While visiting Sequoia National Park as a young boy, I remember following the trunk of a giant sequoia tree, trying to find the top. I leaned back, gazing, straining to see the tree’s top. I am not sure I found it, as the tree seemed to stretch to the sky.
Trees inspire awe by their height, symmetry, and beauty. Clearly, not all trees are equal, as some have greater size and importance. Perhaps the two greatest trees on Earth were found in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2, 3).
When God created the earth, two trees stood out among all the trees “that were pleasant to the sight and good for food”: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:8–9). God told Adam and Eve, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (vv. 16–17). The other tree, the tree of life, has no such prohibition. Both trees appear in the center of the Garden, and everything centers around these two trees.
In Genesis 3, the serpent, Satan the Enemy, approached Eve, calling her attention to the beauty and appearance of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, enticing and encouraging her to eat. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings” (3:6–7).
If God had not removed man from the Garden nor prevented him from returning to eat of the tree of life, mankind would have lived forever in a body with no hope of relief.
With this sin, mankind became rebels and separated from God, as “sin entered the world and death by sin” (Romans 5:12). Soon after, the tree of life came into focus, as God declared, “‘And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’—therefore the Lᴏʀᴅ God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man, and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:22–24).
If God had not removed man from the Garden nor prevented him from returning to eat of the tree of life, mankind would have lived forever in a body with no hope of relief. Dr. John Phillips explains: “If Adam and Eve, in their fallen condition, had eaten of that tree, they would have lived forever in their sins. They would have become like the fallen angels, incapable of death and forever locked into the guilt and penalty of their sins. It would have been impossible to renew them to repentance.”1
The tree of life appears in Proverbs in four passages (Proverbs 3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4). The Jewish Encyclopedia summarizes the tree of life’s appearance: “In Hebrew literature this idea first appears in its literal form in Genesis, is used as a literary metaphor in Proverbs, and in . . . the [apocalyptic books] becomes a part of the picture of the heavenly paradise.”
The tree of life appears again in Revelation (2:7; 22:2, 14). The risen Lord encouraged the church at Ephesus with these words: “To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (2:7). Interestingly, this is the same placement the tree of life had in the Garden of Eden, in the center.
The tree of life reveals that God is the source of eternal life; and He is to be at the center of our life both here and in eternity.
Revelation 22:2 notes that the tree of life is situated by the “pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” Cities often are located near great rivers, like the Thames in London, the Seine in Paris, and the Danube in Budapest. In Paradise, the River of Life flows from God’s throne; and situated on its banks is the tree of life, providing nourishment and healing for the nations. Concerning this function of the tree of life, David Levy notes, “The word healing comes from a Greek word [therapeian] that means therapeutic or health giving. There will be no disease in the new Jerusalem because the ‘curse’ (v. 3) will be removed; therefore, the leaves will, in some unknown way, enhance the joy of life in eternity.”2
The tree’s final biblical mention, verse 14, says, “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.”
With its placement in the center of the Garden and along the banks of the river of the water of life, the tree of life reveals that God is the source of eternal life; and He is to be at the center of our life both here and in eternity. “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life; and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11–12).
1 John Phillips, Exploring Genesis (John Phillips Commentary Series) (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001) 63.
2 David Levy, Revelation: Hearing the Last Word (Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1999) 270.