Did Adam and Eve have to eat from the Tree of Life to keep from dying? Why didn’t God remove it from Eden? What happened to it?
This question assumes that the Man and Woman were already dying and required the Tree of Life to live. But there is no reason to assume they were, as death was the punishment for sin (Genesis 2:17) and they hadn’t sinned yet.
And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16–17)
Adam and Eve probably could have eaten from the Tree of Life originally (Genesis 2:16), but God gives no decree that they had to eat of it to sustain their life at that point. However, the tree may have been one means by which God used to help support and maintain Adam and Eve—perhaps a type of sustenance. God ultimately sustains all things (Colossians 1:17), and if we look at the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years while their feet never swelled and their clothes never wore out (Deuteronomy 29:5), we see a glimpse of what God can do. The fruit or leaves of the Tree of Life were not required for the Israelites in this case.
Also, keep in mind that the Bible gives no hints that they had to eat of this tree until after sin. After they sinned in Genesis 3, God sentenced them to die as per Genesis 2:17 (Genesis 3:19), and this was in part why they were forbidden to take from the Tree of Life. But consider God’s statement here:
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” (Genesis 3:22)
This seems to imply that Adam and Eve could have eaten from the Tree of Life after they sinned to live forever. Had they been permitted to eat from the Tree of Life, then they would have been forced to live eternally in a sin-cursed world. But God had a better plan in place—one of redemption in Jesus Christ with a new heavens and new earth that would not be cursed.
God is the only Savior (Psalm 62:6; John 14:6 ), and through Him is the only way to live forever. Thus, God stopped them from trying to attain eternal life in a sin-cursed world. God demonstrated His grace in refusing to allow mankind to live eternally in a world filled with sorrow and suffering. Instead, He has provided the way for us to enjoy eternal life in a place where there is no more death, sorrow, pain, or Curse (Revelation 21:3-4; 22:3).
Expositor John Gill made some interesting points regarding the Tree of Life:
set there as in the most excellent place, where it might be most conspicuous, and to be come at; for before Adam sinned, as there was no prohibition of his eating of it, so there was no obstruction to it; and as he had a grant to eat of it, with the other trees, it was designed for his use, to support and maintain his natural life, which would have been continued, had he persisted in his obedience and state of innocence, and very probably by means of this chiefly: hence the son of Sirach calls it the tree of immortality,“The knowledge of the commandments of the Lord is the doctrine of life: and they that do things that please him shall receive the fruit of the tree of immortality.” (Sirach 19:19)
and it might be also a sign, token, and symbol to him of his dependence on God; that he received his life from him; and that this was preserved by his blessing and providence, and not by his own power and skill; and that this would be continued, provided he transgressed not the divine law: and it seems to have a further respect, even to eternal life; by Christ; for though it might not be a symbol of that life to Adam in his state of innocence, yet it became so after his fall: hence Christ is sometimes signified by the tree of life, #Pr 3:18 Re 2:7 who is not only the author of natural and spiritual life, but the giver of eternal life; the promise of it is in him, and the blessing itself; he has made way for it by his obedience, sufferings, and death, and is the way unto it; it is in his gift, and he bestows it on all his people, and it will lie greatly in the enjoyment of him. The situation of this tree in the midst of the garden well agrees with him who is in the midst of his church and people, #Re 1:13 2:7 stands open, is in sight, and is accessible to them all now, who may come to him, and partake of the fruits and blessings of his grace, which are many, constant, and durable, #Re 22:2 and who will be seen and enjoyed by all, to all eternity:1.
Apparently, the fruit and leaves of the Tree of Life will be consumed in heaven (Revelation 2:7, 22:2, 22:14 ). This is something to look forward to.
I suggest that the banishment of Adam and Eve was not just because of the Tree of Life, but also to till the ground outside the garden. Part of the punishment was to work the ground by the sweat of the brow (Genesis 3:19). The garden was already prepared with fruits and would be easy to maintain.
If they ate, they would live forever in a sinful state and sin-cursed universe.
But we can’t ignore the incredible implications. If they ate, they would live forever in a sinful state and sin-cursed universe. Such a punishment would mean no possibility of salvation to live in a new heavens and new earth without sin—one absent of pain (Revelation 21–22).
In fact, we read that in heaven that the Tree’s leaves will be used for healing. Perhaps, in the Garden of Eden, it would have performed a similar function. In today’s world, we find that plants often have some healing properties (e.g., aloe). It may simply be that God created the Tree of Life with the particular effects to help heal from the impact of aging that would lead to death (hence, living forever).
Nowhere in the early passages of Genesis do we read that anyone tried to force their way back into the Garden of Eden to get to the Tree of Life. One would presume that even descendants of Adam and Eve would have lived forever had they eaten from the Tree of Life as well.2 Considering how long most people lived before the Flood (at least the ones recorded in Genesis 5), the pre-Flood population may not have been as interested in prolonging their lives as we would be with our shorter post-Flood life spans.
The Flood of Noah’s day was more than likely the event that annihilated both the Garden of Eden and its contents. It would be at this time that the Cherubim would no longer need to guard the path to the Tree of Life. Also, keep in mind that God did not declare that trees/plants (or even marine life) would all be preserved (like land animals that breath through the nostrils—Genesis 6:18–20, 7:21–23).3 So, extinction could have been a possibility with a variety of kinds—perhaps including both the Tree of Life and The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
However, one needs to be careful here, too. There are other possibilities that we may have overlooked. For example, in a sin-cursed world, things rarely stay the same. With the curse, God no longer upholds the universe perfectly and things run down and have problems. As a result, we are in a world full of detrimental mutations that have been killing off living things. With natural selection and mutations, the offspring of the Tree of Life could have lost the ability to heal. In light of this, if the Tree of Life does still exist today, it could be so degraded that we would not recognize it, nor would its effects be what they were originally.
It is true that the Tree of Life is in heaven, but I would still lean against the tree simply being transplanted to heaven. If this were the case, then why did God place the cherubim to guard the way to it on earth? Also, in Genesis 3, God cursed the ground due to man’s sin. This curse directly affected vegetation (e.g., thorns and thistles). This particular aspect was brought out specifically. The Lord surely revealed this to us, knowing full-well that He would wear a crown of thorns at the time of his crucifixion.
Regardless, the vegetation was a recipient of this curse to the ground (for their very roots grow in the ground). So this means that the curse affected the Tree of Life that was in the Garden. With this in mind consider that nothing unclean, defiled or impure will ever enter into heaven as per Revelation 21:27 (even people must be made clean and pure through Christ’s blood to enter). So it makes more sense that the Tree of Life in heaven was created in heaven.
Further to this, in heaven, there is more than one Tree of Life (one on each side of the river) in Revelation 22:2. Yet, there was only one mentioned in the Garden. I pray this helps clarify why I didn’t leave transplantation open as a possibility.