If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
The Meaning Of Fire
I’ve read and listened to a variety of opinions on this passage. Some point to the King James version which says, “. . . men gather them [the unfruitful vines], and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” And they point out that it’s “men” who cast the unfruitful vines into the fire, not God. So this group would say, this verse simply refers to how unfruitful people are viewed by men as useless.
Another view held by some says this is a verse referring to what Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. There’s fire involved but it doesn’t have to do with hell. It has to do with our works during our life on earth passing through God’s fire at the judgment. On that day, the day of judgment, what we’ve done out of genuine love for Jesus and for people will survive the fire like gold, silver, or precious stones. What we’ve done out of selfish motivations will be burned like wood, hay, or straw.
Others say the fire imagery here refers to hell.
I don’t know the true answer.
And I’m not sure anybody does.
Where I encounter scripture with multiple interpretations, each from sound credible sources, I almost always gravitate toward the most conservative response. Because what’s at stake is eternity. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
To illustrate, let’s say I have three friends who I love and trust. Three friends of high character. And each has a different opinion about a restaurant.
The first says: I hear that place has great tasting food. I ate there once and I enjoyed it.
The second friend says: I hear that most of the items on the menu are fine. But someone told me to avoid the kung pao chicken.
Let’s say the third friend is a firefighter. And he says: I was in their kitchen doing a fire inspection recently, and I have to say that while things look good in the dining area, the kitchen is scary. I will never eat there.
One day not long after hearing all three of these opinions, I’m craving for a menu item at the restaurant in question. I decide I’ll give it a try. And then for the next day or so I’m indisposed due to excessive intestinal motility, a victim of food poisoning.
My interpretation of the information shared by my three friends resulted in serious discomfort and disruption of my life:
For one day.
But when we’re talking about interpreting scripture. We’re talking about:
The consequences of a wrong interpretation of scripture last forever.
So for me, I don’t want to find out the hard way that Jesus is referring to hell.
For me the only response to this verse is to cling to Jesus, the true vine, with everything I have.
Image of fire via Wikipedia — Creative Commons