls of Christianity. However, time will tell the difference, because the genuine believer attached to the True Vine will bear fruit.
A false Christian appears to be attached but does not bear fruit, and it is the lack of fruit that shows that a branch is not receiving the fruitful energy that comes from attachment to the Vine.
Regardless of how united this branch may appear on the surface, it lacks the only absolute evidence of attachment: fruit! That “branch” should not be consoled with the false notions that it is attached, because its lack of fruit carries condemning evidence.
In this case, the branch was never actually joined in the first place. The metaphor (or allegory) of the vine and branches can only be pressed so far.
The vine is a climbing plant that has branches connected to it, depending on whether these branches are truly connected or will not bear fruit, and it is with the presence or absence of these that it will be identified if there is a problem in the connection.
Now that you know what the vine is and what it symbolizes in the Bible, surely you have been able to internalize the reason why Jesus expressed that he is the true vine. There is a very important point to highlight here also to conclude; Jesus did not say “I am a true vine, he said” I am the true vine.
By saying I am the Vine he is speaking of exclusivity, that is, there is no other true vine but Him. This also implies that there may be other false vines, and it is demonstrated in other passages of the bible that we can be deceived by false prophets, so we must be very attentive and united to Jesus.