Question: "What is the meaning of the tree of life?"
Answer: The tree of life, referred to in Genesis, is the symbol of God’s provision for immortality in the Garden of Eden. Of all the trees that were in the Garden of Eden, two were named for their great importance, but just as one—the tree of life—was a blessing to Adam and Eve, the other was to become a curse for all of their posterity. “And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9).
The Lord told Adam that he was free to eat the fruit of any tree in the Garden, except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for by doing so he would surely die (Genesis 3:16-17). The tree of life was provided to be continuous reminder that immortality was a consequence of obedience. As long as Adam and Eve were obedient and did not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they had access to the tree of life. Once they sinned, they were driven from the Garden, and God placed an angel with a flaming sword to guard the tree of life so they would no longer have access to it. Eternal life was now no longer theirs. Just as God had warned, they died, and through Adam all men after him would die (Romans 5:12).
By barring access to the tree of life, God showed compassion in His omniscience. Knowing that because of sin, life would be filled with sorrow and toil, He graciously limited the number of years men would live. To live eternally in a sinful state with its results—pain, disease, heartache, toil, and grief—would mean endless agony for humanity, with no hope of the relief that comes with death. By limiting our lifespan, God gives us enough time to come to know Him and His provision for eternal life through Christ, but spares us the misery of an endless existence in a sinful condition.
Because God knew that Adam would fail the conditions of his immortality, He provided for One who would redeem fallen mankind. Through one man, Adam, sin entered the world, but through another Man, Jesus Christ, redemption through the forgiveness of sin is available to all (Romans 5:17). Those who avail themselves of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross will see the tree of life again, for it stands in the middle of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2, 22:1-2). Its water is the constant flow of everlasting life from God’s throne to God’s people.