By Scott Anderson
Genesis is an origin story, a glimpse into our common past. In Genesis, we find a description of how the world was formed, how humans were created, and how the bond of marriage was instituted. We have an explanation of how evil entered God’s good creation and of our responsibility for our alienation from God and from one another.
Revelation is an apocalypse, a vision of our future. In Revelation, we find a description of how God will restore creation and reconcile us to Godself and to one another.
Genesis begins in a garden. The garden is watered by four rivers. It is lush with vegetation. And, at its center, are two trees: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life.
Revelation ends not in a garden, but in a city, a city with only one river—the River of Life—and only one prominent tree: the Tree of Life.
The water of life, bright as crystal, flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Rev. 22:1-2)
The city has no Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil for there is no need for moral discernment and no room for religious disputes. Indeed, in the city there is no temple, “for its temple is the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb” (Rev. 21:22). Knowing God, not knowing about God, is the route to salvation and to eternal life. (John 17:3).
In the City of God, our attempts to enforce our preferred version of God’s morality are banished. In the city of God, our views, even our well-considered, justly grounded views, are irrelevant. Here, only one perspective—Jesus’s perspective—is noteworthy. Jesus claims His place as the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. (Rev 22:13).
Jesus and the Holy Spirit issue an invitation for all to join together in the City of God:
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. (Rev 22:17).
Those who accept the invitation can expect a return to Eden, a place where one’s intimate relationship with God provides a respite from the deep senses of lack and loss that unbridgeable distance and unfulfilled desires bring to the soul:
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; The sun will not strike them, Nor any scorching heat;
For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, And he will guide them to the springs of the water of life, And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Rev 7:16-17).
The lessons of Revelation are the lessons provided by the one tree, the sole tree that survives the unfolding narrative of human history, the Tree of Life:
Being “God’s chosen” means nothing when all are invited.
Disputes over beliefs mean nothing when all are beloved.
Having access to God’s mind means nothing when He has already implanted in His heart in each of us.
If this is the Revelation, then the Apocalypse—often portrayed as an end-times battle between good and evil, a holocaust burning the world and purifying the righteous—becomes the Gospel, the Good News:
God, not willing that anyone should perish, provides the eternal Tree of Life.
Jesus leads us to the living water that sustains both the Tree and us.
The Spirit offers the water of life to everyone who is thirsty.
The story of the Bible is the story of the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life has always been at the center of human existence. It was at the center of the Garden of Eden. It was on the summit of Golgotha. It is in the city of the living God.
The question for us is the question asked of Adam, the question asked of the religious leaders of Jesus’ time: Will you accept the fruit of the Tree of Life to satisfy your every need? Or will you rely on your efforts, your knowledge, your sense of pride in power or place or position to ground your “good life”?
Adam and Eve chose knowledge and death, and we are appalled. The Pharisees chose power and death, and we are appalled.
How will we choose?