Adam and Eve lived in a garden in the centre of the land of Eden. In the middle were two trees, perhaps forming the apex of this Temple—for it was a Temple. This was the most holy place (Genesis 2).
They had one simple rule, which we are largely familiar with: eat whatever you like, enjoy the bounty of the Garden, except do not eat from this tree, one of two which stood in the centre, dubbed the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in most of our translations. It would probably be better to translate it as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Bad. Or more clearly, the Tree of Wisdom, or the Tree of Judgement.
Adam had a mission, to fill the earth and rule over it, which he failed because he took instead of waiting to receive. It seems likely that as he matured and came into his kingship he would have been given to eat of the tree of wisdom. Instead, he took, and desolation marred the Garden, spreading outwards in cracks that mar all things ever since.
When Jesus was faced with the same choice in a Garden on a mountain surrounded by olive trees—at Gethsemane—he chose to wait and receive rather than taking, knowing it would cost him everything. As a result, he was exalted to the highest place (Philippians 2), crowned with honour and glory (Hebrews 2), and declared king of the cosmos. Or, to put it another way, he ate from the tree of wisdom.
Two kinds of fruit
These two trees with two different kinds of fruit sound mysterious until we think about patterns in the scriptures. Two trees, one of which is ready to be eaten straight away and provides life. The other requires maturity on the part of the eater, and perhaps has to mature itself.
Does that remind you of anything? To me they sound like bread and wine.
Let me try to prove that too you. Bread, the food of life in the Bible, which we see everywhere from the Psalms to the Lord’s Prayer. Wine, which takes years to make well, is a drink that has to mature and is drunk by the mature. Bread is breakfast, wine is dinner—or at least I hope it is—one comes before the other.
James Jordan would argue that the tree of life is fuel, morning food, and the tree of judgement is enthronement or investiture, it’s evening food.
They are always paired in the Bible too; we might think of Joseph’s internment between a baker and a cupbearer—two trees—but to get the picture we should look at the practice in the tabernacle and the Temple. Bread was baked and laid on the table (Leviticus 24), sometimes called the showbread because it was displayed (literally: bread in rows), also called the bread of the presence or the facebread (because it faces the most holy place). After they entered the land wine was poured and set out on the table (Numbers 15). The bread would be eaten by the priests after it had been displayed, the wine poured out on the floor (Genesis 35 sets the precedence).
They ate the bread, but not the wine.
Why not? Because the king hadn’t eaten of the tree of wisdom yet—because the people hadn’t matured, and therefore because the wine hadn’t.
So then in the new covenant we eat of bread and drink of wine as our worship to God. Why? Because Jesus has approached the tree of wisdom and passed its tests, receiving instead of taking, and paid its price—he was nailed to it. Leaving him free to eat its fruit and share it with his church.
Of course, the joke is that he is its fruit. We eat the bread and drink the wine and they are the body and blood of our Lord.
How do we know the cross is the tree of wisdom? Two reasons. Firstly, symbolically the tree of good and bad brought death to Adam and Eve, that death is overturned (Romans 5) in the death of Christ for all who trust him. The tree that he is nailed to, the cursed tree (Galatians 3), is the tree that brought death. His blood seasoned its grain until it bore rich fruit pressed into wine (Revelation 14). If that isn’t clear enough, we could just as easily call it the Tree of Judgement.
Secondly, when the trees appear again in the garden city (Revelation 21) it is not two trees but one tree that stands on both sides of the bank—the tree of life. Judgement has become life, they are intertwined. Wisdom has already been given to the church, and now twelve kinds of fruit adorn the life-tree’s branches.
What difference would this way of reading the Bible make?
Well, it makes seeing the Lord’s Supper in the Old Testament that bit easier, but more clearly it helps us grasp what happens at the Table—we participate in the cosmic drama that started in Eden and runs to the heavenly Jerusalem.
On a bigger scale (but not more importantly) it changes the way we think of wisdom or judgement: this is the blood-bought gift of Christ, a gift of kings, given to many heirs already anointed for service. It’s ours to inherit, learn, and wield.
Which might not sound like a lot, until you start to open up the Old Testament, when it brings all kinds of insights—but I’ll let you enjoy finding some of those for yourself.
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