John Chapter 15: The True Vine, Supreme Love

Dec 21st, 2009 | By | Category: John, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

John Chapter 15: The True Vine, Supreme Love

John 15:1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

Indirectly, this verse is a great proof against the Trinity, for how could the vine be equal to the One who is in charge of the vine? Moreover, if Jesus is the “true vine,” this would suggest that there are other or false vines, which are not of the Father’s planting.

John 15:2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

God takes away every branch in Jesus that does not bear fruit. On the other hand, God prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it may bring forth even more fruit.

When a person consecrates, he is in the vine. Every individual who is called and accepts Jesus on the proper grounds is in the vine. Based on many other Scriptures, we know that most will not make the high calling. Of those who do not, two possible destinies remain: the secondary Great Company class or Second Death.

In this parable, what about the branch that is taken away—the branch that bears no fruit? Do overcomers (as opposed to more-than-overcomers) remain in the vine, or are they separated?

Only the Little Flock remain in the vine. Those who are taken out of the vine will either end up in Second Death or have their flesh consumed by the Adversary to become part of the Great Company. In other words, although the Great Company do bear fruit, their fruit is not enough to remain in the vine in the sense of the parable.

As to whether the parable is emphasizing a Second Death or a Great Company destiny for those who are removed from the vine, even Pastor Russell wavered back and forth in his interpretation. In his early writings, he felt that the ones who are taken away do not necessarily go into Second Death. They simply fail to attain the Little Flock. He probably based his reasoning on 1 Corinthians 3:13-15, where the Apostle Paul says that every man’s work will be made manifest. The fire of that day will try the work, and the wood, hay, and stubble will all perish, yet the individuals themselves will be saved “so as by fire.” In other words, in this illustration, a class can be totally burned (have their flesh destroyed) and yet get life.

Thus two types of interpretation can be pursued for this parable. The fact that the cut-off branch “withers” creates a problem (verse 6). One explanation is that Jesus is considering only the Little Flock here and is ignoring the Great Company. The lesson would be that for one to stay in the vine in a particular arrangement with the Lord as his Church, he must bear fruit.

That seems to be the better interpretation. However, the parable is difficult to interpret with definiteness. If a person is cut off from the vine, separated from fellowship with Christ, is there hope for him? On the one hand, the destruction would seem to be severe, but on the other hand, those who do bring forth fruit—even if not much—are pruned to bring forth more fruit.

This parable has several dilemmas, but it is particularly concentrating on what Jesus is looking for, i.e., the true Church.

The Pastor referred to those who are cut off as “suckers on the vine.” Suckers are cut off so that more fruitage can be brought to the vine. Thus the branches that bear fruit must be pruned a certain way so that they will bring forth even more fruit.

Comment: The thought of “suckers” is interesting. Suckers are useless growths that sap the energy of the vine but do not produce fruit. They are meant to be severed from the vine. This principle would apply to the Lord’s people. One who does not add to the body, does not serve and encourage the brethren, etc., but just takes and takes from others would be a “sucker.” It is like the concept of lukewarmness, which pulls down the others rather than building them up.

That is why those who are lukewarm will be spewed out of the Lord’s mouth. Not only do they not contribute, but they take away from the others.

Reply: However, this parable does not say that the Great Company remain on the vine. Notice how the parable ends. It does not say that the cut-off branches are destroyed—they are just burned. The point is that a class are separated from the vine and burned, but since they are not destroyed, the emphasis of the illustration is on the fruitage, not on the other particulars.

Otherwise, the Great Company would have to remain on the vine. Those who do not produce fruitage are severed. Those who do produce fruit are pruned to produce more fruit. This parable seems to emphasize only the true Church. Even the destruction is not emphasized— just the true Church and their fruitage.

John 15:3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

John 15:4 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 15:5 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.

Notice the term “much fruit” is used here. Only the true Church can be said to bring forth much fruit, not the Great Company. Jesus said, “If you abide in me, you will bring forth much fruit,” not “maybe you will.” The parable is referring to a closer relationship to the Lord than merely being faithful in the sense of not disowning him. The class who bear much fruit are very knowledgeable as to what the Lord’s will is. The emphasis is on the fruit, not the destiny. Only the Little Flock truly abide in the Lord, and the Lord truly abides in them.

Comment: The Little Flock are constantly on the alert to get rid of the defilement of the flesh, and to be as obedient as possible to the Father’s will.

John 15:6 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 15:7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

Surely verse 7 would not apply to the Great Company class. Only the Little Flock can pray and ask what they will and it shall be done accordingly, for they would not ask amiss. They would not pray selfishly and can be trusted because Jesus’ words abide in them. The Little Flock ask in harmony with God’s will. The “abiding” here is a close relationship, one the Great Company does not have.

Comment: Progression and growth of fruitage are shown. Verse 2 says that the ones who bear some fruit are pruned to bring forth more fruit. If they continue to abide, they will bring forth much fruit (verse 5).

This is a difficult parable, and it should not be blended with other pictures, which is easy to do. The ones who are rejected do not seem to go into Second Death.

Q: It is hard to see that the taking away of the non-fruit-bearing branch does not picture Second Death. Verse 4 says that the branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine. This thought seems to correspond to the withering idea. The end of verse 5 says, “Without me [severed from me—King James margin] ye can do nothing.” It would seem that once the branch is cut off, not only is there no more growth but there is a deterioration as well. If so, how could the parable apply to the Great Company, who are at least overcomers?

A: However, other pictures show that a burning is not necessarily a complete destruction. The Apostle Paul speaks of some who build with wood, hay, and stubble, which are not “fruit.”

Gold, silver, and precious stones are the “fruit” in the mineral kingdom. The ores are separated from the ground and purified, usually through a process of refinement. With the wood, hay, and stubble, the destruction is also a process, but the individual is saved.

In the parable, the arrangement is two ways: (1) if Jesus’ followers abide in him, and (2) if he abides in them. The Great Company abide in Christ, but he does not abide in them. Why not? Because they are not dedicated enough to know—and to want to know fully—God’s or Christ’s will concerning them. The emphasis seems to be on the fruit.

Comment: Dispensationally speaking, the Great Company will go into the “fire” at the end of the age, for they enter the great Time of Trouble as “tribulation saints” to wash their robes white. In another picture, the scapegoat will be taken into the wilderness condition to die. After instructing his disciples for 3 1/2 years, Jesus told them, “If you continue to abide in me as you endeavored to do during my ministry, you will produce much fruit. As you are pruned and disciplined, you will develop more and more fruit.” After the begettal of the Holy Spirit, the fruitage would be produced. During the 3 1/2 years they were soaking in, like sponges, what Jesus was telling them. Instead of being exercised, they were being tutored. But after Pentecost they would have to go out and be Jesus’ representatives in a fuller sense.

Some seemingly simple subjects are more difficult to “mathematically” ascertain than other subjects that are a definite yes or no.

Q: Since some parables exclude the Great Company class, could that be the case here? Then this parable would show just the Church and the Second Death class.

A: When various Reprint articles on this parable are compared, certain problems surface.

Notice, the “he” of verse 2 (the husbandman, i.e., God) takes away the branch that does not bear much fruit. In trying to harmonize the parable, the Pastor said that those who take themselves away go into Second Death, as well as the ones the Lord takes away. Thus the Pastor did bring in a Second Death application for those who separate themselves from the love of God. But he also felt that those who are taken away do not necessarily go into Second Death.

Q: Would verse 11 be helpful here? “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” John also uses the thought of “full joy” in John 16:24; 17:13 and in 1 John 1:4. The Great Company has joy, but would we say their joy is “full”?

Since full joy is the goal here, wouldn’t the parable be slanted to the Little Flock?

A: The emphasis is on the special relationship of Jesus with the true Church class (the Little Flock). All others of the consecrated are separated regardless of ultimate destiny. Both the Second Death class and the Great Company will be burned in certain pictures.

One constructive lesson here is that of fruit bearing. The Father desires that much fruit be brought forth. Of course the pruning indicates discipline. In regard to pruning, the Pastor said that we might have certain cherished ambitions for a talent or talents in connection with what we would like to dedicate to the Lord, or for something else, but He might just lop them off. Instead of feeling frustration, we must resign ourselves to the Lord’s will. We must accept that such was not the Lord’s intention for us. The very thing we may want to do for the Lord may not materialize.

If we abide in Christ and Christ abides in us,” “If we obey his commandments,” and “If his words abide in us”—these thoughts show the importance of instruction, of not merely wanting to do his will but of actually doing his will. What is “his will”? Jesus’ will was exemplified in his life and in his teachings. Thus this parable shows the importance of instruction, pruning, and developing fruit—all constructive aspects. It is just the other area (being severed from the vine) that causes some difficulty. Perhaps we have been trying to bring in a class that is not meant to be dwelt upon; the Great Company are just passed over. There are alternate interpretations, and let us leave the parable there.

One other point, however. The Great Company class are separated from the Lord, but there are different kinds of separation. Examples of temporary separation are as follows: (1) On the Cross Jesus said, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). That was a momentary feeling of separation from God because Jesus was a sin offering and had to be a curse. Separation was part of his development. (2) Another type of cutting off is like the scapegoat class in the wilderness. They will get a feeling of alienation and yet not be completely severed.

When we read the parable here in John 15, we are not sure what type of separation is indicated: permanent or temporary. Is it that God will have nothing more to do with the individual—is it that the individual has no more life? Both the Great Company and the Second Death class will be burned, but to two different destinations.

All who make a full, unreserved consecration go into the vine originally. To be part of the vine is a great privilege. In the years after consecration, self-examination is important. We can ask various questions: Do I love the Lord? If I could retrace or relive my life, would I again consecrate? Affirmative answers are very encouraging. To be several years in the truth is encouraging—showing that we still love the truth. These assurances will keep us from getting discouraged. Do I want God’s will to be my will? Am I trying to please the Lord? Do I want to make my calling and election sure? These are helpful questions for judging ourselves. If we see some wavering on these simple questions, we know we need strength, personal prayer, fasting, prayers of others, etc. It is good to question our motives.

John 15:8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

John 15:9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.

John 15:10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.

Verse 9 is very tender: “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you.” In the present life, we cannot fully appreciate the relationship between the Father and the Son, and the love the Father has for the Son, yet Jesus said that as the Father loves him, so he loves us. Therefore, Jesus tells us to “continue” in his love. By faith we are to grasp that Jesus has a personal interest in each one of us as an individual.

Q: Verse 3 seems to have a bearing on what classes are being discussed in the parable about the true vine, the branches, and the husbandman: “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” Earlier this same night (of the Memorial and betrayal), Jesus had said (John 13:10), “Ye are clean, but not all,” referring to Judas when he was still present with them.

In Chapter 15, Judas had left and Jesus was talking to the eleven. Jesus had hope—and actually knew—that the eleven would be faithful and bear much fruit. Would not the thought of the branch that did not bear fruit being taken away, withering, and being cast by men into the fire to be burned (John 15:2,6) refer to Judas specifically back there, indicating a contrast between the Little Flock and the Second Death class? We are not really considering the Great Company either in the much fruit bearing or in the destiny.

A: Yes, the bearing of much fruit was the focus of concentration, but we cannot be dogmatic in regard to the destiny of those who bear no fruit in the parable.

John 15:11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

What is the “joy” of Jesus that he wishes will remain in his disciples and that he wants to enhance? Jesus talked about joy in at least three other places. (1) “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24). (2) “And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they [the eleven apostles] might have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13). (3) “And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:4). All three of these Scriptures give the “joy” an application in the present life. Just before his execution, Jesus was speaking of having this joy himself (“that my joy might remain in you”—the joy that he then had). Jesus wanted his disciples to have more fullness of joy in the present life. (Of course, an even greater joy awaits those who are faithful when they go beyond the veil.)

Jesus wanted his joy to remain in the disciples. Therefore, in verse 10, he said, “If you keep my commandments, if you abide in this relationship of joy in committing your life to me and sitting at my feet to learn of me, you will have joy.” That is one aspect. “If you retain this relationship to the end of your earthly life, you will have the expectation of the reward I receive from the Father.”

In spite of the sorrows Jesus experienced at the Memorial table, he spoke of joy. His real joy was in knowing the Father and doing His will. That kind of joy and relationship are what Jesus was referring to here in verse 11.

In John 17, Jesus spoke about joy, even though his agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane took place only moments later. And at the Memorial, he said he was “exceeding sorrowful” (Matt. 26:38), yet he also spoke of joy. Thus the “joy” here is not the joy usually thought of. Joy is the opposite of sorrow, but there are different kinds of sorrow. For example, if we knew we were not doing God’s will, our sorrow would be worse than the kind of sorrow we would experience if we lost something, such as someone’s companionship. Sorrow from a serious transgression is much worse. Normally we think of things along human lines—joy is fun, having a nice social time (such as a birthday), etc.—but another kind of joy has nothing to do with the weather or external circumstances. It is the joy of communion with God. Under that situation, we could be anguishing and praying but be thankful that we have access to the throne of grace. Jesus was referring to that type of joy.

Comment: The husbandman (the Father) purges those who bear fruit so that they will bear more fruit. The purging and chastening experience may be hard, but when we realize it is proof that the Father loves us, there is joy. If that relationship is maintained, we remain a branch on the vine.

Reply: While Jesus was giving his disciples information about how the husbandman prunes the vine, he himself was about to be pruned on the Cross. Although he was talking to his disciples, the principles and lessons apply to us too—usually. The secondary application can be very important.

The “joy” is like the joy David had: “I delight to do thy will, O my God” (Psa. 40:8). “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day” (Psa. 119:97). Whether pleasurable or not, we should want to do the Father’s will. “Send sorrow, send pain. Sweet will be their messengers, sweet their refrain.” These words of a hymn express the sentiment of one who is thoroughly consecrated. When shocking providences occur, we must be in a very consecrated attitude to accept them properly and say, “Sweet is their message, sweet is their refrain.”

Paul said that “no temptation for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous”; however, afterward it yields the peaceable fruits of righteousness (Heb. 12:11). Experiences of sorrow and pain are better for us to have as long as we are rightly exercised and properly receive them. In other words, the trial of our faith is much more precious than gold that perishes, though it be tried by fire (1 Pet. 1:7). The fire or purging experience is extremely valuable even though it is not pleasant to go through. Hence we are to “think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which … [trieth us], as though some strange thing happened” (1 Pet. 4:12). The tutoring and discipline of evil (unpleasant happenings) are more precious than gold.

John 15:12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

The loving of one another is qualified: “as I have loved you.” We look to Jesus to see how he loved his disciples. For one thing, he criticized them. The Gospels do not emphasize politeness in the sense of Jesus’ being very careful in everything he said lest he offend. Words, thoughts, and messages were what he presented. We learn from these as well as from what he did NOT do with regard to his disciples. For example, consider how much time he spent in fellowship with them. He had many capabilities and could have gone off and done many other things, but he devoted much time to them. They were always tagging along with him. He fellowshipped with them continuously, trying to make them understand what God’s will was. This verse suggests we should be familiar with Jesus—with his parables, teachings, acts, etc. Sadly, many Christians give little thought to Jesus’ life and ministry, but they spend a great deal of time on other subjects.

We should not love according to our feelings and emotions. Very often we interpret love by what we think love is, but we can gain certain insights into the subject by studying Jesus and the apostles. We should meditate on these things. The Bible is the foundation of our faith. Special messengers can help us, of course, but they are not the same as the Word itself. Teachers should merely point us back to the Word. To love as Jesus commands requires an understanding of the Scriptures.

John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Although it is certainly commendable for someone to impulsively risk his own life to save another (such as plunging into ice-cold water to rescue a drowning man), that is not the love referred to here. That is a love but not this love. Here Jesus is referring to a sacrificial daily dying or laying down of life, which is agape love.

When Jesus died at Calvary, he died for the world, which included enemies who had persecuted him in ignorance. Yet here Jesus said the greatest love was to lay down life for friends. What is the explanation? For 3 1/2 years, Jesus laid down his life for his friends. His love was not just the act at Calvary but a continual laying down of life and sacrifice. Paul said, “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31). Calvary was the culmination of a period of time.

The act of dying can be instantaneous and quick. It may be given without even weighing the thought, for some people instinctively do certain things. But when our life is programmed to every day do things in harmony with God’s will, that is what Jesus is referring to here. Such love requires continuous concentration and doing.

Q: Specifically, how did Jesus lay down his life for his disciples for 3 1/2 years?

A: Miracles for the people did not occur every day for that period of time. Sometimes Jesus was in desert conditions while traveling from place to place. The majority of his days were spent with his disciples. They were with him every day, whereas occasionally others crossed his path.

The principle is, “Do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). Jesus concentrated on teaching his disciples. He expended special effort to find some of the apostles (Matthew and Philip, for example). Also, he had a master plan of helping them, of progressively teaching them and helping them grow in faith and knowledge. That planning and helping was his love for them—his interest in and concern for their development. He used great wisdom in taking or teaching them step by step. This thinking—in spite of his own discomfort from performing miracles, receiving criticism, etc.—cost him something and showed his love for them. Jesus truly was a master teacher. He concentrated on his disciples, not on the world, which was secondary. While Jesus died for the world, there was a primacy with regard to his disciples. One lesson for us is that even with relatives (mother, father, sister, etc.), our main interest should be for God’s people.

1 John 3:16 carries out this thought: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Romans 16:3,4 also picks up this idea: “Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.”

John 15:14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

Notice, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” Those who do God’s will are Jesus’ friends, mother, father, brother, etc. The closeness of the relationship all hinges on obedience to the Father’s will.

Comment: It is interesting that Jesus used the word “friends” here, yet a little later he called Judas “friend” (although a different Greek word). What irony! The one who was supposed to be his “friend” and close companion turned against him.

Reply: Paul did this too, where he seemed to make contradictory statements. Verse 15 says the disciples were not servants but friends, and other Scriptures called them sons. The word “friends” implies a more personalized affection and love than a servant. A servant might be respected and be dutiful and good, but a friend would be closer. The Bible often likens the Christian to a servant, but to be a friend is a closer term of endearment. Phileo (brotherly) love is a very high form of love. True agape (disinterested) love is the highest form, but even that requires a definition.

Others are our friends if we see in them a desire and effort to do God’s will. The more we see this, the closer the relationship—even closer than our natural family. If we see someone trying to do God’s will, our esteem for him is raised to a higher level. Verse 14 includes as “friends” all true Christians down through the age. During the 3 1/2 years of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he left an example and instruction for all of his footstep followers.

Jesus accepted those the Father drew—not from a personal standpoint but because the Father did the drawing. Hence Jesus can overlook certain idiosyncrasies, race, color, background, manners, etc. The key point is the desire to do the Father’s will. Such are drawn to Jesus (and vice versa) proportionately.

John 15:15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

A servant or slave is just told to do certain things. He may be informed on some matters but on relatively little, for he is just a servant.

Q: In John 16:12, Jesus said, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” But here in verse 15, Jesus is saying, “All things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” How can these statements be harmonized? Is the tense correct in the King James for verse 15? Is it “have made known” or “will make known”?

A: The tense is correct.

Q: Could verse 15 be qualified in the sense that Jesus made known to the apostles all things needful for them to know at that time, prior to his crucifixion? Obviously, the Holy Spirit would reveal more things later.

A: Yes. Also (and mainly), before Jesus came down here, the Father gave him instructions of what he was to do and say. Therefore, what he disclosed to his disciples were all those things that the Father had wished them to know prior to Pentecost. In other words, Jesus was required to reveal certain things to them. Here is another example that many times in Scripture, the word “all” needs to be modified. Frequently, it does not literally mean “all.”

Jesus had already given his apostles his great prophecy of Matthew 24, which embraced the entire age. Hence he did tell them many things they did not understand at that time—not until Pentecost. From this standpoint, Jesus had disclosed all that he was supposed to tell, all the necessary things, all that the Father had told him to reveal, even if they did not understand. For example, even with all the repetition about his need to die and return to the Father, it was not until well into the sixteenth chapter that they began to realize he would die and leave them.

They knew but they did not know, etc., etc. Finally, the thought began to sink in. The Bible pictures the Christian as a servant or slave, as a friend, as a son, and as a brother of Jesus, and each description is in its own place or setting. During Jesus’ ministry, the Christian was not called a brother or a son. Those terms were not used until Pentecost, for not until the disciples were begotten of the Holy Spirit were they considered family members. At that time, they became sons of the Father and brethren of Jesus.

John 15:16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

Jesus was not speaking here of all Christians but about the apostles, whom he had selected and appointed. He knew them before they knew him. The word “apostle” means “one sent forth.”

Jesus appointed the apostles, gave them names on the mount, and later instructed them what to do. There were only twelve (Rev. 21:14). The instruction “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,” etc., applied only to them (Matt. 18:18). Other Christians do not have such authorization in the Word. For example, Paul gave two different kinds of advice regarding old widows and young ones. This advice becomes binding in the sense that it is important and it is the thinking of an apostle.

Jesus chose the apostles that they should “bring forth fruit” and that the “fruit should remain.” Of course the fruit bearing discussed in this chapter applies especially to the apostles. However, it is proper for us to draw lessons about our bringing forth fruit as well. Consider Jesus’ words “Whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” To a certain extent, we apply these words to ourselves but add “according to thy will.” There is no harm in asking if we add the qualifying clause. On the other hand, the apostles, who were charged with a very important work, made requests with an extremely high prerogative. No doubt they all prayed earnestly about their ministries because they had additional responsibility.

John 15:17 These things I command you, that ye love one another.

Why mention this again? For 3 1/2 years, the apostles had been getting instructions from Jesus on what and what not to do. Now that he was about to depart, one of the immediate dangers was jealousy or a feeling that one apostle was more important than the others. Hence the apostles were always to keep in mind that they were all equally apostles. They were to minimize what might appear to be contradictions. The earlier feelings of “Which one is the greatest?” and “Which ones can sit on Jesus’ right and left hand in the Kingdom?” must not be allowed to surface and continue.

In regard to Christians in other circles, we should give the benefit of the doubt to them if they claim consecration, if they profess to have made a commitment to the Lord. We should recognize them as brethren as long as their lives and conduct comport with that profession. But we are to note false brethren—wolves, tares (imitation Christians), etc.

However, the apostles were apostles, and the eleven plus Paul are to be specially regarded. Some who entered the early Church claimed (falsely) to be apostles because they had seen and known Jesus during his earthly ministry. The apostles Paul and John spoke of them and had to put some in their place (2 Cor. 11:13; Rev. 2:2). The false apostles had a high opinion of themselves and were presumptuous.

Here Jesus’ telling the eleven to love one another indicates they had a lot to go through, even though they would make their calling and election sure. They would experience much tribulation before they finished their course.

Jesus’ counsel in these last hours was primarily directed to the apostles. They had the greater need because they were the chosen leaders in his absence. When others came along and tried to take over their office, it was the duty of the true apostles to expose such presumptuousness. Some feel that love precedes all other qualities—that no matter what an individual does, we should love him. They reason that since we all have failings, we should be ready to forgive almost anything. Others are highly incensed at what is taking place. The commandment to “love one another” does not mean we should wink the eye at gross sin. It is true that we should give the benefit of the doubt where one’s life is not at variance with the profession. However, if one’s life and behavior contradict the profession, we should take note of the matter and not love him according to the instruction in verse 17. Deeds are important and we are to judge conduct. We should be careful not to wish “God speed” to any who are living a hypocritical life.

Verse 17 must not be given an abnormal application as a commandment to love no matter what happens. It is true that love covers a multitude of sins—but a certain type of sins, not cardinal sins.

John 15:18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.

The world hates the Christian in different levels or degrees. Some may say nothing, but they shun our companionship. Either they think we are too fanatical, or they do not want to hear our disapproval of what they are doing. That is a lower level of hatred by the world. At any rate, all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution in some manner (2 Tim. 3:12). The apostles certainly incurred the world’s hatred.

Today we live in a peculiar time. During the Dark Ages, communication between true Christians was much less frequent because of distance and poor travel conditions. In the past, real hatred was directed toward those identified with a certain belief (for example, Wycliffites, Luther’s followers, and Waldensians). Today we have many more opportunities for fellowship and communication. And those brethren who work have much more contact with the world than those who, say, work at the Dawn full-time. The latter have relatively little contact with the world and a lot of contact with each other. Hence their trials would have to come largely from the brethren. Trials are absolutely necessary for development and for making our calling and election sure—just as iron has to be put into the furnace to become hardened as steel. We are to endure hardness as good soldiers.

Back there just to be identified as a Christian was a problem. For instance, a Christian in Israel in the early Church encountered reproach, hatred, and stigma. At the present time, we experience little of such persecution. Not until 300 years later, when Emperor Constantine proclaimed Christianity as the official religion of the empire, did it become fashionable to be a Christian. But more than a thousand years later, during its period of power, the Roman Catholic Church persecuted and put Protestants to death; that is, those who were ostensibly “brethren” did the persecuting. Today we are not receiving open persecution, although events in the near future will rekindle such activity. Currently many of our problems and our schooling and development take place right in the Bible Student movement. But in time the nominal Church—both Protestant and Catholic—will enter our lives in a very dramatic way.

John 15:19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

“I have chosen you out of the world.” The Church is called the ecclesia of God, the “called-out ones.”

John 15:20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.

Here the word “kept” means “watched” or “observed.” “If they [the world] have kept [watched or observed] my saying, they will keep [watch or observe] yours also.” When Jesus preached the gospel, he had a lot of critics and opposition. In addition, he actually healed people—something we cannot do. Therefore, it stands to reason that if we are loyal to the truth, we will meet opposition. There is a saying: “The truth hurts.” The truth sometimes hurts us in the sense that we smart when we see our shortcomings. That is good, for it shows we have a conscience.

John 15:21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me.

“For my [Jesus’] name’s sake” is the key phrase, for we could be persecuted for the wrong reason(s). Jesus received persecution because of faithfulness to his Father and in teaching his Father’s Word. Hence the persecutors did not know God.

Because of the certain persecution when Jesus was planning to go to Jerusalem, Peter said, “Be it far from thee, Lord” (Matt. 16:22,23). But Jesus rebuked Peter and said that the advice came from the Adversary, that Satan had used the old man of Peter, that Peter savored not the things of God but the things of the world. Satan has fallen and depraved tastes, but anyone who falls would have similar shortcomings even if Satan did not exist. Sin came on the human race because Adam sinned. Adam’s sin caused the penalty, not Satan’s sin. It is true that Satan sinned—he told a lie—but it was by “one man’s” (Adam’s) sin that condemnation came on the human family (Rom. 5:17-19).

In regard to the spirit that motivates the world, Jesus said on one occasion, “Ye are of your father the devil because you do his works” (John 8:44 paraphrase). The influence of Satan is reflected in the human race, but mankind would have done those things even without his influence because they are fallen. Sometimes the tendency is to blame everything on Satan, but such is not always the case, for many people, because they are fallen and weak, accept sin for the benefits of sin.

Comment: That is good reasoning because it shows why, even when Satan is bound in the Kingdom, the human race will have to struggle against their fallen propensities. It will not be easy just because the Adversary is restrained.

Reply: And any who then die will die for their own sin if they do not desert former habits.

Comment: The thought of suffering for Jesus is expressed in 1 Peter 4:14,16. “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified…. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.”

Reply: Peter was more or less quoting the principle Jesus mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount. On that occasion, Jesus spoke of suffering for righteousness’ sake and for his name’s sake—two different types of suffering.

Let us digress for a moment. The fighting in Ireland today is more political than religious. Earlier it was religious. Southern Catholic Ireland, which is three quarters of the country, wants the northern part to be incorporated in a parliament of all Ireland. But if that happens, the parliament will immediately be Catholic because they so outnumber the Protestants in the north. Some of the northern Protestants are quite enlightened (like Reverend Paisley). They know the history of Ireland and about the bitter religious persecution in the past. We in the United States, a country of many religious faiths, tend to ask, “Why can’t they get along together?” But history shows that the Catholics intended to exterminate the Protestants.

Centuries ago England sent General Cromwell to Ireland. Against great odds, he had an outstanding victory and wiped out Catholic Ireland. The Irish Catholics have never forgotten that. England has subsequently sheltered and protected the Protestant colony to the north, knowing that if their army were withdrawn, the Protestants there would be annihilated. Thus England has tried to protect northern Ireland from being massacred and made an arrangement to send troops if needed. The point is that because history is not known today, the people are generally sympathetic to the IRA, who want a united, whole Ireland. They do not realize what would result if Ireland were unified. We are very generous in solving other people’s problems.

John 15:22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.

For the most part, “they” would be the scribes and the Pharisees. However, the pronoun would also include those of the nation of Israel who personally saw Jesus’ miracles and heard his words and yet persecuted him. Thus there is a form of retribution—and different degrees of guilt. Those in the Galilee region incurred more responsibility because many of Jesus’ miracles were done there. He said, “It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee [Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee]” (Matt. 11:24).

The scribes and Pharisees who paid hush money to the guards who watched Jesus’ tomb are in far greater danger than those who merely criticized him during his ministry, for the former went against direct firsthand evidence. The guards were set by Pilate’s permission, but those comprising the guard were appointed by the Pharisees. The very fact the guard returned to the Pharisees to tell what they had seen proves whom they were influenced by and whom they were sympathetic to. Others, who based their judgment on hearsay, were less guilty than the Pharisees who acted contrary to firsthand evidence.

John 15:23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also.

John 15:24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.

Many witnessed Jesus’ miracles, which included raising from death at least three individuals.

John 15:25 But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.

The Jewish nation rejected Jesus because they were influenced by their mentors. The very ones who hailed him “Hosanna!” took up the cry of their religious leaders to “Crucify him!” The latter was not a cold statement but an emotional chant—with fervor! When the people saw Jesus entering Jerusalem, he was their promised Messiah. He had been healing, raising the dead, and speaking as no other human spoke. But when he was crucified—when they saw him on the Cross—they thought he was cursed of God. Now they were just as emotional as before but in an opposite direction. They were emotionally directed by the religious leaders.

Much of what we do today is predicated upon what others say about somebody else. We should try to search out serious matters before we make decisions and not rely on hearsay evidence. We should get the facts.

Comment: A marginal reference for “They hated me without a cause” is Psalm 35:19. That Psalm expresses a sentiment of asking God to avenge injustice. These are the prophetic thoughts of Jesus and the Little Flock.

Reply: Yes, and Psalm 139:22 says, “I hate them with perfect hatred.” What is a “perfect hatred”? Many people do not know how to judge. The chances in the Kingdom will be rather minimal for the radical conscience-hardened “graffiti” element because they have established a character of waste, destruction, and violence. No mere slap of the wrist will suffice. They will have to earn their way to life by retracting the things they have done to injure their fellow man. Individuals, no doubt, will truly reform, but as a whole, many will prove incorrigible.

Those who wallow in sin and harden themselves are undermining their own characters. When the Psalm is read from this standpoint, a class is being addressed, and the wish is that they go into Second Death. Individuals are another matter, but our wish should be that society will be cleansed of the incorrigible as a whole.

John 15:26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:

John 15:27 And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.

“From the beginning” would be from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when the apostle began to walk with him. That seems to be a prerequisite for those who are apostles. Except for Paul, who had visions of the glorified Jesus, they all had to know Jesus from the beginning of his ministry. Paul’s amanuensis, Luke, completely informed him of Jesus’ past life, ministry, and sayings.

The clause “he shall testify of me” will be treated subsequently in a lesson about the Holy Spirit. This difficult subject can be treated better when we have the information that is presented in the sixteenth chapter of John. The way the subject is stated seems to have been providentially overruled because it will be a test. The wording is not as clear as it might be. The pronoun “he” is not in the Greek. Instead “that” (the Greek word ekeinos) is used: “that shall testify of me.” The word “that” is impersonal; it is not neuter, feminine, or masculine in gender. This complicated subject will be treated later.

(1986–1987 Study)

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