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Bible Commentaries
John 15

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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The Synoptics integrate Jesus’ ministry to the masses and His training of the Twelve, but John separated these two aspects of His ministry. There is obviously some overlapping in the fourth Gospel, but the present section contains ministry that Jesus directed almost exclusively to the Twelve. The Synoptics contain more of Jesus’ teaching of the Twelve during His public ministry whereas John gave us more of His teaching in the upper room. This instruction was specifically to prepare the Twelve for leadership in the church. Jesus gave it after Israel’s official and final rejection of Him resulted in the postponement of the messianic kingdom.

In the first major section of this Gospel Jesus customarily performed a miracle and then explained its significance. In this section He did the reverse. He explained the significance of His death and then went to the cross and arose from the dead.

Verse 1

This is the last of Jesus’ "I am" claims in this Gospel. [Note: See John C. Hutchinson, "The Vine in John 15 and Old Testament Imagery in the ’I Am’ Statements," Bibliotheca Sacra 168:669 (January-March 2011):63-80.] Jesus and His Father occupy different roles in this extended metaphor.

Jesus is the true (Gr. alethinos, cf. John 1:9; John 6:32) vine. The Old Testament writers frequently used this plant to describe Israel (Psalms 89:9-16; Isaiah 5:1-7; Isaiah 27:2; Jeremiah 2:21; Jeremiah 12:10; Ezekiel 15:1-8; Ezekiel 17:1-21; Ezekiel 19:10-14; Hosea 10:1-2). The nation’s failure to produce fruit and its consequent impending divine judgment are in view whenever the vine represents Israel in the Old Testament. [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 513.] Because of this identification and emphasis it is clearly with unfruitful and guilty Israel that Jesus contrasted Himself as the "true" vine. He would produce good fruit as God intended (cf. Psalms 80:7-9; Psalms 80:14-17). No vine can produce good fruit unless it is good stock.

The Father cultivates the vine as a farmer (Gr. georgos) does his vineyard. The idea of functional subordination within the Godhead appears again here. No vine will produce good fruit unless someone competent cares for it.

Verses 1-8

The vine and the branches metaphor 15:1-8

Jesus often used a grapevine to describe the nation of Israel (cf. Matthew 20:1-16; Matthew 21:23-41; Mark 12:1-9; Luke 13:6-9; Luke 20:9-16). The vine as a symbol of Israel appears on coins of the Maccabees. [Note: Morris, p. 593.] Here Jesus used the vine metaphorically of Himself. One can hardly escape the inference that Jesus viewed Himself as the fulfillment of Israel. Covenant theologians like to think of the church as the fulfillment of Israel, but there is no scriptural warrant for this conclusion except the similarities between the two entities. However the differences between them make dispensational theologians conclude that the church only superficially fulfills Israel.

This is not a parable in the Synoptic sense since there is no plot. It is more of an extended metaphor similar to the shepherd and sheepfold metaphors in chapter 10.

"It is possible that if the text of this discourse was spoken as they walked from the upper room in Jerusalem down into the Kidron Valley and across to the Mount of Olives, they could have seen the great golden vine, the national emblem of Israel, on the front of the temple." [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 150.]

Verses 1-16

5. The importance of abiding in Jesus 15:1-16

Jesus continued to prepare His disciples for His departure. He next taught the Eleven the importance of abiding in Him with the result that they would produce much spiritual fruit. He dealt with their relationships to Himself, one another, and the world around them in chapter 15. Their responsibilities were to abide, to love, and to testify respectively.

"If in the Discourse recorded in the fourteenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel the Godward aspect of Christ’s impending departure was explained, in that of the fifteenth chapter the new relation is set forth which was to subsist between Him and His Church. And this . . . may be summarized in these three words: Union, Communion, Disunion [i.e., separation from the world]." [Note: Edersheim, 2:519.]

Verse 2

Jesus earlier taught about the mutual indwelling of believers and Himself (John 14:20). Therefore it seems clear that Jesus was speaking here of genuine believers such as the Eleven, not simply professing believers. [Note: Interpreters who argue for professing believers include J. Carl Laney, "Abiding is Believing: The Analogy of the Vine in John 15:1-6," Bibliotheca Sacra 146:581 (January-March 1989):55-66; and John F. MacArthur Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus, pp. 166, 170-71.]

"The phrase ’in Me’ is used 16 times in John’s Gospel (John 6:56; John 10:38; John 14:10 [twice], 11, 20, 30; John 15:2; John 15:4 [twice], 5-7; John 16:33; John 17:21; John 17:23). In each case it refers to fellowship with Christ. It is inconsistent then to say the phrase in John 15:2 refers to a person who merely professes to be saved but is not. A person ’in Me’ is always a true Christian." [Note: Joseph C. Dillow, "Abiding Is Remaining in Fellowship: Another Look at John 15:1-6," Bibliotheca Sacra 147:585 (January-March 1990):44-53. Cf. Beasley-Murray, p. 272.]

This identification finds support in the illustration itself. Branches (Gr. klema, lit. tendrils) of a vine share the life of the vine.

Jesus taught that some believers in Him do not bear fruit (cf. Luke 8:14). Fruit-bearing is the normal but not the inevitable consequence of having divine life. This is true of grapevines too. Grapevines have branches that bear fruit, but they must also have branches that presently bear no fruit but are growing stronger so they will bear fruit in the future. [Note: Gary W. Derickson, "Viticulture’s Contribution to the Interpretation of John 15:1-6," a paper presented at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Lisle, Illinois, 19 November 1994.] There can be genuine life without fruit in a vine, and there can be in a Christian as well. The New Testament teaches that God effects many changes in the life of every person who trusts in Jesus for salvation. Lewis Sperry Chafer noted 33 things that happen to a person the moment he or she trusts Jesus Christ as Savior. [Note: L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, 3:234-65.] However these are all invisible changes. Fruit is what a plant produces on the outside that other people can see and benefit from. It is the visible evidence of an inner working power.

Thus a true believer who experiences the inner transforming work of the Spirit at conversion may not necessarily give external testimony to that transformation by his or her character or conduct immediately. It would be very rare for a Christian to resist the Spirit’s promptings so consistently and thoroughly that he or she would never bear any fruit, but Jesus allowed for that possibility here. The form of His statement argues against interpreting it as hyperbole.

What happens to the believer who bears no fruit? The Greek word airo can mean "to take away" or "to lift up." Those who interpret it here as meaning to take away (in judgment) believe that either the believer loses his or her salvation, or the believer loses his or her reward and possibly even his or her life. Those who interpret airo to mean "to lift up" believe that these branches get special attention from the vinedresser so they will bear fruit in the future. [Note: J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, p. 441.] The second alternative seems better since in the spring vinedressers both lifted up unfruitful branches and pruned (Gr. kathairo) fruitful branches of grapevines. Jesus gave this teaching in the spring when farmers did what He described in this verse. [Note: See Gary W. Derickson, "Viticulture and John 15:1-6," Bibliotheca Sacra 153:609 (January-March 1996):34-52.]

"Many commentators discuss only one pruning and incorrectly assume that all non-fruit bearing branches are removed and burned at that time. We have demonstrated from both historical and current cultural practices that such is not the case and only serves to confuse the biblical record and our understanding of the Lord’s intended message. The spring pruning actually encouraged the maturation of non-fruit bearing branches so they could bear fruit the following year. The fall pruning excised all of the leafy vegetation and much of the ’brush-wood’ (as Pliny termed it), and it was then in the fall of the year that the significant burning occurred to eliminate the woody branches as they prepared the vine for the winter dormant period." [Note: John A Tucker, "The Inevitability of Fruitbearing: An Exegesis of John 15:6 - Part II," Journal of Dispensational Theology 15:45 (August 2011):52.]

Assuming that this is the correct interpretation, Jesus was teaching that the Father gives special support to believers who are not yet bearing fruit. In viticulture this involves lifting the branch off the ground so it will not send secondary roots down into the ground that will prove unhealthful. Lifting the branch off the ground onto a pole or trellis also enables air to dry the branch and prevent it from getting moldy and becoming diseased.

The Father also prunes (Gr. kathairo) or cuts back the branches that bear fruit so they will produce even more fruit. This apparently corresponds to the disciplining process that God has consistently used to make His people more spiritually productive (Numbers 14:22-24; Hebrews 12:4-11; et al.). It does not involve removing the believer’s life but his or her sinful habits and purifying his or her character and conduct, often through trials (James 1:2-4). No fruit-bearing branch is exempt from this important though uncomfortable process. The Father’s purpose is loving, but the process may be painful.

"The fruit of Christian service is never the result of allowing the natural energies and inclinations to run riot." [Note: Morris, p. 594.]

Grapevines, in contrast to other types of wood, do not have many uses. Their total value is that they can produce fruit, specifically grapes. Vines do not yield timber from which people can make other things (Ezekiel 15). They are "good for either bearing or burning, but not for building." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:355.] Similarly the only reason believers exist on the earth is to bear spiritual fruit.

Verse 3

Jesus assured His disciples that they were indeed already clean. The Father’s treatment of them was not to make them clean. Jesus again used the figure for possessing eternal life that He had used earlier when He had washed these disciples’ feet (John 13:10). Divine care and discipline follow the granting of eternal life. Jesus did not want the Eleven to conclude, as many people do, that the absence of fruit or the presence of difficulties indicates the absence of salvation.

"The ancients spoke of pruning as a ’cleansing’ of the branches, just as we speak of ’cleansing’ the land." [Note: Tasker, p. 175.]

Verse 4

The first sentence in this verse is capable of three different interpretations. It may be a conditional statement. In this case Jesus meant that if His clean (i.e., saved) disciples abode in Him He would abide in them. I believe this is the best interpretation. Earlier Jesus had presented abiding in (in contrast to departing from) Him as a real possibility for His believing disciples (cf. John 8:31-32; John 15:10). He did not speak of abiding as the inevitable condition of believers. Jesus’ described His relationship with believers as more or less intimate depending on their love and obedience to Him (John 14:23-24). He did not present abiding and not abiding as white and black categories, as being either completely in or completely out of fellowship. Rather He presented our relationship to Him much more realistically, namely, as having a more or less intimate relationship.

Second, the sentence may be a comparative statement. The meaning would then be that the disciples should abide in Jesus as He abode in them. Obviously Jesus wanted His disciples to abide in Him, but the use of "and" (Gr. kago, from kai ego) is unusual. A comparison would usually contain "as" rather than "and." Moreover the verb "abide" (Gr. meinate) is an imperative, and the possibilities surrounding this verse indicate that not abiding is a real possibility for a believer. Jesus, on the other hand, would always abide in the believer by His Spirit even if the believer did not abide in Him (John 14:17; cf. 2 Timothy 2:12-13).

Third, this may be an imperative statement. If it is, Jesus meant that the disciples and He should commit themselves to abiding in one another. The idea would be, Let us commit to abide in one another. The problem with this view is that Jesus had already committed Himself to abiding within His believing disciples (John 14:17). Furthermore the strong second person imperative in the first clause of the sentence argues against a mutual exhortation. It puts the emphasis on the believer’s responsibility primarily.

The branches then should make a deliberate effort (indicated by the imperative verb "abide") to maintain a close personal relationship to the true vine. We should do this not because failure to do so will result in our losing the life of God that we possess. Jesus promised that He would never withdraw that from us (John 6:37-40; John 10:28-29). We should do it because the extent of our fruitfulness as believers is in direct proportion to our intimacy with Jesus. Divine life depends on connection with the true vine by exercising saving faith in Him, but fruitfulness depends on abiding in the vine by exercising loving obedience toward Him.

Much confusion has resulted from failing to recognize that Jesus spoke of "abiding" in two senses. He used it as a synonym for saving faith (John 6:56). Some interpreters have imported that meaning into this verse. [Note: E.g., Blum, p. 325.] However, He also used it to describe the intimate relationship that those who have exercised saving faith need to cultivate with God (John 8:31). All believers abide in Jesus in the first sense, but all do not abide in Him in the second sense (cf. John 15:10; 1 John 3:24). It is in this second sense that Jesus spoke of abiding here (cf. John 15:9-10). He stressed the importance of believers abiding in Him by using the word meno ("abide") three times in this verse alone. It occurs 11 times in this chapter and 27 times in John’s epistles, where John expounded Jesus’ teaching on this subject further.

"The imagery of the vine is stretched a little but the point is clear: continuous dependence on the vine, constant reliance upon him, persistent spiritual imbibing of his life-this is the sine qua non of spiritual fruitfulness." [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 516.]

Verse 5

Jesus continued to stress the importance of believers abiding in Him (i.e., cultivating intimacy through loving obedience, John 14:23; John 15:10) to bear much fruit. The negative alternative illustrates the positive truth. No contact with the vine results in no fruit. Jesus had spoken of no fruit (John 15:2), some fruit (John 15:2), more fruit (John 15:2), and now He spoke of much fruit (John 15:5).

Obviously it is impossible for a branch to bear any fruit if it has no contact with the life-giving vine. Many unbelievers appear to bear the fruit of godly character and conduct, but their fruit is phony. It is similar to plastic fruit that one could hang on trees to give them the appearance of being healthy and productive. It is natural, though not inevitable, that a branch that has vital connection with the vine bear some fruit. The way to bear much fruit is for the branch to maintain unhindered fellowship with the vine by allowing the vine to have its way with the branch. The alternative would be resisting the Holy Spirit’s work by neglecting and disobeying God.

Lack of fruit in the life, therefore, may not necessarily be an indication that the branch has no vital relationship to the vine (i.e., that the person is unsaved). It may indicate that the branch, though connected to the vine, is not abiding in it (i.e., that the believer is not cultivating an intimate relationship with the Savior).

"How strange that in our day and time we have been told so often that fruitlessness is a sure sign that a person is unsaved. Certainly we did not get this idea from the Bible. Rather, the Bible teaches that unfruitfulness in a believer is a sure sign that one is no longer moving forward, no longer growing in Christ. It is a sign that the Christian is spiritually sick, and until well again, cannot enjoy spiritual success." [Note: Zane C. Hodges, Absolutely Free! p. 118.]

Verse 6

Jesus appears to have been continuing to speak of abiding in the sense of believers remaining close to Himself. The "anyone" in the context would be any believer. Therefore what He said applies to believers, not unbelievers.

It is not proper to conclude that non-abiding disciples are all unbelievers. Many interpreters who believe that all genuine believers will inevitably persevere in the faith and good works tend to do this. They tend to impose their doctrine on this verse and make the verse fit their theology rather than interpreting the verse in its context. This is an example of allowing theology to determine exegesis rather than allowing exegesis to determine theology. Jesus was speaking in this context of abiding and non-abiding disciple believers and gave no hint that He was speaking about unbelievers.

Many interpreters have taken John 15:6 as an exposition of John 15:2. However the viticulture process that Jesus described in John 15:6 took place in the fall whereas the process He mentioned in John 15:2 happened in the spring. [Note: Derickson, "Viticulture and . . .," pp. 50-51.] In the fall the vinedresser would prune (Gr. kathairo) the vines for the winter by cutting off the dead wood. He would not cut off the unfruitful branches that would produce grapes the next season but only the branches that did not have a healthy connection to the vine. The point of the verse is that branches with other serious problems, not just non-fruit-bearing branches (John 15:2), also experience pruning.

What happens to these branches? Jesus said the vinedresser disposes of them. This has led some interpreters to conclude that they lose their salvation and go to hell, especially since He mentioned burning in fire. Others believe He implied that believers who do not abide in Christ will suffer the loss of reward at the judgment seat of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:15 where fire appears in connection with the judgment of believers). Fire is a common figure that occurs throughout Scripture to describe the judgment of believers as well as unbelievers (cf. Genesis 19:24-26; Numbers 11:1; Isaiah 9:19; Ezekiel 15:1-8; et al.). Still others think the mention of fire is only incidental since vinedressers burned the branches they cut off in the fall pruning. They believe Jesus’ point was that some Christians are as useless to God as these branches were to vine-growers. The point is their uselessness, not their judgment. Pruning may involve premature death or some other form of divine discipline but certainly not loss of salvation and perhaps not even loss of reward. I prefer view three, but I concede that view two may be correct. All interpreters believe Jesus mentioned this pruning to encourage His disciples to abide in Him. Then they would bear much fruit. [Note: See also John A. Tucker, "The Inevitability of Fruitbearing: An Exegesis of John 15:6 - Part I," Journal of Dispensational Theology 15:44 (April 2011):51-68.]

Verse 7

Here the second use of "abide" is obviously in view, namely, its use as a synonym for fellowship rather than salvation. Jesus addressed His believing disciples and told them what would happen if they did abide in Him. He had already explained that believers may or may not abide in Him (John 15:3-5). Not only do abiding disciples bear much fruit (John 15:5), but they also receive what they ask God for in prayer.

This verse has also been a stumbling block to some sincere Christians. It appears to be a blanket promise to grant any request the disciple may offer. Really it is a blanket promise to grant any request that an abiding disciple may offer. An abiding disciple will ask only those things that are in harmony with or subject to God’s will, as Jesus did. The wishes of abiding disciples are the same as Jesus’ wishes. To ask anything else would make the praying believer a non-abiding disciple.

Putting this revelation together with what Jesus said earlier, we can see that abiding disciples pray in Jesus’ name, and praying in Jesus’ name requires abiding in Christ (John 14:13-14). [Note: See Thomas L. Constable, Talking to God: What the Bible Teaches about Prayer, pp. 175-76.] Perhaps we can understand better now what Jesus meant when He said earlier that He wanted His disciples to experience the same unity with Himself that He enjoyed with His Father (John 14:20-21).

"To remain in Christ and to allow his words to remain in oneself means a conscious acceptance of the authority of his word and a constant contact with him by prayer." [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 152.]

Verse 8

The granting of petitions to abiding believers glorifies the Father. Answered prayer is one form of fruitfulness. All fruitfulness springs ultimately from the Son, the vine. Therefore it is really the Son who is bringing glory to the Father through His abiding disciples (cf. John 13:31; John 14:13; John 17:4). The believer’s fruitfulness is one means by which the Son glorifies the Father.

Fruit-bearing demonstrates that a believer is one of Jesus’ disciples (cf. Matthew 7:20; Luke 6:43-44). Notice that Jesus did not say that a believer will inevitably produce fruit. It is possible for a believer to give little or no outward evidence of being a believer in Jesus (John 15:2). This is one of the greatest problems in the church today: genuine Christians who make little or no attempt to follow God’s will for their lives. However the presence of fruit in a believer’s life shows others that that disciple really does possess eternal life.

Some expositors argue that fruit is inevitable in the true Christian’s life by appealing to Matthew 7:20: "You will know them by their fruits." However in the context of that verse Jesus was talking about false teachers, not believers.

Verses 9-10

Jesus proceeded to explain that obedience is the key to abiding (cf. John 15:7). The relationship between the Father and the Son is again the paradigm for the relationship between the Son and the believer. The idea is not that we can withdraw from the circle of God’s love by being disobedient. God does not stop loving His disobedient children (cf. Luke 15:11-24). It is rather that we can withdraw from the enjoyment and blessings of His love. John stressed Jesus’ obedience to His Father in this Gospel (John 4:34; John 5:19; John 6:38; John 8:29; John 8:55; John 10:17-18; John 12:27-28; John 14:31). Now Jesus called His disciples to follow His example.

Verses 9-16

The exposition of themes in the metaphor 15:9-16

Jesus proceeded to expound further on some of the themes that He had introduced in His teaching on the vine and the branches (John 15:1-8). We observed the same pattern in Jesus’ teaching about the Good Shepherd in chapter 10. The subject moves generally from the believing disciple’s relationship with God to his or her relationship with other believers.

Verse 11

Loving obedience is the cause of the disciple’s fruitfulness, but joy is its result. The fullness of believers’ joy was John’s purpose for writing his first epistle, as it was Jesus’ purpose in giving this discourse (1 John 1:4). Specifically Jesus had told His disciples that joy would follow their obedience to His teachings (John 15:10). He intended His teachings to produce freedom and joy, not bondage and grief (cf. John 10:10; Matthew 11:30).

"How can we tell when we are ’abiding in Christ’? Is there a special feeling? No, but there are special evidences that appear and they are unmistakably clear. For one thing, when you are abiding in Christ, you produce fruit (John 15:2). . . . Also, you experience the Father’s ’pruning’ so that you will bear more fruit (John 15:2). The believer who is abiding in Christ has his prayers answered (John 15:7) and experiences a deepening love for Christ and for other believers (John 15:9; John 15:12-13). He also experiences joy (John 15:11)." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:355.]

Verse 12

Jesus summarized His teaching with the command to love one another as He had loved them (cf. John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:16). This was especially relevant because of the disciples’ earlier arguments about who of them was the greatest and their unwillingness to wash each other’s feet.

Verse 13

Love for a friend reaches its zenith when one willingly sacrifices his or her life for that friend. Jesus had spoken of His love for His disciples (John 15:12). He would shortly show them how great it was by making the supreme sacrifice for them. After that, they would not only have His command but also His example to follow.

Really Jesus did more than lay down His life for His friends. He died for His enemies (cf. Matthew 5:43-47; Romans 5:8-10). However in the context of this audience His statement was true as it stands. The most a person can do for a friend is to die for him or her.

Verses 14-15

"Friend" is another relative term such as "abiding" or "fellowship." A person can be a casual friend, a close friend, or an intimate friend depending on his or her love and loyalty. Likewise all believers are God’s friends in one sense, but abiding believers are His friends on a deeper level because they seek to obey Him consistently (cf. Psalms 25:14).

A good servant (Gr. doulos, lit. slave) also obeys his master. What then is the difference between a servant of God and an intimate friend of God? Jesus proved to His disciples that they were His friends as well as His servants but pointing out that a master shares his plans with his friends but not with his slaves. He had told them what was coming thereby treating them as His friends. Abraham and Moses, the only Old Testament characters whom God called His friends, also received revelations of God’s plans from Him (cf. Genesis 18:17; Exodus 33:11; 2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23). Jesus also referred to Lazarus as "our friend" (John 11:11).

Slaves customarily receive orders but no explanations or reasons for their orders. One of the differences between friends and slaves is the degree of intimacy they share with the Master. Jesus raised His disciples from the level of tools to being partners with Him in His work (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20 to 2 Corinthians 6:1).

Jesus said that He no longer called His disciples slaves implying that He had done so in the past. One of the common titles God used for the prophets in the Old Testament was "my servants the prophets" (e.g., Jeremiah 7:25; Jeremiah 25:4; Jeremiah 29:19; et al.). In former times God had not revealed His mind fully to His people (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12). However with the coming of Jesus He revealed His plans as to friends rather than as to servants. This is another indication that Jesus viewed His Incarnation as the culmination of divine revelation. The revelation that Jesus gave through the apostles following His ascension was a continuation of that revelation (cf. Acts 1:1-2).

Verse 16

Again Jesus stressed that the initiative in the relationship between Him and His disciples lay with Himself, not them (cf. John 1:39; John 1:42-43; John 6:70; John 10:27). He probably did this because of their tendency to think too highly of themselves and since in their culture it was common for disciples to choose their rabbi. Even today students love to seek out the teacher of their choice and attach themselves to him or her.

He had chosen them to be His friends, but He had also appointed them to a specific task. They had a job to do as His servants, a mission to fulfill. Part of His purpose for them was that they bear fruit and that their fruit would have lasting effects. Evidently the fruit of their missionary outreach was particularly in Jesus’ mind since He linked going with bearing fruit. In this case new converts are the fruits in view (cf. John 20:21).

Asking the Father in prayer in Jesus’ name was necessary for fruit-bearing to happen. Jesus linked prayer and fruit-bearing in a cause and effect relationship. Prayer plays an essential role in the believer’s fruitfulness (cf. James 4:2).

The NIV translation is misleading. It implies that answers to prayer will be the disciples’ reward for effective fruit-bearing. In the Greek text there are two purpose clauses each introduced by hina: "that you should go and bear fruit," and "that whatever you ask the Father . . . He may give you." These purposes are coordinate, but logically praying precedes fruit-bearing (cf. John 14:12-14; John 15:7-8).

"Five characteristics of genuine love are detailed in John 15:13-16. True love is sacrificial; it is demonstrated in obedience in Christ; it always communicates truth; it takes the initiative in meeting the legitimate needs of others; and it will always bear fruit with abiding results." [Note: Bailey, p. 186.]

Verse 17

Again Jesus repeated the absolute importance of His disciples loving one another (cf. John 13:34; John 15:10; John 15:12; John 15:14). This was not only a repetition for emphasis, but it set the stage for Jesus’ teaching on the world’s opposition that follows.

Verses 17-27

6. The warning about opposition from the world 15:17-27

Jesus had discussed the Father’s unity with the Son, the Son’s unity with His disciples, and the disciples’ unity with one another, as recorded in this chapter. It was natural then that He should also address the disciples’ relationship with the world. His reference to their mission led Him into this subject (John 15:16).

"This study [John 15:1-16] began in the vineyard and ended in the throne room! The next study will take us to the battlefield where we experience the hatred of the lost world." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:359.]

Verse 18

Jesus wanted to prepare His disciples for the opposition that they would face after His departure. To do this He announced first that they would encounter opposition from the world (cf. 1 John 3:13). Here the world (Gr. kosmos) refers to the mass of unbelievers. The conditional sentence in the Greek text assumes the reality of what Jesus stated for the argument’s sake. The world would hate them. A person cannot be an intimate friend of Jesus (i.e., an abiding believer) without drawing hatred from His enemies.

The world hates Jesus because He testified that its deeds are evil (John 7:7). His abiding disciples draw hatred from the world because they associate with Him and His teachings and because they seek to advance His mission. Remembering the world’s hatred for the Master makes bearing that hatred easier for His disciple.

Verse 19

Believers are aliens in the world because Jesus has called us to fulfill His plans and purposes rather than simply living for ourselves (cf. 1 Peter 1:1). The world does not hate us because we are superior but because we are servants of the Lord whom it has rejected.

Verse 20

Jesus reminded the disciples of the principle that He had mentioned when washing their feet (John 13:16). Then He used this principle to encourage them to serve one another. Now He used it to explain why they would experience persecution.

People normally treat a person’s servants as they treat him. Since unbelievers persecuted Jesus, His disciples should expect persecution too. Conversely if some people in the world followed Jesus’ teachings, some would also follow His disciples’ teachings. This is a more likely interpretation than the one that sees Jesus saying that since they had rejected His teaching they would also reject the disciples’ teaching (e.g., NEB). Some in the world did indeed believe Jesus’ teachings, and some would believe the disciples’ teachings.

Verse 21

Ultimately the disciples would experience opposition because of Jesus. "My name’s sake" is the equivalent of "me." Responses to the lives and witness of Jesus’ disciples really turn on who He is, not on who the witnesses are. Obviously we can aggravate and provoke persecution by our inept or carnal conduct, but Jesus was explaining the basic theological reason for the opposition we face, not the secondary sociological reasons.

People rejected Jesus because they did not know God who had sent Him. They were ignorant of Him because they were spiritually blind (cf. Romans 1:28). Consequently they could not evaluate the Messenger whom God had sent. Jesus implied that they would reject His disciples too because they did not know God who had sent them. Again the close unity between the Father and the Son and between the Son and abiding believers comes through.

Verses 22-23

Jesus obviously did not mean that it would have been better for the world if He had remained in heaven. His point was that by coming into the world and preaching and working miracles He had confronted people with their rebellion against God (cf. Matthew 11:20-24; Luke 11:31-32). Jesus’ words and works were the Father’s who had sent Him. Therefore the world’s rejection of them constituted rejection of the Father. To hate Jesus amounted to hating God. This is another strong implication of Jesus’ deity.

Verses 24-25

These verses amplify the former two. They also add the idea that the world’s hatred did not jeopardize God’s redemptive plan. Its hatred was part of what God predicted would accompany Messiah’s mission. The Jews’ own Scriptures condemned their unbelief. Probably the quotation comes from Psalms 69:4. David experienced hatred for no reason. How much more would the Son of David experience it?

Verses 26-27

Even though the world rejected Jesus, the Spirit characterized by truth would bear witness that Jesus was the Son of God (cf. John 14:16-17; John 14:26). He would do this after He came on the day of Pentecost. After that, the disciples would also testify, similarly empowered by the Spirit. The basis of their testimony would be their long association with and intimate knowledge of Jesus (cf. Acts 1:21-22).

These verses explain how the conflict between Jesus and the world would continue after He departed to heaven. The essence of the conflict would continue to be who Jesus is.

John 15:26 also contains a strong testimony to the deity of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus described as proceeding from the Father as He had done (cf. John 14:26). [Note: See Gerald Bray, "The Double Procession of the Holy Spirit in Evangelical Theology Today: Do We Still Need It?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41:3 (September 1998):415-26.] It refers to all three members of the Trinity and reveals something of their functional relationships to one another. "The beginning" is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 15". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/john-15.html. 2012.
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