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The Tree of Life

The other day while I was eating sherbet, I mused to myself that eating it probably wasn’t improving my health any, and surely wasn’t to be compared to eating from the tree of life.  A few days earlier, I’d gone into the desert to do a day fast.  While fasting, for no particular reason I read John chapters 6, 7 and 8.  In chapter 6, Jesus says that he is the bread of life (John 6:35, 48).  So while eating my sherbet I began considering the similarities between the bread of life and the tree of life, and wondered if it was possible that both could be metaphors for Jesus.  Jesus assuredly is the bread of life; he says this plainly.  But could the tree of life have specific implications of Jesus?  This article will consider that as a possibility.

The tree of life is mentioned 11 times in the Bible.  When we think of the tree of life, most of us recall the account of the tree in either Genesis or Revelation.  This article will focus on the Revelation chapter 22 account.  There it says:

In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 

Revelation 22:2

After I began pondering this idea, I first recalled any time when scripture indicated that trees were analogous to people.  I remembered when Jesus healed a man of blindness in Mark 8 (this so-called two step healing may have been done purposefully as a reference to the other biblical occasions of trees as men):

So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town.  And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything.  And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.”

Mark 8:23-24

Perhaps the best occurrence of this is in Daniel 4 when King Nebuchadnezzar dreamt he was a great tree:

“These were the visions of my head while on my bed; I was looking, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth….  The tree that you saw… it is you, O king….”

Daniel 4:10, 22

Here are a few other examples:

  • The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them.  And they said to the olive tree, “Reign over us!” (Judges 9:8)
  • The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree…. (Psalm 92:12)
  • Like an apple tree among the trees of the woods, so is my beloved among the sons…. (Song of Songs 2:3)
  • …nor let the eunuch say, “Here I am, a dry tree.” (Isaiah 56:3)
  • I was like a docile lamb brought to the slaughter, and I did not know that they had devised schemes against me, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit….” (Jeremiah 11:19)
  • Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. (Matthew 7:17)

I did searches on the words tree and trees; I was surprised to see how many such instances there were in the Bible.  I counted approximately 48 occurrences when it was either obvious or implied that a person was specified by a tree.  So there are many instances when the Bible supports the notion of trees being a picture-type of people.

Jesus also said that he was the true vine in John 15:1, and that His believers are the branches in John 15:5.  He went on to say that the branches cannot bear fruit except through abiding in Him.  I bring this up for a couple of reasons.  The first is obvious; it is another reference pointing to the possibility that Jesus is the tree of life.  But secondly, take this thought and read Ezekiel 47.  In this chapter, you see living waters flowing as a river from the temple of God.  In Ezekiel 47:7 and 12, it mentions many trees on either side of the river.  Actually verse 12 is very much like that of Revelation 22:2.  It’s almost as if the Revelation account is a picture type of Jesus, while the Ezekiel version is analogous of believers (remember, Jesus is the bridegroom and believers are the bride; we are co-heirs with Christ; when we see Him we will be like Him).

While doing the research for this study, it was interesting to note that five times a tree is a metaphor for a cross.  You’ve heard the verses, here are some of them:

The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.

Acts 5:30
  • Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us, for it is written, “cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree….” (Galatians 3:13 referencing Deuteronomy 21:23)
  • …who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree…. (1 Peter 2:24)

The word translated as tree in these verses is the Greek word xylon (Strong’s number G3586).  What is of particular interest is that this is the same Greek word that is used for tree in our verse in Revelation!  Here it is again:

In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Revelation 22:2

When examining the original Greek, it is apparent that the tree of life and the cross have like meaning in a way.  What way?

It is the combination of Jesus and His finished work on the cross that provides us eternal life.  You can see the two tree metaphors, that of the tree and that of the cross, come together nicely when you consider the way in which Jesus offers us His salvation for our eternal life through the cross.  It is only through the narrow gate of faith in Him while laying our repentant sins down at the cross that we begin to experience the new birth which is life eternal in Him and from Him!

Well-known scholars have had similar thoughts about the tree of life before me.  One great example is Charles Spurgeon.  In excellent form he writes, “The text tells us that, in the center of the new paradise, the perfect paradise of God, from which the saints shall never be driven, seeing it is to be our perpetual heritage, there is also a tree of life.  But here we translate the metaphor; we do not understand that tree to be literal.  We believe our Lord Jesus Christ to be none other than that tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.  We can scarcely conceive of any other interpretation, as this seems to us to be so full of meaning, and to afford us such unspeakable satisfaction.” (see

Considering Christ other than in the literal is obviously not a new concept.  We know Him as the Paschal Lamb, the Ark, the Bronze Serpent, the Rock of Horeb, and even the Tabernacle.  So it is possible that He may also be known as the Tree of Life.  And of course Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

There are two more things to consider if we accept Jesus as the Tree of Life. 

One is this… if the Tree of Life in Revelation is a picture type of Jesus, what about the tree of life in Genesis?  That is a good question that is not resolved here.  It can be noted that the Lamb was, “slain from the foundation of the earth” (Revelation 13:8), so the Tree of Life and all that it is in Revelation would be no different in the creation account of Genesis.  Does this affect a literal view of the creation account in Genesis? 

The other consideration is the peculiar last half of our key Revelation verse:

…the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Revelation 22:2

This has always seemed a bit odd to me, given the location of this phrase after everything that’s occurred in the previous chapter. Taken literally, you’d logically ask the question, why do nations need healing (in the present tense) when the new heaven and new earth have already been established, and pain and sorrow are no more, having passed away (Revelation 21:4)?

  • The word for leaves comes from a Greek base word meaning tribes, or like people.
  • The Greek word for healing was translated twice as household in the KJV, with defined meaning including a body of attendants or servants.
  • The word for nations can mean multitudes.

So this phrase could have a meaning of multitudes of believers as servants to God.  And without coincidence, the next verse in Revelation carries this same thought, “…the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him” (Revelation 22:3).

While we can be assured that partaking in the Tree of Life in the Paradise of God will be more beneficial than eating sherbet, we cannot be absolutely sure that the Tree of Life is a metaphor for Jesus.  But there are scriptural concepts and specific supporting biblical verses that present this notion as the most plausible understanding.