Tree of Life
“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.”
Avatar is a science fiction film written and directed by James Cameron released in 2009. The film is set in the mid-22nd century, when humans are mining a precious mineral called unobtanium on Pandora, a planet in another star system. The expansion of the mining colony threatens the existence of the Na'vi—a humanoid species indigenous to Pandora. The Na'vi live in a tree, a monster of a tree, which they call Hometree. It is the spiritual and physical home of the tribe. Hometree is connected with all the other life on Pandora through a neural-like network. There is another tree, called the Tree of Souls, which is even more sacred to the Navi. It is somehow the basis of all life on Pandora. When I saw the movie, I wondered if James Cameron had in mind the tree of life in Genesis.
In science, a many-branched tree of life illustrates the idea that all life on earth is related. About the only thing I remember from High School biology is a huge picture of a tree of life that depicted the interrelatedness and the common descent of all living things.
In Judaism, there is a branch of Jewish mysticism that puts much emphasis on the tree of life. It is called Kabbalah. We do not know where and when Kabbalah originated. The first mention we have of it seems to come from the Middle Ages in Southern France and Spain.
Kabbalah is a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between an eternal and mysterious Creator and the mortal and finite universe. Kabbalah seeks to relate living things to each other and to God, and it derives from these relationships the purpose of our existence. It also presents methods to aid understanding of these concepts and thus to aid spiritual realization. Kabbalah uses classical Jewish sources to explain and demonstrate its esoteric teachings. These teachings define the inner, secret meaning of both the Hebrew Bible (which is our OT).
The Tree of Life, or Etz haChayim in Hebrew, is a mystical symbol used in Kabbalah to describe the path to God (usually referred to as HaShem, or "The Name"). The tree also describes how God is creating the world. It is a map of Creation, a representation of the process by which the Universe is coming into being. Kabbalah teaches that God is incomprehensible and unapproachable, but we can draw nearer to God, and this is the purpose of our lives. We can climb up a few branches on the tree of life, so to speak.
The first place in Bible where we hear of the tree of life is in the first book of the Bible. Genesis 2:9 “And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” This is part of the second creation account in Genesis, which began about 2:4. In this account, man was created before other creatures and placed in a special place, the Garden of Eden, which had special trees. Much of the rest of the Bible harkens back to this special time when we had unbroken communion with God.
However, if you know the story of Adam and Eve, you know that none of this is going to last. There were conditions to remaining in Eden—one condition to be exact. They were not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Of course, being human, they did. You and I would have done the same thing. We are all Adam and Eve. We are not very good at obedience. In any case, God was very angry about this, so he kicked the humans out of Eden.
Theologians speak of this exile, this expulsion from paradise, as “the fall of man”--though Genesis does not describe it that way. One problem in dealing with Genesis is that most people treat the book as a source for proof texts for theology that they got from somewhere else. For example, Genesis does not say that Adam and eve were kicked out of Eden because they sinned. What does it say? Read it. That is a novel idea,
Genesis 3:22-24 ESV
(22) Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever--"
(23) therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.
(24) He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
Adam and Eve had become like God, in knowing good and evil, which no other animal knows. To prevent them from having eternal life like God, God banished them from the garden. Previously they had eaten of the tree of life. The implication was that they were immortal. They were spiritual beings eternally in the presence of God. Again, if we read the account, it does not say that they were forbidden to eat of the tree of life while they were in the garden. The point of their exile was to stop them from eating of the tree. This implies that we were intended to live forever. The importance of the tree of life is that the fruit of the tree is eternal life.
In the book of Ezekiel, in chapters 40 to 48, the prophet has a vision of the restoration of the temple and of the nation of Israel. In chapter 47, Ezekiel describes a sacred river that flows from the throne of God, and he concludes saying, “And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47:12 ESV).
The Book of Enoch is one of those books that did not quite make it into the Bible. Enoch states that in the time of the great judgment God will give all those whose names are in the Book of Life fruit to eat from the Tree of Life. All believers will share in the fruit of the tree of life.
In the book of Revelation we read, “Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2).
The symbology is that the leaves of this tree heal all strife among nations, and the fruit of the tree is continual and it is the fruit of eternal life.
In the garden, humankind tasted of the tree of life. Prior to the Exile from Eden, Adam and Eve enjoyed eternal life. The exile is into a different realm, a realm where we have physical bodies that die.
Revelation 22:14 goes on to say; “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city.”
Earlier in Rev (7:14), it was explained that they “wash their robes” in the blood of the lamb, and this washing makes them clean. If we take this literally, it is weird. We do not wash our clothes in blood and expect them to be clean. But this is spiritual reasoning. The sacrifice of Christ has made us clean in the sight of God.
It is interesting that the last book of the Bible is so thoroughly linked to the first book of the Bible.
1. Genesis speaks of the creation of the sun. Revelation tells of a place, the New Jerusalem, that needs no sun.
2. Genesis speaks of the exile from Eden. Revelation tells of a return to a new Eden.
3. Genesis speaks of how we lost the ‘tree of life.’ Revelation speaks of how we regained ‘tree of life.’
For Christians, the cross is the other, most precious tree of life. By the Cross of Calvary, we eat of the fruit of eternal life. We who are called according the purpose of God, already eat of the fruit of redemption, which was purchased by our Lord some two thousand years ago at the Cross. You can be confident that you are a partaker of the tree of life. Believers are already citizens of the kingdom.
Some of us, some of our friends, are sick with physical disease. They are in pain. The doctrine of the tree of life brings us hope. The exile separated us from the tree, but God’s grace through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross has allowed us access to that tree once again.
We should note that in Genesis, Adam and Eve got in trouble because they focused on the wrong tree. They had eternal life, they had communion with God. But they wanted what they did not have, the forbidden fruit. As I have said, we would have done the same. However, look what they lost. They were immortal. They became mortal.
But because Jesus died on another tree, Eden is restored to believers. Now believers are able to eat freely from the tree of life and our eternity with God is secure. Now the tree has fruit available for everyone—fresh fruit, not just once a year with a dry time in between, but new fruit every month.
Life in heaven will be fully energized, rich, and exciting. Today, the church often seems tired, poor and unexcitable. Nothing gets them worked up. Nothing gets them on fire for Jesus. Maybe Christians ought to read their own books, read their own promises. We ought to be preparing for the new Eden now. We ought to be excited about the tree of life now. We can almost taste it now! We can almost feel it now! We can almost see it now!
In preparation for the tree of life, we ought to talk about this other tree that I have mentioned.
On this tree, hung the Savior of sinners.
On this tree, the Son of Man dropped his head and died.
On this tree, he reconciled bond and free, male and female, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor.
On this tree, he wrote us a message with his love, purchased the church with his blood, and cleansed us from sin with his sacrifice.
In Acts 10, Peter is preaching about Jesus and he says, “And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear” (Acts 10:39-40 ESV).
By his blood, shed on that tree, he opened up a door for all nations to be healed. We read in Isaiah: “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (Isaiah 2:4 ESV).
Do you want healing from economic despair? Try Jesus. Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33 ESV).
Do you want healing from hunger and malnutrition? Try Jesus! He said, “I am the bread of life!” He fed 5,000 with a few fish and a few loaves of bread!
Do you want healing from hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods? Try Jesus--For even the winds and the waves obey His command.
Jesus can bring peace into your marriage, peace into your home, peace on your job, peace in your pocketbook. Do you want healing from disease and death? Try Jesus. He is the resurrection and the life. He is the one who brings us back to the beginning.
Do you remember an old movie titled, Back to the Future? I saw it ages ago. I have mostly forgotten what it was about, but the title is interesting. In our dealings with God, we go back to the future. Go back in our past beyond written history, beyond the fossil record. We lost our first estate--All the grandeur, all the peace, all the wonder of the tree of life. But our future regains all that was lost.
Because we have been reconciled,
Because we have been redeemed,
Because we have been delivered,
because of what Jesus did on a tree,
we have been reinstated, reinvited, restored.
into the presence of gates of pearl,
into the presence of golden streets,
into the presence of walls of jasper,
into the presence of flowing crystal waters...
and finally, once again, into the presence of the tree....
Revelation 22:14 reads, “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.”
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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