The “vine” (15:1) is “the vine tree” (Num.6:4), a type of Israel. Several trees typified Israel in various capacities. The fig tree, for instance, was a symbol of religious Israel. Adam used fig leaves to try to cover his sin, and that’s what religion is, man’s attempt to cover his sin. The only religion that God ever gave was Judaism, and it covered Israel’s sins until Christ came to pay for them. The vine tree, however, is a symbol of national Israel, for God brought the vine of the entire nation out of Egypt (Ps.80:8), not just the believers.
So what did the Lord mean in saying He was “the true vine”? Well, He was called “the true light” (John 1:9) not in contrast to a false light, but as the antitype of Israel, who God expected to be a light to the Gentiles (Isa.49:3-6). He was saying that He as the true light would succeed as a light where Israel failed. So “the true vine” means He would succeed as a nation where Israel failed. What does that mean?
Well, God called Israel to be “an holy nation” (Ex.19:6). They failed in this (Isaiah 5:1,2; Jer.2:21) but He succeeded, having never sinned in thought, word or deed, and all that were in Him would also be holy—they would be a “righteous nation” (Isa.26:2;60:20,21).
His Father was “the husbandman” (Jo.15:1), the farmer that planted the vine of Christ (Isa.53:2). The righteous nation in Christ was also His planting (Isa.60:21;61:3), and they couldn’t ask for a better husbandman (Isa.27:2,3).
But before the true vine of believers in Christ could enter the kingdom, they were going to have to go through some changes, for they were not all righteous yet. So the Lord said that His Father would take away branches that didn’t bear fruit (Jo.15:2). Since the branches were the Lord’s disciples (15:5), people think this passage is talking about losing your salvation. But remember the context; they had risen from the last supper (14:31), and Judas left moments before (13:30). In context, this analogy is explaining what happened to Judas. And since Judas was never saved (6:70), this passage has nothing to do with losing salvation.
So what does it mean? Well, the word “fruit” (15:2) in the Bible, like all words, has different meanings. In the kingdom program, it is defined as things like temperance, patience, godliness, kindness and charity (II Peter 1:5-8). Judas never had these, so the Father took him away. That sounds scary, and should (cf.Ps.52:5), especially since we’re talking about taking away branches in Christ (Jo.15:2). If this analogy was about Judas, he must have been in Christ. How then did he go to hell (Acts 1:25)?
Well, when he left, he revealed he was never of the 12 (IJo.2:19). How was he in Christ then? John 6:56 said that those that believed in Christ dwelt in Him, but Judas hadn’t believed to the saving of the soul, he had drawn back to perdition (Heb.10:39). He was like the shallow believers of John 2:23,24 and Acts 8:13-23 who only believed “for a while” (Lu.8:13). But how was he in Christ?
Words and phrases mean different things. For example, when Paul talked about “the kingdom” (Col.1:13), he wasn’t talking about the same kingdom the Lord offered to Israel. Being “filled with the Spirit” is a phrase that doesn’t mean the same today as it did under the kingdom program (Acts 2:4 cf. Eph. 5:18).
Similarly, “in Christ” under the kingdom pro-gram didn’t mean in the Body of Christ. And in this context, being in Christ meant being in Christ the vine, the true nation of Israel. And the nation was always made up of saved and unsaved people (Ex.12:38). They won’t be all righteous until the kingdom, until the Father gets rid of the deadwood like Judas. Until then, Judas the unbeliever was allowed to “grow” in Christ along with the 12 (Mt.13:25-30).
After the Rapture, God will pick up where He left off with Israel, and unlike Judas, some tares will choose to remain with the little flock to infiltrate them (Rev.2:9; 3:9). The purpose of John’s epistles will be to help the little flock identify these infiltrators.