Eat from the Tree of Life!

What is the best possible food? In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Jesus offers the fruit of the tree of life, Revelation 2:1-7. Revelation 2 and 3 contain letters addressed to each of the seven churches. They follow a similar format: a greeting or address, Jesus’ self-identification, commendation (except Laodicea), rebuke (except Smyrna and Philadelphia) accompanied by a warning, exhortation, and a promise. In the case of Ephesus, that promise is amazing.

Be intolerant! Persevere. Ephesus was the best port city for traders coming into the province. Business and religion mixed in the city. It was the site of a great temple to Artemis (remember the riot described in Acts 19) as well as temples connected with emperor worship. If you lived in Ephesus you faced tremendous pressure to conform, to join (even if just for business reasons) in the idolatry that permeated the city. But the church had not given in. Jesus, who holds the seven stars (representing the angels of the seven churches) walks among the lampstands (representing the churches themselves). He knows the churches and how they are doing. He has seen the faithful hard work of the church. He has seen them persevere. Perseverance is crucial to your life as a believer and to the life of the church as a whole. Your good works, never the basis for your salvation, must be there if you are to see the Lord.

Hate what God hates. Jesus commends the church for hating what he hates—the practices of the Nicolaitans. While we cannot say for sure what the teaching and practice of this group was, the context of Revelation 2:14-16, 20 suggests that they promoted or at least allowed compromise with the idolatry and sexual immorality of the culture. As Paul made his farewell to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20) he warned of the danger of wolves in sheep’s clothing. In 1 Timothy we learn that he left his assistant there to deal with those who were teaching wrong things. The danger persists. Your Lord calls you to be intolerant of the immorality of your culture. Be aware of how easily it affects the church and your own thinking. Be intolerant of sin, not just out there in the world, not only when you see it infiltrating the church, but most importantly, be intolerant of sin when it infects your life. Hate what God hates!

Do not forsake your first love. What was “the first love” of the church at Ephesus? As strong as his praise of the church at Ephesus is, Jesus still has a firm rebuke. They have left their first love. What is that first love? Love for God? Love for fellow believers? Love for their unbelieving neighbors? The answer is, all of the above. The first and greatest commandment leads to the second. Love for God is related to love for neighbor. John 4:20-21 connects love for God with love for our brothers. As you do battle with things that threaten the church and might undermine your relationship with God, it is easy to fail to love. The sin is serious enough that the One tending the lampstands threatens to return and remove the lampstand. A church that does not reflect the character of God has failed at a crucial point to be the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Paul also had emphasized the balance of truth and love that makes the church grow (e.g., ‘speaking the truth in love,’ Eph. 4:15). Having heeded the apostles’ emphasis on truth, this church had slipped off the balance by neglecting love. Unless corrected, the loss would prove lethal to the church’s light-bearing mission in its city.” (Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, p. 72).

When you fail to love, repent! The warning is severe. The threat is real. But the warning points you to what you need to do. Repent. Turn away from your sin. Hate it and forsake it.

Eat from the tree of life. The tree in the Garden of Eden symbolized glorious life to come. Eden was not an end in itself. Temptation there was not to be the ultimate existence for Adam and Eve. The tree of life would have confirmed and sealed them in the glory they might have inherited, had they not sinned—almost in a sacramental way. But, of course, they sinned and were barred from access to the tree.

The tree reappears in the new heavens and earth. That tree reappears in our text and in Revelation 22:1-2. There it has grown and is even more splendid than in the original garden. It reaches both sides of the river, and has 12 kinds of fruit for the healing of the nations. God has drawn mankind into fellowship with him in the new heavens and earth, in the glorious garden city, the bride of the Lamb. “The tree of life stands in the midst of the garden. The garden is the ‘garden of God,’ not in the first place an abode for man as such, but specifically a place of reception of man into fellowship with God in God’s own dwelling place. . . . The correctness of this is verified by the recurrence of this piece of symbolism in eschatalogical form at the end of history, where there can be no doubt concerning the principle of paradise being the habitation of God, where He dwells in order to make man dwell with Himself. . . . The tree was associated with the higher, the unchangeable, the eternal life to be secured through the probation.” (Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, pp. 37-38).

Jesus give you the right to eat from that tree. How can you eat the fruit of the tree the way to which was barred for Adam by cherubim with a flaming sword? Between the tree in the garden and the one offered to you in Revelation 2:7 (and 22:1-2) stands another tree, not of life, but of death. There the Son of Man gave his life. He is the One who died and lives again, forever and ever! He took both the guilt and the punishment you deserve when he hung on that tree. Now he offers you the fruit of the tree of life, not as an escape back to Eden, but as the way into the new heavens and earth, the glorious paradise of God, where you have fellowship with him forever. In that city are the river of life and the tree of life. In it there is no serpent, no temptation, no more curse. Jesus offers you this fruit now—eat of it and you begin to have eternal life. But it is also something future. As you have fellowship with your Lord by faith, you have the certainty that your new life in him will not disappear, even when you face death. The day of resurrection will come, and you will enjoy all the blessings of the new heavens and earth—just as certainly as your Lord is there at the right hand of his Father.

So, persevere. Stand strong in the faith, hating what God hates. Do not abandon your first love—and if you have, repent. Above all, receive from the Son of Man that wonderful fruit of the tree of life!