The Tree of Life Bible Study & Humanity's eternal choice

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Bible Study Series: Genesis and Revelation - The Beginning and the End

The Tree of Life Bible Study & Humanity's eternal choice

The tree of life Bible study

by I Gordon

I've mentioned a few times that this is a 'big picture' series and we've focused on themes that span the ages! We've looked at God's plan for mankind and salvation from before the foundation of the world. We've looked at the cosmic conflict that has been going on throughout history. We've looked at the glorious desire of God to have a bride that stretches through the same period. And we've seen that what begins in Genesis all has it's fulfillment in the book of Revelation. What great pictures and eternal truth God has placed within these first few chapters of Genesis!

I read the following quote this week from Bible teacher A.C Gaebelin (and I couldn't agree more!) He said:

With the third chapter of Genesis the waiting of the heavens and of the earth began: Heaven waiting to send Him forth to deal with the question of sin and the earth waiting for redemption and deliverance. What marvelous chapters these first three chapters of the Bible are! The entire Word of God rests upon them and is linked with them.  

So this Bible study lesson is on another 'big picture' theme today, this time involving three trees. Two of these trees where in a garden and one was on a hill.  One tree gives life, one death and one took death and produced life! So with that little cryptic clue (which someone as clever as yourself will easily decipher!) we'll look at the choice presented to mankind with the two trees in the Garden of Eden and how this plays out through all ages, even with a coming choice that all mankind on Earth will be faced with. So...

An overview - We'll look at:
  • The tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the book of Genesis - and what they represent
  • The ongoing choice that everyone has to partake of two trees today
  • A quick look at the third tree that makes eating from the tree of life possible
  • The future choice shown in the book of Revelation for unbelievers
  • The future benefit to believers from the tree of life, as shown in Revelation

Two trees in the garden of Eden

Gen 2:8-9 Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. (9) And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground--trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Gen 2:16-17 And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; (17) 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."

So it states that there were lots of trees in the garden of Eden. They were pleasant to behold and great for food. If Adam was anything like me then I'm sure he would have spent a lot of time gorging himself on the lovely fruit and nuts! But two special trees are singled out. These two were different. One was called 'life'. The other, as God told Adam, would bring 'death'. So placed right there in the middle of the garden was essentially a choice for Adam and Eve. A choice between life and death. God placed them right in the middle of the garden to focus their attention on the biggest decision they had to make. And God was very clear with Adam right from the start, spelling out the rules and the consequences for disobedience. 'You may eat from any tree in the garden, but NOT from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat from that tree, in the same day, you will DIE.' Ok... Gulp. Clear on that. There is a lot riding on this decision. Don't eat from the wrong tree... don't make the wrong choice! 

What do the tree of Life and the knowledge of good and evil represent?

Now while there is a great warning given by God not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, not much is said initially about the tree of life1. It is mentioned as being there, but its importance is not initially recorded. However, after the fall we see how amazing this tree is. 

Gen 3:22-24 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"-- (23) therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. (24) So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.

The Tree of life was so important that God had to send a cherubim (the highest order in the angelic realm) and a flaming sword to make sure no one could partake of that tree. Why is that you ask? Well, because that tree supplied everlasting life! Had Adam and Eve eaten of it AFTER their fall they would not have died physically. They would have carried on in a fallen desperate state... forever. That is how important this tree is. That is why God had to guard it. 

So humanity, right from the start, had a choice. The difference between the two trees in the garden and what they represent can be seen in the following chart. 

Aspect Tree of Life Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil
Starts with Dependence upon God Independence from God
Leads to God in control, essential to life Man in control, mankind calling the shots
Draws on Spirit's resources and life Human strength and resources
Guided by God's wisdom Man's wisdom and decisions (a.k.a 'folly')
Results in Life, fellowship, fruit of the Spirit Death! Disharmony, fruit of the flesh
Personified by Jesus Satan

One brought life. The other death. It is a choice that every human still chooses between even if they don't know it. God still speaks and encourages humanity to choose correctly just as He did with the children of Israel.

Deu 30:19-20 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live (20) and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life...'

The tree of life is ultimately Jesus Himself. It is the life of God. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is following Satan and his deceptions2. This takes many forms through various religions and systems of belief but they are all ultimately from the evil one getting mankind to chose 'another way'. They may see it as 'an enlightened way' but it still follows Satan in his rebellion against God's position and rule. Here is one example: 

A 'tree of the knowledge of good and evil' illustration

Many decades ago, in the mid 1960's, my Mother's neighbour introduced her to Scientology.  'Wow' she said to Mum, 'there is the wonderful group and teaching that gets all the junk out of your brain and really frees your mind. You have to come!' My Mother hadn't heard of Scientology at that stage and was a young Christian so she went to her Baptist minister and asked whether he thought it would be ok to go along. 'Yes' he said 'it sounds fine to me'. (I can only assume he hadn't heard of it either to give that advice!) So off she went with her neighbour to the meetings. She went a few times but it didn't feel right. There was a nagging within... an inner voice of the Spirit warning her. So my Mum prayed about it and the Lord spoke clearly to her. He simply said 'It is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil'.  

Now at the time she had no idea what that was, but one thing she did know was that it wasn't good! So she went to her neighbour and said she couldn't go anymore because Scientology 'was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil'. You now had two people who had no idea what that meant! But at least one knew that it wasn't good! The neighbour kept on going but Mum never went again. This simply illustrates how mankind still seeks after hidden knowledge, in opposition to God's ways, to try to 'be like god'. It was the initial temptation that the enemy used to lure Eve astray and it is has carried on right down through the ages. People are still choosing the tree of the knowledge of good and evil instead of life!

The third tree? To restore life?

So it is probably time to bring in the third tree. I mentioned in the introduction a big theme of scripture involves three trees. We have seen and spoken of the two which were in the garden of Eden. So what is the third tree you ask? Good question! It's the tree on the hill remember? It is this tree that makes it possible for mankind to eat from the tree of life once again.

What is the third important tree involving mankind in scripture?
  • The first tree in the Garden, which Adam and Eve SHOULD have eaten from, but didn't, would have brought everlasting life. This is the tree of life.
  • The second tree in the Garden, which Adam and Eve SHOULDN'T have eaten from, but did, brought spiritual and eventual physical death. This is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
  • The third tree in scripture was one upon a hill. What was this tree? It was the tree (normally known as the Cross) upon Golgotha hill. This tree took Him who was life, down into death so that life could come once again, condemned to die. 

The events that took place on this third tree will be spoken of for eternity. Reconciliation and forgiveness of sins with God were accomplished on that tree. And more importantly by Him who was willing to go down into death so that life could come once again! 

1Pe 2:24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed.

Gal 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree."

Because of this third tree, we now, as believers, have the chance to partake of the tree of life (which is Jesus and His life). But there is still a choice we have to make... 

The ongoing choice the believer has to today 

For believers today there is still an ongoing choice of whether we rely upon God and draw from His life or act independently in our own strength and wisdom. We can read our Bibles, act very religious, with the best of intentions, and still be eating from the wrong tree. If we read the Bible just as 'the knowledge of good and evil', 'right and wrong', thinking that through such knowledge we have what it takes to live righteous moral lives, then we have not seen the full extent of the gospel and are not yet eating from the tree of life. Partaking of the tree of life today is seeing Jesus, who is life, as essential for our daily lives. Not His example, not His teaching (as wonderful as both of those were), but He Himself... His life in us. That's what it means to 'abide'. That's why Jesus said:

John 15:4-5 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (5) I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

That's why Paul would write:

Rom 5:10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

There is an ongoing salvation, not by His death, but by His life, that is available to believers. Major Ian Thomas writes:

He does not come to give strength to your flesh – He comes to become your life. When you are eating from the tree of divine life in the Sabbath-rest of God, you will taste of the firstfruits of Christ’s eternal life. The Lord you are seeking comes in the power of His resurrection life. (Mal. 3: 1-3, Heb. 7: 16) He says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14: 6) He is the only one who has a victorious life. Therefore, we must enter into the Sabbath-rest of God and permit Him to take control of every aspect of our life.
Major Ian Thomas

As an example of the difference (for believers) in eating from the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, consider the following popular phrase.

WWJD? - What WILL Jesus do?

During the 1990's and 2000's there was a Christian phrase / fad that asked the question 'What would Jesus do?' Known by the initials WWJD, it became very popular with bracelets, wristbands, lunch boxes and the like. When faced with a dilemma or uncertain situation the believer was encouraged to ask themselves 'what what Jesus do?' It was well intentioned, trying to remind the believer to live in the same type of love that Jesus did. But here is the problem... What would Jesus do? Well, what He did depended upon what His Father desired. He lived the perfect life because He relied upon the life, direction and empowerment of His Father. So what would Jesus do? Well, Jesus said it clearly:

Joh 5:19 I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.   

We are not called to try mimic what Jesus did in that sense. If we just look at Jesus as a historical figure who inspires us to live a good life we have missed the point. Without Him, now - the resurrected daily life giving Jesus, we can do nothing. 

But fear not all you WWJD bracelets owners! You might not have to throw them away just yet... Just change one 'W' and you'll start to get back on track. Instead of asking 'What WOULD Jesus do?' as if He is dead, ask 'What WILL Jesus do?' - Because He is alive! Bring Him into the situation and you will be relying on the tree of life again!

The future choice shown in the book of Revelation for unbelievers

So let's shift gears now into the coming day. What of the end? How do these two trees find their fulfillment in the book of Revelation? Firstly, let's speak of the unbelievers and then turn our attention to believers. 

When we get to the book of Revelation we see that ultimately, in the soon coming day, the choice and decision for mankind will again be clear cut and out in the open. It will be a decision that again, like in the Garden of Eden, has only two options - a choice between listening and obeying God or listening and following Satan. Life or death. The first choice will mean physical death but eternal spiritual life. The other choice will mean temporal physical life but eternal spiritual death. Everything comes back to how it was in the beginning. Today, mankind is faced with a myriad of spiritual choices. Some follow the New Age. Some Islam. Some Hinduism. Some as we have seen, Scientology. Some worship science and place their faith there. There are endless options. 

But ultimately, during the coming tribulation period, there will only be one of two choices. The different religions will make way for the worship of the Antichrist who will declare himself to be God and the only object of worship (Rev 13:4, 2 Thes 2:4, Daniel 11:36-37). No one will be able to sit on the fence anymore. There will be no atheists or agnostics during the tribulation. Everyone, in facing the choice of taking the mark of the beast, will be forced to choose between worshiping and following God or Satan. This will be the fulfillment of humanities choice of the two trees once again. God or Satan? Life or Death? And God will make the consequences of this choice abundantly clear, just as He did in the Garden:

Rev 14:6-10 Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth--to every nation, tribe, language and people. (7) He said in a loud voice, "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water." ...(9) A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: "If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, (10) he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 

So again, there are the choices. One angels flies in the heavens declaring the gospel, telling all to worship and fear God. Another angel declares in a loud voice that if worshiping the beast and receiving his mark will bring the fury and wrath of God. Choose mankind, for there is no sitting on the fence any longer. As Bob Dylan once sang:

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes Indeed you're gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, But you're gonna have to serve somebody

The ongoing life available to believers in Revelation

tree of life both sides of riverAnd what of those that choose correctly and overcome? What of those that worship the God of heaven? Well, the tree of life awaits.

Rev 2:7 ...To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

This tree, and this paradise, is pictured again in the last chapter of Revelation where we read:

Rev 22:1-2 Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, (2) 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.

There are two immediate things here about the tree of life that stand out - especially for all the gardeners out there! 

  • Firstly the tree of life has twelve types of fruit. For the gardeners, that is amazing as everyone knows that a tree can only bring forth it's corresponding fruit. An apple tree can't produce lemons. An orange tree can't produce plums. Well, the tree of life can! Oh the variety of God.
  • Secondly, it doesn't require a break but bears fruit every month of the year. Anyone with fruit trees know they produce in a certain season of the year (and it might only be for a few weeks) and then there is a long period of seeming inactivity where they get all that they need to be able to produce again, at the same time next year. The tree of life isn't like that. It doesn't get tired. It doesn't need a break. It keeps producing. How is that possible? 
Even today - Where are your roots?

It is possible for the tree of life to never tire and perpetually produce because it is rooted in the river of the water of life that comes from the throne of God. That accounts for it's perpetual fruitfulness. That accounts for it having life to give in every season. That accounts for the fact that it brings perpetual health and well-being to those that feed on it. It reminds us that God does not get tired. He is an eternal source of life and well being. It also reminds us that we too, as believers, will have fruit to give in all seasons, when our roots are drawing from the water of life. 

Isa 40:28-31 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. (29) He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. (30) Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; (31) but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Can you imagine what it will be like? I have mentioned this before but all the fruit that comes from the Spirit - love, joy, peace, goodness etc - that will be the believers experience in full measure in the coming day. We have a foretaste already of the fruit of this tree but will know it in it's true, full, undiluted form. 

The fruit of the tree of life in full measure

As a quick last illustration, as part of a Bible College course that I did many years ago, I spent 3 months in Fiji speaking in various churches. And one thing that amazed me being in that country was the fruit! The bananas! Is that what a real, tree ripened banana really tastes like? Wow! The mangoes! The pineapples. Wow... the pineapples. Is that what a God-given and grown pineapple is meant to be like? They were incredible. We don't grow these fruits in New Zealand (well, not at all well because it's too cold) so our bananas, pineapples etc are imported. But mmm mmm how good was the real thing straight off the tree! It truly surprised me. And in a good way! And oh how much better again will the tree of life and it's many fruits be than any pleasure or experience we have ever had in this life. What a day that will be!


So as it was for Adam and Eve, so it is for all humanity. Everyone has to make a choice. God's way, through His life, or our way. The tree of life or the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Everyone must choose. The coming day will see all choices narrowed down to these two as seen in the book of revelation. And why would you not choose God? Sadly many won't. If you are a believer then share what you know. Tell those that don't know where you found true life.

And, amongst these strange days, be encouraged for a better day is coming. The tree of life as shown in the book of Genesis and Revelation, a type of the life that is in the Lord Jesus, speaks of far more than just length of life. It is eternal, yes... but so much more. It speaks of the quality and type of life. It speaks of His life and all that He, Jesus, is and will be for us. That is what we are to feed on in this life and also in the soon coming day when we are with Him.  

  1. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is never mentioned again in scripture. But the tree of life is. Here is a full list of references to the tree of life and it's connection to Jesus as the life can be seen (taken from The Ultimate Cross Reference Treasury):
    Gen 3:22, Pro 3:18, Pro 11:30, Eze 47:12, Joh 6:48, Joh 6:51, Joh 6:53, Rev 2:7, Rev 22:2, Rev 22:14

  2. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil can push people in both directions - good and evil. Yet neither is life! What do I mean by that? Humanity is fallen and we see the results of that. Evil is easy to spot. We see it every day on the news. But humanity, on the whole, also thinks it is good and that trying to be good will be good enough with God! Many think that their good works will see them enter Heaven for example. But the Bible correctly shows us the extent of the fall. Unbelievers are 'dead in sin' (Eph 2:1) and a dead man needs far more than his own feeble efforts to be good. A dead man needs life! That is what Jesus came to give. The very thing we need. Even as believers we can fall into the trap of just trying to live good lives on our own and not see our ongoing need of life - His life!