The Ironic Tree of Life

By Mark D. Roberts

July 29, 2015

[T]herefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till 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 sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Genesis 3:23-24

Genesis 3 ends with a description of the guards God placed at the entrance to Eden, who would prevent human beings from accessing the tree of life. According to Genesis 3:22, if a human being were to eat the fruit of this tree, that person would live forever. But, since human beings had sinned, they forfeited the right to everlasting life and, therefore, to receiving the benefits of the tree of life. It was off limits to the first human beings and it remains off limits to us.

Until later, that is, much later in the biblical story. In the New Testament book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, we find several references to the tree of life. The first comes in a spoken letter from the exalted Christ to the church in Ephesus, where he dictates: “To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God” (Rev 2:7). Then, in the last chapter of Revelation, we see a vision of the new heaven and new earth, represented by a glorious city. In this city grows “the tree of life,” which produces ample fruit as well as leaves that are for “the healing of the nations” (Rev 22:2). Those who “wash their robes” through Christ “have the right to the tree of life” (Rev 22:14). Thus, at the end of the biblical story, the tree of life reappears, now as something to which we have access. God, by his grace, will ultimately allow us back into the garden, so to speak, though the garden has now become a city. Here, we have the right to taste the fruit of the tree of life and the fullness of life it brings.

Why will we be invited to eat the fruit of the tree of life and enjoy the immortality it provides? Ironically, the answer to these questions points to another “tree,” a tree of death that becomes a tree of life. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’” (Gal 3:13). Thus the cross, the “tree” of death, is transformed by God’s grace through the sacrifice of Christ. The tree of death becomes, for us, the tree that gives life.

I’m not suggesting that this meaning of the tree of life was embedded in Genesis 3 by its human author. But I do believe that God placed in Genesis, as in the rest of the Old Testament, jewels that would be discovered through the lens of the gospel. Knowing what will happen later in the story of God, we are able to read the ending of Genesis 3 with both sadness and hope. We know that, in time, God through Christ, will invite us to the tree of life, where we will experience life as God meant it to be.


How to you respond to the closing verses of Genesis 3? What is God saying to you through this passage of Scripture?

What difference does the hope of eating from the tree of life make in your life, in any? Take time to reflect upon what God has stored up for you.


Gracious God, indeed, our sin rightly cuts us off from eating from the tree of life. Sin, decay, and death are now our standard fare. But this is not the end of the story. In the future, we will enjoy the fruit of the tree of life once more. Its leaves will bring healing to the wounded nations. All of this comes through Christ, whose death on the “tree” brings life to us. Thank you, dear Lord, for your amazing grace, for your marvelous plan, for the “tree of life” that will be ours to enjoy. Amen.

Photo credit: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden. Taken at the cloister at the Cattedrale di Monreale, overlooking Palermo, Italy by SNappa2006Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

More on Mark

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Learn Learn Learn Learn

the Life for Leaders newsletter

Learn Learn Learn Learn