Yeshua and His disciples finished their last Passover together. The evening was winding on. They had eaten the meal and completed the seder except, perhaps, the last cup that concludes the meal.
It’s impossible to know if the tradition of four cups extends back to the days of the Master, but if it did, that final cup of “the fruit of the vine” provides context for the discussion over the vine and branches. As they passed the final cup, Yeshua said, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1).
Like the trunk of the tree, a grapevine brings up nourishment from the roots. The fruit-bearing branches grow out from the vine. The branches bear the fruit, but only due to the nutrients passed to them through the vine. If the branches are disconnected from the nourishing sap of the vine, they cannot produce grapes themselves. If anyone does not remain attached to the vine (Messiah), he cannot bear fruit.
In rabbinic parables, the vine typically symbolizes Israel. The equation, the vineyard = Israel, which is so common in rabbinic literature, results from a parable written centuries earlier by the Prophet Isaiah, who said, “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel and the men of Judah His delightful plant” (Isaiah 5:7). In that parable, the LORD “expected [the vineyard] to produce good grapes” (acts of justice and righteousness), but it produced “worthless ones” (Isaiah 5:4), acts of bloodshed that brought an outcry. In keeping with that kind of imagery, staying connected to the vine implies remaining within the people. Being cut off from the vine would be equivalent to the Torah’s terminology of being “cut off” from the people.
Yeshua declared Himself the “true vine,” the quintessential Israel. As the Messiah and King of Israel, He stands in the place of the nation. Rabbi Yechiel Tzvi Lichtenstein explains in his Hebrew commentary on the New Testament, “This refers to the people of Israel. And Yeshua says that he is the true vine, for he is the head of the tribes of Israel and their king.” The King of Israel represents Israel as the individual embodiment of the nation.
If Israel is called God’s son, and Yeshua is God’s Son, Yeshua must, in some sense, embody the nation (Cf. Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15). Psalm 80 contains a description of Israel as a vine, which seems to invite the same messianic interpretation:
You removed a vine from Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. (Psalm 80:9)
This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet [in Hosea 11:1]: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2:15)
Take care of this vine, even the shoot which Your right hand has planted, and on the son whom You have strengthened yourself … Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand, upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself. (Psalm 80:15-18[14-17])
The “true vine” that is Yeshua does not displace Israel; rather, He bears the fruit of righteousness that God sought from the nation. In the parable, He bears that good fruit through His disciples. He warned His disciples that in order to bear the fruit of righteousness and avoid being “cut off,” they must remain in Him (Cf. Jeremiah 5:10).