Chapter 15:1-11 (israel, Joseph And Jesus)

Vine“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.

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Jesus’ allegorical reference to himself as the true vine is no coincidence. We have already seen that the Gospel of John continuously echoes several prophetic voices of the Hebrew Bible, notably Isaiah, Zechariah and Ezekiel. The book of Isaiah contains significant content regarding the concept of the vineyard. In short, according to this Isaiah reference, Israel is God’s vineyard and its wellbeing depends upon its bearing or not bearing fruit.

We read in Isaiah 5:1-30 “Now I will sing for my friend a song about his vineyard. My friend had a vineyard on a hill with very rich soil. He dug and cleared the field of stones and planted the best grapevines there… He hoped good grapes would grow there, but only bad ones grew… Now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will remove the hedge, and it will be burned. I will break down the stone wall, and it will be walked on. I will ruin my field… The vineyard belonging to the Lord All-Powerful is the nation of Israel; the garden that he loves is the people of Judah. He looked for justice, but there was only killing. He hoped for right living, but there were only cries of pain… 16 The Lord All-Powerful will receive glory by judging fairly; the holy God will show himself holy by doing what is right. … They have refused to obey the teachings of the Lord All-Powerful and have hated the message from the Holy God of Israel.

Remember in the previous section we saw that Jesus, in his Israel-renewing agenda, appointed the twelve apostles to be the new/renewed heads of Israel. Therefore his instructions to them about remaining in him are crucially important to their remaining as the renewed/new leaders/shepherds of Israel.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

Jesus calls himself the true vine, and as usual in John he does not directly quote from the Hebrew scriptures as do synoptics. He usually only alludes to a powerful old testament references. It is possible (though not at all certain) that John’s Jesus not only refers to Isaiah 5, but also to Gen. 49:22 where we read that “Joseph is a fruitful vine, even a fruitful vine by a well; whose branches run over the wall.”

This and the remainder of the passages speak of mighty blessings placed upon Joseph.

It is clear that Joseph is in some ways a type of Christ. We see this in his betrayal, suffering, his departure from his father, and his return from the dead (though obviously in Joseph’s case only symbolically). You may recall that Christ and the Samaritan woman converse in Samaria at the site of the burial of Joseph’s bones. Joseph was pictured in Gen. 49:22 as the unstoppable vine that overcomes obstacles and is full of life that’s irreversibly blessed by God. Its branches will even climb over a wall.

So it is likely that John’s Jesus is shown here as the ultimate Joseph who is the blessed vine. This is the vine to which all members of Israel, especially its leaders, must be connected so that they may be blessed, survive, and bear fruit.

If this is the case, then my hypothesis that John may have been written to particularly reach Samaritan Israelites (though obviously not only) with the Gospel of Christ is strengthened by this connection to Joseph. You may recall that for the Israelite Samaritans Joseph was one of the great figures of their history and identity. Therefore this connection would be logical, especially to those Israelites who identified with Joseph far more than did other Israelites at this time.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

If I am correct in my hypothesis of a connection with Joseph (incidentally thanks go to my mentor David Loden for pointing this out to me), it is clear that Joseph’s blessing itself originated with God. From there, through Joseph – the blessed vine –blessing can flow to all branches of the vine and they will bear much fruit; first because of their connection to the vine, but ultimately because of God’s blessings upon the vine itself (Joseph/Jesus).

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  1. Kim

    I agree with the connection between Joseph and Messiah. Another intriguing thought to contemplate is that both were betrayed by Judah. Very significant to this connection, I believe.

  2. Conny

    I sent this comment to you a couple of days ago and you asked me to post it here so others could join in on a discussion of it: “Are you saying that Jesus is Joseph, or that is of the tribe of Joseph? Clearly his is written of as being a direct descendant of David and the tribe of Judah. I am confused by your essay.” I see that many have already posted comments, which I have not taken time to read at this point, so I apologized if my question is redundant or stupid.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Conny, hi. Please, read this article it will start you in the right direction. Blessings and peace, Dr. Eli

  3. Mary Anne

    Dr. Eli and all – Shalom,

    I am thankful for your knowledge and consideration. Here are my thoughts: I agree with you that the metaphor in John’s Gospel stands alone for its own spiritual consumption, (as all Scriptures should) but I also believe there are additional metaphors throughout the New Testament that are intended to represent / symbolize this very same idea – that idea being that Jesus is the only life giving force providing God’s spiritual sustenance to all who believe on him (i.e. the branches).
    If I understand this verse in John further, it indicates that those “branches” who don’t believe in Jesus as the one, true Vine will be subject to the Vinedresser (God the Father) in that they will be “pruned” by Him.

    In this particular verse where Jesus e is quoted in John’s Gospel, it also has been my understanding that the branches Jesus refers to are primarily would-be Jewish believers who lived in Jesus’ time – BUT since the Bible is timeless and applicable across all time and eternity, this verse is not only pertinent to that particular moment in time – but also pertinent to all ages of believers going forward. So, that verse, as I interpret it, speaks to not only the Jews but also to the Gentiles (who received the opportunity to come into Jesus’ fold after his Word was first given to the Jews).

    So, to summarize where I’m coming from, I interpret the symbol of the two types of olive branches discussed by Paul (Saul) as having one and the same meaning as the branches of the Vine. Although not one of the original 12 Apostles, Paul was, nonetheless, an ardent disciple of Jesus’ – indispensable to the the necessary spreading the knowledge of Jesus’ person and mission. Paul was both Jewish and Roman and used this to advantage in his ministry to address to both Jewish and Roman audiences.

    So, to make a very long story short (!), I believe that the instances where Jesus speaks of as himself as the Vine (like in John’s verse here) are (purposefully) further illuminated and deepened by additional writings of other disciples in the New Testament. Especially, the Epistles of Paul, in particular, to spread the message across both Jew and Gentiles. Thanks again for your time and insights!

    Best Regards, Mary Anne

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Mary Anne, I agree with that. Dr. Eli

  4. Mary Anne

    Hi, I do think we are getting caught up in semantics rather than the overall message. I did not come away with the sense that Joseph was being equated to Jesus in the Fullest Sense in this thread – because there is no other like Jesus as he is the incarnation of God. However, given that the Old Testament and the New Testament are to be taken as One, Integrated Message from God the Father, the figures in the Old Testament were (as Harriet stated) “foreshadowings” of the God / Man to come – Jesus – and therefore were necessary and critical figures in apprehending the totality of God’s Word as it relates to Jesus. While many important men (pointing the way towards Jesus) came Physically before Jesus, Jesus preceded them Spiritually – He is the I AM THAT I AM – so, he was the archetype – the original and only personification of God.

    My thoughts (although certainly not stated from a scholar’s knowledge!) are that these verses in John brought to mind for me that believers in God are all branches – natural branches and those branches grafted into the Vine of God. I probably did mix up metaphors – what I was trying to get across is that the Jews represent the foundation of the spiritual essence of Jesus – who is the Vine. There are of two types of branches that are spawned from this Vine – Jew (the natural branch) and Gentile (the “grafted-in” branch). The Jew / Gentile relationship is also exemplified (although not is this particular verse) as the Olive Tree and the Wild Olive Tree. I feel these are different symbols representing the same message.

    Very glad have found this timely and though provoking blog – finally one that integrates Judaism and Christianity!!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Mary, shalom. Thanks for thoughtful response. I think it is appropriate to do the kind of further midrashing as you do in the second paragraph, but only after acknowledging that the original metaphor had something else in mind (I think in difference to Paul’s Olive Tree).

  5. Bezi Gina

    Dear Sir,

    You write this “Remember in the previous section we saw that Jesus, in his Israel-renewing agenda, appointed the twelve apostles to be the new/renewed heads of Israel. Therefore his instructions to them about remaining in him are crucially important to their remaining as the renewed/new leaders/shepherds of Israel. Respectfully please why don’t you use the real name of Jesus? I mean Jeshua HaMassiah in your conversations?

    Israel renewing agenda it is also a world renewing agenda, isn’t ? First the Jews and after that the others no?

    I do believe that these heads, the apostles are heads in the context that we read at Shabbat Yitro. As Mozes appointed heads over the people exactly like that did Jeshua, in order to teach and solve the little problems, and of course to judge over issues according to the Commandments and all instructions from Tora. The real head, teacher, father, king and everything what’s named authority is God himself.

    I have a lot of question please explain what does it means 12 and why just 12 ?

    How was it possible that the holy people of God need to be renewed?

    I feel that the context when Jeshua was on the earth in human body is very same with the context in which we live now. Because the Laws of God blessed be He are dis considered and everywhere we are looking there is war. In this context I’m searching and of course praying and begging God to open my eyes and could see where are these righteous Jews who teach the Tora in our times. Can you tell me where are they? I know one single person, but he is far from my home place. Where are the others because I’m sure that God exactly like tell the prophet that He has 7000 soul who didn’t kiss the Baals they exist somewhere.


    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Gina, thank you for your questions.

      I use Jesus Christ because I think that there is nothing un-Jewish or non-Jewish in this. This is how Jewish Gospel writers when writing in Judeo-Greek called him. I am not at all opposed to calling him Yeshua HaMashiach. I think it means exactly the same thing.

      Does Jesus’ work also extend to Gentiles? Of course it does. But in my opinion not in John. I think it certainly can be applied to Gentiles too, but I view this Gospel as an inter-Jewish polemic document where Gentiles are really not part of the conversation. I think other Gospels take care of it and certainly Apostle Paul. SO I do not feel pressure to also show that John does the same thing.

      You can see an early post I did about the twelve. My basic point is that the 12 apostles are the renewed heads of Israel corresponding to the 12 heads of the Israel’s tribes.

      I am not sure I understand the last paragraph are you asking to be connected with Jewish people that follow Jesus? Or are you asking something else?

      Dr. Eli

  6. James Ericksen

    Thank you Dr. Eli,

    The Prophecy of Jacob over Joseph comes to light through your insight and interpretation.

    Thanks, James

  7. ginette kelley

    this will be my last comment, thank you all for your patience