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The Tree of Life

by on October 8, 2012

Just a quick thought today that I’ve been enjoying recently.

It’s difficult for us to imagine now what Adam and Eve’s experience of the Garden of Eden was truly like. Proper fellowship with God, walking with Him in the cool of the day, enjoying all the goodness of the glorious garden He had placed them in. For that time, however long it was, Man was fulfilling his true purpose, the reason for his existence by enjoying God fully in the Paradise of a perfect creation. No sin, no struggle, no sorrow, no emptiness, no fear, no anxiety… only the utter blessedness of pure union with the Divine.

“And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 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”. (Genesis 2:8-9)

In the midst of the garden was the Tree of Life. There’s not much said about it in Genesis, but it was obviously central to the Garden, and amongst all the other trees that were pleasant to the sight and good for food, the Tree of Life had a more unique purpose. We find that out whenever it all falls apart and Adam follow Eve into disobeying God’s command concerning that the other tree of distinction, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

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–” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 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.  (Genesis 3:22-24)

Adam’s newly-minted sinfulness meant he had to be placed outside of Paradise, east of Eden, and refused entry again by the cherubim flaming sword. And this was done, not so much by way of punishment, but as a measure of damage-control. For one thing, Adam could no longer enjoy God’s presence and fellowship – his sin would have led to his death if he were to be in proximity to the absolute holiness of God’s presence. That relationship was severed by sin. Punishment wasn’t mentioned by God when He counselled within Himself that Adam an Eve’s exile was necessary, but rather expulsion from Eden meant no further access to the Tree of Life, which were he to eat from would enable him to “live forever”.

Now there are questions surrounding all of that which I would like answers to, but that there simply aren’t any for. The central point is that The Tree of Life was at the heart of Paradise, where Adam enjoyed a perfect relationship with God and when Adam sinned he was barred from enjoying the benefits of access to that tree.

Ever since then we, as a race, have been longing for home – searching for a renewed relationship with our Creator, and a reconnection to our purpose as human beings – whether we recognise it or not. That homesickness, and our misunderstanding of it, manifests itself through all manner of wrong behaviours in us.

Fast forward then to the very end of the Bible, in Revelation 22:1-2 and also verse 14.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also on either side of the river, the tree of life with its 12 kinds of fruit , yielding its fruit each month… (v. 14) Blessed are those who wash their robes so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates” Rev 22:1, 2, 14.

The angel is showing John the New Jerusalem, the great garden city of heaven that is going to descend out of heaven from God to be the dwelling-place of God with His people for all eternity. Again, it’s difficult to tell how much of the language is figurative and how much was a true image of what that place will be like, but the significance of the way it is described is impossible to miss. The River of Life will flow through the street and on each side of the river is the tree of life. It sounds like there must be more than one, despite the singular noun and definite article being used. That tree which represented the perfectness of Eden and man’s fellowship with God there – which was of such importance that Adam could not be allowed to eat of it once he had sinned – the tree we were cut off from and put outside the gate of Eden to keep us from is the tree that sustains and heals the people of the New Jerusalem. It’s an amazing narrative arc over 1500 years of scripture, beginning in Paradise and ending in Paradise. Access to the tree denied in Genesis and then reclaimed in Revelation as those who wash their robes have the right to the tree of life.

And how does one wash one’s robes? In chapter 7:13, 14 John has seen those who are clothed in white robes and has it explained to him, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”. It is a strange thing to wash clothes in blood and have them come out white, but of course the significance is of the purification of our souls not through penance, or striving for a standard of pure living on our own strength, but through the absolutely pure and spotless sacrifice of Christ. His blood, shed upon the cross, is the cleansing agent that removes the stain of our sinfulness. It purifies our conscience from dead works (Heb 9:14) and removes the barrier that keeps us from God and the fellowship of His presence. Those who wash their robes can enter through the gate and enjoy the tree of life once more.
One day that will be our experience, and when we are rejoicing in the presence of God we will remember the Lamb who was slain, taken outside the city gate and hung upon a tree. It was a tree of shame and suffering for Him, but a Tree of Life for you and me.

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