There’s a tree on the first page of Genesis, the first Psalm, the first page of the New Testament, and the last page of Revelation. Whether it is the fall, the flood, or the overthrow of the Pharaoh, every major event in the Bible has a tree marking the spot. (Source)
One of the main pieces of evidence we have about the supernatural nature of the Holy Bible is the consistent use of symbolic imagery beginning from the first chapter to the last. This provides a consistent picture that highlights not only God’s great providence but of His foreknowledge of the end from the beginning. Of interest to today’s brief, is God’s usage of trees. Other than God or humans, trees are mentioned more than any other living thing in the entirety of the Bible. Granted, it’s not something we think of often, but it is interesting how trees have been used to play a pivotal role throughout history to shape the course of man’s destiny.
1. The Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:8-9 (Emphasis mine)
On the newly created (or recreated depending on where you stand on tohu-bohu position), the Lord God planted a garden in Eden and made every tree grow that was pleasant to the sight and good for food. Then the Lord took the man and put him in the garden to tend and keep it. There were two specific, supernatural (or supernatural to us) trees that were mentioned, and located “in the midst” of the garden. The first was the tree of life, and the second was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
These trees were separated from the other trees in the garden. Two is the number for division or separation. Aside from the commandments to ‘tend the garden’ and to ‘be fruitful and multiply,’ (Gen. 1:28, 2:15) there was only one prohibitory rule that God gave Adam: “You shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…” (Gen. 2:17). Evidently, it was ok to eat from the tree of life, as no prohibition of this is mentioned anywhere in the text.
Trees, grass, and herbs were created on the third day of creation. Three is the number of divine perfection and resurrection. “And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. So the evening and the morning were the third day” (Genesis 1:12-13). The seed is buried in the earth, dies, and is then resurrected to new life; which is symbolic of Christ, the first fruits of the dead (1 Cor. 15), afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming (Rapture). God declared the 3rd day of creation ‘good’ twice.
Did Adam and Eve ever eat from the tree of life? Most scholars say no because of Genesis 3:22. After the first couple ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” Once man (mankind) sinned, he could no longer eat from this tree, or else he would live forever in a state of unrighteousness and would not be able to be redeemed. Man and the tree of life would have to be separated from one another. Thus man was expelled from the garden of Eden, and we don’t hear about the tree of life again until the book of Revelation.
2. The Fig Tree
The other (third) relevant tree we see in the Garden of Eden is the fig tree. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings” (Genesis 3:7). Adam and Eve heard the Lord God (theophany of Yahweh) walking in the garden and hid themselves from Him among the trees. The Lord called to them and asked where they were. Adam told the Lord he hid himself because he was afraid and was naked. The first feelings the couple felt were fear and shame after committing the first sin of mankind, rebellion against the word of God. The Lord asked them if they had disobeyed His commandment. The man blamed the woman and the woman blamed the serpent. The Lord then gave His judgment (and the first prophecy) against the serpent (the devil and his seed) as found in Genesis 3: 14-15. He also judged the man and woman (Genesis 3:16-19). They were cast out of the garden of Eden and lost direct fellowship with the Lord God.
In Genesis 3:20, we see the first typology of the atonement of sin by blood, The fig leaves were not sufficient for the covering (atonement) of sin, so the Lord had to kill an innocent animal and used its skin/fur to cover their nakedness (representing sin). This would become a common practice/ritual (during the time of Noah, Abraham, and the patriarchs, and with Moses and the children of Israel) where animals would be sacrificed to God for the atonement or covering up of the people’s sins. The sacrifices and shedding of blood by the Israelites was only a temporary “fix” for their sins and had to be done continuously until the perfect sacrifice with the perfect blood was found. This could not be accomplished by the blood of animals, but only by the blood of the God-man, Jesus Christ, who covers us not with skins but with His Holy Spirit.
3. The Parable of the Trees
Several thousand years later, we find the parable of the trees recorded for us in the book of Judges. Although somewhat cryptic at the time of writing, it would “bear fruit” (pardon the pun) later on when Jesus refers to this in His own Olivet Discourse parable of the fig tree.
Now when they told Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted his voice and cried out. And he said to them:
“Listen to me, you men of Shechem,
That God may listen to you!
8 “The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them.
And they said to the olive tree,
‘Reign over us!’
9 But the olive tree said to them,
‘Should I cease giving my oil,
With which they honor God and men,
And go to sway over trees?’
10 “Then the trees said to the fig tree,
‘You come and reign over us!’
11 But the fig tree said to them,
‘Should I cease my sweetness and my good fruit,
And go to sway over trees?’
12 “Then the trees said to the vine,
‘You come and reign over us!’
13 But the vine said to them,
‘Should I cease my new wine,
Which cheers both God and men,
And go to sway over trees?’
14 “Then all the trees said to the bramble,
‘You come and reign over us!’
15 And the bramble said to the trees,
‘If in truth you anoint me as king over you,
Then come and take shelter in my shade;
But if not, let fire come out of the bramble
And devour the cedars of Lebanon!’
4. The Fig Tree Examples and Parable
The symbol of the fig tree had long been associated with the national status and economic prosperity of Israel.
And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, each man under his vine and his fig tree, from Dan as far as Beersheba, all the days of Solomon. 1 Kings 4:25 (also 2 Kings 18:31, Isaiah 36:16, Micah 4:4)
The fig tree puts forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grapes give a good smell. Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away! Song of Solomon 2:13
“I found Israel Like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstfruits on the fig tree in its first season. But they went to Baal Peor, and separated themselves to that shame; they became an abomination like the thing they loved. Hosea 9:10
The ‘good and bad figs’ as found in Jeremiah 24.
However, the fig tree parable, although tied to Israel in symbolism, cannot specifically and only be about the rebirth of Israel.
Then He spoke to them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. Luke 21:29-33 (my emphasis)
I tend to split the fence on the views regarding where Israel stands with regards to the Fig Tree Parable. On one hand, I agree with Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s position of considering the use of the budding of the fig tree as specifically using its budding as a literal illustration of something coming (for example, rain clouds signaling the approaching storm).
On the other hand, the usage of the Fig Tree itself by Jesus is interesting, considering His omniscience as God in the flesh, would have been intimately familiar with the symbolism tied between the two. IOW, if the fig tree was used purely as a literal illustration, then why didn’t He just call it the parable of the fruit tree? That way, there would be zero confusion as to His intent on using it only as a literal illustration of timing.
However, linking the parable (regarding timing) with the fig tree (which has a long history of representing national Israel), and knowing God is not the author of confusion, He would have already known what the natural conclusions we would draw from the correlation. On top of that, adding to our recent history with the supernatural rebirth of the nation of Israel after two of the world’s largest conflicts (WWI and WWII), if we were to take things at face value, then there has to be a correlation between the two.
Perhaps there is intentionally enough “wiggle-room” built into the text so that no one can be dogmatic about it. This would seem to lend credence to Jesus' other statement about “no man knowing the day nor hour.”
Just as there is recognizable significance tied between many nations and their symbols (e.g., the Roman Eagle, British Lion, Russian Bear, Lebanese Cedar, etc.), so to would Jesus have known the symbolism between the fig tree and the status of nations. Some will point to Luke’s Olivet Discourse and His usage of “and all the trees,” as evidence of its' non-specific symbolism. However, I would simply refer them back to Judges 9’s Parable of the Trees and its linkages to trees representing nations. Consider the proximity for the creation of Israel’s neighboring nations, along with her own rebirth that came as the consequence of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and World War II.
1932: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia- Date Palm
1943: Syria- Olive Tree
1943: Lebanon- Cedar Tree
1946: Jordan- Oak Tree
1948: Israel- Fig Tree
So we are left with only two options; either that is an amazing coincidence or its divine providence. But it can’t be both.
5. The Cross of Calvary
Interestingly, the Bible does not detail what exact kind of tree the cross was made from. There is an old legend that claims it was dogwood, but that is just a legend. The truth is, like with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we aren’t told what kind of tree God used. One would think, given the gravity of the event surrounding Christ’s crucifixion, the kind of tree used to make the cross would have been made known to us. Perhaps God chose not to allow its type to be known, to prevent mankind from associating any kind of stigma to it.
6. The Honorable Mentions
While too numerous to mention by name, the Bible references many trees and has numerous critical associations with most of them. Here are the honorable mentions
Gopher wood ( ref. Noah’s Ark)
Oaks of Mamre (ref. Abraham)
Acacia wood (ref. Ark of the Covenant, Tabernacle)
Sycamore Tree (ref. Zacchaeus)
Olive Tree (ref. Noah's received Olive branch, Mount of Olives)
Over millennia, Bible scholars and theologians have long debated the exact symbolic or literal nature of Adam and Eve's participation in eating from the forbidden tree. We will look at it as a literal, historic event since Jesus referred to this as a literal, historical event (Matt. 19:4-5). At some point (presumably the Second Day) between the creation of the universe and before Adam and Eve’s creation (the Sixth Day), Lucifer (aka Satan/the Devil) rebelled against God and took a third of the angels with him. This is why there was a tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden in the first place. Before Lucifer fell, there was no evil, thus, no need for a tree depicting evil. Until Lucifer's rebellion, everything in God’s creation at that point (with the exception of the heavens), was considered ‘good.’
Now, evil itself is a by-product of a created being's exercise of free will that is either opposed to God's perfect standard, or God's perfect will. Since only God is perfectly good, any deviation or distortion of that perfectness is a form of evil. Lucifer, who up until that point, was God's most perfect and beautiful creation, had first committed the sin of pride in thinking he could somehow supplant and replace God (see also Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28).
After Lucifer's fall, and in the midst of God's order of creation, He found it necessary to put a tree of knowledge in the garden, to provide Adam the opportunity to exercise his own free of doing right. Adam (and we) presumably, would have lived in the ever-expanding garden forever in perfect harmony with our creator God. That was what was originally intended.
This is why there was a tree aptly named as such because as human beings were also created with free will, there needed to be a mechanism to test said free will. If God made Adam so either he couldn't have the potential to sin, or that Satan couldn't tempt mankind, then we wouldn't have free will. In other words, you can’t have free will if there was only one option to exercise said free will.
The reason why the Bible doesn’t tell us what kind of tree (tree of knowledge of good and evil) was, is because it doesn’t matter to the context of the story. What matters, is that God’s one rule of not eating from that particular tree was in place as a warning to protect Adam and Eve; not constrain them. God is the author of all good knowledge, and thus, would not prohibit Adam from learning as such. After all, Adam was given dominion over the earth and then tasked with naming all of the animals (including land, air, and sea creatures). At a minimum, Adam would have had a perfect understanding of the world which was just created.
To tap into a highly familiar Greek mythological symbol, the act of Adam and Eve’s rebellion was tantamount to opening Pandora’s Box. It was doing something that once done, couldn’t be undone. It was an act that would require an alternative solution to what had been originally intended. Originally, God had intended to live in perfect harmony with His creation. However, once Lucifer rebelled, mankind would now have to co-exist with another antagonistic force vying for mankind’s affection. By eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam would inadvertently taint the human bloodline and allow limitless evil to come into God’s good creation through a corrupted version of mankind.
Adam and Eve had only one prohibitory commandment from God: Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Yet they failed His test and disobeyed Him. Some theologians believe the fall of man occurred 40 days after God created him, as 40 is the number that represents trial or testing. Here are seven examples:
1) Moses' life was divided into three 40 year probation periods. The first 40 years were spent as a prince in Egypt, where he eventually killed an Egyptian for the murder of a Hebrew man. The next 40 years were spent in the Midian desert tending his father-in-law’s flocks. His last 40 years were spent in the wilderness leading the Hebrews to the “promised land.”
2) Moses was on Mt. Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights.
3) Moses intercedes on behalf of the children of Israel for 40 days and 40 nights for their idol worshipping and apostasy against God.
4) The Hebrew spies took 40 days to spy out the land of Canaan.
5) Goliath ridiculed and challenged Saul’s army for 40 days before David killed him.
6) Jesus was tempted for 40 days and nights by the devil.
7) Jesus spent 40 days on the earth after His resurrection before He ascended into heaven.
God is omniscient, meaning He knows the past, present, and future simultaneously. He knew man would fail His test, disobeying His one and only rule, and eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He also knew Satan would possess the serpent and entice Eve to eat the forbidden fruit; and yet He allowed it. Why did God allow such an intelligent and evil being to be in contact with such a simple and naïve being? This is a great mystery.
Satan isn’t just a liar. He is the father of lies, a master liar. The trick to being a good liar is mixing the truth in with the lie, a half-truth if you will. Since they failed, and Eve bought into this half-truth. This was what he did with Eve when he said “You will not surely die.” This was a half-truth, for they might not die immediately (physically), but they would eventually die. They did die immediately as far as being spirit connected (filled) with the Lord God. Then he said, “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” He spoke the truth here, because they would be like God in the fact that they would know good and evil after eating the fruit from the tree. Not only them but all of their children and their descendants throughout history.
Mankind had become like the angels in that we would now have the ability to choose between the two antipodes of good and evil. The choice had become (and always was) are you going to obey your creator’s will and word or, are you going to rebel and not obey. Before Adam and Eve were influenced by Satan, it would never have occurred for them to eat the forbidden fruit. They just would never have thought of it. How could they? They didn’t even know what evil was, so how could they desire it? However, when the serpent told them they could be like God, this got Eve’s attention. She then started to notice how pleasing the fruit was and wondered what it would taste like. She remembered Satan’s words and how the fruit would make them wise, and naively believed his lies regarding they would not die from eating the fruit. The rest is history, literally.
Perhaps this was God’s will after all. Without knowing evil, what do you compare good with? You have to know them both before you can choose one over the other. God always gives his spirit-filled creature’s agency, the capacity to act independently and to make their own free choices. God is good! He doesn’t send anyone to Hell not consign them to spiritual death. The ones who go there are the ones who choose evil over good. They chose to rebel against their maker and disobey the one rule He made for obtaining eternal life with Him: believe in the one He sent, Jesus Christ.
The first created man, Adam, brought sin into the world by way of a tree (knowledge of good and evil). The second created man, Jesus, redeemed man from their sins by way of a tree (the cross). The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross only had to be offered to God one time, unlike the animal sacrifices of old, which like the fig leaves of Adam and Eve only covered up sins temporarily. We now have the promise of eternal life, by the sealing of the Holy Spirit within us, which is the fruit of the tree of life. The tree of life is planted by the ultimate gardener, our Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ, who encourages us to eat His fruit freely.
7. The Tree of Life
The fruit of the tree of life is symbolic of the nine fruits of the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23. Solomon said, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise” (Proverbs 11:30). By the way, the Latin translation of the Bible known as the Vulgate includes three more fruits, totaling 12. The righteous Gentiles, Old Testament saints, and remnant 12 tribes of Israel will all be partaking of the fruit from the tree of life.
Regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it is never again mentioned in the Bible. It is not pictured in heaven as the tree of life is. I think the Lord God (Yahweh/the Son) might have withered it up as He did with the fig tree in Mark 11:20, when Jesus said, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again” (Mark 11:14). The tree of knowledge of good and evil’s purpose has been fulfilled. Now all of God’s spirit-filled creations (mankind, angelic) have the knowledge of good and evil. The cross has also served its purpose and gone the way of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is a relic of the past and has turned to dust.
In Jesus’ previous life on the earth, as a carpenter, he enjoyed working with wood and building things. In the interim between His first advent and the soon coming second, He has had nearly two millennia to build His bride, the Church, a mansion in heaven.
“The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones; the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyz, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” Revelation 21:16-21
After a week (for the Lord) of 7000 years, man and the tree of life will be reunited in the New Jerusalem after the millennial reign of Jesus Christ. In the New Jerusalem, there will be 12 trees of life, each one bearing its own fruit every month. One tree, perhaps the original one, is located in the middle of the street of gold. There are five trees on one side of the river of life and six on the other side of the river.
“The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.” Revelation 12:2-3
Amen, even so, come Lord Jesus.