Then said he to me, See you do it not: for I am your fellow servant, and of your brothers the prophets…
(with Genesis 3:24): —
I. THE TREE OF LIFE IN THE GARDEN OF INNOCENCE. This picture supplies us with two important facts. One is that primitive man was not at all handicapped in his first moral struggle by any circumstances arising out of the manner of his creation. There does not seem to be any reason in the nature of things, or in the nature of man as he was originally constituted, why he should of necessity have disaster and defeat as pre-conditions of ultimate victory. The tree of life was there in the garden within possible reach, and if man had conquered instead of being conquered, no cherubim could have prevented his tasting of this ambrosial fruit and so entering into life. It is true that conflict is necessary in passing from innocence to virtue, but conflict is not necessarily defeat. There is the nobler alternative of victory, which was exemplified by the second Adam, the Son of Man, who fought over again the battle of humanity, and won it from first to last. So we are led to another fact that man's first moral action constituted a real failure, that there occurred in the beginning of human history a veritable moral "fall." The tree of life in the garden of innocence is no meaningless figure. It reveals what might have been if man had been victorious in Eden. The splendid prize here forfeited serves already to show the exceeding sinfulness of sin.
II. THE TREE OF LIFE IN THE GARDEN OF GUILT. How, then, are we to translate the symbolic picture of the cherubim guarding with the sword of flame the tree of life from the approach of guilty man into every-day prose? It is simply the symbolic representation of the fulfilment of the law — "The soul that sinneth it shall die." The fact of guilt has shut man off from the life that had lain before him in his state of innocence as a glorious possibility. This once more emphasises the fact that sin was a real, and in itself an unmitigated disaster. The symbolic picture of the tree surrounded by strong cherubim reveals man's impotence to regain unaided what he had lost. No sin-defiled soul can challenge the dread cherubim, or tempt the blazing stroke of the awful sword, and live. Yet already the promise was given of One who, on behalf of poor humanity, should cleave His way through the fiery guard of righteousness to the tree of life, and lead thither many of earth's baffled children, who should be victors in His victory, and strong in His strength.
III. THE TREE OF LIFE IN THE CITY OF REDEMPTION: "Blessed are they that wash their robes." The kingdom of Life revealed in John's Revelation is a kingdom of Redemption, of which a Lamb as it had been slain, that is, the fact and power of a great all-availing sacrifice, is the centre. So we find that the new way to the tree of life is through the sacrifice of Christ, it is trodden by those that have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. The operation here indicated is twofold. The "washing of the robes" indicates on the one hand, the forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of Christ. Here is one side of the curse removed; the guilty are forgiven for the sake of the Beloved. But there is also another side. The sacrifice of Christ was also a victory. This supreme sacrifice for sin involved the destruction of sin. He that died all the more gloriously lived, and became the fount of eternal life to those that trust in Him. Hence in this book we are told that the saints overcome the evil one by the blood of the Lamb. So their robes are made white, not only by the forgiving love of God which is made possible by the great Sacrifice, but also by the spiritual power that comes through the crucified Christ. So in very deed their sins are washed away, and at length they are able to " stand in the eternal Light through the eternal Love." The tree of life meets us first in a " garden," but at last in a glorious " city." So God moves on in spite of sin, and leads the world through Christ to greater glory. It is not Eden regained that God gives us. Eden was but a garden, primitive, narrow, and circumscribed, suited for a life of simple innocence with little expansion or development of capacity and power. But redemption introduces us to a noble city with its complicated claims, its vast possibilities, and its myriad grandeurs. Leaving metaphor aside, God in Christ is calling us to a life full of large and noble and varied activity. Christian life should fill every sphere, be foremost in all true service for God and man, and reveal all the activities of life at their best.
(John Thomas, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.