What is the tree of life? What does it symbolizes? How can we have access to it?
The tree of life, referred to in Genesis, is the symbol of God’s provision for immortality in the Garden of Eden. Of all the trees that were in the Garden of Eden, two were named for their great importance, but just as one—the tree of life—was a blessing to Adam and Eve, the other was to become a curse for all of their posterity. “And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9).
The Lord told Adam that he was free to eat the fruit of any tree in the Garden, except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for by doing so he would surely die (Genesis 3:16-17). The tree of life was provided to be continuous reminder that immortality was a consequence of obedience. As long as Adam and Eve were obedient and did not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they had access to the tree of life. Once they sinned, they were driven from the Garden, and God placed an angel with a flaming sword to guard the tree of life so they would no longer have access to it. Eternal life was now no longer theirs. Just as God had warned, they died, and through Adam all men after him would die (Romans 5:12).
Because God knew that Adam would fail the conditions of his immortality, He provided for One who would redeem fallen mankind. Through one man, Adam, sin entered the world, but through another Man, Jesus Christ, redemption through the forgiveness of sin is available to all (Romans 5:17). Those who avail themselves of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross will see the tree of life again, for it stands in the middle of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2, 22:1-2). Its water is the constant flow of everlasting life from God’s throne to God’s people.
Jesus told Nicodemus: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
Jesus has taught that in Himself heaven and earth meet; so that, while subject to the conditions of human life, He, the Son of Man, the representative of humanity, is in heaven. He goes on to show that what is true of the representative is, through Him, true of the whole race. Again the Old Testament Scriptures form the basis of the teaching to their expounder. The people in the wilderness bitten by the fiery serpents, the poison-virus spreading through their veins, and causing burning pain, torpor, and death—this was symbolical of the world lying in the misery, restlessness, and spiritual death, which came from the Serpent’s victory in Paradise. The serpent of brass lifted up by Moses, in which the sufferer saw the means of recovery determined by God, and was healed by faith in Him—this was symbolical of the means of salvation determined by God for the world. (cf. John 8:28; John 12:32; John 12:34) Nicodemus must have understood that the healing power of the serpent of brass was in the fact that it led men to trust in God, who had appointed it. This was the current Jewish interpretation. It was the sign of the Eternal in power and in love present to save, and the man who realised that presence lived with a new life. In the divine counsels it was willed, and must be, that the Son of Man should be the witness to the world of the Eternal Power and Love which saves every man who grasps it.
The thought of verse 15 is that as every Israelite, believing in God, had in the brazen serpent a message from God; so every man who believes in God ever has this message from God in the crucified Son of Man. The words speak of the man who believes, whose heart is open to spiritual truth. That man has, in Jesus Christ and Him crucified, a truth which goes to his inmost spirit, sending a new life through his whole being. To the non-believer this may be but the self-sacrifice of heroism. To the believer it is Light breaking upon the darkness of his soul; it is Life bursting the cold sepulchre of a deadened spirit; it is Love winning its way through the scales of a hardened heart; it is Mercy deeper and wider even than his sin; it is Hope bracing the man to a new life of holiness; it is the Word of God, and in Him he has eternal life. The reader will not forget that the lifting up the serpent of brass followed the confession of the people. “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us” (Numbers 21:7).
Let the song “O Mighty Cross” remind us that Christ’s death on Calvary has given us access to the tree of life once gain if we believe: