Christ - The Tree of Life
By Brian Anderson
Out of all of God's creation, only two trees were given special names - the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Lord God planted both of them in the midst of the garden. Evidently He wanted these two trees displayed in a very prominent position so that man might have free access to them. Notice that God gave no command that man should not eat from the Tree of Life. It would seem, rather, that He gave man every encouragement to come and partake of it, rather than the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. However, He did command man not to partake of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In so doing, God was imposing a very real test upon our first parents. If God had called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil the Tree of Death (which it was, for He said, "in the day you eat from it you shall surely die") man would have abstained from the tree simply to preserve his life. But by calling the tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God was requiring man to deny himself something (knowledge) which he had every reason to believe would be good for himself. Thus, God was testing man, calling him to obey not merely out of respect to his own self interests, but out of reverence for God. Actually, the title "the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" was a very appropriate one, for in eating of the tree, man would know the good which he had forfeited and the evil which he had inherited in a way he never could have otherwise.
2. Genesis 2:16-17: "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'From any tree of the garden you may eat freely [including the tree of life]; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.'"
Although this text of Scripture does not specifically mention the Tree of Life, it sheds important light on our understanding of its meaning. This text describes a covenant that God entered into with Adam. Although the word "covenant" does not appear in Genesis 2, Hosea 6:7 says, "But like Adam they [Israel] have transgressed the covenant." This would seem to indicate that Adam was under some sort of covenant, and just as Israel broke the Mosaic covenant they were under, so Adam broke the covenant that he was under. A covenant is an arrangement between two or more parties. In this instance, God sovereignly imposed a covenant upon man. In this arrangement, God required Adam to obey only one specific command. As long as Adam obeyed God's command not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil he would possess life. However, in the day that he ate from that tree he would surely die.
Seen in this light, God placed Adam under a covenant of works. He could earn life by his obedience to God's law. Having been created upright (Eccl.7:29), Adam and Eve had the ability to choose right or wrong. On the other hand, Adam could forfeit life by disobedience to God's law. Whether or not man retained the gift of life God had given him, depended upon his own effort and performance. What kind of life did God warn man he would forfeit if he disobeyed His law? It could not have been physical life, because in the day Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, he did not die physically. Rather, he died to his relationship with God. Immediately upon eating of the fruit, Adam and Eve ran and hid in fear from God. This was far different from the sweet communion they had enjoyed previously with God. Adam experienced for the first time a sense of separation and alienation from God. Thus, eating of the forbidden fruit brought spiritual death, while eating of the Tree of Life would have meant enjoying spiritual life. If man had obeyed God's one and only law, he would have lived continually in fellowship with God. By disobeying God's express command, he died to fellowship with God, and thus sowed the seeds which would eventually result in a harvest of physical death.
3. Genesis 3:22-24: "Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever"-- therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim, and the flaming sword which turned every direction, to guard the way to the tree of life."
When confronted with the serpent's enticement, Adam and Eve took of the fruit and ate. As soon as they sinned against God, their eyes were opened and they knew that they were naked. Thus, to hide their shame, they sewed fig leaves together and made loin coverings for themselves. Under a sense of guilt because of their sin, they ran and hid from God, afraid of the consequences of their transgression. God found the cringing pair, reproved them for heeding the voice of the serpent, and then pronounced curses upon the serpent, woman, man, and ground.
Afterwards God drove the man and the woman out of the garden, lest they take of the Tree of Life and live forever. Some commentators believe that God refused to allow Adam to eat of the Tree of Life, because it would mean that Adam would live forever in his now fallen and sinful condition. I understand, rather, that God was simply denying Adam the blessing of eternal spiritual life because of his own unrighteousness. Life is linked with righteousness, while death is linked to sin. Now that Adam was a sinner, he had forfeited spiritual life. God stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword at the east of the Garden of Eden to guard the way to the Tree of Life. By this act, God barred man from access to life. Notice that God did not uproot or annihilate the Tree of Life; it was still in Paradise. This implies, perhaps, that one day in the future man might eat from it again. Yet, for now, there was absolutely no way for Adam to get to the Tree of Life. He was completely cut off from it.
If man is ever to enjoy the benefit of the Tree of Life, someone else must earn it for him. In Adam's probation and fall, God had once and for all proven that man can not earn life by obedience to His law. Adam was God's test case. He showed once and for all the futility of man earning life through a covenant of works. If man is ever to enjoy life, it must come through a covenant of grace; not by his own works, but by the works of Another. That very way of salvation is hinted at in Genesis 3:15 when immediately after the Fall God said, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel." The tempter had deceived the woman and enticed her to eat of the forbidden fruit, resulting in spiritual death. The Seed of the Woman would come and crush the serpent, destroy him and his works, deliver man from sin and its curse, and restore him to the Tree of Life. All of this was pointing forward to the New Testament gospel, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Eph.2:8-9).
4. Luke 23:43: "And Jesus said to him [the penitent thief], 'Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise."
When Jesus told the thief that he would be with him that very day in Paradise, He was declaring that He was the Seed of the Woman. In His dying hour, Christ was crushing the head of the serpent, the devil, in order to bring His people into Paradise and give them the right again to eat of the Tree of Life. Remember that it was the temptation of the serpent that brought about Adam and Eve's sin, and ultimately their expulsion from Paradise. Jesus is saying in effect, that in His dying, He is undoing the disastrous effects of the Fall.
At this point, however, an important question needs to be raised. Just where is Paradise? No one has ever discovered the Paradise of Genesis chapter three on earth after Adam and Eve's expulsion. Yet, Jesus promised the thief that he would be in Paradise the very day in which he died. The apostle Paul answers this perplexing question for us in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 where he writes, "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago - whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows - such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man - whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows - was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak." In this passage Paul identifies Paradise as the third heaven. Most Bible commentators understand the first heaven as the atmosphere surrounding the earth, the second heaven as the starry space throughout the universe, and the third heaven as the immediate presence of God where Christ dwells in a glorified body. Evidently, after the Fall, God changed the location of Paradise from earth to heaven.
5. Revelation 2:7: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God."
The Scriptures reveal in this text that there yet remains a Tree of Life which is in the Paradise of God. Who will Christ grant to eat of it? The text reveals that it is "him who overcomes." Who does that refer to? 1 John 5:4-5 states, "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes, that Jesus is the Son of God." Those who have been born of God by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit overcome the world. They gain the victory through their faith in Jesus as the Son of God. Notice that Christ does not promise the Tree of Life to the doers, or the workers, or the perfect obeyers. Rather, He promises it to believers! The right to eat of the Tree of Life is a gift of grace, not of works. It is granted through the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Last Adam, the Perfect One, the Deliverer from the kingdom of Satan.
6. Revelation 22:14-15: "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying."
Although Revelation 2:7 identifies the Tree of Life with the Paradise of God, here we are told that it is identified with the city. Furthermore, nothing unholy (dogs, sorcerers, immoral persons, murderers, idolaters, and everyone who practices lying) are found within the "city limits" of this Paradise of God. Evidently, Paradise is synonymous with the city described for us in Revelation 21 and 22.
In Revelation 20:11-15 the Bible describes the great white throne judgment wherein all mankind will be judged and sentenced either to heaven or to hell. Following on the heels of this judgment, John sees "a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband." The holy city is described in this text as the new Jerusalem where God Himself shall dwell among them, and shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and where there shall no longer be any death, mourning, crying, or pain (21:3-4). The New Jerusalem is a place of purity and happiness, where men see Christ face to face (22:3).
The holy city which comes down out of heaven from God is described as a bride adorned for her husband. Well, what exactly is this holy city, this New Jerusalem, which is as a bride adorned for her husband? Revelation 21:9-10 gives us the answer, "And one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues, came and spoke with me, saying, 'Come here, I shall show you the bride, the wife of the lamb.' And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God." The New Jerusalem, the holy city is identified clearly in this passage with the bride, the wife of the lamb. Now who does that describe? The bride, the wife of the Lamb is clearly a reference to the Church. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; (Eph.5:25). "For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin" (2Cor.11:2). In Revelation 21 John is using symbolic language to describe God's people. In one sense Christ's church is a holy city like Jerusalem. In another sense she is Christ's bride. Both images convey the idea of a community of people in covenant relationship to Jesus Christ.
What then is Paradise? It is the place where the Church will dwell with Jesus Christ for all eternity. It is the heavenly residence of God's elect.
1. Christ Is The Tree Of Life
Colossians 3:4 speaks of "Christ, who is our life." John 1:4 says, "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men." 1 John 5:11 states, "And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life, and he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life." Jesus taught in John 6:51, "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh." By partaking of Christ, we receive everlasting life, just as Adam might have received everlasting life by partaking of the Tree of Life instead of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Jesus taught that He was the bread of life, and if any one ate of this bread he would live forever. How does a person receive life from bread? Obviously, he must ingest the bread. The bread does a person no good as long as it is outside his body. Likewise, the only way we can receive life from Christ, is by partaking of Him. He said in John 6:35, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst." Here Jesus explains how we eat of Him - we must come and believe on Him. Now, when Jesus says we must come to Him, He's not talking about coming in a geographical sense. The people He was talking to had already physically come to Him, yet Jesus still needed to exhort them to come to Him. Jesus is talking about a spiritual way of "coming to Him" - that is, coming by way of faith. When a man trusts in Christ for salvation, he experiences a living union between himself and his Savior that grants him everlasting life. The only way that we can have this eternal life held out to us, is to come to Christ, partake of Him, and receive life from Him.
We have a word in the English language for a living thing which draws its life from another living thing - a parasite! Jesus, in effect is teaching that a person must become a parasite of the life of God in Christ. Just as a tick draws all its nourishment and life from a dog, so a Christian draws all his life from Christ. The problem is that people don't like to think of themselves as parasites, who have no life of their own, but are absolutely helpless and completely dependant on Christ for life. That's why Jesus said, "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day." People will come to Christ if they can come like the rich young ruler and say, "Lord, just tell me what to do and I'll do it." People may come to Christ for His approval on what they've done. But they won't come to Christ to be a parasite. That's why the Father must draw them with His invincible power to cause them to come.
To help you to see this truth another way I'll use one of Mark Webb's illustrations (a friend and fellow preacher from Mississippi). Imagine that your heart has become so puny and diseased that your doctor tells you that even a bypass or a transplant won't do you any good. Your heart is just too far gone. When you inquire whether there is anything you can do, your doctor mentions that there is one possibility, a very experimental procedure. He's not sure if it will work, but it's about the only hope you've got. If he can find another fellow with a strong, healthy heart, he can take a tube and run it from the healthy man's heart over to your puny, diseased heart. In this way, his heart can beat for him and you. Well, before you agree to this procedure, I'm sure you'd have a couple of questions for the doctor. First, you would probably want to know how long that tube is! You would probably ask, "Do you mean to tell me, Doc, that for the rest of my life I can't get more than six feet from that guy?!" You'd also want to know what this other fellow is like. "Doctor, do you mean to tell me I have to go where he goes, do what he does, and eat what he eats?" The doctor would truthfully reply, "That's exactly what I mean. If you want life, this is the only way you can have it!"
Herein lies the cost of discipleship. Eternal life is a free gift, but it will cost you everything you have. Why is that so? It is because of the nature of the gift of eternal life. This life resides in Christ, and the only way for a sinner to receive this life is to be vitally united to Him. Therefore, if a man is "in Christ," he must go where He goes, and do what He does. He is no longer free to pursue his own path. He has been bought with a price, and is the property of Christ (1Cor.6:20).
Similarly, this truth can be illustrated by considering two kinds of power. One way to receive power is through a battery that you can put in your portable cassette player. In this instance, you have a battery in a self-contained unit. You can go anywhere you like and still listen to your music. Another way to receive power is through the electricity generated at a dam and then transmitted to you through electrical wire to your home. In order to utilize this electricity, you have to "plug in" to the outlet in the wall. We too often think of God giving us life in the same we get power from a battery. We view it as a gift separate and distinct from Christ. However, God gives life to us in the same we receive power through an electrical cord. Life is in Jesus Christ, and it is only as we are "plugged in" to Him, that we have His life.
2. Christ Has Gained More Than We Lost In Adam
Christ in His life, death, and resurrection has restored Paradise and more to believers. There are similarities in what Adam experienced in the Garden of Eden and what believers will experience in heaven. Just as Adam enjoyed fellowship with God in Paradise, so too believers will enjoy fellowship with Christ in glory. The Word reveals that in the New Jerusalem God Himself shall dwell with His people and be among them, and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads" (Rev.21:3; 22:4). As there was an absence of sin in Paradise before the Fall, so too, nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying shall ever come into the heavenly city, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life (Rev.21:27). Outside the city are the sorcerers, immoral persons, murderers, idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying (Rev.22:15). As there was no sickness, crying, mourning, or death in Paradise before the Fall, so too, in our heavenly city God shall wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there shall no longer be any death, mourning, crying or pain (Rev.21:4). Just as there was no curse before the Fall in the Garden of Eden, so too in the New Jerusalem there shall no longer be any curse (Rev.22:3).
However, there's more. Not only are there similarities, there are also contrasts. Our heavenly inheritance is not just equal to Adam's home in Paradise before the Fall - it surpasses it! While Adam dwelt in the Garden of Eden, there was always the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. There was always the possibility that he would eat of that tree, and forfeit all the blessing that he enjoyed. However, in the New Jerusalem there is no Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Believers will no longer be on probation. There will no longer be any possibility of forfeiting their heavenly inheritance! Not only that, but there will no longer be any serpent to tempt us. The devil, that serpent of old, will be forever banished in the lake of fire. The people of God will never again be tempted to do evil and rebel against their Creator by his evil machinations.
Furthermore, in our heavenly Paradise, we will not enjoy intermittent fellowship with God as Adam did, but instead enjoy His immediate glorious presence 100% of the time! "He who sits on the Throne shall spread His tabernacle over them" (Rev.7:15). Revelation 21:22-23 informs us, "And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb." In the Old Testament, the holy of holies in the tabernacle was fifteen feet long, high, and wide. It was a perfect cube. Likewise the New Jerusalem is described as being 1,500 miles long, high and wide (Rev.21:16). No doubt, the cubed dimensions of the New Jerusalem are given to us to remind us that just as in the Holy of Holies in the OT, God's glory will shine radiantly from our eternal Holy of Holies, the New Jerusalem! There shall be no more intermittent fellowship, but rather continuous glorious fellowship with the thrice holy God!
In this heavenly Paradise there won't be just two human beings. Rather, there will be a whole city full of them, a great multitude which no man can number from every tribe, tongue, people and nation (Rev.7:9). Here all the redeemed of all the ages will dwell for all eternity - all those He set His love upon from before the foundation of the world, all those He effectually ransomed by His blood, all those whom the Spirit has effectively applied salvation to. They are all there. When the roll is called up yonder, every single one of God's elect will hear their name called. None shall be missing. There shall be a whole heavenly city full of men redeemed by Christ's precious blood.
The superabundance of what Christ was purchased for us is reflected beautifully in Romans 5:15,17, "For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. . . For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ." Paul is boldly declaring that what Jesus Christ has recovered for us, is far more than what we lost in Adam! Christ didn't just give us back the same inheritance that we had in Adam before the Fall. He gave us a greater one!
In eternity past there was only one will - God's will. There was only one kingdom - God's kingdom. Throughout the universe there was only harmony, unity, and peace. In eternity future there shall again be only one will, and one kingdom. At that time, there shall again be only harmony, unity, and peace. It is only in this interim period that there is conflict, discord, two wills, and two kingdoms. Only in this period of time do we see ugliness, darkness, chaos, and discord. However, there is coming a day in which God will reverse all of that. One man brought all the sin, ugliness, and death into the world, By Another Man, God is going to take it out. "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. . . And He who sits on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.' And He said, 'Write, for these words are faithful and true'" (Rev.21:1,5).
3. Christ Has Purchased Our Heavenly Inheritance By His Death
After Adam and Eve fell in the Garden of Eden, the cherubim were stationed to guard the way to the Tree of Life with flaming swords in their hands. God's justice barred the way back to the Tree of Life. However, Christ through His death has opened for us a new and living way. In fact, He is the Way. How has He opened this way? Has justice withdrawn her sword? No, justice has been sheathed in the side of our adorable Savior. "Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd" (Zech.13:17). Because the shepherd was smitten, the sheep are spared. Sin drove man out of Paradise, therefore Christ paid for sin to bring man back in again. ". . . and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross" (1 Peter 2:24). Man's unrighteousness caused him to forfeit Paradise, but Christ's righteousness put to the believer's account gains it back for him again. The cross of Christ in a very real sense is the Tree of Life. Won't you eat from it and live forever?