One of the notable features of the structure of the Bible is that it ends where it begins. The story of the Bible is bookended by references to trees and rivers (and a lot of other things!). Let’s focus on this feature by looking specifically at the tree of life. As we’ll see, the tree of life is in the garden at the beginning of the Bible and in the New Jerusalem at the end of the Bible.

The content of this article was adapted from the NLT Chronological Life Application Study Bible.

Genesis 2:8–17

Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. The LORD God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

A river flowed from the land of Eden, watering the garden and then dividing into four branches. The first branch, called the Pishon, flowed around the entire land of Havilah, where gold is found. The gold of that land is exceptionally pure; aromatic resin and onyx stone are also found there. The second branch, called the Gihon, flowed around the entire land of Cush. The third branch, called the Tigris, flowed east of the land of Asshur. The fourth branch is called the Euphrates.

The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. But the LORD God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”

The Tree of Life in the Garden

Gen 2:9, 16–17 Were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil real trees? Two views are often expressed:

  1. The trees were real, but symbolic. Eternal life with God was pictured as eating from the tree of life.
  2. The trees were real, possessing special properties. By eating the fruit from the tree of life, Adam and Eve could have had eternal life, enjoying a permanent relationship as God’s children.

In either case, Adam and Eve’s sin separated them from the tree of life and thus kept them from obtaining eternal life. Interestingly, the tree of life again appears in a description in Revelation 22 of people enjoying eternal life with God.

Gen 2:15–17 God gave Adam responsibility for the garden and told him not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Rather than physically preventing him from eating, God gave Adam a choice and, thus, the possibility of choosing wrongly. God still gives us choices, and we, too, often choose wrongly. These wrong choices may cause us pain, but they can help us learn and grow and make better choices in the future. Living with the consequences of our choices teaches us to think and choose more carefully.

Gen 2:16–17 Why would God place a tree in the garden and then forbid Adam to eat from it? God wanted Adam to obey, but God gave Adam the freedom to choose. Without choice, Adam would have been like a prisoner, and his obedience would have been hollow. The two trees provided an exercise in choice with rewards for choosing to obey and sad consequences for choosing to disobey. When you are faced with a choice, always choose to obey God.

Genesis 3:22–24

Then the LORD God said, “Look, the human beings have become like us, knowing both good and evil. What if they reach out, take fruit from the tree of life, and eat it? Then they will live forever!” So the LORD God banished them from the Garden of Eden, and he sent Adam out to cultivate the ground from which he had been made. After sending them out, the LORD God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden. And he placed a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

Exiled from the Garden and the Tree of Life

Gen 3:22–24 Life in the Garden of Eden was perfect, and if Adam and Eve had obeyed God, they could have lived there forever. But after disobeying, Adam and Eve no longer deserved paradise, and God told them to leave. If they had continued to live in the garden and eat from the tree of life, they would have lived forever. But eternal life in a state of sin would mean forever trying to hide from God. Like Adam and Eve, all of us have sinned and are separated from fellowship with God. But we do not have to stay separated. And God is also preparing a new earth as an eternal paradise for his people (see Rev 21–22).

Gen 3:24 This is how Adam and Eve broke their relationship with God:

  1. They became convinced their way was better than God’s and acted on that choice;
  2. They became self-conscious and hid; and
  3. They tried to excuse and defend themselves.

To build a relationship with God we must reverse those steps:

  1. We must drop our excuses and self-defenses;
  2. We must stop trying to hide from God; and
  3. We must become convinced that God’s way is better than our way.

Revelation 22:1–5

Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.

No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever.

The Tree of Life in the New Jerusalem

Rev 22:1 The water of life is a symbol of eternal life. Jesus used this same image with the Samaritan woman (John 4:7–14). It pictures the fullness of life with God and the eternal blessings that come when we believe in him and allow him to satisfy our spiritual thirst (see Rev 22:17).

Rev 22:2 This tree of life is like the tree of life in the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:9). After Adam and Eve sinned, they were forbidden to eat from the tree of life because they could not have eternal life as long as they were under sin’s control. But because of the forgiveness of sin through the blood of Jesus, there will be no evil or sin in this city. We will be able to eat freely from the tree of life when sin’s control over us is destroyed and our eternity with God is secure.

Rev 22:2 Why would the nations need to be healed if all evil is gone? John is quoting from Ezekiel 47:12, where water flowing from the Temple produces trees with healing leaves. He is not implying that there will be illness in the new earth; he is emphasizing that the water of life produces health and strength wherever it goes.

Rev 22:3 “No longer will there be a curse upon anything” means that nothing accursed will be in God’s presence. This fulfills Zechariah’s prophecy (see Zech 14:11).

Revelation 22:14–15

Blessed are those who wash their robes. They will be permitted to enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life. Outside the city are the dogs—the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idol worshipers, and all who love to live a lie.

Eating from the Tree of Life in the New Jerusalem

Rev 22:12–14 Those who wash their robes are those who seek to purify themselves from a sinful way of life. They strive daily to remain faithful and ready for Christ’s return.

Rev 22:14 In Eden, Adam and Eve were barred from any access to the tree of life because of their sin (Gen 3:22–24). In the new earth, God’s people will eat from the tree of life because their sins have been removed by Christ’s death and resurrection. Those who eat the fruit of this tree will live forever. If Jesus has forgiven your sins, you will have the right to eat from this tree.

Rev 22:15 Jesus will exclude from the holy city those “who love to live a lie.” These are people whose lives have gone so wrong that they resemble Satan, who deceived the whole world (Rev 12:9; 13:13-15; 16:14). They are hypocrites, trying to live one way while pretending to believe another. They are like the Nicolaitans (mentioned in Rev 2:15), who were among the believers but compromised their faith in order to also include worship of the Roman emperor. John records Jesus’ statement that Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44).

Today we see leaders who twist the truth to serve their purposes. Many people have lost the ability to distinguish what’s true from what they wish was true. Dishonest people soon begin to believe the lies they construct around themselves. Then they lose the ability to tell the difference between truth and lies. By believing your own lies, you deceive yourself, you alienate yourself from God, and you lose credibility in all your relationships. In the long run, honesty wins out.

Keep Reading in the NLT Chronological Life Application Study Bible

The NLT Chronological Life Application Study Bible is a great resource for not only understanding the beginning and end of the Bible, but also everything else in between. This resource arranges the entire Bible in chronological order so you can keep the separate pieces of the story together in a single story. Plus, there are plenty of study notes, images, personal portraits, and articles to help you along the way. Grab yourself a copy from our website!


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