Revelation 22:2

In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life
The Greek lacks the article: the tree. There are several trees, each of them a tree of life. “It was not one individual tree, but a particular tree as to its kind, as we speak of ‘the apple’ or ‘the oak,’ denoting a species of which there are many specimens.”1 There may have been exactly three trees, or John saw three groups of trees of the same kind in each of the three areas. What John sees is very similar to what Ezekiel saw during the Millennium, but Ezekiel’s trees were not the tree of life, but other nourishing trees which provide long life during the Millennial Kingdom (Isa. Isa. 65:20):

Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used 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. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine. (Eze. Eze. 47:12)

Medicine (Eze. Eze. 47:12) is תְרוּפָה [erûp̄â] : either from the root רוּף [rûp] , to make small as in medical powder, or from רָפָא [rāp̄āʾ] , to heal.2 Translated by ὑβίεια [hybieia] in the LXX: health, soundness of body. During the Millennium, the leaves of the trees near the river will provide for the physical healing of the peoples, but it is important to recognize that these trees cannot be the tree of life. Those who consume the leaves live to an advanced age, but do not avoid death (Isa. Isa. 65:20).3

Jesus said to the church at Ephesus that He would give the overcomer “to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Rev. Rev. 2:7+). He alluded to the original placement of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden (Gen. Gen. 2:9) and indicated that the redeemed would once more have access to the tree in a future paradise—the eternal state which John now sees. Those who do His commandments (or wash their robes , MT and NU texts) will have authority to access the tree of life (Rev. Rev. 22:14+). Those who take away from the words of the book of this prophecy will have their part taken away from the tree of life (Rev. Rev. 22:19+, MT and NU texts). Evidently, access to the tree of life is one and the same as salvation and indicates that all who inhabit the eternal state will have access to the tree on an equal basis.

When man rebelled in the Garden of Eden, he was cut off from the tree of life (Gen. Gen. 3:22-24). Since then, death has reigned over all peoples, even the people of God—with few exceptions. We rejoice in the fact that in the redemptive counsels of God, history is to be brought full circle to affect a full return to a Paradise without death which was previously lost:

The harmonious unity of Scripture is herein exhibited. The Fathers compared it to a ring, an unbroken circle, returning into itself. Between the events of Genesis and those at the close of the Apocalypse, at least six thousand or seven thousand years intervene; and between Moses the first writer and John the last about one thousand five hundred years. How striking it is that, as in the beginning we found Adam and Eve, his bride, in innocence in Paradise, then tempted by the serpent, and driven from the tree of life, and from the pleasant waters of Eden, yet not without a promise of a Redeemer who should crush the serpent; so at the close, the old serpent cast out for ever by the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, who appears with His Bride, the Church, in a better Paradise, and amidst better waters (Rev. Rev. 22:1+): the tree of life also is there with all its healing properties, not guarded with a flaming sword, but open to all who overcome (Rev. Rev. 2:7+), and there is no more curse.4

All worlds move in circles; and the grand march of God’s providence with man moves in one immense round. It starts with Paradise, and thence moves out through strange and untried paths, until it has fulfilled its grand revolution by coming back to the point from which it started; not indeed to repeat itself, but thenceforward to rest forever in the results of that wonderful experiment. Genesis is the Book of beginnings; the Revelation is the Book of the endings of what was then begun; and the last laps back upon the first, and welds the two ends of the history into a golden ring of eternity.5

See Genesis and Revelation as Bookends.

During this present age, where physical death has not yet been abolished, those who follow after God are likened to a fruitful tree typified by the tree of life near the river of living water which John sees in the eternal state:6

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. (Ps. Ps. 1:1-3)

Between the Fall in the Garden of Eden (Gen. Gen. 3:22-24) and the creation of the new heavens and earth (Rev. Rev. 21:1+), the cross of Jesus Christ is the tree of life for all who trust in His redeeming work (Acts Acts 5:30; Gal. Gal. 3:13; 1Pe. 1Pe. 2:24).

which bore twelve fruits
Which bore is ποιοῦν [poioun] , present tense participle: continually making. The text implies fruit is continuously being produced from which we can conclude it is also being consumed on an ongoing basis.

each tree yielding
Yielding is ἀποδιδοῦν [apodidoun] , present tense participle: continually giving out.

every month
The tree produces fruit on a monthly basis. Its ongoing production implies an ongoing consumption of the fruit by the nations, although this is not explicitly said. In the Millennial Kingdom, the fruit of similar trees were used for food (Eze. Eze. 47:12), whereas their leaves were used for medicine. In the eternal state, John sees the leaves used for healing, but nothing is said concerning the use of the fruit. We can probably assume the nations will eat of the fruit of the tree. This should not be surprising since Jesus, in His resurrected body, continued to eat food (John John 21:12; Acts Acts 10:41).7

And whether they need it for the support of their undecaying immortality or not, [partaking of the Tree of Life] is everywhere presented as one of the most precious privileges of God’s glorified saints. We cannot suppose that they ever hunger or thirst in that high realm, or that there is ever any waste in their immortal energies needing recuperation from physical digestion; but still the participation of these Life-fruits bespeaks a communion with Life, the joy of which exceeds all present comprehension.8

The mention of months may imply that the sun and moon, although not needed for light in the vicinity of the New Jerusalem, continue to exist within the eternal state.9

The fact that months are identified as such in [the] New Jerusalem indicates that the orbital and rotational motions of the earth will go on as God established in the very beginning and that the moon likewise will continue orbiting around the earth.10

See commentary on Revelation 21:23.

The productivity of the tree in eternity is a model of what the Christian life is to be now. Believers are to be continuously yielding spiritual fruit, much of which is also for the healing of the nations. God expects productivity from all who would serve Him (cf. Mtt. Mat. 21:19; Mark Mark 11:13).11 In the same way the tree of life yields fruit because of its position next to the river of life, so must the productive Christian abide in Christ:

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (John John 15:4-5)

The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations
Healing is θεραπείαν [therapeian] : which can also denote serving, service, care.”12 The leaves, in some way, provide “prosperity for the nations.”13

Jesus taught that all who exist in the eternal state with a glorified body are equal to the angels and cannot die (Luke Luke 20:35-36). But here, John is shown the tree of life and told: “the leaves of the tree of life were for the healing of the nations.” Even if healing (θεραπείαν [therapeian] ) is taken to mean service (Luke Luke 12:42; Mtt. Mat. 24:45), there is still the question as to why the nations would need ongoing access to the tree of life? And if the nations access the tree in relation to life, how does that square with Jesus’ teaching that those who have been glorified cannot die?

Similar questions confront us in the book of Genesis, before the Fall into sin. Adam and Eve are in the Garden of Eden, in a state of sinless perfection, and are given access to the tree of life (Gen. Gen. 2:9, Gen. 2:16). Later, when they disobey God, their access to the tree is cut off lest they eat of it and live forever (Gen. Gen. 3:22-24). Several things are implied by the Genesis account: (1) the tree of life served a purpose in the Garden of Eden prior to the entrance of sin and death; (2) Adam and Eve undoubtedly partook of the fruit of the tree before their fall into sin since it was permitted; (3) had Adam and Eve continued to eat from the tree after their fall into sin, then they would never have died. It seems that ongoing access to the tree provided eternal life. But how does this fit with the abundant Scriptural teaching that death is a result of sin (Gen. Gen. 2:17; Rom. Rom. 5:12-15, Rom. 5:21; Rom. 6:16, Rom. 6:23; Rom. 7:5, Rom. 7:11-13; Rom. 8:2; Jas. Jas. 1:15)? In the absence of sin, both in the Garden of Eden before the Fall and in the eternal state, what purpose does the tree of life serve?

Why would healing be necessary in eternity? What is the meaning of the healing leaves? What is their purpose? Admittedly these questions are puzzling. However, the concept of healing leaves need not imply sickness. The tree of life existed in the Garden of Eden before sin and sickness (Gen. Gen. 2:9; Gen. 3:22), and it can also exist in the New Jerusalem without illness. After all, there will be no curse there (Rev. Rev. 22:3+).14

Healing, however, does not necessarily indicate the presence of disease any more than the wiping away of tears (Rev. Rev. 21:4+) implies that sorrow still exists in the new Jerusalem. The tears were those caused by the troubles of this creation, tears that will no longer exist in the new creation. Likewise, the disease for which this healing provides is that of the former creation which no longer exists in the new Jerusalem.15

With such an understanding, we can suggest a relationship between the tree of life, sin, and death. The tree of life serves as a source from which sinless men obtain life. They do not attain eternal life in any sort of independent manner, but are completely and forever dependent upon God, the ultimate source of life. This dependence is reflected in their need to access the fruit from the tree for its life-giving qualities. The moment sin enters into the picture, as it did in the Garden and which it can never do again in eternity, independence of God results.16 When sin entered in the Garden of Eden and independence from God with it, God saw fit to remove access to the tree of life—the very channel by which He had chosen to dispense eternal life. The result was death. To summarize: sin brought independence from God which was manifest in being cut off from the tree of life resulting in death. In the eternal state, man will be sinless and have eternal life, but the creation and the creature will always and forever remain dependent upon the Creator as the source of life. The ongoing need to access the tree of life for eternity reflects the continued dependence of the creatures upon the Creator—a reality which God has chosen to manifest via the tree.

Some attempt to avoid these questions by taking the tree of life as symbolic of salvation and spiritual life, and not as a real tree in a real eternal city. However, there are numerous reasons why the tree in the New Jerusalem should be taken as a literal tree:

Some interpreters view the tree as only symbolic. But a literal view of the tree is proper for two reasons. First, since there was a literal tree of life in the historical Garden of Eden (Gen. Gen. 2:9; Gen. 3:22, Gen. 3:24), it is possible for this tree also to be literal. Second, if the city, walls, gates, street, river, and light are literal (and the most reasonable evidence shows that they are), then the tree of life is most likely literal also. However, viewing the tree as literal does not exclude its also having symbolic significance for those who see it and eat of it. Just as the literal walls and foundations of the New Jerusalem will be memorials to Israel and to the apostles (Rev. Rev. 21:12+, Rev. 21:14+), so the tree of life can have a memorial function also.17

Even those who take the tree literally struggle with the idea that healing should be found in the tree. Some propose that the healing relates to the maintenance of a population among the faithful who still reside in natural bodies in eternity. The “healing problem,” along with the possible differences between the nations and kings of the earth which reside outside the city versus the glorified saints within the city, have caused some to suggest that the nations in the eternal state may be made up of humans in their natural bodies living in conditions much like that of the original creation. This might answer some of the puzzles which are before us: why God created a new heaven and earth, why there are gates to the city which infers some are primarily occupied outside and others inside, and why the tree of life remains if only glorified saints remain? Several expositors suggest such a solution, as we discussed in our commentary on Revelation 21:24. For example:

There are two classes of people who will live eternally upon the earth: (1) the saints, who as co-heirs with Christ (Rom. Rom. 8:17) are given glorified bodies (1Cor. 1Cor. 15:52), who possess the kingdom (Dan. Dan. 7:18) and rule over the kingdom (Rev. Rev. 20:4+, Rev. 20:6+) as its inheritors (Mtt. Mat. 25:34); (2) natural people, described here [1Cor. 1Cor. 15:52] as “flesh and blood” who are the eternal subjects of the kingdom, who eternally perpetuate the natural race of earthly men in the flesh (Ps. Ps. 72:5; Isa. Isa. 59:21; Eze. Eze. 37:25; Luke Luke 1:32-33. 2Pe. 2Pe. 3:13).18

Two classes of people are thus distinctly recognized in the new heaven and earth;—a class in glory who get the fruits of the Tree of Life, and a class in the estate of “nations” who get the leaves; but, whether fruits or leaves, a great and glorious blessing. . . . The meaning is not that the nations are full of sicknesses and ailments; for these remains of the curse are gone then, though it may be from the virtue of these leaves. The meaning rather is the preservation of health and comfort, and not that maladies then exist to be removed. The Life-leaves are for the conservation and augmentation of the Life-blessedness of men on earth, as the Life-fruits are for the joy of the saints in heaven.19

One objection to such a view is found in Paul’s statement: “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption” (1Cor. 1Cor. 15:50). Although Jesus referred to his resurrected body as “flesh and bones” (Luke Luke 24:39), it was clearly a different body than that which Adam and Eve had in their natural state. Jesus’ resurrected body is the sort of incorruptible body which the saints will inherit when glorified. There is no corruption in the eternal state, for sin shall be no more. And so it was in the Garden of Eden before the fall of Adam and Eve. But the prohibition against flesh and blood in the ultimate kingdom of God—beyond the millennium—would seem to be at odds with a restoration of the conditions in the Garden of Eden. Some try to get around the plain meaning of Paul’s statement by postulating two classes of peoples in the eternal state: those with glorified bodies who rule and reign and those in natural bodies who are their subjects.20 But such a proposition seems without support in Scripture which knows of only one class among the redeemed in eternity: those who inherit the kingdom, obtain eternal life, are granted the right to enter the city, and partake of the tree of life. The promise to the overcomer at the church of Ephesus and the last blessing of all of Scripture, at the close of the book, imply that all the faithful are of a single class in regard to their access to the tree of life:

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” (Rev. Rev. 2:7+)

Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. (Rev. Rev. 21:14+)

These are the redeemed, those who obtain eternal life by faith in Christ. The promises they obtain are described in terms which match that of the nations and kings of the earth in the eternal state who bring their glory and honor through the gates into the city (Rev. Rev. 21:24-26+) and partake of the tree of life (Rev. Rev. 22:2+). Dividing up access to the tree of life into two classes, some in glorified bodies who partake of the fruit and others in unglorified bodies which partake of the leaves is without Scriptural support.

The suggestion that partaking of the Tree of Life pertains to the citizens within the city and entrance through the city’s gates relates to the nations, is also faulty. Both are relevant to all believers: authority over the Tree of Life and access to the way that leads to it.21

A better solution is to understand the mention of nations and kings of the earth , which come in through the gate to the New Jerusalem, as merely a description of the identity of the redeemed from among the nations and as emphasizing their right to access the holy city which has been their ultimate hope and destiny all along (John John 14:2-3; Gal. Gal. 4:25-26; Heb. Heb. 11:10, Heb. 11:16; Heb. 12:22; Heb. 13:14; Rev. Rev. 3:12+).

The proposal that human beings, in natural bodies, continue to populate the eternal state as separate peoples from the glorified saints seems to raise as many issues as it attempts to solve.22 Nor does it account for the ultimate unity among the redeemed of eternity in its proposal that flesh and blood can inherit the eternal kingdom of God. Neither does it provide additional insight into the purpose of the tree of life in the eternal state because it proposes conditions no different than those in the Garden of Eden for which the mystery of the need for a tree of life during conditions of sinless perfection remains. As intriguing as the view may be to some, it seems to go beyond Scripture and fails to provide significant benefit in an understanding of eternity.

Probably all that we can safely conclude is that the healing provided by the leaves of the tree provides some sort of service to the inhabitants of the eternal state. Exactly what that service is, we are not in a position to ascertain. Since the tree provides both fruit and leaves, the leaves may have a purpose unrelated to eating from the tree:

The third and preferred explanation is that the healing leaves may represent spiritual service or care. The Greek word for healing is θεραπεία [therapeia] , “serving, service, care,” from the verb θεραπεύω [therapeuō] , “to serve, be a servant.” Liddell, Scott, and Jones list many examples where this term refers to serving and has no connection with illness or the need for healing. Only in the sense of care, treatment, or serving the sick did it come to be applied to “healing” or “curing,” as in “therapy” and “therapeutic.” True, the word is used in Revelation Rev. 13:3+, Rev. 13:12+ of a wound healed; but in Luke Luke 12:42 it is used of “service” of a faithful and wise steward, and in Acts Acts 17:25 for serving God. The leaves, then, are there to minister to or serve the redeemed as they serve God (Rev. Rev. 22:3+).23

The chemical ingredients of the rich foliage of the trees might be available for innumerable uses in the economy of the nations which is to be kept healthy by the leaves of the tree.24


Notes

1 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 505.

2 Wilhelm Gesenius and Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2003, 1810-1812), 874.

3 “The trees in both cases line the river; but in the earthly order they are outside the city; and though bread trees, they are not the Tree of Life. The heavenly River issues not from the sanctuary but from the throne. It does not flow into the sea, but through the avenues and streets of the city.”—Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation, 506.

4 A. R. Fausset, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” in Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, 1877), Rev. 22:2.

5 Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation, 503.

6 “The tree of life is mentioned four times in Proverbs (Pr. Pr. 3:18; Pr. 11:30; Pr. 13:12; Pr. 15:4), metaphorically depicting wisdom, fruitful works, hope, and the benefits of the wise use of the tongue.”—Daniel K. Wong, “The Tree of Life in Revelation 2:7,” in Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 155 no. 618 (Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, April-June 1998), 211.

7 “The Saviour after his glorious resurrection did eat, even of the course food of mortals. The angels did eat of Sarah’s cakes and of Abraham’s dressed calf (Gen. Gen. 18:6-8).”—Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation, 506.

8 Ibid., 507.

9 Fruchtenbaum believes a monthly calendar will continue, but without the benefit of the moon: “It should be noted that the word month is used, so some kind of dating system will be present in the Eternal Order. Since there will be no sun, moon, or night, it will be a radically different dating system than the one in which we presently live.”—Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah, rev ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 539.

10 Henry Morris, The Revelation Record (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983), Rev. 22:2.

11 We speak here of productivity as measured by God , not the constant activity which so often characterizes Christian work, which has more in common with Martha than Mary (Luke Luke 10:38-42).

12 Frederick William Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 358.

13 Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 196.

14 Wong, “The Tree of Life in Revelation 2:7,” 219.

15 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995), Rev. 22:2.

16 A viable definition of sin is simply independence from God.

17 Wong, “The Tree of Life in Revelation 2:7,” 213.

18 Jerome Smith, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), 1Cor. 15:50.

19 Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation, 507.

20 “Those who argue that ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom’ (1Cor. 1Cor. 15:50) forget that these natural generations are subjects of the kingdom, not inheritors, for only the resurrected saints in glorified bodies are co-heirs with Christ in His eternal kingdom (Rom. Rom. 8:17).”—Smith, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, 2Pe. 3:13.

21 Thomas, Revelation 8-22, Rev. 22:14.

22 “There is no indication whatever in Scripture that resurrected and translated beings have the quality of human sex, much less the capacity to produce offspring.”—John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1966), Rev. 21:24.

23 Wong, “The Tree of Life in Revelation 2:7,” 220-221.

24 Morris, The Revelation Record, Rev. 22:2.