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As the company of disciples left the house of the Last Supper, following Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus continued to tell them more about the Holy Spirit. Jesus Himself had been their ever-present parakletos for three years, but He was soon to leave them and give them “another parakletos” (John 14:16), whose presence would be spiritual and permanent, spanning many generations.
The most important purpose of the parakletos was to allow Christ to “abide” in them and they with Him. Jesus had already explained this earlier during the Last Supper, but as they walked slowly to the edge of the city to cross the Kidron ravine, He enlarged upon this idea.
John 15:1-3 begins,
1 I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser [georgos]. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
The word translated “vinedresser” is more up to date than the KJV’s “husbandman” but seems less accurate (to me). The metaphor itself pictures the owner of a vineyard, since the “vine” is no doubt a grapevine. The Greek word is georgos, from which we derive the name George. It is from ge, “earth” and ergon, “work, labor, employment.” A husbandman is a farmer, one who labors to bring forth fruit from the earth.
James, the brother of Jesus, was not among the disciples—nor was he even a believer until after the resurrection when Jesus appeared to him—but the others must have told him about this metaphor. Years later, he wrote in James 5:7, 8,
7 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer [georgos] waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.
James became the head of the church in Jerusalem after Herod killed the other James (the disciple) and imprisoned Peter (Acts 12:1-3). This occurred in 44 A.D. about eleven years after Jesus’ crucifixion. The angel freed Peter from prison, and he was then sent to the temple to testify of Jesus; but soon afterward, he fled to Caesarea on the coast, where he could be protected by the Roman centurion, Cornelius, who had been converted earlier.
At that point, James, the brother of Jesus, was appointed bishop of the Jerusalem congregation, and he held that position until he was stoned to death at the temple in 62 A.D. He was then replaced by his cousin, Symeon.
This James wrote the epistle that bears his name. The metaphor of God acting as a “farmer” (or husbandman) was set forth as an example of patience. It takes time and effort to bring forth fruit. The farmer must not only plant seed but also prune the vines in order to increase the production. James tells his readers that God Himself is patient, waiting “until it gets the early and late rains.”
In other words, from a long-term standpoint, the “fruit” is not ripe for harvest until both rains have come. The early rains came in October and November (Tabernacles); the late rains came in April and May (Pentecost). The fulfillment of Pentecost in Acts 2 fulfilled the prophecy of the late rains, but the early rains will come at the fulfillment of the feast of Tabernacles. These rains are “early,” because they represent the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the start of the Tabernacles Age.
There are some believers who lack such patience. They do not understand that God created Time to teach us patience and so that historical events do not occur all at the same time. Although there are occasions where we are able to transcend both time and space, such times are unusual, for God subjected us (and Jesus Himself) to time and space with only a few exceptions.
God willingly subjected Himself to time as well, James says, so that we may follow His example of patience. It would be nice to experience Tabernacles immediately, but God divided time into the ages and created the Pentecostal Age to test the church in the wilderness over a period of many generations.
We have thus received the late rains in Acts 2, but we now patiently wait for the early rains that will initiate the next great phase of the Kingdom.
If individual vines do not bear fruit, they are taken away, Jesus says in John 15:2. This serves as a warning to fruitless vines who claim to be believers. Remember that Judah itself was compared to a fruitless fig tree. John the Baptist was sent to investigate the vineyard to see if it bore fruit, and he found none. So he prepared to chop it down (Luke 3:9). When he was executed by Herod, Jesus took over the investigation and ultimately cursed the fruitless fig tree (Matt. 21:19).
So also will unfruitful vines be removed. By contrast, however, those vines that are productive are pruned in order to bring forth more fruit. Pruning is painful but necessary. Pruning is the work of our great Husbandman and is one of the duties of the Holy Spirit.
The law of pruning is found in Leviticus 25:3, 4,
3 Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its crop. 4 But during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a rest to the Lord; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard.
All of God’s laws are prophetic. In this case the law prophesies of six thousand years of Adamic history until the great Sabbath Millennium. Isaiah 5:7 tells us that the vineyard is the house of Israel—that is, the Kingdom. It was planted in the land of Canaan by Joshua (Yeshua), and it was expected to bring forth fruit. Unfortunately, it failed to bring forth good fruit (Isaiah 5:2), and so the Husbandman destroyed it (Isaiah 5:6,7).
Yet there have always been some good vines who were not to be destroyed but who were to be pruned. In the big picture (during the six thousand years) the Husbandman has been pruning His vineyard. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Pentecostal Age is the time that the church spends in the metaphorical “wilderness,” where faith is tested and character is pruned.
The wilderness has an end, of course, for its long-term purpose is to bring forth a great harvest of fruit at the end of the age, so that the Husbandman may enjoy that fruit during the Sabbath year. This also relates directly to the Fruitfulness Mandate that is derived from Gen. 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply.” This was half of the Birthright, the other half being the Dominion Mandate in Gen. 1:26, “Let them rule.”
The Dominion Mandate, later given to Judah, was the main focus in Christ’s first appearance, as His right to the throne was disputed by the fruitless unbelievers. The Fruitfulness Mandate, which was given to Joseph (Gen. 49:22), is the main focus in Christ’s second appearance, coinciding with the end of the time of pruning in long-term prophecy.
The Hebrew word translated “prune” is zamar. It properly means “to pluck, cut off, divide,” which in this case refers to plucking branches from the vine. But the word was also used to pluck the strings of a musical instrument. Hence, the word also meant “to sing,” because they saw that songs were divided according to rhythmical numbers.
So we read in Psalm 33:2, 3,
2 Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre; sing [zamar] praises to Him with a harp of ten strings. 3 Sing [shiyr] to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy.
Here we see that zamar and shiyr are both translated “sing.” The psalmist uses two words to express the same message. Verse 3 is connected to the overcomers in Rev. 14:1-3 who have “harps” and who “sang a new song before the throne.” The underlying message is that these sing a new song that is pleasing to God because they have been pruned and trained to “play skillfully with a shout of joy.”
The relevant message is that the Husbandman has sent His parakletos (Jesus) and then “another parakletos” (Holy Spirit) to prune the fruitful believers so that they might bear more fruit and be overcomers who sing a new song.
The term “clean” primarily refers to being ceremonially clean. People were cleansed mostly by water, such as pouring water over their hands. The water was a type of the word of God itself, which alone can cleanse the heart. But John 15:3 is set forth in the context of pruning vines. In other words, the vines have been cleansed (i.e., pruned) by the word of God. This is also how John the Baptist used the Greek term in Luke 3:17,
17 His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear [diakatharizo, “cleanse”] His threshing floor; and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
To cleanse a threshing floor is to get rid of the chaff, just as cleansing the vine gets rid of useless or unfruitful branches. John’s metaphor makes “fire” the agent of cleansing. Jesus does the same in John 15:6, as we will see shortly.
The lesson here is that the overcomers who sing a new song are those who have been pruned and cleansed by the “fiery law” (Deut. 33:2, KJV), which is the word of God, both that which is spoken to us directly and that which was spoken to the prophets.
Jesus’ metaphor says that He Himself is the vine and we are the individual branches on that vine. This shows the relationship between Christ and the believers. Branches are fully dependent upon the vine itself for its fruit, because the vine must draw water from the soil and send it to the branches. In this way the branches are cleansed by the water of the word so they can bear fruit.
John 15:4, 5 says,
4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Recall that Jesus was teaching His disciples about the manner in which He would abide with them after He left them physically. The Holy Spirit was going to abide in them, representing Christ’s own presence, or abiding. In giving them “another parakletos,” Jesus was transferring Himself from external to internal, from a physical presence to a spiritual presence.
In this way, they could be pruned and bear an abundance of fruit both in the present age and in the age to come.
Abiding in Him in this manner is the only way that anyone can bear the quality of fruit that God desires and requires. John 15:6 says,
6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
Fruitless branches are used for fuel, not for fruit. The distinction is made in the laws of war where men are forbidden from cutting down fruit trees in laying siege to a city. Deut. 20:20 says that “only the trees which you know are not fruit trees you shall destroy and cut down.” This, of course, includes fruitless fig trees, as Jesus showed in Matt. 21:19, and, by extension, branches of fruit trees and vines which must be cut off to bring forth more fruit.
John 15:7, 8 says,
7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.
This explains further what Jesus had told His disciples earlier in His table-talk (John 14:14). He was not teaching us that all believers have the right to ask and receive whatever they want, as some have thought. We see here that it is conditional upon abiding in Him and having His words abide in the one asking God for something.
In other words, we must ask according to His will. Our will must be pruned so that we know His will and that we are in agreement with His will. James 4:3 says,
3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
Some think that it is a matter of “faith,” rather than agreement with God’s will. So if they do not receive their request immediately, they storm the gates of heaven until they get their way. There is a time, especially in intercession, where there is an extended time in which the intercessor must walk out something. I discussed this in my book, Principles of Intercession. But such intercession is done to accomplish the will and desire of God.
Faith comes by hearing the word of God. Faith is not self-derived, nor is it something that we can work up within ourselves. If we try, it is just another form of carnal behavior that runs contrary to the mind of God. We are called to be in agreement with God, not to convince God of the righteousness of our own desires.
The purpose of pruning, in fact, is to correct our own way of thinking, so that we come into agreement with Him, thereby becoming qualified to ask what we will and expecting to receive that which we have asked.