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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

John 15



Other Authors
Verses 1-27

IN SPEAKING OF Himself as the Vine the Lord adopted a figure which in the Old Testament had been applied to Israel, notably in such passages as Psalms 80:8-18; Isaiah 5:1-7. In the Psalm the desolation of the vine is declared, but mention is made of “the Branch” and “the Son of Man,” that “Thou madest strong for Thyself.” In Isaiah the reason for the desolation is made plain. Israel as the vine brought forth nothing but wild and worthless grapes. There was no fruit for God. Jesus Himself was the Branch made strong for Jehovah, and He now presents Himself as the real Source of all fruit for God on the earth.

He was the Stem, His disciples were the branches, His Father the Husbandman. Each branch that was vitally in Him brought forth fruit. Branches in Him there might be whose connection was not vital, and these bore no fruit. The action of the Husbandman bore in each direction. Where the branch bears fruit He cleanses it that it may bring forth more fruit. Where no fruit is borne He takes the branch away and the ultimate end is destruction, as verse John 15:6 indicates. Of this latter class Judas Iscariot had just been a sad example.

The word in verse John 15:2 is “purgeth,” not “pruneth.” The Father cleanses the fruitful saint, though such are already clean through the Word. The Lord had indicated a double cleansing by His words recorded in John 13:10-14, and we meet with the same thought here. As the branch is cleansed by the action of the Father, obstructions are removed and the life of the Stem flows more freely, the production of more fruit being the result. The surest proof that we are in Christ is that we abide in Christ; and the surest proof that we abide in Christ is that we produce fruit in life and service, the very character and ways of Christ coming out in us. Without Him we can do nothing. Abiding in Him there is much fruit; we are brought into communion with His mind so that we ask with liberty and have our desires granted, the Father is glorified, and our discipleship is proved genuine beyond all question.

It is a great privilege, as well as a great responsibility, to be left on earth to bear fruit; it is even a greater privilege to know ourselves to be the objects of Divine Love. The love of Jesus rested upon these disciples—and upon us also—just as the Father’s love rested upon Himself. In the knowledge, the consciousness, the enjoyment of His love we are to abide. This abiding is maintained by obedience to His commandments. Do we not know only too well that the moment we disobey His plainly expressed word our consciences smite us, and we are out of communion with His mind and out of the enjoyment of His love. Walking in obedience, we abide in His love, we enter into His joy and our own joy is full.

Verse John 15:12 is evidently connected with verse John 15:10 in a very intimate way. Jesus spoke of keeping His commandments in a general way, but there was one commandment that He had already signalized in a special way (John 13:34), and He returns to it again. Love is to flow between His disciples after the character of His perfect love towards them. Love that springs from the possession of the Divine nature is to circulate amongst the Divine family. The flesh is in each and the diversities amongst us are innumerable; hence the opportunities for clashes and prejudices are endless. It is His commandment that the love of the Divine nature triumph over the antagonisms of our fleshly nature. How have we obeyed this commandment? Our failure here accounts for the small measure in which we abide in His love and have His joy abiding in us. It also means poor discipleship and lack of glory to the Father.

Human love has its limit, as verse John 15:13 states; but the Lord teaches His disciples to regard each other as friends because they are each and all His friends, as being marked by obedience to His commands. He was indeed going forth to lay down His life for them, but in Him was found a love which far exceeded all that was known among men. His love and not mere human love was to stamp its character on their love, one for the other.

From the first moment of their attachment to Himself the disciples had been His servants, but the Lord now indicates that henceforward He was going to treat them as standing on a higher basis of friendship. This friendship was a real thing, inasmuch as He had made known to them all that He had heard of the Father, as the Revealer of the Father’s love and purposes. In saying this we believe the Lord had also in view the coming of the Comforter, who would endow them with the capacity to discern these things, as He had already told them. This privileged place is open to all believers today on the same simple ground—love and obedience. Hence we have the Apostle John using the term in the last verse of his third Epistle. As the first century drew to its close Paul’s prediction, as to men speaking perverted things “to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30), was being fulfilled, and Diotrephes was an example of such men. Yet there were found saints marked by love and obedience—shining contrasts to Diotrephes, and acknowledged as “friends.” Some were with John, joining in the salutation: some with Gaius, to be greeted by name.

Though Jesus thus gave His disciples so exalted a place, He did not cease to be absolutely pre-eminent among them. Friends they were, but wholly of His choice and not theirs, and therefore His sovereign rights remained unimpaired. They were chosen as friends and appointed to bear fruit of a sort that should remain, in contrast with the transient world in which they were found. Then as friends and fruit-bearers a further happy result follows. They should have access to the Father in the name of the

Son with the assurance of a favourable answer. It may be thought that “Whatsoever ye shall ask... in My Name” covers a very wide range. So it does, but we must remember that “friends” are in view, who have had revealed to them all the Father’s things. Those things have to do with the Name and glory of the Son, and it is taken for granted therefore that, identified in heart with Him, every request will be in line with the Father’s purposes, and hence be sure of an answer.

As a reminder of how intimately connected with these things is love among the disciples, the Lord, in verse John 15:17, repeats His command that they love one another. The Lord foreknew how great would be the need of this word in the history of His people, so He utters this command no less than three times in these closing words before He suffered.

The command of our Lord, that love be manifested as the bond between His disciples, gains force from the fact of the world’s hatred. Love circulating within and hatred pressing from without: this is the situation contemplated as the result of His rejection and death. Let us take this to heart for all through the centuries the tendency has been to reverse the situation; and as the hearts of believers stray into loving the world without and courting its favours, so do coldness, disintegration and even hatred find a place within.

Both the love and the hatred spring out of the intimate relation that exists between the disciples and their Lord. We have already seen this as to the love and now we see it as to the hatred. The world hated Christ before ever it hated them, and it hated them because they had been chosen out of the world and hence were not of it. At the moment when the Lord spoke the hatred had only been manifested by the Jews to whom He had presented Himself, but as we have before noticed He is viewed as rejected from the outset of this Gospel, and the Jew is viewed as having consequently lost his distinctive place nationally. A Nicodemus with all his advantages needs to be born again as much as the degraded Gentile; and so here, in keeping with this, the Jews are just the world—the former distinctions swept away in the presence of the rejected Christ.

Moreover, hatred generates persecution, and so that is predicted in verse John 15:20. The servants must expect just the treatment meted out to their Master, and all has ultimately to be traced up to the world’s ignorance of God, and the fact that they hated Him when they saw Him revealed perfectly in Christ. This revelation brought all things to a clear issue. The Lord speaks of His words in verse John 15:22 and of His works in verse John 15:24; both combined to bring their sin to light in a way that was beyond all question and excuse. In seeing the Son they saw the Father: in hating the Son they hated the Father, and all was without any cause as the Scripture had said.

There remained, however, one further testimony, that of the Comforter. Sent by the glorified Jesus, yet proceeding from the Father, He would complete the witness as the Spirit of Truth. The Son incarnate upon earth, had revealed the Father and His testimony had been refused. Yet the testimony would still be maintained by the Comforter, for proceeding from the Father He would now testify of the Son gone up on high and thus maintain the revelation that He had made. They could cast out the Son: they did so by way of the cross. But there was to come One that they could not eject in this fashion, and so an abiding witness would be secured. The Spirit’s testimony is the last to be rendered. Hence the exceeding gravity of sin against the Holy Ghost or doing despite to the Spirit of grace.

Verse John 15:27 speaks of the witness to be borne by the apostles and differentiates it from the testimony of the Comforter. They bore witness to all that they had seen and heard “from the beginning,” as we see at the opening of John’s first Epistle; in which the weight and value of this witness is revealed to us. They were also the appointed witnesses of His resurrection. Their witness to the great facts and realities on which all is based is of the last importance, yet something more was needed, and it was supplied by the fresh testimony of the Spirit of Truth, which we have recorded in the Acts. That was specially given through Stephen in the first place, and then through the converted arch-persecutor, Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul. We may express the difference by saying that the main witness of the twelve was to the great facts connected with the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ: the witness of the Comforter was to be concerning the significance and bearing of those facts; of the whole purpose of God established in them.


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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on John 15:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

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