Bible verses: Gen. 2.9-10; Gen. 3.22-24; Proverbs 3.18; 11.30; 13.12; Rev. 2.1, 7; Rev. 22.1-2; Rev. 22.14.
1. The Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden – eternal life, God supreme gift to mankind
“And Jehovah Elohim planted a garden in Eden eastward, and there put Man whom he had formed. And out of the ground Jehovah Elohim made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; and the tree of life, in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Gen. 2.9-10
Man’s life started in a garden which the Lord God prepared for him. The garden is literally called the garden of pleasure and that is what we usually first think of the Garden of Eden. But there is another thing that made the Garden of Eden altogether different from any other garden on earth: it had two extraordinary trees peculiar to itself, and on earth there were not their like. There was chiefly the tree of life in the midst of the garden.
The tree of life in the Garden of Eden tells us the following:
(a) The tree of life in the Garden of Eden wasn’t given to Adam as a natural means to preserve or prolong his life, nor was it a mere reminder to Adam (the first man) of the fountain and author of his life. It was chiefly intended to be the highest calling of Adam by God. With the Garden, God gave a sign and seal to Adam, assuring him of the continuance of life and happiness, even to immortality and everlasting blessing, through the grace and favor of his Maker. But all this is based upon condition of his perseverance in this state of innocence and obedience, and most of all, an intimate fellowship with God. Of the tree of life Adam might eat and live and to attain the eternal purpose of God. We will learn that Christ is now to us the tree of life (Rev. 2.7; Rev. 22.2), and the bread of life (John 6.48, John 6.53).
(b) God desires to give us the supreme gift – the eternal life. Adam was made by God and had a perfect life, both in a sense that he had a sinless life and that he had an ideal environment to live in. But that wasn’t God’s ultimate purpose. Adam did not have all the life God wanted him to have. If he already had it all, the tree of life in the garden would have been a mere decoration. But we see from the Word of God that the tree of life is not a mere decoration. It is not even just a wonderful additional bonus. It was the ultimate goal that God wants Adam to have.
Many Christians, even some non-Christians, dream of returning to the Garden of Eden. Some want it merely out of a desire for the enjoyment of the abundant life-supplies at their fingertips without toiling the soil; some want a bit more, a sinless and innocent life that Adam had; some see a more complete picture and desire the presence of God for a reliable security. All these are good characteristics of the Garden of Eden and no doubt a part of the blessing the Lord God wants to give us. But the supreme gift God has prepared for us is the tree of life. We will see in God’s revelation that the tree of life symbolizes the life of our Savior Jesus Christ.
(c) God himself is life, and outside of him there can be no life. But God chose to express life and give out life in a “tree”. The tree of course must be in itself alive, but what’s also significant of the tree of life is that it is not merely a living tree having and showing a life of itself, but a fruit-bearing tree such that its life can be shared and taken by anyone who is granted the right to eat the fruits of the tree of life. This is our Lord Jesus Christ. Without Christ, God himself is life but that life cannot be partaken by us; God himself is light, but that light cannot be partaken by us; God himself is love, but that love cannot be partaken by us. So God put all the riches in his Son Jesus Christ, who offers himself as the tree of life bearing fruits that can be eaten by us. In this sense, the Father God gave his only begotten Son to us so that we may share Christ’s divine life, and this he did even before Adam had sinned. We therefore see the love and grace of God and humbleness of our Lord Jesus Christ manifested even before Adam has sinned. Clearly, God’s love is not limited to his forgiveness of our sins. Many Christians only know that God loves us as he forgives our sins, but don’t know the eternal love of God having in Christ beyond merely forgiving our sins.
2. The Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden – separation from the fallen man
But we all know what happened to Adam before he ever tasted the tree of life.
There was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Between the tree of life and the tree of knowledge, Adam and Eve chose the latter. As to this unfortunate choice, we often focus, quite rightly, on the mistake Adam and Eve made in eating the fruits of the tree of knowledge, but we must also realize that when selecting the tree of knowledge, Adam and Eve also made a decision to reject the tree of life.
The knowledge of good and evil isn’t in itself inherently evil, for God himself possesses such knowledge. We can be certain that wisdom would come with eating the fruits of the tree of life, for wisdom is an inherent virtue of life. But the tree of the knowledge of good and evil offered a different type of opportunity. Adam’s disobedient act immediately made him a victim of the knowledge from the tree of knowledge. With the tree of knowledge, God made an express positive revelation of his will concerning this tree, and as a result by Adam’s action regarding this tree Adam would not only know evil, but also experience evil, and in fact become evil (or good had he obeyed).
What is good for Adam? It is good not to eat of this tree. What is evil for Adam? It is evil to eat of this tree. And consequence follows when Adam chose poorly.
“And Jehovah Elohim said, Behold, Man is become as one of us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he stretch out his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever…! Therefore Jehovah Elohim sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. And he drove out Man; and he set the Cherubim, and the flame of the flashing sword, toward the east of the garden of Eden, to guard the way to the tree of life.” Gen. 3.22-24.
Suddenly, the supreme blessing became the highest danger to Adam such that God had to safeguard the tree of life from Adam to prevent him from living his sinful life forever. The tree of life is not just a blessing in itself, it is a divine relationship. It brings eternal life to one who is without sin, but brings eternal judgment to one who is sinful. The sinful man must be separated from the tree of life, not just because he no longer deserves it, but more importantly that his life is no longer compatible with the fruit of the tree of life, and consequently eating the fruit would not bring about the intended result but just the opposite.
Having to be separated from the tree of life is exactly what the Lord God warned Adam and Eve of their disobedience: “you shall surely die.” The penalty threatened is death: you shall die, that is, “you shall be barred from the tree of life, and all the good that is signified by it, all the happiness you have, either in possession or prospect; and you shall become liable to death, and all the miseries that preface it and attend it.” This was threatened as the immediate consequence of sin: In the day you eat, you shall die, that is, you shall become mortal and be subject to death; the grant of immortality shall be recalled, and that divine defense shall depart from you. The death shall immediately seize you, and your life shall be a dying life.
Out of his sinful distrust in God, his evil doubt of God’s goodness, and the resultant disobedience, Adam chose death when he intended to improve his own life. For Adam, this surely has become a settled rule: the soul that sins, it shall die. The wages of sin is death.
We must carefully note how complete the separation between Adam and the tree of life was. There is absolutely no promise to Adam himself that he would someday by his own effort redeem himself and be allowed to return to the tree of life. The only promise is giving to Eve concerning her Seed, which we all know refers to Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. The tree of life in heaven – the eternal promise in Christ for the new mankind
Adam and Eve never heard about the tree of life again, nor did his offspring. The lost Garden of Eden is but a shadow of the heavenly things to come. God has no intention to merely recover the Garden of Eden on earth. The tree of life is never mentioned again in the Word of God until it appeared in heaven in Revelation, the last book of the Bible. The Book of Proverbs alluded to “a tree of life” referring to God’s wisdom and an eternal hope God has given to his people, but it is as if the Word of God intentionally held the vision of “the tree of life” until the end when resurrected Christ is revealed in heaven.
“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write … “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” Rev. 2.1, 7.
God again promised the tree of life to His people! Sometimes we miss the significance of God’s promise when we read the Bible, feeling that God has made so many promises, so what is so special about one more promise. But the promise of the tree of life stands in contrast to the spell of the curse on Adam who represents the whole mankind, who was permanently separated from the tree of life and was never promised to regain access to the tree of life. If God did not promise Adam to regain access to the tree of life, how can He then promise in Revelation the tree of life to the saints? God of course did not change his mind on a whim. The promise to regain access to tree of life is not based on the merits of the Adamic race, but is given to a new race which is the spiritual offspring the resurrected Seed promised in Genesis.
4. The tree of life in heaven – the eternal blessing in Christ
“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” Rev. 22.1-2.
“Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” Rev. 22.14.
The Garden is replaced by a City. Much can be said on that subject, but let us focus on the tree of life here.
The tree of life in heaven far excels the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. First, the tree of life in heaven is in an altogether different environment. It is fed by the pure waters of the river that comes from the throne of God. The presence and perfections of God furnish out all the glory and blessedness of heaven.
Second, the fruitfulness of this tree is nothing like that of a tree on earth. Even the leaves of the tree of life heal, what shall happen to those who actually taste the fruit of the tree of life! It brings forth many sorts of fruit – twelve sorts (representing completeness), suited to the refined taste of all the saints. It brings forth fruit at all times – yields its fruit every month. This tree is never empty, never barren; there is always fruit upon it. In heaven there is not only a variety of pure and satisfying goodness, but a continuance of them, and always fresh.
And third, the fruit is not only lively, but wholesome. There is no presence of the other tree, namely the tree of knowledge, and there is no temptation. The children of God are found complete and whole with the tree of life. The life is all there is, and all that the children of God would ever need. There is no need of the knowledge of good and evil, for the saints have already learned good and avoided evil, not through tasting the fruit of the tree of knowledge, but through walking with the Lamb of God.
Through John’s vision, the Holy Spirit showed us the eternal blessing in Christ the Lord God has prepared for his children in heaven. For Adam and his offspring (the entire human race), all their problems on the earth and in their lives come from, and can be summarized in, the separation from the tree of life. And there was absolutely no hope. The Lord God did not promise to break the curse as far as Adam and his offspring are concerned. Many Christians have a vague and often wrong understanding of salvation, thinking that all God did in his son Jesus Christ is to come to announce the expiration of the curse on Adamic race, so that we, Adam’s offspring, may again have a hope in our lives on earth. This is inaccurate, or even incorrect. God never recalled the curse on Adam. The execution of the death penalty of the sinful man has been carried out and there is no retraction. God’s solution is not to bring Adam back to the Garden of Eden, but to bring forth a new mankind, a new creation that is the offspring of the Seed promised in Genesis.
To do that, it took much more than merely making an announcement by God. It cost the very life of his only begotten son Jesus Christ on the Cross. As born-again children of God, we ought to always remember that (1) our salvation is at an immeasurable cost paid by Christ on Cross; (2) we are here to celebrate the new life rather than boast in a “luck” our old life somehow had; and (3) our ultimate hope is in the City in heaven where the eternal tree of life is, rather than a re-gained paradise on earth.
We have said that there was a curse of death penalty on Adam and his offspring. In one sense, the execution of the death penalty was carried out immediately after Adam sinned. But that execution was merely a consequence fell upon Adam and his offspring. If sin is to be punished, where was the wrath of God? Where was the crushing of sin? None of such was manifested on the dealing of the Lord God with Adam. Adam merely lost the blessings that he did not deserve. He didn’t really pay the price of sin, which is to be paid by Another later. Adam couldn’t pay that price, because he wouldn’t be able to and wasn’t worth that much. It was like, if you would allow an imperfect analogy, a child who damaged the most valuable treasure of his father. The child may be admonished or even punished for what he has done, but that doesn’t mean he has paid a price of the treasure.
In the ultimate sense, the true execution of the curse was carried out on Mount Calvary when the Son of God was hung on a tree. On a tree! It was the accursed death. There were many ways by which men might die, but there was only one death which God pronounced to be accursed. He did not say, “Cursed is he that dies by stoning, or by the sword, or by a millstone being fastened about his neck, or by being eaten of worms,” but it was written, “Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree.”
There is the tree, on Mount Calvary, combining both trees in the Garden of Eden, the tree which the man had perpetrated and the tree which the man had lost because of his offense. On that tree, the Son of God paid the ultimate price of the penalty of sin. He took sin, bore it away, and allowed the Father God to crush it, with ultimate wrath, along with himself. If anyone is still holding a hope on the “tree” of the mankind and of this world and think somehow something good will eventually be ripe on that tree, let him look at the tree on Mount Calvary, where God pronounced his final conclusion of sin and the world which has fallen under it. If one sees a dead tree only, that would be his conclusion of himself and also God’s conclusion of him. But you, the blessed child of God, see two trees: one on which your savior is hung for the atonement of your sin, and one which has ascended to heaven to become the tree of life.
In Revelation, we see that in the center of the new City in heaven, from which the saints shall never be driven, seeing it is to be our perpetual heritage and dwelling place, there is the tree of life. We know the tree of life is no other than the divine life of our Lord Jesus Christ.
5. Righteous life of a child of God – a tree of life
If the tree of life is the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, the life of a child of God should be a tree of life as a testimony. “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life.” Proverbs 11.30. Remember that the tree of life is not noted for its appearance but for its fruits. Even its leaves heal. Our lives, each a tree of life (or more accurately, a branch of the tree of life), ought to resemble the tree of life. The fruit which comes from a Christian is fruit worthy of his character. Each tree bears its own fruit, and is known by it. The fig tree will not bring forth thorns, neither shall we gather grapes from thistles. The fruit of the righteous is righteousness. The righteous man bears righteous fruit. Let us not be at all deceived, or fall into any error about this, “he who does righteousness is righteous,” and “whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.” 1 John 3.10.
Saving faith appropriates the finished work of the Lord Jesus, by which alone can we be saved, for we are justified by faith not by works. But the faith which is without works is a fake faith and cannot bring salvation to any man. If as a student one is lazy, cheating and drifting, or as a child he is disobedient, disrespectful and dishonest, his fruit shows an old life that is a tree of Satan’s own orchard, and bear bad fruits which will only suit an evil taste. May he be saved from that.
Let us also remember that although the fruit of the righteous comes from the righteous naturally (for his newborn nature yields the sweet fruit of obedience), yet it is always the result of grace, and the gift of God. We can bring forth no fruit, except as we abide in Christ. The righteous shall flourish as a branch, and only as a branch. How does a branch flourish? By its connection with the stem, and the consequent inflowing of the sap. Therefore although the righteous actions are our own, yet they are always produced by the grace which is imparted to us, and we never dare to take any credit for us.
“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life.” A fruit becomes a tree, a tree of life! Wonderful result this is. The outburst of life from the Christian, a consequence of life within him, becomes a blessing to others. The Christian’s godly life becomes a tree of life, a living tree, a tree designed to give life and sustain it in others. Christ in the Christian produces a character which becomes a tree of life. The outward character is the fruit of the inner life, and this outer life itself grows into a tree, and as a tree it bears fruit in others. Like a tree, it yields shade and sustenance to all around. It is a tree of life, an expression and illustration in which a world of meaning is packed. From the child of God there falls the fruit of holy living; this holy living becomes influential and produces the best results in others.
It is written, “In the midst of the street thereof, and on every side of the river was there the tree of life.” The tree of life is a heavenly plant, and so the fruit of the Christian is a thing of heaven; though temporarily demonstrated on earth, it is getting fit for its final destination because the completeness and development of the holy life will be seen above. As Charles Spurgeon said, “What an important thing it is for us to be indeed righteous before God, for then the outcome of that righteousness shall be fruit which will be a tree of life to others, and a tree of life in heaven above, world without end.”
How much the Lord desires us to live very near to him, and to grow into a tree of life, such that the very shadow of our life is comforting, cooling, and refreshing to many weary souls, such that we can tell others of the faithfulness of the Lord, and show others the way of life and wisdom.
In the past, God has raised up many saints whose holy lives are trees of life. Not only did they give comfort to others, but they also yield spiritual nourishment, sweet to the taste of the godly and nutritious to the growth of the members of Christ’s body. The influence they have left behind continues to be a tree of life to us. Their noble examples are presented to the Lord as holy offerings by the church, to enable and enrich the children of God as we conduct our walk of faith and labor of love. Let us pray that we may be like them.
“She [God’s wisdom] is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who retain her.” Proverbs 3.18.
“Her [God’s wisdom] ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who retain her.” Proverbs 3.17-18.