Ecclesiological Metaphors: The Church as a Vine.

The Church of Christ is also referred to as branches in a vine in the Bible. This imagery actually originates from the Old Testament. Israel is Yahweh’s vine in the Tanakh.

Isaiah 5:7 (NKJV)

7 For THE VINEYARD OF THE LORD of hosts is THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL, and THE MEN OF JUDAH ARE HIS PLEASANT PLANT. He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; for righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.

The word “vineyard” as used here (vs. 7) translates the Hebrew word “kerem” (כֶּרֶם) which refers to “a garden.” This was a well-known imagery to the ancient Jews, because they lived in an agricultural society (the Jews were predominantly farmers).

Speaking of a “vineyard” in that culture would have simultaneously brought to mind the thought of a vinedresser. The vinedresser was he who tended to or cared for the vines in a vineyard. Thus, by calling Israel His “vineyard” (Isa 5:7), God describes them as those whom He cared for and took care of.

God uses similiar imagery in the book of Jeremiah, “Yet I HAD PLANTED YOU (Israel) A NOBLE VINE, a seed of HIGHEST QUALITY. How then have you turned before Me into the DEGENERATE PLANT OF AN ALIEN VINE?” (Jeremiah 2:21). The imagery here is like planting vines and reaping weeds instead.

The imagery (in Jer 2:21) likens God to a vinedresser (or farmer) planting a vineyard. When God planted Israel, He used the “best seeds.” But when they grew, He received strange (or alien) vines, referring to Israel’s sinful ways. What He received from Israel was not what He intended, when He planted them.

Deuteronomy 32:32 also used a similar imagery, “For THEIR VINE is of THE VINE OF SODOM and of THE FIELDS OF GOMORRAH; their GRAPES are GRAPES OF GALL, their CLUSTERS ARE BITTER.” This describes Israel, after they forsook God. They were bearing loathsome and undesirable fruits, like those of Sodom and Gomorrah (i.e. they were sinful and immoral).

So, after all of God’s care for Israel, she is yet unfruitful. Hosea 10:1 says, “Israel empties his vine (the Hebrew literally says “Israel is an empty vine”); He brings forth FRUIT FOR HIMSELF. According to the multitude of his fruit HE HAS INCREASED THE ALTARS (used for idolatry); according to the bounty of his land, they have EMBELLISHED HIS SACRED PILLARS (these pillars were dedicated to idols, see 1 Kgs 14:23-24).”

If any people would be expected to lead a God-glorifying life, it would be the people of Israel whom God had showered with abundant blessings! But Israel bore no fruit unto God (see Psalm 78:10-33). God’s ordeal with Israel may be likened to toiling to take care of a plant, in hopes that it bears pleasant fruit someday, only to have this hope dashed as it produces nothing but thorns at the end of the day. Old Testament Israel therefore failed as God’s vineyard.

Jesus comes to fix this failure. He says in John 15:1, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.” On hearing this, His audience (who were Jews familiar with the Tanakh) would have remembered this imagery from the Old Testament. His words would have brought to mind how Israel FAILED as God’s vine.

Jesus is God’s TRUE VINE. He is everything Israel failed to be. He continues in John 15:5, “I am the vine, YOU ARE THE BRANCHES. He who ABIDES IN ME, and I IN HIM, BEARS MUCH FRUIT; for without Me you can do nothing.” Not only is He the Vine, we (His Church) are ALSO the branches, that is, we are one with Him (the Vine).

He says, “…He who abides in Me, and I in him, BEARS MUCH FRUIT (what OT Israel could not do); for without Me YOU CAN DO NOTHING.” Unlike OT Israel, we do not even TRY to produce fruit—in Him, we bear MUCH FRUIT, effortlessly! We now have His Spirit, and the concomitant fruits of the same.

Galatians 5:22-25 (NKJV)

22 But THE FRUIT of THE SPIRIT is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s HAVE CRUCIFIED THE FLESH (past tense) with its PASSIONS and DESIRES. 25 If (“since” in the Greek i.e. a fact) we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 

What Old Testament Israel lacked was the Spirit of Christ in their hearts. This is why they could bear no fruit (“…for without Me YOU CAN DO NOTHING.“). For the New Testament Church, however, we now have God’s VERY LIFE (His Spirit) flowing in us today. We are branches in the Vine—the branches do not produce the fruit, the Vine does! The branches merely REST in the Vine.

In a plant, the cell sap (which produces the fruit) flows through the entire plant (its branches) through the vine. This transports water and other nutrients necessary for the growth of the entire plant. We have the same in Christ—God Himself is now working IN US by His Spirit.

In Philippians 2:12, Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” This refers to good works which believers do. To “work out salvation” is to make it evident via good conduct. Now, how and why can we produce good fruits? Vs. 13 tells us, “FOR it is God who WORKS IN YOU both to WILL and TO DO for His good pleasure.” We can bear fruit BECAUSE God is working in His Church through His Spirit. That Spirit does not only prompt us to obey God (“to do“), we also find pleasure when we obey Him (“to will“). The Spirit makes us LOVE doing what is right!

So, in Christ, bearing good fruit (i.e. good conduct) becomes EFFORTLESS. We (the Church of Christ) are a people who walk in the Spirit as our very nature. The branches are all interconnected in the Vine and we all bear fruit TOGETHER.

This means it is possible for ALL Christians to exhibit the same virtues; if you see another Christian who walks in love so much, then YOU can also do the same, since we are ALL in the SAME Vine. The same Life flows through us all.


© Josh Banks Ministries. 2022.


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