The Future Tree of Life
by Ken Jones
Revelation 22:1–5 is a remarkable passage, because in it the apostle John not only brings his correspondence to the seven churches of Asia minor to a beautiful climax, but in doing so he also depicts the glorious end of the redeemed people of God throughout the ages.
John’s purpose has been to comfort and encourage the Christians in the seven churches who are undergoing trials and persecution. In 1:1 he says that he has been given this revelation to show the servants of God “things that must soon take place.” As seen in the body of this letter as well as in the individual letters to the respective churches in chapters 2 and 3, some of the “things that must take place” are dangerous and difficult, to say the least. Some of these saints will be imprisoned and some will even lose their lives. But John does not begin his revelation with the trials and difficulties that lay ahead; he begins with a description of “Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth” (1:5).
Verse 6 goes on to express Christ’s love for the saints and what He has done for them. He has “freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (vv. 5–6). Christ’s exalted position and what He has accomplished are intended to remind these Christians (and us) that the difficult “things that must soon take place” are under His sovereign rule and according to His purpose.
Chapter 22 takes us beyond those things that must take place (vv. 1–5). God’s redeemed people will find eternal rest and refreshment in and with Him. But the language used by John in this splendid word picture is comprehensive and provides a healing and glorious glimpse of what has been accomplished by the redeeming work of Christ. John speaks of the Tree of Life and its healing effects for the redeemed.
To grasp the significance of this scene we must go back to Genesis 3 and the aftermath of the fall of Adam and Eve. In verse 15 we have the promise of the seed of the woman (a reference to the coming Messiah) who will defeat and destroy the serpent (Satan) and a prophecy of the continual conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. In verse 21, God replaces the fig leaf coverings of Adam and Eve with garments made from animal skins. This gesture not only provided more adequate physical covering for Adam and Eve than the fig leaves of their own choosing, but it also is rich with spiritual significance. The animal skins suggest the death of an animal. So, the first man and woman are covered by what was secured in the death of another. In verses 22–24 Adam and Eve are driven out of the garden lest they eat from the Tree of Life and live forever. Life will be difficult for Adam and Eve as God has indicated in verses 16–18. There will be banishment from the garden, conflict, tension, pain, and even death. As Adam and Eve leave the garden of Eden, the devastating effects of sin are clearly seen in the broken relationships with God and fellow humans, physical deterioration, spiritual decay, and disruptions within the whole created order. The cherubim with flaming sword guarding the way to the Tree of Life are vivid reminders of what was lost in the fall. So, when John describes the consummation of Christ’s redeeming work and the eternal felicity that results, is it any wonder that he returns to the image of Paradise or the garden of Eden?
In Revelation 22:1–5, three elements of Christ’s redeeming work experienced in this life but consummated in His return are on display. First, there is restoration. The earth is restored to the splendor and beauty of Eden, and the redeemed have restored access to the Tree of Life. Second, there is a reversal of the curses and consequences introduced in Genesis 3. John says the leaves of the Tree of Life are good for the healing of the nations. Third, John’s mention of restored access to the Tree of Life includes complete reconciliation with God and a renewed intimacy with Him. This is set forth in verses 3–5. The throne of God and the Lamb will be in the midst of His people. They shall see His face, His name shall be on their forehead, and God shall be their light. As stated above, these three things are the present possession of all those who have faith in Jesus Christ. But when Christ appears in the fullness of His glory, that which we possess in Him while in these frail and feeble bodies and that which is often obscured by what takes place in this fallen world will be experienced in fullness in glorified bodies for all eternity. The Tree of Life as described in Genesis 3 is a sad reminder of what was lost by the first Adam. But as it is depicted in Revelation 22, it is a reminder of what has been gained by the second Adam and what awaits those joined to Him by faith, redeemed by His blood and sealed by His Spirit. Be not dismayed at “the things that must soon take place,” because these things cannot alter nor frustrate what the Father has prepared and the Son has procured for His bride.