[K:NWTS 11/2 (Sep 1996) 15-31]

The Tree of Life: Protological to Eschatological

Robert Starke

Kerux V11N2A3

In the Genesis narrative, in the midst of the lush, oasis-like forest of Eden, towering in significance over the multitude that shared the nourishing, paradisaical waters, stand two trees. One tree, its branches laden with fruit, promises life; the other, equally laden with fruit, threatens death. Through the demonically encouraged choice of the primeval man, the dark shadow of death eclipses the glorious promise of life, driving man from its now forbidden fruit. Thus, the dark shadow of the tree of death hangs ominously over redemptive history. Yet, even immediately following that disastrous choice, the glory of the Edenic tree of promise is seen to periodically pierce the shadowy darkness of death. Here and there are seen glimpses of the "Tree of Life," the tree which promises life, its life-giving glory gaining intensity with each unfolding of revelation. Finally, in the Christian Scriptures, it was in the epiphany of the eschatological Adam and death's inability to overshadow him, that the life-giving tree triumphs, its glory eliminating at last the shadow of death. Thus, in John's apocalyptic vision of the new heavens and the new earth, there grows a lone tree—the Tree of Life (Rev. 22:2). Once again the Tree of Life stands tall, sharing its glory with no other tree in the garden, its fruit promised to those who overcome (Rev. 2:7).

In this way, although obscure and even unseen at times, the imagery of the Tree of Life "therefore chronicles man's long exile from paradise and the means of his return."1 This is made manifest through an examination of the biblical usage of the "Tree of Life" as well as the setting in which it is found, the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:8) or "the paradise of God" (Rev. 2:7). The Tree of Life does, indeed, promise the restoration of paradise, but this is much more than merely a return to the garden.

The proto-typical description of the Tree of life finds its locus in a temple-sanctuary, like its eschatological manifestation in the book of Revelation. Rather than conceiving of Eden as some metaphorical non-existent location, a biblical "utopia" (ou and topos, Grk.) as some are wont to do,2 based on the troublesome geographical details, it is perhaps best to acknowledge the difficulties involved in locating Eden without abandoning its reality and simply attempt to understand its imagery.

Eden was surely a place of "delight," as the name implies,3 a place of fertility (‘adhan [Heb.], Gen. 18:12). Describing Eden as "a garden" follows, as in "the Middle East the garden represented nature in its ideal form."4 The proto-typical Eden is pictured as a walled enclosure, set high upon "the holy Mount of God" (Ezk. 28:13-14), its walls apparently oriented to the four points of the compass (Gen. 2:8; 3:24). Filled with fruit-bearing trees of all types, Eden was well-watered and beautiful to behold (Gen. 2:9-10). The paradisaical life involved an abundance of nourishment, man's unchallenged dominion over creation, as well as harmonious relations between the man and the woman. Negatively, Eden was marked by the "absence of shame (Gen. 2:25) . . . and death."5 The proto-typical Eden was, however, as Claus Westermann explains, "no fairyland."6

It was in Eden that Adam was placed, not for leisure, but to serve (le'abhedhah, Heb.) and to guard (leshamerah, Heb.). These duties of Adam point to the fact that Eden was not primarily created as "an abode for man,"' but rather as a sanctuary where man might enter into fellowship with God. Eden was to serve as the earthly copy of the heavenly temple. This is supported by the cultic connotations of the verbs used to describe Adam's responsibilities as Eden's guardian (shomer, Heb.). Moses himself, in ordering the priesthood, speaks of the Levitical priesthood at the tabernacle-sanctuary revealed at Mount Sinai as that of service (Num. 4:23, 25, 26, etc), echoing the Edenic duty of Adam. In the same way, the original Mosaic commission to Aaron was that he and his sons were to attend to and guard (shameru, Heb.) the tabernacle-sanctuary. If anyone apart from the Levites were to draw near, they were to be put to death (Num. 3:10; 18:7). Here then, in Genesis 2, Adam's divinely ordained responsibilities prefigure those of the Levitical priesthood, pointing to the sanctuary nature of Eden in its original conception. Thus, as M. G. Kline has argued, Eden was the "cultic site of God's special Presence,"8 the dwelling place of the Lord God, a "holy tabernacle, a microcosmic house of God,"9 an "archetypal sanctuary."10

This conclusion is supported by the prophetic authors referring to Eden as "the Garden of God" (gan-'elohim [Heb.], Isa. 51:3; Ezk. 28:13; 31:8). Eden is Elohim's garden11, his sanctuary, the place where his theophanic presence was made manifest. The Septuagint's consistent translation of the Hebrew gan with paradeisos (Grk.) also points to Eden's cultic nature. Derived from the old Persian pardez,12 the Greek paradeisos originally denoted "an enclosed garden, especially a royal park . . . planted with fruit trees, laid out regularly, and often stocked with animals of the chase,"13 often serving as a place in which royalty would stroll. This connotation is seen in the Septuagint translation of Nehemiah 2:8. There Asaph is said to be "the guard of the paradise which is for the King," referring to Artexerxes. Interestingly, Asaph is, in the Hebrew text of Nehemiah 2:8, described as the "guardian" (shomer, Heb.), again a possible pointer back to Adam's role in Eden. In the poetic Song of Songs 4:12, the beloved is spoken of metaphorically as "a barred or bolted garden," which the Septuagint translates as "a shut or locked garden" (kepros kekleismenos, Grk.) and is paralleled in verse 13 with paradeisos. Thus with Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:23), the Lord installs a number of cherubim as gatekeepers (leshemor, Heb.) to guard his temple-sanctuary and prevent access to the Tree of Life (v. 24), in a sense fulfilling the role which Adam had abdicated. Interestingly, the text does not state that the cherubim are "placed" or "set" at the entrance, but rather are said to "dwell" (Gen. 3:24) before the entrance to Eden, a possible allusion to their guarding the presence of the Lord.

The movement from paradeisos being used in reference to a royal garden to that of a cultic garden, or vice versa, would be a natural one in a culture where royalty is considered deity, such as the Persian and Greco-Roman societies. In this way the royal park or garden was, in pagan thinking, "a sacred enclosure in whose innermost heart the deity was present."14 As Ramsay explains, the presence of trees in this sanctuary follows naturally, as the tree was considered "the seat of Divine life and the intermediary between Divine and human nature."15 This was an imitation of, or an attempt to recreate, the Edenic sanctuary, albeit as a pagan shrine. Filled with fruit-bearing trees and amply watered, the imagery of Eden quite naturally lent itself to the pagan mythological conceptions of the ideal conditions enjoyed by their gods (e.g., the fields of Elysium). This in turn led to attempts to create a human paradeisos, whether it be for nobility or royalty to dwell in.

One of the earliest Greek examples of a paradeisos is the one detailed by Xenophon in his Anabasis dating from the end of the fourth century B.C. Xenophon explains how he had been inspired by the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, and thus built a replica of the altar and temple near Scillus.16 Following the Ephesian pattern, within the sanctuary grounds (obviously implying some boundaries or walls), there are specifically said to be "tree-covered mountains,"17 pointing back to Eden. Again in the following verse, it is stated that immediately surrounding the temple there was "a grove of tame or cultivated trees planted" which, like those prophesied in Ezekiel 47:12, bear many "dessert fruits in their season."18 Also worthy of notice is the fact that Xenophon chose the site upon which he built his replica paradeisos because of its affinities to the Ephesian site, specifically its river, alongside of which he built his temple,19 thus providing water for the sacred grove (cf. Gen. 2:10; Ezk. 47:12).

Interestingly, it is to the church at Ephesus in the Apocalypse of John that the exalted Christ is seen to promise "to those who overcome" access to the Tree of Life which is "in the paradise of God" (Rev. 2:7)—the very place where Xenophon had found the paradigm for his "paradise." Apparently the Ephesians would have been familiar with the conception of the paradeisos as a walled sanctuary. Archaeology has uncovered in Ephesus the remains of the Artemis shrine, in the center of which was located "an ancient tree-shrine . . . surrounded by an asylum enclosed by a boundary wall."20 In classical times, criminals were allowed to seek refuge at the asylum,21 and were granted immunity as long as they remained within the sanctuary enclosure. Yet it is not to this earthly asylum that John refers in his announcement to Ephesus, with its hope of temporal asylum, but rather to the eternal asylum of a heavenly sanctuary.

It was to this Heavenly Eden that the prophets looked with expectation. The coming age promised to be that of paradise regained. With the entrance of sin into God's creation, the human race had been banished (Gen. 3:23) from the Eden sanctuary, but there always remained the hope of return. Thus, the restoration of "the Edenic city upon the cosmic mountain fully expresses the great redemptive hope"22 of the prophetic promise. Metaphorically, with the Fall, the earth, as well as Eden, had returned to the state of being symbolically "formless and empty" (Jer. 4:23; cf. Gen 1:2). Yet the prophets foresaw that the wasteland that Zion had become would one day again blossom and flourish. Her deserts would again be "like Eden" and the wasteland that was the Arabah would become "garden of the Lord" (Isa. 51:3; cf. Ezk. 36:35). The river which had once sprung from underneath the Edenic temple (Gen. 2:10) would again bring waters of abundance to the Land (Ezk.47:1ff.), "living waters" (Zech. 14:8) filling the seas and making them fresh. Once again the trees of Eden would bring forth fruit, not merely once a year, but each and every month (Ezk. 47:12). Like the metaphorical tree of Psalm 1, these trees, planted on the shores of the "living waters," would never again wither nor fail. Zion would indeed enjoy her jubilee!

The heavenly temple-city which Ezekiel envisions perched high "on the mountains of God" (Ezk. 40:2), in all its eschatological glory, is emphatically said to be completely surrounded (Ezk. 40:5) by a wall over ten feet high, reflecting the enclosed sanctuary of Eden. This visionary temple, like the Edenic sanctuary, is shown to have each of its walls oriented towards the four points of the compass (Ezk. 40:6, 20, 24). At each of its three gates, approached by ascending seven steps (Ezk. 40:22, 26) are two sets of three alcoves built into the walls (Ezk. 40:7, 21, 25), apparently for the guardians of the sanctuary.

Within the walls of this eschatological Eden, the pine, the fir, and the cypress will all adorn the Zion-temple, the walled paradeisos which the Lord calls "the place of my sanctuary" (Isa. 60:13). Within its walls grow every kind of tree, thus demonstrating its eschatological character "by the presence together of trees which never occur elsewhere together"23 outside of Eden (Gen. 2:9). Of prime importance however, is the implied promise of the presence of the "Tree of Life" within this new garden-sanctuary. In the midst of all the trees (Gen. 2:9), amongst the great forest (Ezk. 47:7) of the heavenly paradeisos, it is not difficult to imagine the "Tree of Life" standing, as did the writers of the Old Testament pseudepigrapha (Test. Lev. 18:11; Eth. Enoch 24:4; 25:4). As Henri Blocher explains, while the term "Tree of Life" is not used in the prophetic expectations of that future garden-paradise, "the thought could not have been far away."24

This eschatological hope of paradise regained finds its realization in the vision given to John in the Book of Revelation. The access to this eschatological Tree of Life which is offered as a reward to the "overcomers" (Rev. 2:7), is portrayed in all its splendor in Revelation 21 and 22. Here, as it was revealed to Ezekiel, is the Lord's temple-city descending upon a "mountain great and high" (Rev. 21:10; cf. Ezk. 40:2). As the anti-typical paradise of God, it too has a "great, high wall" (Rev. 21:12), as wide as it is tall (Rev. 21:16; cf. Ezk. 40:5), oriented again to the points of the compass (Rev. 21:13). Stationed at each of the twelve gates are angelic guardians (angelous [Grk.], Rev. 21:12), just as there had been in its Edenic manifestation after the Fall (Gen. 3:24), as well as in Ezekiel's eschatological vision (Ezk. 40:7, 21, 25). Here too within its gates, is the "water of life" (hydatos zoes [Grk.], Rev. 22:1) flowing from the midst of the paradeisos-sanctuary; from the very foot of "the throne of God" (Gen. 2:10; Ezk. 47:1; Zech. 14:8). Although here the "water of life" is pictured not as watering a vast, dense forest, but the lone25 "Tree of Life" (zylon zoes, Grk.), straddling its shores (Rev. 22:2), "transplanted, as it were, from Eden."26 In fulfillment of the prophetic promise, the Tree bears its fruit "every month" (Rev. 22:2), providing healing for the nations.

It is in its eschatological manifestation that this "new paradise" is fully revealed in its true sanctuary nature. Here it is explicitly described, no longer as a "microcosmic house,"27 but rather as the macrocosmic dwelling of the Lord Most High. It is here, within its walls of asylum, that the Shekinah-glory of God burns brightest (Rev. 21:23; 22:5), eliminating the blackness of the metaphorical night of sin. In the midst of his sanctuary, "the throne of God and the Lamb" has been placed (Rev. 22:3). Once again, God has established his "Edenic temple-city upon a great mountain . . . [a] sanctuary-city, founded and built by God alone,"28 the "epitome of the glory of the consummation."29 It is in this setting that the Lord's eschatological Tree of Life stands tallest.

However, its journey here has been a strange one. The unfolding of "the Tree of Life" in the text of biblical literature is indeed a mysterious one. Many scholars, such as Skinner, seeking to remove this mystery, deny its authenticity altogether, declaring that its presence in the text of Genesis only "creates fresh embarrassment."30 Likewise, Speiser dismisses the tree as simply "a motif from the Primeval Age based on foreign myths."31 Yet, rather than merely being an "inconsistency"32 in the text, the Tree of Life is, in the Zion-centric universe of Scripture, truly "the World Axis."33 Here the Tree of Life stands already, even in its protological manifestation, in the very center (bethok hagan, Heb.) of God's garden-sanctuary (Gen. 2:9), a looking forward, if you will, to its eschatological function. As Vos explains, it stands there symbolizing the "the higher, . . . unchangeable, . . . eternal life."34

As Westermann has detailed, the Tree of Life, along with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, corresponds to the twin clauses of the Adamic probation.35 The blessing of God's command to Adam was that "eating you shall eat" (Gen. 2:16) from all the trees of the garden and thus live. This then is the verbal parallel to the visible representation of the Tree of Life. Over against this, the covenant curse would come with the violation of prohibition against eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:17). Contrasted emphatically with the life-giving tree, the tree of covenant curse promises death—"dying you shall die."

Immediately, two questions arise which must be dealt with briefly before continuing. First, the nature of the benefits derived from eating from the Tree of Life must be determined. That is, how is it that life was conveyed through the eating of its fruit? Second, it must be decided whether or not Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Life prior to their expulsion. Taking the latter first, it has been occasionally argued that because it was given to Adam and Eve to eat "from all the trees of the garden" (Gen. 2:16), it would be "logically contrary" to think that the Tree of Life was not one of those "allowed and given to the man,"36 and therefore that they naturally ate of its fruit. Yet, following the Fall, God's establishment of an angelic guardian to prevent man's approach to the Tree of Life clearly contradicts this idea (Gen. 3:24). To argue that man had to repeatedly eat of the fruit in order to possess eternal life, and therefore, that the Lord's actions following the Fall were designed to prevent Adam and Eve from continuing to partake of the fruit is unconvincing. The use of the perfect tense for "unique or instantaneous action"37 in the reason stated for their expulsion points to a single act of eating.38 In addition, the explicit use of "also" (gam, Heb.) in the divine counsel (Gen. 3:22) points to Adam and Eve's not having as yet tasted the fruit of the Tree of Life, as they had the Tree of Knowledge. In the same way, Christ's eschatological promise of the fruit of the Tree is made "to him who overcomes" (Rev. 2:7), and Adam's failure in the probationary testing of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil39 can in no way be construed as a victory. The right to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life is secured only through obedience—obedience which the first Adam failed to render, but which the Last Adam is pictured as having delivered in full (Rom. 5:19).

As to the nature of the fruit itself, it is plain to all that what was to be conveyed is "living forever" (Gen. 3:22), whether it is understood literally, allegorically, or otherwise. Blocher dismisses the Tree and its fruit as merely figurative, with neither being actually physically present in the garden. He claims that the tree only "represents communion with God, the inexhaustible source of life. "40 Others view the text as teaching that, regardless of whether or not they actually believe it, the fruit possessed some magical power, conveying eternal life ex opere operato. Yet the entire Genesis record, and likewise all of Scripture, excludes the idea of an element of any kind possessing, in and of itself, magical power. "The Old Testament has no room for blind forces, only for the acts of God."42

The judicial banishment of Adam from the garden generally, and from the Tree of Life specifically, points to the significance of its fruit. That Adam had not eaten of its fruit prior to the probation (see above), and the subsequent prohibition against doing just that (Gen. 3:24) both point to the proper understanding of the Tree of Life as that of "the sacramental seal of man's participation in the glory of immortality."43 As Calvin argues, "there never was any intrinsic efficacy in the tree."44 The fruit was to serve as a sign and seal of the blessing of the confirmation in holiness merited through covenantal obedience during Adam's probation. Had this probation been successfully passed, Adam and Eve would have then entered into a confirmed state of eschatological life—life without the threat of imperfection, life within the realm of consummated or confirmed holiness and perfection,45 signified and sealed to them by means of the fruit of the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:24).

Yet, in their rebellious eating of the anti-sacramental Tree (the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil), the Tree of Life became for them a curse, the eating of which would sacramentally seal them in a state of unrighteousness and damnation.46 Had Adam and Eve been allowed to "sacrilegiously . . . partake of the tree"47 they would have been confirmed in their now sinful state. In this way, the Lord's judicial banishment of Adam and Eve from both his garden-sanctuary and its sacramental tree, is viewed not only as cleansing of his temple,48 but also as a gracious act, protecting them from a fate far worse than death. It is in this curse nature that the Tree of Life later reappears in Scripture.

The phrase, "the Tree of Life", itself occurs in the Hebrew Bible outside of Genesis 2-3 only in the book of Proverbs (3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4). In the wisdom literature, the Tree becomes equated with wisdom as the highest virtue of life, something that ought to be "laid hold of" (3:18). In this way, the Tree of Life is seen as bestowing "fullness of life in all its dimensions,"49 not at all unrelated to its Edenic manifestation, but certainly lacking, to some degree, its eschatological focus. In Proverbs 11:30, the wisdom conception of the Tree most closely echoes that of the Genesis prohibition, stating that "the fruit of righteousness is a tree of life."

While the terminology of the Tree of Life is absent from the rest of the Hebrew Bible, this is not to say that the imagery is absent elsewhere. The imagery of a tree, while not necessarily that of the Tree of life, is central to the tabernacle, as well as to the temple (which James Jordan suggests "are themselves arborescent theophanies").50 It may in fact be argued that "the tabernacle is a renewed version of the Garden of Eden."51 In any case, within the "tent of Meeting" just outside the "shielding veil" (Ex. 39:34; 40:21) which barred the way to "the Holy of Holies," stood a stylized, golden almond tree with buds, blossoms, almond flowers, and fruit all at once52 (Ex. 25:31-36), symbolizing the fullness of life lost in the Fall. Here the lampstand-tree appears as a reminder of the Lord's initial theophanic visit to Moses, as was his presence in Eden and upon the mountain of God (Mt. Horeb, Ex. 3:1ff.). The tree of the tabernacle-temple is thus revealed as an "institutionalized burning bush."53 And like its archetypal forerunner, nearby stand the cherubim (Ex. 26:31), embroidered on the curtains standing before "the Holy of Holies" (Ex. 39:34; 40:21), which like the cherubim of Eden, "tear the way into God's presence."54 The effects of the Fall are thus dramatically revealed in the architecture and furnishings of the earthly tabernacle.

The truth that the tabernacle portrays visually, is revealed verbally throughout the Hebrew Bible. Whereas, what had been intended to be "a seal of everlasting life"55 in the purity of the Edenic "archetypal sanctuary,"56 becomes in the post-lapsarian world of sin and misery," a sign of a curse."57 The symbolism of the tree is no longer that of the giving of life, but rather that of an instrument of curse—the cross. While the "LXX [Septuagint] never uses the word stauros,"58 crucifixion is frequently implied by the impaling or hanging of the victim upon a "tree-cross."59 Pharaoh's chief baker is "impaled upon a tree" just as Joseph had prophesied (Gen. 40:18-22). In the Deuteronomic covenant renewal, Moses is said to lay out the stipulations intended to protect the sanctity of the land-sanctuary the Israelites were to establish in Canaan. The Lord pronounces a curse upon anyone who is "executed . . . [and] then fixed to a stake"60 (Dt. 21:22). The body must not remain upon the tree overnight, as this would cause them to desecrate the sanctity of the land (Dt. 21:23). Therefore, the unclean rulers of the Canaanite forces that opposed the people of God in the conquest are defeated and marked with the curse of God by their being hung or impaled "upon a tree" (Jos. 8:29; 10:26). In each case it is specifically stated that their bodies remained only until evening in order not to desecrate the land.

In the Exilic period, the wicked Haman plots to destroy all God's covenant people, particularly Mordecai by hanging or impaling him "upon a tree" (Est. 5:14; 6:4), reflecting the "oriental custom."61 Clearly, this is not a tree in the botanical sense, since it is stated that Haman had it made (5:14), yet the author's use of "tree," along with "hung" (6:4; 7:9, 10; 9:13) clearly point back to the curse of Dt. 21:23. It is by means of "the tree" that Haman (7:10), along with his ten sons (9:13), receive their just punishment, marked with the sign of the Lord's curse.

Like so much of Scripture, what is implicit in the Old becomes explicit in the New, and this certainly is true of the imagery of the Tree of Life. The apostolic preaching of the cross is inextricably linked to the concept of zylon (Grk., "tree"). As one scholar has remarked: "It is no accident that human sin which began at the foot of a tree... (Gen. 2:9ff.), found its resolution on another tree, the cross of Calvary."62 The "idiomatic word for 'tree' in New Testament times"63 was dendron, and yet none of its twenty-five uses in the New Testament is ever in reference to the cross. John himself uses dendron four times, all in Revelation and each refers to actual, botanical trees (7:1, 3; 8:7; 9:4). In contrast, of the twenty-one uses of zylon, only five refer to actual trees or wood (Lk. 23:31; 1 Cor. 3:12; Rev. 18:12), while six refer to instruments of pain or punishment, either clubs (Mt. 26:47, 55; Mk. 14:43, 48; Lk. 22:52), or stocks (Acts 16:24). The remaining uses are exclusive to the idea of the cross or the Tree of Life.

In Luke's record of the growth of the early Church, the phrase "hung on the cross" has become an essential element of the apostle's "kerygmatic formula."64 This is the identical phrase used by the Septuagint to translate "impaled upon a tree" throughout the Hebrew Bible.65 Peter's preaching before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:30), and to the God-fearing Gentiles of Cornelius's house (10:39) both avoid the technical terminology of crucifixion (stauros, stauroo [Grk.], which occur some twelve times in Luke-Acts; twice in the preaching of Peter alone), choosing rather to make reference to the Deuteronomic curse aspects of the atonement. Likewise Paul, when speaking to the "sons of Abraham" and God-fearing Gentiles of Pisidian Antioch, uses the language of curse (tou zylon, Grk.) to speak of the death of Jesus (13:29). In this manner Paul can then explicitly declare that the Christ has become "a curse" because, quoting Dt. 21:23, "cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree" (Gal. 3:13). Peter also, in his first epistle, speaks not of the "cross," but rather the "tree" by which our metaphorical wounds are healed (cf. Rev. 22:2), enabling us to die to sin and live for righteousness (1 Pet. 2:24).

Clearly, the "tree" "receives a new content in Christian use."66 In the mind of the early Church, the "Tree of Life was readily identified with the cross."67 "Tree" in the preaching of the apostles is not to be thought of as a botanical item or a mere piece of lumber, but it is the cross, the instrument of cursing, through which the curse of Genesis 3 is borne by Jesus and undergoes reversal. Once the sign of God's cure, death on the cross becomes "the saving event which radically transforms the world"68 (cf. Wisdom 14:7), announcing eschatological forgiveness and peace.

It is primarily in the book of Revelation, given to John by prophetic commission (1:11, 19) that the image of the "Tree of Life" and the cross become one. The technical terminology of crucifixion is startlingly absent from the Apocalypse; the cross is not to be found, and "crucifixion" appears only once (11:8), while the "Tree of Life" appears repeatedly. Once more the Tree of Life is seen in the midst of the garden, "the paradise of God" (Rev. 2:7; 22:2; cf. Gen 2:9). In the midst of God's heavenly temple-sanctuary, the Tree of Life again blossoms and bears fruit (Rev. 22:2). Like Adam and Eve in a sense, the Tree also had been banished from God's garden. Driven outside the walls of the protological paradeisos, the Tree of Life had become the Tree of the Curse, sacramentally sealing the covenant violator in divine judgment (Dt. 21:23). Man, mercifully barred from the Tree's fruit, was forced to wander "the earth [which] had taken on the character of a wilderness"69 due to the cosmic effects of his sin. Longing to return, the cherubim with flaming swords (Gen. 3:24) were frightful reminders that only One who was able to endure the judgment-ordeal of a righteous and holy God, passing through the flaming sword-judgment of the Lord, was worthy to eat its fruit.

So it is the eschatological Adam who mounts the Tree of the Curse planted outside the walls of the earthly Zion (Heb. 13:12),70 and takes upon himself the Edenic curse, thus becoming "the curse for us" (Gal. 3:13). In the Last Adam, his elect pass through the judgment-ordeal (Rom. 6:4). In him, his elect become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). In this way, the guardian cherubim sheath their swords of fire. The "great, high wall" of the heavenly Zion (Rev. 21:12), once an unapproachable obstacle, becomes a comfort. The angelic guardians (angelous, Grk.), stationed at each of the city's twelve gates no longer bar the way with flaming swords, but welcome the weary sojourner entering his eschatological rest (Heb. 4:1). Here the curse which hung like a veil over creation (Isa. 25:7), and barred man from "the Holy of Holies" (Ex. 26:33) is torn asunder (Mt. 27:51), reversing "the verdict of Eden."71

Thus, Jesus Christ, himself pictured as the conqueror, promises "to those who overcome," those who "even though [he] externally marches from defeat to defeat,"' are truly victorious by faith "in Christ," who gives them "to eat from the Tree of Life" (2:7). What had been previously forbidden is now offered freely to those who overcome, to those that remain faithful throughout their time of trial. The fruits of the Tree of life are now to be enjoyed. "The way is open which leads to paradise regained,"73 and so much more.

Having been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14), who himself passed the eschatological probation, the elect may now, through the sacraments "to eat from the Tree of Life" (Rev. 2:7), enter into a state of life for which the first Adam only hoped. The barren cross again becomes a verdant Tree, no longer a tree of death, but "the Tree of Life" nourished by the "water of life" (Rev. 22:1) in the splendor of God's glorious heavenly city-sanctuary, towering over the center of the New Jerusalem. Unlike its pagan imitation, the true Tree of Life provides soteriological asylum to the faithful. In the shade of its leaves, healing is found for the nations (Rev. 22:2). Illuminated by the Shekinah-glory of God (Rev. 21:23; 22:5), in the midst of the eschatological "sanctuary-city, founded and built by God alone,"74 the "Tree of life" stands tall, the "epitome of the glory of the consummation."75 Its presence declares that God's redemptive plan has come full circle.

San Jose, California


1Jennifer O'Reilly, "The Trees of Eden in Mediaeval Iconography." In A Walk in the Garden: Biblical, Iconographical and Literary Images of Eden, ed. P. Morris and D. Sawyer (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992), p. 180.

2Yairah Amit, "Biblical Utopianism." Union Seminary Quarterly Review 44/1-2 (1990): 11-17.

3Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, trans. E. Robinson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951), p. 726.

4Donald E. Gowan, Genesis 1-11: From Eden to Babel (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988), p. 40.

5X. Leon-DuFour, Dictionary of Biblical Theology (NY: Seabury Press, 1973), p. 403.

6Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11, trans. John J. Scullion (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1985), p. 81.

7Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1991), p. 27.

8M. G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue (S. Hampton, MA: self-published, 1991), p. 32.

9M. G. Kline, Images of the Spirit (S. Hampton, MA: self-published, 1986), p. 36.

10Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), p. 86.

11Taking elohim as a genitive following the construct gan, thus functioning as a possessive genitive. Bruce Waltke and M. O'Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990), p. 145.

12Colin Brown, ed. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 2:760.

13Colin Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (Sheffield: JSOT, 1986), p. 50.

14Hemer, p. 55.

15William M. Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia (Minneapolis, MN: James Family Publishing, 1978), p. 248.

16Xenophon, Anabasis: Books I-VII, trans. Carleton L. Brownson (Cambridge: University Press, 1980), V. iii. 9, p. 370.

17Xenophon, V. iii. 11, p. 372.

18Xenophon, V. iii. 12, p. 372.

19Xenophon, V. iii. 8, p. 370.

20Hemer, p. 51.


22Warren Austin Gage, The Gospel of Genesis (Winona Lake: Carpenter Books, 1984), p. 51.

23Gage, p. 54.

24Henri Blocher, In the Beginning (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984), p. 125.

25Because the tree is said to be tou potamou enteuthen kai ekeithen many have argued for the collective use of zylon here, referring not to a single tree, but a grove, lining the banks of the river. In addition to destroying the Edenic imagery, this view also imposes a literalism upon the vision never intended by its Revealer. To argue that a single tree cannot grow simultaneously on both banks of a river is to ignore the fact that in its eschatological setting, the tree grows without the benefit of sunlight (Rev. 21:23)!

26R. Laird Harris, ed. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:689.

27Kline, Images, p. 36.

28Gage, p. 54.

29Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1967), 5:770.

30John Skinner, Genesis ICC (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1969), p. 52.

31E. A. Speiser, Genesis: The Anchor Bible (GardenCity, NY: Doubleday & Co.,1964), p. 27.

32Howard N. Wallace, The Eden Narrative (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1985), p. 103.

33S. D. Fohr, Adam and Eve: The Spiritual Symbolism of Genesis and Exodus (NY: University Press of America, 1986), p. 124.

34Vos, p. 28.

35Westermann, p. 290.

36Blocher, p. 123.

37/SUP>Paul Jouon, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, trans. T. Muraoka (Rome: Editrice Pontificio Istitutto Biblico, 1993), 2:360.

38Note also the Septuagint's translation of ’akhal (Heb.) by the Aorist Subjunctive phage denoting punctiliar action or aspect. Cf. F. Blass and A. Debrunner, Greek Grammar of the New Testament, trans. R. W. Funk (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), p. 166.

39Vos, p. 28

40BIocher, p. 125.

41Gerhard Von Rad, Genesis (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972), p. 78.

42Derek Kidner, Genesis (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1967), p. 62.

43Kline, Kingdom Prologue, p. 58.

44John Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of Genesis, trans. John King (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1948),1:184.

45Ibid., p. 59.

46Murray, Collected Writings (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), 2:55.

47Ibid., p. 54.

48E. A. Speiser, Genesis: The Anchor Bible (Garden city, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1964), p. 27.

49Howard N. Wallace, The Eden Narrative (Atlanta GA: Scholars Press, 1985), p. 108.

50James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, 1988), p. 85.

51Vern Polythress, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, 1991), p. 19.


53Jordan, p. 86

54Polythress, p. 19.

55Murray, p 48.

56Wenham, p. 86.

57X. Leon-Dufour, Dictionary of Biblical Theology (NY: Seabury Press, 1973), p. 403.

58Colin Brown, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 1:393.

59O'Reilly, p. 178.

60John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), p. 81.

61Colin Brown, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 1:394.

62Harris, T.W.O.T., 2:689.

63Hemer, p. 41.

64John B. Polhill, The New American Commentary: Acts (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992), p. 262.

65Gen. 40:19; Dt. 21:22.23; Jos. 8:29; 10:26; Est. 5:14; 6:4; 7:10; 9:14.

66Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1967), 5:40.

67O'Reilly, p. 170.

68Colin Brown, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 1:397.

69Kline, Prologue, p. 85.

70cf. also Mt. 27:33; Mk. 15:20; Lk. 23:33; Jn. 19:17.

71Hemer, p. 43.

72Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1967), 4:942.

73Leon Dufour, "Tree," p. 612.