THE TREE OF LIFE – GENESIS TO REVELATION
The tree of life appears at the beginning (Genesis 2:8-9 and Genesis 3:22-24) of the Bible, in the middle (Proverbs 3:13-18; Proverbs 11:30; Proverbs 13:12; Proverbs 15:4 and Ezekiel 47:12) and at the end in the book of Revelation (Revelation 2:7; Revelation 22:1-2 and Revelation 22:14-15). He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7). The tree of life, mentioned in the Bible, is a life-giving tree created to enhance and perpetually sustain the physical life of humanity. The tree was created by God in the Garden of Eden: “The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9). The centrally located tree of life would have been easily accessible to Adam and Eve from any point in the garden.
More details concerning the tree of life come after Adam and Eve’s sin: “The LORD God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever’” (Genesis 3:22). In his disobedience, Adam lost his eternal life. The tree of life in Eden must have had some role to play in maintaining the life of Adam and Eve (and possibly the animals). Adam would “live forever,” even in his fallen condition, if he had eaten the tree of life after his sin. God placed a sword-wielding cherub at the entrance to the garden specifically “to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3: 24). It seems access to the tree of life would have prolonged Adam’s physical life indefinitely, dooming him to an eternity in a cursed world. It would have been plunged into a condition of absolute lostness. He would have lived eternally cut off from God without hope of escape from the terrible consequences of sin. This would have been God’s just punishment for such a presumptuous sin, not merely a ‘magical’ effect of the Tree of Life.
Mercifully, God did not permit this to happen. Adam was cast out of the Garden of Eden. No longer could he even contemplate eating from the Tree of Life. It was beyond his reach. Physical death now began to enter the human race. Adam began to die! Eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil resulted in sexual awareness, shame, and a loss of innocence, but not immediate death. By barring access to the tree of life, God showed compassion in His omniscience. Knowing that, because of sin, earthly life would be filled with sorrow and toil, God graciously limited the number of years men would live. To live eternally in a sinful state would mean endless agony for humanity, with no hope of the relief that comes with death. By limiting our lifespan, God gives us enough time to come to know Him and His provision for eternal life through Christ but spares us the misery of an endless existence in a sinful condition. In His great love, God provided One who would redeem fallen mankind. Through one man, Adam, sin entered the world, but through another Man, Jesus Christ, redemption through the forgiveness of sin is available to all (Romans 5:17). Those who avail themselves of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross will be resurrected to see the tree of life again, for it stands in the middle of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, where it bears “twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2). In the eternal state, the curse will be no more (Revelation 22: 3), access to the tree of life will be reinstated, and darkness will be forever banished (Revelation 22: 5). Eden will be restored.
The last Adam (Christ) came to Earth to sacrifice himself so that through faith in Jesus, we may now inherit the eternal life Adam forfeited. Indeed, Jesus says to those who persevere in faith, ‘To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the Tree of Life which is in the Paradise of God”. The Genesis account of the Tree of Life reminds us there is only one way to attain to an eternal life of blessedness—the way God has appointed. That is through His Son, the Creator of heaven and Earth—the Lord Jesus Christ. It is He alone who can say, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14:6).
2.0 REFERENCES FROM THE BOOKS OF THE BIBLE
2.1 Genesis: The Beginning
Genesis 2:8-9 And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 3:22-24 And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.
The Scripture makes it clear that the trees in the Garden of Eden were actual trees, there is no hint in the Bible that they were meant to be taken symbolically. Note that the Bible does not emphasize there was anything magical about the fruit on the tree of life. The life humankind experienced would be due to their obedience to God rather than any physical results from eating from the tree.
The tree of life represented the perfect state where man and woman were placed. Had they obeyed God, they would have lived forever without sin and pain. Sin and death would have not entered the world. They would have lived in this perfect environment.
Proverbs 3:13-18 Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left-hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is everyone that retaineth her.
Proverbs 11:30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.
Proverbs 13:12 Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.
Proverbs 15:4 A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.
Here the expression tree of life symbolizes the enrichment of life in various ways. It is clear particularly in Proverbs where a number of things are referred to as ‘a tree of life’ wisdom (Proverbs 3:15), the fruit of the righteous (Proverbs 11:30), desire fulfilled (Proverbs 13:12), and a soothing tongue or gentle speech (Proverbs 15:4) that the Tree of Life in these references symbolises that which brings joy and healing to people.
2.3 Ezekiel and the Apocryphal Writings
Ezekiel 47:12 And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine.
The apocryphal writings contain a few references to the tree of life, but use the phrase in a different sense from that in which it is used in the canonical books:
“They shall have the tree of life for an ointment of sweet savour” (2 Esdras 2:12). Ethiopic Enoch, in his picture of the Messianic age, uses his imagination very freely in describing it: “It has a fragrance beyond all fragrances; its leaves and bloom and wood wither not forever; its fruit is beautiful and resembles the date-palm” (24:4). Slavonic Enoch speaks thus: “In the midst there is the tree of life …. and this tree cannot be described for its excellence and sweet odor” (8:3). 2 Esdras describing the future says: “Unto you is paradise opened, the tree of life is planted” (8:52).
In Ezekiel 47:12 we read of trees whose ‘fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing’. Moreover, The menorah and other adornments of the tabernacle and temple possess tree of life imagery, symbolic of God’s Holy presence. The doors and walls of Solomon’s temple contain images of trees and cherubim that recall the Garden of Eden and God’s sacred presence with humanity (1 Kings 6:23–35). Ezekiel indicates that carvings of palm trees and cherubim will be present in the future temple (Ezekiel 41:17–18).
Revelation 2:7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
Revelation 22:1-2 And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
Revelation 22:14-15 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.
In Revelation, the tree of life represents the restoration of the life-giving presence of God. Access to the tree had been cut off in Genesis 3:24 when God stationed mighty cherubim and a flaming sword to block the way to the tree of life. But here in Revelation, the way to the tree is open again for all who have been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ.
Restored access to the tree of life was made possible by “the second Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:44–49), Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of all humanity. Those who seek forgiveness of sin through the shed blood of Jesus Christ are given access to the tree of life (eternal life), but those who remain in disobedience will be denied. The tree of life provides continuous, everlasting life to all who partake of it, for it signifies the eternal life of God made available to redeemed humanity.