One of the first types that we encounter in the pages of Scripture is the Tree of Life. Being one of the two sacramental (not magical) trees in the Garden, the Tree of Life symbolized that eternal life which Adam would have obtained if he had obeyed God’s command in the Covenant of Works concerning the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The punishment which God inflicted upon man at the Fall was banishment from His presence in the Garden-Temple and from the sign and seal of eternal life. The rest of the Scriptures speak of how God, in the Covenant of Grace, has promised to restore to man, through the Redeemer, what was lost in the Fall–namely, a “right to the tree of life.”
In the book of Proverbs we are told that wisdom “is a tree of life for those who take hold of her” (Prov. 3:18), that “the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life” (11:30) and that “hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when desire comes it is a tree of life” (13:12). When we come to the end of the Bible we again hear about the Tree of life. In the promissory section of the letter to the church in Ephesus, Jesus says, “I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). In the last chapter of Scripture, we read of the heavenly city, and of the Tree of Life in the midst of the city. John writes:
And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river,was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations…[and believers] have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. (Rev. 22:1-2, 14).
So what is the eschatological essence of the Tree of Life? Many theologians throughout church history have suggested that “the Tree of Life” is nothing less than a symbolic description of Christ Himself. Spiritually feeding on Christ, for all of eternity, is the essence of eternal life. Having a continual supply of the Spirit of Christ is life, healing and blessedness. Francis Turretin summed this up so well when he wrote:
Christ [is] the true tree of life…because as Mediator, he is the prince of life giving life to the world and eternal life in heaven by glory; for he is “the resurrection and the life” who will most certainly bestow upon his own eternal life. Truly he is the only tree because no one except Christ is the author of eternal life (nor is there salvation in any other, Acts 4:12). No one except Christ is in the midst of paradise (Rev. 2:7) and of the street of the city (Rev. 22:2). Christ is in the midst of the church (as a more honorable and suitable place) to be near all and diffuse his vivifying power among all; to be seen by all, as the center in which all the lines of faith and love ought to meet, that they may acquiesce in him. The fruit-bearing tree (Rev. 2:7), which bears the sweetest and most exquisite fruit for the support of believers (Cant. 2:3), bears twelve kinds of them (Rev. 22:2), i.e., the most abundant and richest, sufficing for the twelve tribes of Israel (i.e., for all the members of the church, which from his fullness draw all gifts necessary for them). It bears them every month (i.e., perpetually) because the power and efficacy of the righteousness and spirit of Christ are perpetual and unceasing for the consolation and sanctification of believers. Its leaves (never falling and perpetually green) are appointed for the healing of the nations because it has the virtue not only of aliment (to feed our souls), but also of medicine (most healthful to cure all our diseases, Is. 53:5; Mt. 11:28).
1. Turretin, F. (1992–1997). Institutes of Elenctic Theology. (G. M. Giger, Trans., J. T. Dennison Jr., Ed.) (Vol. 1, p. 582). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.