What Is the Tree of Life?
In Revelation, after the apostle John describes the river of life, he mentions another striking feature: “On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2).
The tree of life is mentioned three times in Genesis 2, in Eden, and again four times in Revelation, three of those in the final chapter. These instances seem to refer to Eden’s literal tree of life. We’re told the tree of life is presently in Paradise, the intermediate Heaven (Revelation 2:7). The New Jerusalem itself, also in the present Heaven, will be brought down, tree of life and all, and placed on the New Earth (Revelation 21:2). Just as the tree was apparently relocated from Eden to the present Heaven, it will be relocated again to the New Earth.
In Eden, the tree appears to have been a source of ongoing physical life. The presence of the tree of life suggests a supernatural provision of life as Adam and Eve ate the fruit their Creator provided. Adam and Eve were designed to live forever, but to do so they likely needed to eat from the tree of life. Once they sinned, they were banned from the Garden, separated from the tree, and subject to physical death, just as they had experienced spiritual death. Since Eden, death has reigned throughout history. But on the New Earth, our access to the tree of life is forever restored. (Notice that there’s no mention of a tree of the knowledge of good and evil to test us. The redeemed have already known sin and its devastation; they will desire it no more.)
In the New Earth, we will freely eat the fruit of the same tree that nourished Adam and Eve: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). Once more human beings will draw their strength and vitality from this tree. The tree will produce not one crop but twelve. The newness and freshness of Heaven is demonstrated in the monthly yield of fruit. The fruit is not merely to be admired but consumed.
The description of the tree of life in Revelation 22 mirrors precisely what’s prophesied in the Old Testament: “Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47:12).
Commentator William Hendriksen suggests:
“The term ‘tree of life’ is collective, just like ‘avenue’ and ‘river.’ The idea is not that there is just one single tree. No, there is an entire park: whole rows of trees alongside the river; hence, between the river and the avenue. And this is true with respect to all the avenues of the city. Hence, the city is just full of parks, cf. Rev. 2:7. Observe, therefore, this wonderful truth: the city is full of rivers of life. It is also full of parks containing trees of life. These trees, moreover, are full of fruit.”
This broader view of the tree of life would account for the fact that the tree grows on both sides of a great river at once and yields twelve different kinds of fruit. (Of course, even if Hendriksen is wrong in supposing that the tree of life is collective, it is reasonable that just as there were other trees in Eden, there will be other trees on the New Earth.)
John also tells us that “the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2). For the third time in Revelation 21–22, the inhabitants of the New Earth are referred to as nations. Nations will not be eliminated but healed. But since we won’t experience pain or disease in Heaven, what’s the point of leaves for healing? Perhaps they, like the tree’s fruit, will have life-sustaining or life-enhancing properties that will help people maintain health and energy. Our physical life and health, even our healing, comes not from our intrinsic immortal nature but from partaking of God’s gracious provision in the fruit and leaves of the tree of life. Hence, our well-being is not granted once for all but will be forever sustained and renewed as we depend on Him and draw from His provision.
 William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1961), 249.