6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
and they gather them [sprigs of non-fruit] and throw them into the fire,
Note the shift from the singular (“he”) in “he is cast out” to the plural “them” in “gather them” to be thrown into the fire. The singular references the person, and the plural the works. This phrase does not refer to the “he” in the previous sentence but to his dead works or lack of production (1 Co 3:15).
The text does not indicate who does the gathering and throwing. In any case it is a plural number of people that does the gathering. People throw refuse away. Dead works of believers out of fellowship with the Lord are worthless and will be judged as such at the final evaluation of the believers’ life (2 Co 5:10). The Lord puts on the shelf believers who do not produce for Him.
The “fire” here is not identified in the context, so it cannot apply to any specific judgment. Throwing unproductive branches into the fire is a judgment motif. The “fire” does not refer to that of Gehenna, because nothing in the context indicates this. A mashal metaphor is a picture or vivid portrait of fruitfulness. We are dealing with metaphorical language, not literal ideas. The issue here is not status with God but usefulness in service to the Lord.
“Fire” is a common symbol in the Bible for God’s judgment on His people in time, not eternity. Less frequently, the Bible associates fire with hell.
and they [plural] are burned.
“Burned” branches are non-productive branches; they are useless to God’s kingdom. It is not the believer but the cutting of dross from his life that is at stake.
It is important that we see that there is a close connection between the believer and his work. We need to understand that for God to apply this fire of judgment to the believer, He applies it to the believers’ work.
Non-abiding branches will experience production pruning.
The “fire” in this verse is not hell but the burning of works done while a believer is out of fellowship with the Lord. Jesus will burn these works at the bema seat, the final judgment for Christians (2 Co 5:10). 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 gives us the idea of “fire” in connection to loss of rewards. He makes a clear distinction between the man and his work (1 Co 3:15). It is the believers’ work, not his person per se, that is burned. The believer will have eternal life, but his works will be burned because they are worthless. This person will have no or little reward.
The purpose of a vine is to produce fruit; otherwise, the only value is to burn it as fuel. It is possible that the Lord will reject much of what we do for Him if we do it not abiding in fellowship with the Lord.