In the opening pages of the Bible, God gives humanity a gift that they quickly forfeit—eternal life that comes by eating from the tree of life.
Tree of Life
In the opening pages of the Bible, God gives humanity a gift that they quickly forfeit—eternal life that comes by eating from the tree of life. In this video we explore the meaning of this powerful image and how sacred trees play a key role throughout the story of the Bible. It all leads up to Jesus himself, who died upon a tree so that he could become a new tree of life for all humanity.Video Details
In the opening pages of the Bible, humanity is portrayed as God's royal partner, his divine image. God orders a sacred space where heaven and earth are one, and then he makes eternal life available to humans by means of a tree. While many throughout history have imagined the tree of life as a magical tree that imparts eternal life, the biblical story paints a bigger picture. Sacred trees that offer divine life were a major theme in the religious art of ancient Egypt and Babylon. But in the garden of Eden, the tree is located at the center of the sacred space, the "holy of holies" of this heaven and earth place (Genesis 2:9).
The Tree of Knowing Good and Bad
The fact that the tree of life is in the middle of the sacred space means that the life it offers is not inherent to the tree, but a divine gift that comes through the tree. The tree of life imparts God's own life, and to be near it and eat from it is to be near to God and to ingest his own life power and presence. Or, in the words of Genesis 3:22, "to take and eat and live forever." But sadly, humanity is exiled from this tree because of their foolish quest for divine wisdom, and so they find themselves outside the garden in a realm of mortality and grief, longing to return.
Trees in High Places
For the family of Abraham, this divine human meeting place was recovered in Israel's tabernacle and temple. These structures housed holy places, a hot-spot of God's presence where a new humanity met with God in a heaven and earth space (Exodus 25:22). These rooms were designed with a tree-like lampstand at the center (Exodus 25:31-40) and with trees all around (1 Kings 6:29). It was a renewed Eden, but sadly, the family of Abraham replays the Eden story, as they try to recreate their own version of the tree of life. Think of the many “high places” where Israel worships other gods at the foot of sacred trees (Deuteronomy 12:2; 1 Kings 14:23; 2 Kings 16:4). Eventually, God allows these sacred spaces to be destroyed and lets the Israelites be exiled from their home (2 Kings 24-25). This entire story is the context for understanding the arrival of Jesus and his message about the coming of God's Kingdom on earth as in heaven.
The Jesus Tree
Jesus said that God's heavenly presence was arriving on earth through him and his mission. And he often likened this to a huge tree, growing and spreading in surprising ways (Matthew 13:31-32). Jesus even claimed to be a tree of life, a vine that offers God's life to the world (John 15). But in a sad inversion, the leaders of Abraham's family kill Jesus on what they think is a tree of death. But because of God's love, which is stronger than human evil, God transformed the cross into a tree of life. Whoever eats from this new tree of life, by trusting and following Jesus (John 6:41-58), will discover the gift of God's eternal life.
This is why the story of the Bible concludes with a renewed creation, a garden-city with a new tree of life at its center (Revelation 22:1-2), which is also the throne of God and the risen Jesus (Revelation 21:22). The whole story of the Bible can be told as a story about trees. Humans reject the tree of life and hang Jesus on a tree of death, but that tree becomes a new tree of life that sprouts into a renewed creation, restoring God’s plan for humanity.
Continue Your Learning Journey
The first movement in the book of Genesis describes the world's downward spiral from God but reminds us that there's hope as God will rescue it from rebellion.
Andy Dvoracek and BibleProject Team
When you think about the tree of life, what are some of the things that come to mind? It may come as a surprise to many that the tree of life reappears elsewhere in the Bible. Read our blog to discover the Tree of Life meaning as a Biblical theme....
Related Podcast Series
Tree of Life
Tree of Life Episode 1
Humans are... Trees?
Humans are like trees. This idea might seem strange to us until we see how the Hebrew Bible connects them with the same key words, images, and scenes. Humans and trees are found together at most of the hinge points in the biblical story. Listen in as Tim and Jon discuss these parallels in the Bible.
Tree of Life Episode 2
Trees of the Ancients
The tree of life represents God’s own life given as a gift to humanity. This image echoes across ancient Near Eastern cultures, and even today, people long for the peace and security symbolized in the tree of life. Listen in as Tim and Jon explore the meaning and context of the tree of life.
Tree of Life Episode 3
The Tale of Two Trees
On the first pages of the Bible, God places humans in a lush garden to rule with him. There are two trees in the garden, and humanity is presented with a choice: trust God and enjoy his good gifts or take the knowledge of good and bad for themselves. The tale of two trees tells us something profound about the human condition and the choice we all face.