Let me sing for my Beloved my love song concerning His vineyard: My Beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; He built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine press in it; and He looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded worthless ones.
“And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard. What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield good grapes, why did it yield worthless ones? “And now I will tell you what I will do to My vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.”
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant planting; Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress! (Isaiah 5:1-7)
The One who identified Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob sang this love song through the prophet Isaiah about 2,700 years ago, expressing His heartache over His people Israel. He longed for a harvest of righteousness and justice from them, but they bore only the bitter fruit of division, violence, and injustice.
Seven centuries later Yahshua1 re-told Isaiah’s love song as a parable to the chief priests and elders of what remained of old Israel:
“There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vine dressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vine dressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vine dressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine dressers?”
They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vine dressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruit of it.” (Matthew 21:33-43)
Of course, the Master’s words that day proved true. In a jealous rage2 they cast the Son out of the vineyard and killed Him,3 and the Owner of the vineyard took it away from them and gave it to a nation that would bear the fruit He had longed for — righteousness and justice. But who was that nation, and how and when did they bear that fruit? And what is the nature of that fruit?
The answer to these questions is found in the Gospel of the Kingdom, which is what Yahshua was constantly infusing into His disciples.4 Consequently, it is also found in what His disciples did with what He taught them.
He often talked to them about vineyards and vines to help them understand what the Kingdom of God is like, as in this familiar passage:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine dresser... Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:1,4-5)
Yahshua had come to restore His Father’s vineyard, which is a metaphor for His kingdom. John the Baptist had gone before Him to prepare the way by pronouncing the old vine dead and laying the ax to the root of it, calling all Israel to repent.5 Then came the Messiah, just as the prophet Isaiah had foretold, “For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground…”6 Yahshua was the new vine growing out of the old root system, in order to bear the fruit that His Father had begun to cultivate when He called and chose Abraham:
“For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” (Genesis 18:19)
It was for the hope of this fruit that God promised to make a nation out of Abraham’s seed, and to give them the land to dwell in where they would bear the fruit of righteousness and justice as a demonstration to the nations around them of what people are like who are truly connected to Him. That is still His objective7 and He still needs a vineyard.
So Yahshua came as a root out of dry ground, the Vine of His Father’s planting, but who are the branches?8 You may think that you are one of them, along with everyone else who truly believes in Yahshua, but is that really what Yahshua was saying? Consider the context: He was speaking to His disciples, whom He was training to be apostles, in their last and most intimate meal together before He was crucified. He was not speaking for the benefit of the crowds that had often gathered to hear Him teach, for they were not in the upper room that night. So to “overhear” His intimate conversation with His disciples and to assume that it applies to you is presumptuous, don’t you think?9
His apostles understood Him, for they were very familiar with vines and vineyards. They knew that a cultivated vine would be pruned to have at most twelve branches, and from those chosen branches the vinedresser would expect to obtain clusters of juicy grapes. For the time He had been with them, Yahshua had been filling His disciples with the sap that came from the root so that they would produce the fruit of being connected to the Vine — clusters of grapes which, when squeezed, would make the sweetest wine.10
So Yahshua was the Vine, and His apostles were the branches, but what were the clusters? To discover that you must look at the “Vinedresser’s journal” to see what came forth from the branches! What the branches did is recorded in The Acts of the Apostles. Here is the vivid description of the first fruit that we find there:
Then those who gladly received [the branch’s] word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the [branches’] teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the [branches]. Now all who believed were together [in a cluster], and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41-47)
Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the [branches] gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus [Yahshua]. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the [branches’] feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. (Acts 4:32-35)
Was this not the fruit of righteousness and justice that ought to come forth from Abraham’s seed? Not just individual acts of righteousness that men may do for the sake of conscience, but a collective demonstration of the righteousness of God. It was a great cluster of fruit, reminiscent of the one the twelve spies brought back as a foretaste of their promised land, which took two men to carry between them on a pole!11 For that is in fact what that community in Jerusalem was to be: a foretaste of the Kingdom to come — a witness, a testimony. Those who lived together in clusters were a visible, tangible demonstration of what it means to be vitally connected to the Vine through the good authority and care of the branches.12 When those grapes were squeezed by the circumstances of their common life, what came forth was the sweet wine of love — righteousness and justice. Abundant grace was upon them all, therefore all were cared for.
Now some will say that the community life described in Acts 2 and 4 was an abnormal growth and was not the typical fruit of the Vine. They will even say that the branches are no longer necessary, nor are the clusters, but instead the individual grapes come forth directly from the Vine. But it was the giants13 of selfishness and independence that drove away the faith of those first-century disciples.
It is convenient to believe that the early disciples ceased living together in communities, but in fact the pattern established in Jerusalem was repeated wherever the apostles went,14 as that was the grace of apostleship — to bring about the obedience to the faith.15 Often in his letters, Paul would send his greetings to a particular brother and the church that is in his house.16 Contrary to some modern translations, it does not say “the church that meets in his house.” The church in those days was not a meeting, but the full-time occupation of disciples dwelling together in unity, in extended households,17 like clusters of grapes hanging from their branch — continually devoted to their apostles’ teaching and fellowship.18
The Hebrew word for branch19 comes from a root word that means to cause to spring forth, and that is what apostles do. They cause clusters (communities) to spring forth by preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom.20 This causes faith to enter the hearts of those who hear and are willing to do the will of the Vinedresser.21 Faith causes them to obey the gospel they are hearing, utterly surrendering their independent lives and all their possessions22 to become part of the cluster — the hundredfold inheritance of all who obey the gospel.23
Many clusters on a branch form a tribe, and twelve tribes form the nation24 that bears the fruit of the Kingdom.25 That twelve tribe nation26 is the fullest expression of the Vine, showing the whole world the goodness of that Vine by the splendid clusters of fruit it bears — interconnected communities full of whole-hearted disciples who love one another in the same way their Master loved them, by daily laying down their lives for one another, taking care of each other’s needs.
That expression of righteousness and justice was the witness of the Kingdom that the apostle Paul at one time expected would bring about the end of the age27 and the return of Messiah in his lifetime.28 But the time came when he realized he would not live to see that day,29 and increasingly his and the other apostles’ letters contained dire warnings to the churches of the ways they were being led astray.30 Self-appointed “apostles” undermined the authority of the true apostles31 and led away their own followings32 with ear-tickling teachings that softened the so-called “hard sayings” of Yahshua.33
By the beginning of the second century, when the letter of James was written to the twelve tribes “scattered abroad,” they no longer shared a common life. They were “going to church” rather than being the church; the rich looked down their noses at the poor, not meeting their needs;34 there was strife, competition, and boasting over worldly pursuits;35 the rich even oppressed those who worked for them.36 Gone were the succulent clusters, happily sharing the same source of life from the Vine. Righteousness and justice gave way to a form of religion lacking the power to love.37
1900 years have come and gone, leaving a trail of bloodshed at the hands of those who claim to represent God, and cries of woe from those who have suffered at their hands. It is just as the prophet Isaiah sang for his Beloved, the Owner of the vineyard, so long ago, “He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.”38 Most of what has been done in His name has made a mockery of what is really in His heart. So just as in the first century, He finds Himself in need of being justified.39 His name needs to be made great again by those who have the courage to separate themselves from the fallen religious system of this day and restore the Gospel of the Kingdom. Their life, which comes from Him, is a foretaste of His coming Kingdom.40
We have given our lives to do just that. Like a root out of dry ground, the Vine has sprouted again41 and brought forth clusters – communities of men, women, and children who love Messiah more than their own lives, who desire nothing more than to abide in Him and bear the fruit of His Kingdom. When that fruit is ripe for harvest, we believe the Owner of that vineyard will again send His Son to receive its fruit:
Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped. (Revelation 14:14-16)
That is the first of two harvests the Messiah will reap when He returns – the gathering of His elect,42 also described as His bride, who will have made herself ready for Him.43 Then they together, Messiah and His bride, will come to earth to deal with the fruit of another vine – that of the Antichrist and all of those who love and practice evil. They will be trampled in the winepress of God’s wrath.44 The evil ruler of this world45 will be bound for a thousand years,46 and Messiah will be enthroned in Jerusalem and will reign over the earth with His bride.47
Then the Promised Land, from the Euphrates River to the River of Egypt, will be delivered over to the remnant of the offspring of Abraham, the one third48 who, by the end of the age had come to understand the truth of Matthew 21:33-44.49 They understood that their people had crucified the Messiah sent to save them, and they mourned over their guilt.50 Then the faithful “branches” of the first century will rule over the restored twelve tribes of Israel in the Millennial Age,51 just as their Master promised them.52 They, along with the faithful of the final century, will fill the whole world with the fruit of righteousness and justice.
In that day, “A pleasant vineyard, sing of it! I, the LORD, am its keeper; every moment I water it. Lest anyone punish it, I keep it night and day; I have no wrath. Would that I had thorns and briers to battle? I would march against them, I would burn them up together. Or let them lay hold of My protection, let them make peace with Me, let them make peace with Me.” In days to come Jacob shall take root, Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots and fill the whole world with fruit. (Isaiah 27:2-6)