Christ in Genesis: A Tale of Two Trees

The Garden of Eden included an orchard of fruit-bearing trees. Perhaps there were apples, oranges, cherries, or mangoes–the Bible doesn’t say. The only trees it names are the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Evidently the fruit of the Tree of Life provided its eater with unending life. I am not a biochemist and cannot explain how it did that; but, after their sin, Adam and Eve were barred from the Garden so they would not eat from the Tree of Life and live forever. Although this ban seems like a punishment, it actually was a blessing. Living forever as sinners in a sin-polluted world would not have been heavenly; it would have been the opposite of heaven. By making death available to Adam and Eve and to their descendants, the Lord is able to lead his people through the valley of death and beyond it to the house of the Lord–a new creation unstained by sin and evil.

The notorious Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was named in retrospect. It had no magical ability to impart knowledge; the Bible does not say what purpose God had for this tree. Whatever its purpose was, it was not yet ready, so God told Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of that tree. To suggest that God was testing Adam and Eve, wanting to know if they would obey him, is ludicrous. God knows all things; being timeless, he has already seen the future. Moreover, God does not tempt people to sin. The tree was created for a good reason, but we have not been told what that reason is.

Other writers have compared the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to a large pot of soup being heated on the stove. Mother tells her three-year-old son, “Don’t touch the pot, or you’ll be burned.” Against her warning, he touches the pot, spilling its contents upon himself, and he is burned. In fact, he is so badly burned that she must rush him to the hospital for treatment. She did not heat the pot to test his obedience; she was making lunch for the family. At the hospital, though, she does not explain that to him. Treatment for his burns is more important than explanations. In the same way, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, we all got burned. God has provided a way to be healed, but he has not told us why the tree was in the Garden.

Trees, like gardens, are frequently mentioned in the Bible. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 proclaims a curse on anyone who dies hanging from a tree. The first Psalm compares a righteous man to a fruitful tree. A rebellious son of David was killed while hanging from a tree. Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Jesus, but Jesus called him out of the tree. Jesus was going to hang on the tree of the cross, receiving the curse deserved by sinners, dying to grant eternal life to his people. He called Zacchaeus out of the tree because he–the ultimate Son of David–would go to a tree for Zacchaeus.

Jesus wants his people to bear good fruit. His orchard is filled with trees, but by ourselves we bear no good fruit. We have sinned, doing what we should not do, and failing to perform the good works we were created to do. Of all the trees in the orchard, only one tree bears good fruit. That tree is Jesus Christ. This one fruitful tree accepted the curse of the barren trees to reverse the condition of the orchard. Now all the trees in the orchard bear good fruit except for one dead tree in the middle of the orchard–Christ’s cross.

His cross is our tree of life. Through the cross where Christ suffered and died, we receive eternal life. Because he has given us life, we are now able to bear fruit; we are able to become the people God intended when he created us.

Jesus once told a parable about a fruitless tree. The landowner was prepared to remove the tree and change it into firewood. The gardener asked for one more year; he offered to prepare the ground around the tree with the hope that it would bear fruit (Luke 13:6-9). Each of us is that tree, and Jesus is the Gardener who pleads for us. He does all the work necessary to make us able to bear fruit so we will not be thrown into the fire. Instead, our future home is the garden of the new creation. According to Revelation 22:2, the Tree of Life will be available to us there, ensuring that we will live forever.

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