The Tree of Life
[Sermon Notes for Pastor Joel's 5/26/21 message on The Tree of Life.]
Turn to Rev. 22:1-5
Just consider the context. We are not in Kansas anymore. This chapter takes us way out into the future. The Rapture has already happened. The Tribulation is now over. In Rev. 20, we have the 1,000-year reign of Christ on the Earth. Satan and him minions are bound up in the pit for a thousand years. But then, Satan is loosed for a bit. The nations are deceived, and they rebel against Christ. The number of people in this revolution are as the sand in the sea. The people encompass “the beloved city” of Jerusalem. And then what happens? Rev. 20:9 tells us that “Fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.” It’s God the Father who destroys them all. Then what happens? The Great White Throne Judgment. “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” Then in Rev. 21, we get the new Heaven and the new Earth.
Rev 21:1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. Rev 21:2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. Rev 21:3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. Rev 21:4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
Then we’re given a lengthy detailed description of New Jerusalem. This structure is so massive, it’ll be 1,500 miles high. The Lord will be exalted so high above the Earth in the eternal state, He probably won’t even be in the Earth’s hemisphere. Then, we get a few curious verses about the Tree of Life in chapter 22.
Rev. 22:1 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. 22:2 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. 22:3 And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: 22:4 And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. 22:5 And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.
How do you explain vs. 2 in which the leaves of the Tree of Life were for the healing of the nations? Does this mean that there will be nations in the eternal state? Does this mean that there will be healing in the eternal state? How can there be a need for healing if we’re in our glorified bodies and the presence of sin is gone? How can there be nations if we’re all going to be one and God is going to be all in all? Beyond that, how do you explain the Tree of Life? Its purpose and its function? Let’s consider tonight the Tree of Life. Turn to Gen. 2.
The Garden of Eden
The actual Tree of Life is only referenced in Genesis and Revelation. There are allusions to the tree of life in Proverbs in which wisdom is like unto a tree of life, but the only references to the real Tree of Life may be found only in Genesis and Revelation. Three verses reference the Tree of Life in Genesis and three verses reference the Tree of Life in Revelation. The Tree of Life is the great marker in the Bible that connects the beginning of all things to the end of all things. What was lost in Genesis is restored in Revelation. J.C. O’Hair would write that “As we have a new creation in Genesis 1, with its paradise, so we have a new creation in Revelation 22, with its paradise.” I’ve shared a few times on the podcasts J. Sidlow Baxter’s comparisons between Genesis and Revelation, which I love. “In both, we have a new beginning and a new order. In both, we have the tree of life, the river, the bride, the walk of God with man; and in both paradises we have the same moral and spiritual ideals...” Then he wrote about contrasts between Genesis and Revelation. “In Genesis, we see the first paradise closed (3:23). In Revelation we see the new paradise opened (21:5). In Genesis, we see dispossession through human sin (3:24). In Revelation we see repossession through divine grace (21:24). In Genesis we see the curse imposed (3:17). In Revelation we see the curse removed (22:3). In Genesis, we see access to the tree of life disinherited, in Adam (3:24). In Revelation we see access to the tree of life re-inherited, in Christ (22:14). In Genesis we see the beginning of sorrow and death (3:16-19). In Revelation we read, ‘there shall be no more death, neither sorrow’ (21:4). In Genesis, we are shown a garden into which defilement entered (3:6-7). In Revelation, we are shown a city of which it is written, ‘There shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth’ (21:7)…”
But I want to make a quick comment about the word “paradise.” I wouldn’t fight with anyone about this. This is really technical, but I think it’s important. When we think about the Garden of Eden, to us, that’s paradise. I mean, there’s no sin. The animal creation is tamed. They’re eating pure, uncontaminated fruit. You had a pure river that flowed out of Eden into four heads. That water was pure uncontaminated water. All of that to us is paradise. But it’s not paradise in the Biblical sense of the word. Paradise is mentioned only three times in the Bible, and the Bible is very specific about those locations and what God considers to be true paradise. You might remember how Christ told the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43, “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” He’s talking about Sheol deep inside the Earth. That is a true paradise.
Or you might remember how Paul said in 2 Cor. 12:4, “How that he was caught up into paradise” and he’s talking about the third Heaven, the very abode of God Himself. Only those two locations are what God Himself considers to be paradise.
What do those locations have in common? In both locations, we have the absence of sin. In both locations, we have the presence of God. Even in Sheol God is there with them. Remember how David wrote in Psa 139:8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell (Sheol), behold, thou art there. We made the point in the Godhead message that there is no place in Heaven or Sheol one can go to escape the presence of the Holy Spirit. For the OT saints, when they died, they went to their resting place in Sheol, which is deep inside the Earth, until the time of their resurrection at the Second Coming of Christ, and even in death in Sheol, God is with them at all times. There is also another trait common to both Sheol and Heaven. In both locations, we have the absence of Satan and his influence upon believers. This is why the Garden of Eden is not a true paradise in the Biblical sense. Eden was full of danger because of the presence of Satan.
Now there is a third reference to paradise in Rev. 2:7. The Lord says to the Ephesians, “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” I would just point out that the Lord doesn’t say that the Tree of Life WAS in the paradise of God when it WAS on the Earth. He says that the Tree of Life IS in the midst of the paradise of God. The Lord is talking about the current location of the Tree of Life RIGHT NOW, which is in the paradise of God, which is RIGHT NOW in Heaven. So neither the Garden of Eden nor the 1,000-year reign of Christ is a true paradise in the Biblical sense of the word because you have the presence of Satan or the presence of sin or both as will happen at the end of the 1,000-year reign.
The Tree of Life
Gen 2:9 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.
What we have in this verse is the mere acknowledgment of the existence of the Tree of Life in the midst of the Garden, which is a stark contrast to the tree of knowledge of good and evil. One produces life. The other produces death. And I would just point out here that there is no reference in the Bible that tells us that Adam ever ate of the Tree of Life. In fact, based upon the verses we’re about to read in chapter 3, I’m inclined to think that Adam never had the chance to eat of the Tree of Life. This is after the fall into sin. God has already brought the sin curse upon the world. And He has also foretold of the coming redeemer. Flip over to Gen. 3:22.
Gen 3:22 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: 3:23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. 3:24 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.
This stirs up a number of questions for me. Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden because if they ate of the Tree of Life, their physical bodies would live forever, which would essentially make Adam and Eve immortal sinners. So what does this tell us about the Tree of Life? I used our Searchable Riches drive and read just about everything every dispensationalist had to say about the Tree of Life, and figured out what not to think.
Now some pointed out that there are 3 trees in the Garden, 4 if you want to include the bramble, but I’m going to stick with the three. You have the olive tree, the fig tree, and the vine tree. The symbols of these three trees are usually interpreted as this: the olive tree represents Israel’s spiritual life, the fig tree represents Israel’s religious life, and the vine tree represents Israel’s national history. Some would try to make the case that the Tree of Life had to be an olive tree, and I wasn’t persuaded by that at all. First, nowhere does the Bible define what type of tree the Tree of Life is. Second, the olive tree is spiritual whereas the Tree of Life is physical. The olive tree is symbolic whereas the Tree of Life is literal. Partaking of the olive tree is spiritually symbolic. Partaking of the Tree of Life has a literal physical result to one’s body that is eternal. So what does it tell us about the Tree of Life that partaking of its fruit will make one’s body eternal?
No dispensationalist had more to say about the Tree of Life than Bullinger. I read everything he had to say, and I found myself disagreeing with him. Bullinger would make the case that the Tree of Life was about the prolongation of life. One had to keep eating the Tree of Life in order to keep living. He wrote in his Revelation commentary that “That ‘tree of life’ was intended to preserve Adam and Eve in life. But the fall entailed the loss of that wondrous gift. The man was driven out of the garden for the special reason that it should not be possible for him to eat of it: for the reason given is, ‘lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life; and eat and live for ever.’ It is clear from this that the ‘tree of life’ was the means by which Adam would have lived on forever. Hence in the very day of his disobedience he was cut off from it, and his death was certain and sure.” Another man made a similar case in Bullinger’s Things to Come periodical. He wrote, “…it certainly seems clear that Adam’s living on was conditioned on his access to the tree of life.”
That makes no sense to me whatsoever. Why would Adam need to continually eat from the Tree of Life to keep on living when there was no death because there was no sin? Death was only the result of sinning by partaking of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Nowhere does the Bible say that Adam had to keep on eating from the Tree of Life in order to keep on living. There was no death to die because there was no sin.
I actually like what William Kelly had to say about the Tree of Life. He said that this only had to do with “creature-life.” Eating from the Tree of Life would “have sustained an innocent creature to the end.” Eating from the Tree of Life was an eternal blessing to a physical body that already had life. If you ate from the Tree of Life, that blessing to your physical body was eternal. This is why the Tree existed in the Garden. Adam had life before the fall, which is why the Tree of Life was accessible to him. So if Adam had partaken of the Tree of Life before he sinned, wouldn’t the result be the same if he had partaken of the Tree of Life after he sinned? Or is it possible that if he partook of the Tree of Life and then sinned, then that act of sinning would annul the blessings he received from eating of the Tree of Life? We don’t know. We only know that he could not eat of the Tree of Life after he sinned because that would affect his physical body in such a way that both He and Eve would have become immortal sinners.
But the bigger point is this. Eating from the Tree of Life was an eternal blessing to a physical body that already had life. If you ate from the Tree of Life, that blessing to your physical body was eternal. That blessing to the body would carry over all the way into the eternal state. And I don’t think Adam had to continually eat from the Tree of Life to live forever. The verse says, “and take also of the tree of life; and eat and live for ever.” I think He’s talking about a one-time act. If Adam had to continually eat of the tree, that verse would’ve said “taketh” instead of “take.” And that one time consumption of the fruit of the Tree was so dangerous the Lord stationed those cherubims with that flaming sword that “turned every way” so that there was positively no way by which Adam could ever become an immortal sinner.
I would also point out here that the Tree of Life is often mentioned as a kind of type of Christ. Arno Gaebelien had said that “The tree of life represents Christ while the rivers of water are clearly types of the Holy Spirit.” Another had said that “The tree which brought death to our Saviour is a tree of life to us.” Another writer had said that Adam and Eve “had the garden of the Lord for their home, the image of God for their likeness, the Lord God Himself for their counsellor, and the tree of life as the symbol and pledge of immortality.” But I would suggest this. The Tree of Life is not representative of Christ in the sense as the Giver of Life but rather, as the Giver of Blessings to those who already have life. Eating from the Tree of Life was an eternal blessing to a body that already had life. If you ate from the Tree, that blessing to your physical body was eternal.
Let’s go back to Rev. 22. As we mentioned earlier, the context is the new Earth.
Rev. 22:1 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.22:2 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. 22:3 And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: 22:4 And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. 22:5 And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.
I noticed that a lot of commentators struggled with these passages. Bullinger was adamant that the Tree of Life only has to do with the new Earth. He wrote, “’The Tree of Life’ and ‘the Water of Life’ are the great central subjects of the New Earth.” One writer in a 2014 issue of the Journal of Grace Theology said of Rev. 22:2 that, “‘the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.’ This creates a problem though, it could infer that there is more than one nation in New Jerusalem, and that all nations everywhere will receive this healing.” He’s right about that. Les Feldick was thrown by the fact that the Tree produces fruit every month. Month would indicate time. Will there really be time in the eternal state? Les said, “every month… throws a curve at me, because the word `month' indicates time. Maybe some great theologian has the answer to this…”
Well, we are not theologians. Can I get an "amen" to that?
But I would suggest that there is a solution to all of this. The Tree of Life will also be here on the Earth during the 1,000-year kingdom. I thought Benjamin Willis Newton said it best in a book he wrote called “Thoughts on the Apocalypse”. He said, “for when the leaves of the tree of life are spoken of as being ‘for the healing of the nations,’ the millennial nations must be referred to, seeing that in the new earth there will be no nations that need, either physically or spiritually, any cure.” I totally agree. Even though the context of Revelation 22 is the new Earth, verse 2 is written in the past tense because John is looking at the Tree as it will exist on the new Earth, but he is also looking back to how the Tree had functioned in the kingdom. This is why we have the time element of fruit that’s produced every month because the Tree of Life was here on Earth during the kingdom. This is why he says the Tree yielded, past tense, fruit every month. This is why he also says that the leaves of the tree WERE, past tense, for the healing of the nations, because that’s how the leaves functioned during the kingdom. The leaves healed people.
“Well, now, wait just a minute, Pastor Joel. How can there be healing in the kingdom when the sin curse has been lifted off of creation?” Even though the sin curse has been lifted and long life will be restored to the human race, there will still be sin and sinners in the kingdom. You might recall in Matt. 25, when the Lord returns, He will carry out judgment upon the Earth. The Lord said in Mat 25:32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats… That section will go on to explain that He will allow normal humans in their sin-cursed bodies entrance into the kingdom if they had given any help to His people during the Tribulation. If they clothed them, sheltered them, fed them. So these sin-corrupted people will enter the kingdom. They’ll have babies. There will become an innumerable number of sin-corrupted human beings living in the kingdom with all these resurrected Jewish saints living in their resurrected bodies. And do you remember how Isaiah said in Isa 65:20 There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed. We often reference this verse to point out that long life will be restored in the kingdom and that a child will be one hundred years old. But notice that this verse also talks about death and sinners in the kingdom. They’ll have long-life, but they’ll still be sinners and some will be accursed. Because sinners will exist in the kingdom, this is why the Lord said in Rev. 2:27 and other places that He will rule with a rod of iron. That’s what it’ll take for the righteous king of the Earth to keep the sinners in check. And healing will be needed. Sin-cursed people will do dumb stuff. Even beyond that, I think accidents can happen in the kingdom. Someone may, for example, try to climb a mountain. Slip. Fall. Break his legs. Then, I can imagine one of God’s kingdom of priests will arrive immediately to the mountain via the crazy Holy Spirit transportation service. The priest will give the man the leaves from the Tree of Life to be physically healed.
Consider also how the Tree of Life is connected to the pure river of water of life. Look at vs. 1 again. 22:1 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. 22:2 In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life... You have this river proceeding out of the throne of the Lamb and in the middle of that river is the Tree of Life that is so massive that the trunk extends beyond either side of the River. This River is certainly connected to the river flowing out of Eden just as the Tree of Life connects Genesis to Revelation. What was lost in the Garden will be restored in the kingdom, although neither is a perfect paradise in the Biblical sense because of the presence of Satan or the presence of sin or both. But the reference to the River is important because this River was prophesied to exist in the kingdom. Ezekiel in his great temple vision described this very stream of water. He said in Eze 47:1, “Afterward he brought me again unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward…” Zec 14:8 said, “And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be.” Rev. 22:1-2 connects the Tree of Life to the Water of Life, which was prophesied to exist in the kingdom. What wasn't prophesied was the return of the Tree of Life, which God saved for the book of Revelation because He wanted to connect it to the book of Genesis. Yet, in those connections, we find that central concepts of the Garden of Eden are also central concepts of the Kingdom: the throne of God, the river of life, and the tree of life. I would also point out 22:3 And there shall be no more curse. The removal of the sin curse takes place at the establishment of the kingdom, not the eternal state. Look down at vs. 14.
After the Lord had just said that He is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, John writes in vs. Rev 22:14, “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.” Notice here that access to have the right to the Tree of Life is conditional upon obedience to the Lord. How can this be talking about the eternal state? Won’t we all naturally be obedient to the Lord being free from the presence of sin, filled with the Spirit, and free from the influence of Satan? Some might say, well, Satan and his angels didn’t have a sin nature and they sinned. Adam and Eve didn’t have a sin nature and they sinned. To that I would say, “Is not eternal life eternal?” There is no going back to sin for us after the Rapture. And I would argue that in vs. 14 here, John is looking back again thinking of his people going through the tribulation hoping that they’ll all obey the commandments of the Lord during the worst times of their lives because they have no idea the eternal blessing they’ll receive if they’re given access to the Tree of Life in the kingdom.
Turn to Rev. 2.This is the first reference to the Tree of Life in Revelation. Now the first 7 verses in Rev. 2 comprise of the Lord’s letter to the church at Ephesus. Look at verse 7.
Rev 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.
Consider in this verse how those who overcome the tribulation will have access to the Tree of Life. There is no way the Lord is talking about the eternal state. This is an immediate reward in the kingdom for overcoming the tribulation by simply obeying the commandments of the Lord. Kevin Sadler got it right in one of the Berean Searchlights. He wrote, “The overcomers of the Tribulation period have rich promises and blessing awaiting them in the Kingdom on the earth: no second death, to be clothed in white raiment, to sit with Christ in His throne, to have their name confessed by Christ to the Father, the right to eat of the tree of life, etc. (Rev. 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21).” This, to me, is clearly a reward in the kingdom for overcoming the tribulation, which means that the Tree of Life will be here on the Earth during the kingdom. Notice also how access to the Tree is only granted by the Lord and only to those who obey His commandments.
Distinction Between the Fruit and the Leaves
Why twelve fruits? Does the Tree of Life produce twelve fruits a month or a different fruit every month? Is each of the twelve fruits designated for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. We don’t know. What’s the significance of twelve? As Bullinger points out in his book “Number in Scripture,” twelve “is a perfect number, signifying perfection of government, or of governmental perfection.” There were twelve patriarchs from Seth to Noah and from Shem to Jacob. There were twelve sons of Israel. Twelve tribes of Israel. Twelve people were anointed in the OT. Twelve apostles. In Matt. 26:53, the Lord mentions having the power to call upon twelve legions of angels, which signifies the perfection of angelic powers. Twelve foundations in the New Jerusalem. Twelve gates. Twelve pearls. Twelve angels. The measurements of New Jerusalem are multiplications of twelve. All of this, to me, is yet again indicative of the fact that Tree of Life will be here during the kingdom because its purpose with the twelve fruits is an essential element to the perfection of the Lord’s government here on Earth.
Consider also that there is a distinction in purpose between the fruit and the leaves. The leaves only bring temporary healing, but eating the fruit brings an eternal physical blessing to one’s body that will carry over into the eternal state. What does that mean? I think we can get upgrades to our new bodies. LOL
To sum it all up. We learned from Gen. 3:22 that eating from the Tree of Life was an eternal blessing to a physical body that already had life. If you ate from the Tree of Life, that blessing to your physical body was eternal, which will carry over into the eternal state. Access to the Tree of Life is limited and granted only by the Lord. The Tree of Life is not representative of Christ in the sense as the Giver of Life but rather, as the Giver of Blessings to those who already have life. Eating from the Tree of Life was an eternal blessing to a body that already had life. If you ate from the Tree, that blessing to your physical body was eternal.
Consider the reasons why the Tree of Life will be in the kingdom:
The time element of fruit that’s produced every month.
The past tense verbs in 22:2. The Tree yielded, past tense, fruit every month. The leaves of the tree WERE, past tense, for the healing of the nations. Because that’s how the leaves functioned in the kingdom. The leaves actually healed people. Why will there be the need for healing in the kingdom? Isa. 65:20. There will be sinners and death in the kingdom.
The link between the Tree of Life and the Water of Life, which was greatly prophesied in the OT to exist in the kingdom on Earth.
Access to the Tree of Life was promised to those saints who overcame the tribulation by obeying the Lord’s commandments.
22:3 And there shall be no more curse. The removal of the sin curse takes place at the establishment of the kingdom, not the eternal state.
Finally, the big picture point: eating the fruit brings an eternal physical blessing to one’s body that will carry over into the eternal state. I think we can all get upgrades to our new bodies. Not only will it be beyond amazing to live in our bodies, but it’ll get even better when we all partake of the Tree of Life.