Saturday, August 27, 2016

THE TREE OF LIFE

(I am currently writing a series on the last two chapters of the Bible. These chapters are the only two in the entire Bible that are dedicated exclusively to telling us what eternity will be like for the believers in Christ)
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In the previous chapter we saw the River of Life, clear as crystal and springing from the very throne of God and of the Lamb. As the river continued to flow, it ran down the center the major street of the city, a wide boulevard. It is called a street, but as in some other words that we read concerning the New Jerusalem, we should not think of a street in the common sense of the word as we think of it in our daily lives.[1]

This is not a thoroughfare designed for office workers to make quick commute times to their work places. The word street in this case simply means a broad place, and that is what this is. It is a broad area that probably would look more like a long and narrowish park than it does a street. I think of the Washington Mall in Washington D.C. as a similar concept. It is down the middle of this great street where the River of Life flows.

At this point in my reading of this account, it is what is growing along the banks of that river that is intriguing me. However, to begin to talk about what grows there, we need first to go back in time to the very dawn of history. This is because what will be growing on the banks of the River of Life has not appeared on earth since that time.

Here is part of the account of the creation: “The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden” (Genesis 2:8-9a NAS).

It is this specific tree, the tree of life, which also will be growing along the River of Life in the New Jerusalem. 

The Trees of Eden

In the Garden of Eden, among all the other types of trees found there, you will also remember that a second named tree was also planted in the garden at that time. That one was called the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This is the tree we usually hear about, because this is the tree that was used by the devil to entice Adam and Eve to rebel against God. The tree of knowledge is a different tree and a completely different subject from what I am writing at this time. I have written in other places concerning the question why having access to knowledge of good and evil represented a rebellious act against God at that time, so I will not do that now.[2]

Today’s subject is a happier one than what happened on that day in the Garden of Eden. The tree of today’s subject is the tree that gives life.
(to continue reading, please press the READ MORE button below)

Of the Tree of Life, we have not much information in the creation account, except for the fact that when Adam and Eve were sent out of Eden because of their sin, God placed a cherubim and a flaming sword as a guard so that they could no longer have access to the tree. God did this, he said, so that Adam and Eve would not stretch out their hands, pick some of the fruit from the Tree of Life, and thus live forever.

From this statement, we learn that the fruit of the Tree of Life contains the nutrition (or the power, if you will) to sustain life forever. I want you to understand that eternal life has always been something that God has intended for us, but at the point in which God prevented Adam and Eve from eating of the Tree of Life, he did not want them to have to live forever in the state in which they would be living, that is, in a state of rebellion against their creator. That would not have been a gift for them. It would have meant for them an eternal existence of sorrow and agony, of mental and physical and especially spiritual emptiness. God and man would have to wait for the entire unfolding of God’s plan of history to grant that gift. This is the gift that will again be given in the New Jerusalem.

It is much the same for us yet today as it was for Adam and Eve in regards to living forever in our present condition. It is true that we do many things to prolong our lives here on earth since this is the life we know, but it would not be a gift to us if God gave us the ability to live forever in the state that we are in. God has something much better in mind for us.

That is why we know of no tree of life that is growing on earth today. Throughout history, various varieties of trees that once grew on the earth have ceased to exist, destroyed by disease or by climate change. We usually consider these specific cultivars as being extinct, since there is presently no method that we possess that can again grow these trees.

The Trees that the Prophets Saw

However, although the tree of life does not grow in the valleys and the forests of the earth today, we should not consider it as being extinct. We learn from John’s account of the River of Life that the tree will grow again. It will line the banks of the river that flows down the center of the broad place in the new city.

Here is what John writes: 

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb and flowing down the middle of the great street. On either side of the river grew the tree of life, bearing twelve fruits, yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2 my own paraphrase) 
Again you will notice the obvious similarities with what Ezekiel was shown. He tells us about the river that he saw in his vision, “On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47:12 NAS).
 
You will also remember that in the creation account of the Garden of Eden, God had planted many trees that were both “pleasing to the sight,” and that were also good for food. The Tree of Life was one of these trees. I do not know if, in the garden, there were many trees of life (in the plural), or if there was only a single Tree of Life. From what was written in Genesis, it seems as if there was only one, but we do not know. However, whether there was one or there were several, it was of only this tree that is said to be able to provide a life that is eternal. It was from this tree that Adam and Eve were prohibited to eat after they had rebelled against God’s authority. 

Twelve Fruits

John writes that the Tree of Life bears twelve fruits. Some people think that this means that there are twelve different kinds of fruit growing on a single tree, each of these separate kinds of fruits and maturing one by one for every month of the year. This may or may not be true. Although some Bible translations actually specify that there are “twelve kinds of fruits,” the word kinds of, were inserted in the text. It is not what John wrote. He wrote simply that the tree bore twelve fruits, yielding its fruit every month. I tend to think that the Tree of Life had its specific fruit, and that it bore twelve crops every year, one crop every month.

But that is a small matter. More interesting to me is the idea that we should eat in heaven, and the reasons that we will eat. Today we must say that we eat so that we can sustain our bodies. If we do not eat, our bodies will languish and finally die. This we know cannot be the case in heaven, since God promises eternal life to his redeemed ones, and this does not depend upon whether or not they eat.

But we know that even today, we eat not only to keep our bodies alive. In fact, I would guess that this thought never enters into our minds when we sit down to eat in these days. We may feel hungry when meal time comes, but not many of us are at the point in our food intake that if we do not eat something soon, our bodies are going to suffer. Actually, the opposite is usually closer to the truth. If we instead ate a little less our bodies would benefit.

The true reason that most of us eat is what keeps restaurants and fast food stands in thriving business. It helps the stores sell those backyard barbeques that cost as much as a good used car. It is why grocery stores are full of enticing types of foods. The reason that we eat is that we like to eat! We like the taste and texture of food, we like the social atmosphere of having a meal with some friends, and we like that contented feeling that only a good meal can give. And it is ok to like to eat.

It is interesting to me that when Jesus was about to leave his friends, just before he would be tried and crucified, he chose to spend the time with them by having a meal. In fact, it was that very meal that he told them that they should continue to commemorate so that they would remember him. We still to this today. We remember Jesus by sharing the symbolic and commemorative meal of the Lord’s Supper together.

The act of eating to us as a deeper significance to us than simply giving ourselves fuel to keep going. Giving fuel is what we do to machinery. When we pull into a service station to buy gasoline for our car, there is no deep social significance connected with it. We are simply putting in gas so we are not stranded on the road someplace. Of course, there are some people that have such a strong emotional connection to their car that putting in gas may be a meaningful event, such as when the odometer passes a significant milestone. But I assure you, your car does not share this teary-eyed sentiment. It’s a machine. It just needs fuel to keep going.

But we are not machines. The act of eating means more to us than simply giving ourselves fuel. Remember that in the Garden of Eden, God caused trees to grow that not only had good fruit to eat, but that were “pleasing to the eye.” Did you catch that? God not only provided good food for Adam and Eve, but he created a nice ambience in which to eat.

So it will be in the New Jerusalem. We continue to eat, not because if we do not our bodies will deteriorate, but we will eat for reasons that go beyond simply giving fuel for our bodies. Our eating will be meals that have a greater significance. 

The Healing Leaves

Another concept that is similar to what the fruit of the Tree of Life does for us is found in the phrase that follows. John says that the leaves of the tree will be for “the healing of the nations.”

At first blush, it seems like this statement does not fit. Why would there be a need for healing? John has already told us that in the New Heavens and the New Earth that there will no longer be death, or will there be pain, so why would there be a need for healing?

Here again, the true meaning of the word is helpful to us. In our normal use of this word healing, we intend it to mean a recovery after an injury or a sickness. However, the word is used in a slightly different sense here. You will recognize the Greek word in this case. It is therapeia. It is the word that we get our own English word, therapy. It is true that we generally use this word to speak of treatment and rehabilitation after a sickness or a broken bone, but it has a different connotation as well that is used in the New Testament. This is simply the provision of care, or of service.

A good example of this use of the word is given in a parable that Jesus told one day, a parable that actually was meant to teach the disciples about the return of Christ. Jesus told them that a good steward of the ministry was one “Whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their portion of food at the proper time” (Luke 12:42).

The word used to describe this service given to the people is therapeia. This does not mean that this steward is tending to the servants in their sickbed. It does not mean that he makes the servants do stretching exercises to get the movement back in their joints after surgery. It simply means that he is taking care of them, making sure that they have all that they need.

That is what the leaves of the Tree of Life do for the nations. They render service in some way to ensure that all of the needs of the people are met. I do not know in what manner the leaves do this. Perhaps they are eaten along with the fruit. Perhaps we will make a tea from them. Perhaps it is in a way that we could never realize today. I really do not know. I only know that in some way, they will mean provision for the nations. 

A Restorative Tree

With both of these ministries of the Tree of Life, given to us by the fruit and the leaves, we see something important about the way the God created us. He did not create us to go, go, go, and not stop to rest. He created us with a restorative aspect ingrained within us. Again I draw the contrast between us, as people, and a machine. A gasoline engine, for instance, if it is supplied with fuel, if the lubrication is kept up, if the cooling system is working properly, can be run twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It does not need to rest. It does not need to take a few moments and sit back in a chair with its feet up. It is a machine.

You and I are not like that. God has designed us with a need for restoration. That is why we need not only an intake of food from time to time, but we need times of rest. We need to sleep at night. Some people think that life would be great if we did not need sleep. “Think of how much work I could get done if I did not need to sleep,” they say.

I am not like that. I like to have my night of sleep. It restores me, and it restores me in ways far beyond any physical tiredness that I have. It restores me mentally. It restores me emotionally. I think it restores me spiritually. God has not designed us to act like machines. He gives us our daily food and he gives us our daily rest. He gives us all of our other needs as well; not in one big lump sum to keep us going for a long time, but day by day and even moment by moment.

This is what the Tree of Life will provide for us. 

A Restorative Lord

Today, although we cannot eat of the Tree of Life, God still gives us the gift of restoration. On one occasion that is recorded for us, the disciples were so busy helping others, giving them food and ministering to their needs, that they themselves did not have time even to eat. Jesus told them, “Come with me. Let’s go to a place where we can be alone and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31).

Jesus says to all of us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NAS).

Some of you may be very burdened down at this time, in need of restoration. Like you, there are also some times in my life when I am so burdened that I wish that I could simply reach out my hand, eat from the Tree of Life, and be renewed. But we cannot do that. Not yet. If you are one of the redeemed ones, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ given in your place, you will do that one day.

But today, even if we cannot eat of the very tree, Jesus still wants to restore you. He wants you to give to him your cares and your anxieties. The prophet Isaiah tells us that those who place their hopes in the Lord will have their strength renewed. They may even fly like eagles. But even if that measure of strength does not come, they might be able run and not grow weary.

Perhaps your specific burden that you are feeling today is so great that things like flying and running seem too much for you right now. Never mind. Place your trust in God and he will give you the ability to walk and not faint. You will be able to continue on in the strength of the Lord. Your present problems will not defeat you, for the Lord is the one who you restores and will sustain you.

This is what the Lord provides for us today.

[1] There is an entirely separate word in Greek for what we would usually call a street (rhumē). Examples of this are found in Acts 9:11 and 12:10. The word used here is platus, or a broad place,
[2] Please see the chapter, The Tree of Knowledge, in my book entitled Reaching for Eternal Truths

Next week - Nor More Curse

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Don, I enjoyed reading your meditation on the last two chapters. It is full of good things to think on today.

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