The tree of life is mentioned only three places in the Bible. The first and most prominent appearance of the tree of life is in Genesis. The tree of life appears in Proverbs (three times) and again in the Book of Revelation (on either side of the “river of the water of life… flowing from the throne of God….”)
The tree of life was there in the beginning, and it will be reappear in the end. In between, where we are now, between Genesis and Revelations, we are presently cut off from the tree of life.
The tree of life obviously figures into God’s ultimate plan and purpose. But how? Where is the tree of life between the Garden of Eden and standing beside the river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God? Let’s take a look.
The only place other than Genesis and Revelation where we find the phrase, “tree of life”, is in Proverbs. In Proverbs, however, the references are distinctly different than in Genesis and Revelation. Genesis and Revelation refer to “the” Tree of Life; Proverbs, refers only to “a” tree of life.
Is there a difference? The first reference in Proverbs is Chapter 3, verse18:
[Wisdom] is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called blessed.
Proverbs 3 focuses on wisdom and urges the reader to seek wisdom. Wisdom provides blessing and understanding. (v. 13) Wisdom is better than silver, more profitable than gold and more precious than jewels. (vv. 14-15) Wisdom provides long life, riches, honor, pleasantness and peace. (vv. 16-17)
Then we read that “wisdom founded the earth….” (v. 19) Where have we heard something like that before?
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
The Word, of course, is Jesus. If wisdom founded, the earth, and Jesus is the Word through whom the earth was made, Jesus is wisdom personified and the source of the Tree of Life.
In fact, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life….” (John 14:6) Jesus also said, “I am the bread of life”; and, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’” (John 6:35) Jesus told the woman at the well,
“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water…. whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
John 4:10, 13
Jesus is the source of the Tree of Life, Jesus waters the tree of life. By giving ourselves to Jesus, accepting Him, coming to know Him, allowing His words to take residence in us and inviting His Holy Spirit to become resident within us, we connect to the source of the Tree of Life. Everything that we have ever longed for, hoped for and sought is found in Jesus.
This is connection borne out in the remaining references in Proverbs to a tree of life. The next place we find mention of the phrase, tree of life, is in Proverbs 11:3:
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
and whoever captures souls is wise.
Jesus is not only wisdom personified, he becomes our righteousness and our sanctification and redemption. The fruit of our life in Christ is fullness that we begin to experience in this life, which is just a foreshadowing of the Fullness of Life to be experienced when we pass on to eternal life where “the” Tree of Life stands by the river flowing from the throne of God.
The next place the tree of life appears is Proverbs 11:12:
Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
God has placed eternity in our hearts. We all sense that, but we live far from the reality of that statement. We are currently separated from the Tree of Life. We sense it as if it were something that has been lost, something that is within reach but which we cannot quite take hold of. This is hope deferred.
We recognize the sickness, which to us is a kind of longing for the “way things out to be” (much different than the reality we experience). The universal sense of most people is that things are not quite right. We strive for justice, but we continue to live in a world of injustice. We long for love and eternal life. We sense that they are attainable, but we fall ever short of grasping them.
Our fathers/mothers can only pass on to us that which they have – from dust to dust is that reality. From the corruption resulting from sin, we can only receive from our ancestors what they have to give – that which is of the flesh, corrupted by sin. When we choose to give ourselves to Christ, we experience being born again, being born from above, and we begin to taste and experience the fullness of life that is from God.
Tim Keller says that the hope that is deferred is not just eternal life, but fullness of life. We experience fullness of life only in connection with God in Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When we receive Christ as our Lord and Savior and the indwelling of the Spirit, we begin to experience and to know something of the fullness of life lost in the garden by our ancestors.
The final place the reference to a tree of life is found in Proverbs is at 15:4:
A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
The Prophet Isaiah said long ago, about 700 years before Jesus was born:
How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
In the very next chapter (53), Isaiah makes what is very likely the most profound and uncanny prophecy in the entire Old Testament. He describes the coming, crucifixion and death of Jesus for our sins in such detail that one might be tempted to believe Isaiah wrote this after the fact – not 700 years before it occurred. Jesus tells us the entire Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets, is about Him.
Jesus is the antidote to our sickness. He is the bread of life and a tree of life for us in this earthly existence that foreshadows for us the Tree of Life that is found in the final chapter of the story of our creation, fall and eventual redemption.
The Tree of Life that was made available in the beginning when the creation God made was good and Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of the evening is there waiting for us in the end. We can also taste of it now as Jesus makes Himself available to us, to all who have called upon His name and given themselves to Him.
(I have wondered what would have happened and how things might be different if Adam and Eve had eaten of the Tree of Life, rather than tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If they had eaten of the tree of life, would they have had eternal life at that point? Would one bite have given them eternal life? Or is the tree of life something that must be consumed over and over again?)
 Revelation 22:1-2 (“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. ”)
 1 Corinthians 30-31 (“you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”)
 Ecclesiastes 3:11
 Isaiah 52:7
 Isaiah 53
1 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes[c] his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied
by his knowledge[f] my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
 See for instance, John 5:39 (“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me….”); and Luke 24:27 (“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”)