It is important that the reader understand this and not interpret this discussion out of context. Many professional Christian teachers take this and other statements by Jesus out of context as they interpret them, as they imagine Jesus is speaking to everyone in the future for all time.
This does not mean that we cannot derive the spiritual meaning from Jesus' statement as we read it two thousand years later. It also does not mean we cannot apply it to our own life. But to imagine that when Jesus said "you" in this statement, he is speaking directly to me, 2,000 years later, is to not properly understand this statement.
Taking statements like this out of the context leads to a speculative and imaginary understanding of Jesus. This has been part of the strategy of professional ecclesiastical Christian organizations and their teachers to draw us in to their speculative interpretation of Jesus as being God. This is combined with a ridiculous notion that God had to become a man and allow himself to be tortured and murdered on a cross in order to cleanse our sins.
The Supreme Being can cleanse sins simply with a thought. He does not need to become a man and suffer for us. He owns and controls the universe. To say that God had to submit Himself to some kind of sacrifice is to say that God is not in control. This is offensive towards the Supreme Being.
The reality, as Jesus clarifies here in this lecture, is that he is God's perfect loving servant, as he stated just before this statement:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." (John 15:1-2)
This is not the statement of someone who is God become man. This is a statement made by someone accepting that God is his Master. Just consider the relationship between a gardener and his plants. The plants are in a servitude position in relation to the gardener.
After this clarification of his relation to the Supreme Being, Jesus now clarifies his disciples' relationship with him:
"I am the vine; you are the branches."
Here Jesus states that his disciples, who have each been following Jesus and learning directly from Jesus, can be part of Jesus' mission. Jesus knows that the end of his time on earth is getting close, and he wants his disciples to carry on his mission - his service to the Supreme Being. This is confirmed a few verses later, when he says:
"This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." (John 15:8)
When Jesus says, "Remain in me, and I will remain in you" he is not speaking of his disciples physically getting inside of his body. That would be a nonsensical understanding.
In fact, the word "in" does not necessarily even mean "inside" as it is being utilized in this translation. "In" is being translated from the Greek word ἐν (en), which can also be translated to "with," "by" or "among" according to the lexicon. When used in the context of two or more people, the word refers to inclusion, not residing inside someone else.
This means that this section of Jesus' statement should be translated to:
"Remain with me, and I will remain with you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain with the vine."
This correction with the translation clarifies Jesus' statement, and his desire for his disciples to continue to abide by his instructions.
This is because when someone says that we will be "with" them, this can refer not necessarily to being physically with them, but their activities, in this case, serve to please them and carry out their mission.
For example, if soldiers belonging in the same troop were each dispersed separately to complete a mission that ultimately served the mission of the troop commander - each soldier would still be "with" the troop even though physically separated. Just because they left the physical proximity of the other soldiers does not mean they abandoned the troop. Their carrying out their mission as a troop-member indeed proves they were still with the troop.
In the same way, Jesus is using symbolism to portray that even though Jesus' physical body might be physically leaving them, they will still be connected with Jesus so long as they serve to carry out his mission - just as a branch is connected with a grape vine.
Jesus' statement confirms this conclusion with the antithesis of being "with" him - being "apart" (χωρίς (chōris)) from him. In other words, if they do not follow his instructions, they will become separated from him and thus cannot represent his mission:
"If a man remains with me and I with him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."
As to the phrase, "if a man...", this is not an accurate translation either. Jesus' statement does not say "man" (Greek word ἄνθρωπος (anthrōpos)) at all. Rather, there is simply a conditional statement, κλήματα ὁ μένων ἐν, which is better translated to "should one abide with" or "if one abides with." Of course it does not mean "if a man..." is necessarily that wrong, but it serves to communicate something that is not in the text: That Jesus is speaking generally to every man.
We know that Jesus is not speaking to every man in general, because of his audience, his use of the word "you" (σύ (sy)), and the condition clarified later in this speech:
"If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in His love."
So we can see that Jesus is speaking directly to his disciples here, and is telling them that in order to carry out his mission they must obey his instructions. (And here the use of "in" would be appropriate, because one can be "in" love.)
Why would this not be applicable to everyone then?
It is applicable to everyone, in that everyone can understand the relationship that exists between Jesus - who is God's representative - and Jesus' disciples. We must understand that Jesus gave his disciples many instructions - many of which are not even detailed within the texts of the New Testament. In their entirety, these instructions make up the thrust of the loving relationship between Jesus and each of his disciples.
And we can certainly apply some of those general instructions Jesus gave to his disciples - such as to love the Supreme Being with all our hearts, and to do His will.
But many other instructions he gave them were not only not included in the New Testament, but were specific to that time and circumstance, and that culture they lived in. Therefore, we could not apply all of Jesus' instructions, as could his disciples.
For example, at one point Jesus told his twelve closest disciples not to preach to the Gentiles:
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans." (Matt. 10:5)
Are we to apply this instruction today, 2,000 years later? Certainly not. This instruction was specific to a particular time and circumstance, and what he was telling his disciples to teach:
"As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.'" (Matt. 10:7)
Jesus wanted his disciples to carry out his particular mission at that time, which was to teach the Truth among the Israelites, who were missing the points of Moses', David's and other prophets teachings as they succumbed to the teachings of the professional ecclesiastical Jewish high priests and their temple organizations.
This is the nature of the relationship between the teacher and his disciples. The disciples carry out the specific instructions of the teacher in order to help the teacher complete his particular mission.
This does not overshadow the larger mission of the teacher, which can be communicated through the ages, and in the case of Jesus, his central teachings to love and serve God; do God's will; pray to God in private and not make a big showing; care for others; be humble; praise God and give our lives to the Supreme Being.
But to confuse his specific instructions to his disciples with these is to make a mockery of Jesus' teachings. As a result of these misinterpretations by professional Christian teachers, people are now imagining that Jesus is inside of their physical bodies and they are inside of Jesus' physical body. They also are encouraged to develop an imaginary relationship with Jesus, as they imagine they "walk with Jesus."
And how are they being taught to "walk with Jesus"? The imaginary relationship being encouraged by professional Christian teachers is grounded in self-centeredness. It is about what I can get from Jesus: "Jesus please make me rich;" "Jesus please heal my body;" "Jesus please help my football team win;" "Jesus please help me win this race;" and so on.
This is not the relationship Jesus is speaking of with his disciples. Jesus is speaking of them serving God. Jesus is speaking of them doing God's will - not Jesus doing their will.
Furthermore, by confusing the context of Jesus' discussion with his disciples, these professional Christian teachers miss the very relationship they didn't take part of - one of a student giving their life to a spiritual teacher representing God - following that teacher's instructions, and then continuing the mission of their teacher. This is what Jesus is illustrating here.
These ecclesiastical professional teachers will say that no one can be a teacher but Jesus, so no student can give their lives to such a teacher as Jesus' disciples gave him theirs. Why are they teaching then? Why have they assumed the post of teacher ("minister" "reverend" "priest" and so on) if no one but Jesus can be teacher? Why are they acting as God's representative if no one can be God's representative but Jesus? By their very act of teaching about God they are claiming to be God's representative - and as such it is hypocritical to teach that Jesus is the only teacher.
These teachers actually do not represent God. Rather, professional ecclesiastical Christian teachers have paid tuition for a college seminary education - learning from professional teachers how to become professional teachers, and how to represent their professional organizations. They then receive their professional degrees and apply for professional jobs as minister within business-oriented church organizations. They are hired as an employee of the church organization, and paid a salary in exchange for their teachings and other services. They do not represent God. They represent that organization and the salaries they receive in return for their services.
These professional teaching institutions do not follow Jesus' example or the example of his students. The relationship between Jesus and his students, and the relationship between Jesus and his teacher John the Baptist were not professional relationships. They were not business relationships. There was no money changing hands. No one was getting paid in exchange for their teachings.
Jesus is speaking of relationships of love. These are one-on-one relationships. Each student loves his or her teacher, who introduces them to the Supreme Being. They recognize the love the teacher has for them, and they love the teacher for saving them with their teachings. As such, they then follow the teacher's instructions and try to carry out their teacher's mission according to their skills and abilities.
This is the relationship being missed by the professional ecclesiastical Christian organizations and their teachers. They are missing this relationship between Jesus and his students because they do not know this relationship. Their organization does not embrace this relationship. Rather, their organizations embrace usury: Everyone uses Jesus and each other to get what they want.
The relationship Jesus was speaking of was based upon loving service to the Supreme Being:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 7:21)
With this in mind, let's read Jesus' statement again, translated more appropriately to the context and the language, and consider the relationship of love and loving service existing between Jesus and his disciples, and the Supreme Being:
"Remain with me, and I will remain with you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain with the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain with me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Should one abide with me and I with him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:4-5)