What is so important about those two trees we find mentioned in the Garden of Eden? The tree of life, and the tree of knowledge were both accessible to Adam and Eve when they walked in the Garden with God. Of the tree of life they could eat freely. Of the tree of knowledge they were forbidden. These trees are both related to the fact that human beings were created in the image of God. God desired to have a special relationship with the creature he called man. So he created him with certain traits that bear to a certain degree, his own image.
What kind of traits?
- The ability to have personal relationships
- The ability to communicate through language
- Free will and the capacity to make decisions
- Moral understanding of right and wrong
- Creative capacity, the ability to invent
- Authority over the earth as a tamer and caretaker
May of these traits also exist to a lesser extent in some animals. But to this list God adds one more character trait that separates us from the rest of creation, the capacity to understand the spiritual realm, which involves the ability to worship, obey, depend upon, and communicate with God. This is what we refer to as Spiritual life.
When Adam and Eve were created, they were created in a state of goodness and holiness. It was possible for them not to sin. But because of free will, it was also possible for them to sin. Free will can only exist in a situation where a decision can be made. The only way they could disobey the commandments of God would be if there were actually “commandments of God.”
The Tree of Knowledge
God brought this reality into focus and activated man’s free will by including in the Garden the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis 2:16-17. This tree brought together both man’s free will and God’s commandment. Because the tree existed, man was truly a free-moral agent. The tree of knowledge may have been identical in form and look to any other tree in the garden. But it was separated and identified as being off limits. The term, “knowing good and evil” is another way of saying, having the knowledge of God. A better term would be, “The Tree of All-Knowingness.”
When they ate of that tree they demonstrated a desire to be equal to God, and thus independent from God. So God altered their living arrangements. They were removed from an environment of voluntary dependence upon God and relocated to an environment where dependence upon God was mandatory. The fall and the curse upon man affected us all. We ALL now depend upon God to redeem us and save us from our sins.
The Tree of Life
As for the tree of life, this tree was also placed in the Garden of Eden and also had a specific function different from the other trees. This tree was connected with man being created in a physical, mortal body. God alone possesses immortality, the ability to live forever. Had man not violated God’s commandment, they would have had the potential to live forever as long as they ate of the tree of life. They were created as physical beings, made out of the dust of the earth. So without access to the tree of life, their bodies assumed the natural course of physical laws and eventually died.
But why did God take access to the tree away from man as part of the consequence for their sin? When man sinned, God could not allow a situation where man could live forever in a rebellious state. So he was denied access to the tree of life. By doing so it insured that man in his fallen state would not live forever.
What happened to these trees? We aren’t told. Any guesses are pure speculation. My guess is that after the flood all traces of the Garden were lost and everything about the Garden was destroyed. What we do know is that the tree of life is again mentioned in the book of Revelation, in 2:7, “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God.”
And 22:1-2, “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 twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” This is a reference to Ezekiel 47:12, describing life in God’s new world.
In both these cases, more clearly in 2:7, the image is that in heaven, we will again have access to the immortality which we lost in the Garden. We will live forever with God. We will have access to the tree of life. Where in Genesis it was a physical tree, in heaven it is a reference to the spiritual truth that God will restore the relationship he originally had with man in the Garden and we will life forever with him!