By Elizabeth Prata
This week I wrote about the question where is heaven? Also I wrote about what we have to look forward to in heaven. In that essay I’d compared Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22, noting that they were the only books of the Bible that were free of any description of sin. I’d also written that though Genesis 1-2 are wonderful for showing God’s power of His word in creation, Revelation 21-22 were even better.
I wanted to bask in that glorious vision a bit more so I kept mulling over the verses in Revelation 21-22. I was struck when I read Revelation 22:1-2, “The River and the Tree of Life”. Some things jumped out at me. You know how that happens, you read it a million times but THIS time, some things capture your attention in a huge way like you’ve never read it before?
The River and the Tree of Life
Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2).
Though there are a LOT of things to ponder in just those two sentences, the two things that jumped out at me, were the tree’s location and the fruit.
First, the tree. No matter the translation I read the verse in, it says the tree stood on either side of the river. How can THE tree, singular, stand on BOTH sides of a river? John Walvoord was puzzled too, and so are other commenters, according to him. He wrote:
“Interpreters have puzzled over this expression that the tree of life is on each side of the river. Some take this is as a group of trees. Others say that the river of life is narrow and that it flows on both sides of the tree. The tree of life was referred to in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:22, 24), where it was represented as perpetuating physical life forever. Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat of the fruit of this tree. Earlier in Revelation (2:7) the saints were promised the “right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” Walvoord, J. F. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 987). Victor Books.
We do know that Ezekiel 47 is another place where heaven is described. Trees are mentioned on the banks of this same river flowing out from the throne of God. In Ezekiel 47:12 we read,
And by the river on its bank, on one side and on the other, will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing. (Ezekiel 47:12).
But the Bible is consistent where the Tree of Life is mentioned, that it is A tree, or ONE tree, or THE Tree of Life.
But it could be that it’s as Ezekiel describes, a cluster of trees lining the banks of the River of Life. Or it could be as John describes in Revelation, ONE tree, on both sides of the river, possible since the eternal state does not necessarily have to abide by the laws of physics we have now. Or it could be as Roy Gingrich describes it below in his commentary on Revelation- the tree is in the river.
“A river of the water of life proceeds from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the city’s street. In the midst of the river is the tree of life with its branches hanging over each bank of the river.” Gingrich, R. E. (2001). The Book of Revelation (p. 94). Riverside Printing.
Whichever way it is when we see the configuration of the tree of life and the river of the waters of life, it’s a fantastic thing to think of, the Tree of Life and the river of the waters of life, crystal and pure, ever-flowing.
The other thing that struck me was the fruit.
This tree monthly bears twelve kinds of fruits. If the Tree of Life is indeed one tree, how can one tree bear different kinds of fruit? Doesn’t the vegetation bear only its own kind? We read in Genesis 1:12,
The earth produced vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, according to their kind; and God saw that it was good.
Luke 6:44 says, For each tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush.
However again, the dimension we will live in when we are glorified may not have the same laws of agriculture as we have now. Or perhaps since it is THE Tree of Life, it holds all life within it, including all kinds of seeds which bear all life-giving properties. It’s fun to think of.
By the way, the translation in the King James Version that we’re used to, that the tree’s leaves are for healing, doesn’t mean healing as in someone who is sick needs to get well. In the eternal state there will be no illness. As MacArthur said, rather than the leaves being medicine for healing, rather, they are like vitamins for flourishing. Both MacArthur and Gingrich commented that it may be more symbolic. That the expression used for tree and healing are anthropomorphic-
Its leaves are for the purpose of giving continuous health (not “healing,” K.J.V.) to the nations. The river represents the Spirit of God and the tree represents the Word of God. These two, the Spirit and the Word, keep the nations in perfect health. The variety of the fruit and frequency of the fruit picture God’s full and constant satisfaction of man’s religious and moral hunger. Gingrich, R. E. (2001). The Book of Revelation (p. 94). Riverside Printing.
MacArthur: Well, time has no part of eternity, but it does remind us that there are cycles. And it’s just another one of those anthropomorphic expressions to say something to us in terminology which we can understand. There will be a regular cycle of joyous provision, filled with variety, changing all the time … There’s going to be provided in heaven infinite variety, and there are going to be all kinds of things available in heaven, demonstrated by the symbolism of the leaves of that tree that are just going to energize life and just make it rich and full and exciting. (Source)
If you are feeling down, or troubled because of the times, firstly, avoid the secular news if you can. Secondly, pray to Jesus and lay your anxieties at His feet. Thirdly, read in the Bible of the wondrous things Jesus has in store for us. He is preparing that place and He will come back to retrieve His Bride from this polluted earth and play out His end plan. When it’s all over we have a glorious future ahead. The crystal River of the Waters of Life, Tree of Life, Street of Gold, no sin! And best of all, Jesus with us!