This is part of my Exegetical Compilation series.
John 15:1-7: Jesus here contrasts those who remain in the Vine (cooperating with Him) but are cleaned, with those who are removed from the Vine and burned.
This warning explicitly includes the apostles, and not only in theory because everyone on all sides of the issue acknowledges one apostle who didn’t remain in the Vine: Judas Iscariot who recently before this saying departed to go betray Jesus. Which means he isn’t there being addressed by Jesus in giving this warning to His disciples.
More to the point the threat is explicitly leveled at people who start off in the Vine, which counts strongly against either the Calvinistic idea of the non-elect, or the Calvinistic idea of the persistence of the elect (if not against both ideas). If the other apostles do not remain in Christ’s love however, they will not be remaining in Christ and shall cast out and wither and be burnt.
The condition here is important: those who do not bring forth much fruit and who do not keep His commands (15:10) are not loving Him. Presumably this includes the “new commandment” Christ already gave them about loving each other as Christ loves them (13:34-35), by which people would know that they are His disciples, and which Christ reminds them of again here (15:12-14), “This is My precept, that you be loving one another in accord with how I love you” etc. Christ also reminds them that no man has greater love than to lay down his life for his friends; yet Christ has already told them long ago (during the Sermon on the Mount) that He expects them to love their enemies and sacrifice themselves for the sake of their enemies – which Christ Himself is about to do! Similarly at that time Christ wryly observed that if they do good only for each other, what more are they doing than pagans and traitors!? (Matt 5:38-48)
This all fits the concept that Christ was trying to ease them into loving and forgiving (and expecting Christ to finally save) Judas Iscariot: after all, He had already warned them that they would act very unfriendly toward Him and betray and abandon Him, too, later that night! God’s love is greater than merely human love, for (as Paul says in Romans) hardly anyone would dare to die for a good man, but Christ showed God’s true love by coming and dying for us while we were yet sinners. Apostles who loved Judas Iscariot self-sacrificially would be staying in Jesus’ love and would be loving one another in a new way that the world would not conceive of by itself, the way Jesus loves them. But apostles who do not self-sacrificially love Judas Iscariot are under the same warning as what happens to Judas: being thrown out to be burned! Yet by the same token to interpret such a burning as hopeless would be for them to refuse to love their errant brother.
(This concept would also apply to interpretations of John 13:18, where Jesus says He isn’t speaking to all of them but knows the ones He has chosen, Iscariot being the clear exception in view from John 13:2. Everyone can at least agree Iscariot wasn’t chosen to continue having the authority of an apostle, and Jesus is instructing the other apostles on what this authority involves. But up to this point in the story they’ve been having at least as much trouble with that as Judas Iscariot!)
St. Paul in Romans 11, applying the same metaphor, emphatically insists that those who are currently grafted into the Vine should not be hopeless for those who are currently grafted out of the Vine, for God can graft in and out as He wishes and can graft back in whomever He has grafted out!–and can graft out those who insist on disparaging those who are currently grafted out!
Combined with Jesus’ remarks that those who bear little fruit (which in context must involve expecting evangelism to be few, not merely being unsuccessful at evangelical work) are not remaining in Jesus’ love, the contexts add up to a warning against expecting hopeless punishment.
Relatedly, several times in the Final Discourse, especially near these verses, Jesus repeatedly emphasizes that so long as they remain in His love, whatever they ask for in His name He will grant no matter how extreme. The qualifier “in His name” could refer to the meaning of Jesus’ name: “The Lord Saves” or “The Lord Is Salvation”. In which case the qualification is that what they ask for leads to the salvation of sinners from sin which Jesus will grant to the final extreme. Just as relatedly, John 13 starts the Lord’s Supper scene with a reminded not only that Judas will be betraying Jesus but with the affirmation on either side of that reminder that Jesus loves those given to Him into the uttermost completion (v.1) and that the Father has given all things into Jesus’ hands (v.3).
See also comments on John 17, where Jesus says the way the Father and the Son honor each other is for Jesus to give eonian life to everything which is given to Him. This will necessarily include Iscariot, even though Iscariot has currently rejected Jesus and so in that sense does not belong to Jesus (yet).
Note also that Psalm 41:9, which Jesus quotes as a prophecy to be fulfilled by Judas in regard to Himself (“Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me”), is actually about David appealing to God about his friends abandoning him hopelessly to God’s punishment after David has sinned against God! – but David trusts that God will not hopelessly punish David forever (in imagery similar to being sent to hell) but will accept David’s true repentance and raise him up to repay those who turned from him while he was being punished by God. The end result? David the punished sinner will become righteous forever more and be in the presence of God.
Members are invited to discuss this set of verses further below with alternate interpretations and links to other threads. One recent thread with discussion can be found here.
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