The Beginning and the End

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

The initial chapters of Genesis reveal that God created two trees in the midst of the garden in Eden: “the tree of life ... and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:9). The tree of life was so named because its fruit would grant life eternal to the person who ate from it (3:22). The book of Proverbs refers to the tree of life as symbolic for happiness, health, longevity of life, and success (3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4).

In response to Adam’s rebellion, God drove him from the garden in Eden and “stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen 3:24). In the new heaven and new earth, God “will grant [the blessed] to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God” (Rev 2:7; 22:2, 14, 19).

A popular motif in ancient Mesopotamian literature is the idea that a plant could have fruit to bestow life upon the one who ate it. For instance, the Epic of Gilgamesh refers to “a secret of the gods,” which is that a wondrous plant (“like the buckthorn”) hidden under the sea will return a man to the state of his youth. Gilgamesh opened the conduit, “tied heavy stones [to his feet] ... pull[ing] him down into the deep [and he saw the plant].” Though it pricked his hands, he retrieved the plant. “A serpent snuffed the fragrance of the plant,” stole it and “shed [its] slough.” The myth implies that the serpent gained immortality, which is the reason for shedding its skin.

The story of Adapa also shares the motif of a lost opportunity to attain immortality. The myth refers to bread and water of death in addition to that of life. Adapa was warned by his father Enki not to eat the bread or drink the water, because it would be that of death set before him. Adapa did not eat or drink, and was deprived of immortality as a result of his being overcautious. Humanity is thus destined to live a mortal life. The tree of life is one of the oldest themes in ancient Near Eastern art, where it either symbolized life or was a symbolic representation of a king.

Adam and Eve probably could have eaten from the tree of life prior to the Fall, for God said, “‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil [only] you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die’” (Gen 2:16-17, emphasis added). One may rightly inquire why they did not eat from it. Revelation 22:2 mentions that the leaves of the tree provide healing. Therefore, the tree could have been one means of sustenance for Adam and Eve. Ultimately, the Lord God is the One who “is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:17). The Israelites wandered “forty years in the wilderness,” yet neither their clothes nor sandals were tattered (Deut 29:5), which is an indication of how God can preserve and sustain His people.

Perhaps the tree of life was effective only when a mortal who might otherwise die consumed its fruit. In that regard, the fruit was medicinal yet effective only for a person suffering from infirmity. God pronounced death upon Adam and Eve (and all their progeny) because of their rebellion; therefore, being without sickness in their original innocence, they would not have any reason to eat from the tree of life. Moreover, the exclusive desire of Adam prior to the Fall would have been to serve God as Creator and Lord. Being created in untested innocence, Adam simply lacked selfish desires or interests, and would have no desire to eat from the tree of life even when God had not prohibited him from doing so. Only when Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would there be concern that he would desire to eat from the tree of life, which is why God did not allow Adam (or any of his progeny) to take from it, “and eat, and live forever” (Gen 3:22).

Prior to his rebellion, Adam was essentially neutral in his inclination toward good and evil. Therefore, his decision was unbiased by a disposition to sin, and was certainly freer than the choices made by those who are born dead in sins and trespasses. The lack of any proclivity to disobey God’s command was the reason for external temptation from the serpent, who enticed Adam to sin. Satan made no effort to tempt Adam to eat from the tree of life, because his intent was to cause Adam to sin. Furthermore, the Lord had not forbidden Adam from eating of the tree of life. The origin of evil is somewhat of a mystery because the Bible does not explain its source, only where it did not originate. Evil was not intrinsic to Adam or Eve, nor does it originate from divine temptation. Satan, the evil tempter, did not plan his deception in dialogue with the first parents; rather, he did so solely in opposition to God’s Word. Humanity acting independent of God by means of self-assertion, is what allowed evil to enter the world.

Only when God sentenced Adam and Eve to death (2:17; 3:19) was it necessary to prevent their eating from the tree of life. To eat from the tree could potentially extend their natural life forever. That would be contrary to God’s declaration that in eating “you will surely die,” as they might elude the sentence of death and thus procure eternal life. Adam and Eve were prevented from eating from the tree so they would not live forever and boastfully commend themselves for changing their destiny, even though they were appointed unto death. Satan very likely suggested to Adam that should he be threatened with death, which the tempter disputed (“‘You surely will not die!”), the tree of life which was “in the midst of the garden” (and thus easily accessible) would always be a means to save himself from dying. To prevent any efforts to secure life for himself in such a manner, Adam had to be expelled from the garden.

If they had eaten from the tree of life, Adam and Eve would have lived eternally in a world cursed by sin. God, however, promised He would send forth the Messiah, who would defeat Satan and bring deliverance to fallen humanity, so that rather than being merely created in innocence, he might experience redemption. The destiny of redeemed humanity is greater than a condition of innocence, and is only possible because redemption is necessary. God’s greater purpose for humanity is redemption in Jesus Christ, who will make “all things new” (Rev 21:5).

Jesus said, “‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; [and] no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). He alone has the “words of eternal life” (6:68). By removing the tree of life from Adam and Eve in their unregenerate state, He prevented them from the possibility of attaining eternal life in a world cursed by sin. God demonstrated His grace by not allowing fallen humanity to partake of what would have allowed them to live eternally in a world “subjected to futility,” “corruption,” groaning, suffering, and pain (Rom 8:20-22). He has made provision for redeemed humanity to enjoy life eternal in the new heaven and earth, where “He will wipe away ever tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Rev 21:4). “There will no longer be any curse” (22:3a).

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil does not receive as much emphasis as the tree of life in Scripture. God created Adam with free moral agency, and immediately placed him under a prohibition: do not eat from one particular tree in the garden, or he would surely die. Satan deceived Eve by his craftiness (2 Cor 11:13). She disobeyed God by eating of the tree of knowledge, and “gave [the fruit] also to her husband” so he would rebel with her (Gen 3:6). They fell into sin with their experiential knowledge of good and evil. Humanity became like God, with the ability to discern between good and evil (v. 22). The characteristic aspect of their new knowledge was the consciousness of guilt, shame, and sin (vv. 7-11).

The process of temptation observable in Genesis 3 is instructive, because the tactics are the same that Satan uses today. The tempter implied that God’s prohibition regarding the tree was for purely selfish reasons (vv. 1b, 4-5). Satan often tempts a person to believe that God’s will for him or her is primarily for the Lord’s benefit, rather than for his or her personal welfare. Temptation from the devil always seeks to contravene God’s Word. The serpent wanted to create doubt in Eve’s mind regarding the character and Word of God. Eve repeated what God had said, yet she made more than a few significant changes in the process (vv. 2-3). She disparaged God’s provisions (vv. 2-3a), added words to the prohibition (v. 3b), and minimized the penalty for disobedience (v. 3c). The serpent also denied the penalty and caused Eve to doubt the character of God in giving the prohibition (vv. 4-5).

Satan suggested that God knew Eve would be as He is, and that was the reason for His commandment. The accusation against God was His withholding good, and thus intended to create doubt concerning His integrity. To challenge God’s Word was to question His goodness, and to dispute God’s goodness was to question His Word. God’s true actions and motives were the best interest of humanity, yet Satan falsely implied that it was God’s benefit at the expense of others. Eve focused all her senses upon the forbidden tree, and disobeyed the Lord by eating its fruit. She also involved her husband in the rebellious act (v. 6). The appeal of the forbidden fruit was sufficient enough to entice Eve to use her God-given desires in a sinful manner. Her threefold enticement is similar to the various means of temptation revealed in 1 John 2:16.

To satisfy herself with food, to appreciate the beauty of the fruit, and to obtain knowledge and wisdom, are legitimate desires that could be satisfied in a God-ordained manner. God has always asked people to trust His Word, believing He is sovereign and good. Eve, however, chose to act independently and be subject to none but self. God’s desire is for His people to trust Him and thereby live abundantly (John 10:10; 17:3). Authentic satisfaction is heeding God’s Word, which is to live by faith, not sight. Adam and Eve suffered the consequences of their disobedience: their knowledge of evil resulted in alienation with each other (Gen 3:7) and God (vv. 8-10). The fall of Adam and Eve not only resulted in a curse upon all their progeny, but also upon all creation (Rom 8:20-23).

Malachi was the last of the prophets that God sent to the remnant at Jerusalem. His prophecy is the last of the twelve Minor Prophets and is the final book of the Old Testament in English Bibles. Malachi’s prophecy was given in postexilic times. Approximately one hundred years prior, a faithful remnant had returned to the Promised Land. Haggai’s prophecy indicates that God’s people were far more responsive spiritually at that time than the ones whom Malachi addressed. During those one hundred years, the people began to regress; the priesthood was corrupted, and the reader senses the need for some kind of resolution, which is precisely what the prophecy announces. Malachi’s concluding words address the divine curse upon all creation since the beginning of human history. Malachi promises the coming of Messiah in relation to the “great and terrible day of the LORD” (4:5). Restoration is coming so God “will not come and smite the land with a curse (v. 6). The Old Testament closes with this word of promise (and begins four hundred years of silence from God, until He sent the angel Gabriel to announce a Son who will fulfill the prophecy) and indicates why Malachi is an appropriate conclusion for English Bibles.

A word of promise was given in association with God’s judgment. Genesis 3:15 is what is usually called the protoevangelium (“first announcement of the gospel”), because it gives the initial promise of a coming Redeemer. The “seed of the woman” is Jesus Christ, and He will ultimately triumph over satanic forces. With the introduction of sin into the world, there is also the promise of divine provision. Jesus fulfilled God’s original purpose for humanity through His obedience “to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). The curse will be removed as a result of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, so redeemed humanity “may have the right to the tree of life” (Rev 22:14).

From the first book of the Bible to the last, the physical earth is the realm in which God accomplishes “the freedom of the glory” of His children (Rom 8:21). The new heaven and earth will be the fulfillment of God’s plans for creation and humanity. God’s intent for humanity to exercise dominion over the earth, under His sovereignty, will be fulfilled. The sites of the Bible, in addition to the entire earth, are significant because the ground upon which everyone walks is where God manifests His glory. He will bring renewal and restoration to the first heaven and earth, such that they are filled with the glory of the Lord. Humanity will rule under God’s sovereignty and will display His everlasting majesty, which He has foreordained and predestined since the foundation of the earth.

Midnight Call - 01/2024

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