The Tree of Life stood in the centre of the Garden of Eden which elsewhere is called ‘The Garden of the LORD’.1 It was a real tree, to be sure, but let me suggest that it was also symbolic of the fact that God was, and is, the source of eternal life and blessing. Adam and Eve were to have their life centred in Him, even as the Tree was in the centre of His Garden.
Other parts of the Bible also mention The Tree of Life. In Ezekiel 47:12 (NASB) we read of trees whose ‘fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing’. This image is taken up also in Revelation 22:2. It is clear particularly in Proverbs where a number of things are referred to as ‘a tree of life’ (wisdom (3:15), the fruit of the righteous (11:30), desire fulfilled (13:12), and a soothing tongue (15:4)) that the Tree of Life in these references symbolises that which brings joy and healing to people.
This, I suspect, was what the original, the real Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden symbolised. It was material, yet it stood for the blessing of eternal life which God would give to Adam and Eve, and their descendants, if they were to pass the test of obedience. They were permitted to eat of any tree in the Garden except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil on pain of death.2
Now, use a little lateral thinking. What else in the Bible is real and material, yet at the same time symbolises the life which is in Christ and points us repeatedly to Him? Something in which Christians share, and which reminds them that Jesus’ death brings us life? It is the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
If Adam passed the test of obedience, it would be the means of God’s imparting eternal life to him.Now, let us return to the Garden of Eden. I want to suggest that the Tree of Life was there to perform such a sacramental function. If Adam passed the test of obedience, it would be the means of God’s imparting eternal life to him, not by magic, but by the working of his Spirit ‘by, with and under’ the fruit of the Tree.
But Adam sinned. He failed the test and lost his right to eat from the Tree. As one commentator puts it, ‘that he might understand himself to be deprived of his former life, a solemn excommunication is added; not that the Lord would cut him off from all hope of salvation, but, by taking away what he had given, would cause man to seek new assistance elsewhere.’3
Just as Christians who profane the Lord’s Supper are subject to judgment, so Adam would have been further condemned if he had presumed to eat the fruit to which he was not now entitled. In doing so, he would have been trying to rob life from God, a grave blasphemy. The implication of Genesis 3:22 (NIV) ‘And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live for ever,”’ is that he, and us with him,4 would have been plunged into a condition of absolute lostness. He would have lived eternally cut off from God without hope of escape from the terrible consequences of sin. This would have been God’s just punishment for such a presumptuous sin, not merely a ‘magical’ effect of the Tree of Life.
Mercifully, God did not permit this to happen.5 Adam was cast out of the Garden of Eden. No longer could he even contemplate eating from the Tree of Life. It was beyond his reach. Physical death now began to enter the human race. Adam began to die! The last Adam (Christ) later came to Earth to die so that through faith in Jesus, we may now inherit the eternal life Adam forfeited. Indeed, Jesus says to those who persevere in faith, ‘To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the Tree of Life which is in the Paradise of God.’6
The Genesis account of the Tree of Life reminds us there is only one way to attain to an eternal life of blessedness—the way God has appointed. That is through His Son, the Creator of heaven and Earth—the Lord Jesus Christ. It is He alone who can say, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’