The Tree That Grew On Opposite Shores – another Biblical oddity

One of last week’s posts included this verse:

On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. (Revelation 22:2.)

I couldn’t help but wonder: how does that work? After all, this isn’t two trees that grow over a river from each side so their branches reach toward each other, mingling and mixing over the water below. How can a single tree grow on two separate shores?

The imagery is not false, even if it is not in our normal experience. It’s rather a lot like other joining-imagery the Bible uses.

  • Marriage is two people joining together so that the two become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6.)
  • God’s chosen people among the nations of the world are joined to God’s chosen people of the nation of Israel, a joining variously described as: two flocks of sheep under one Shepherd (John 10:14-16); wild olive branches grafted onto the cultivated olive tree (Romans 11:11-24); heirs coming together in a single body to inherit the promise of Christ (Ephesians 3:6).
  • Jesus is fully God and fully human in order to be our perfect Savior, which is a truth about Christ which theologians have labeled the Incarnation. (John 1:1, 14; Philippians 2:5-11.)

No Real Surprises

The tree of life in the new creation of Revelation 22 is simply one more example of God bringing together something we’d consider impossible to join together. He is showing that nothing is impossible for him, that his promises will come true even if they seem impossible to us.

The greatest of these joining-promises is this: God joins us to himself for eternity.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20.)

He has made peace for us through Christ, a peace we could not achieve on our own. And why? Because, as the Bible says, God is pleased to bring you to himself.

Can you believe it, that you being with God pleases him? This is the ultimate joining together that God does for us.

A single tree growing on opposite riverbanks is easy to imagine in comparison to God’s desire to reach out to us and bring us to himself just because it pleases him. Yet it is no less true.

Imagine that.

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17 Responses to The Tree That Grew On Opposite Shores – another Biblical oddity

  1. janehinrichs says:

    Tim, This is one of the things I look forward to — seeing that Tree of Life with my own eyes. Wow.

  2. Jeannie says:

    I agree with Jane — I don’t know what it will be like exactly but I look forward to seeing it! Thanks for helping us think about this paradox, Tim.

  3. Brian says:

    Tim,this is some brilliant insight into his word be encouraged to keep pressing on in your own life cuz you are really blessing a lot of people ,I’m one of em.

  4. “The tree of life in the new creation of Revelation 22 is simply one more example of God bringing together something we’d consider impossible to join together.
    “He has made peace for us through Christ, a peace we could not achieve on our own. And why? Because, as the Bible says, God is *pleased* to bring you to himself.”

    Words of encouragement I needed today, Tim. Thank you. And they knocked the snarky “maybe it was a mangrove tree” right out of me.

    • Tim says:

      God’s word sometimes uses snark (think Elijah and the prophets of Baal) and sometimes it knocks the snark right out of you!

  5. Manie says:

    Hi Tim, thanks for another interesting post! An enjoyable read, as always.

    In this case, I think the picture in Revelation 22:2 is actually of a river with trees growing on either side of it. The Greek has no article “the” (as in the English translation you quote), and this is most probably a collective singular. In many languages, saying “the rubber tree grows in tropical countries” means exactly the same as “rubber trees grow in tropical countries”.

    Also, the image in Revelation is reminiscent of Ezek 47:12, “On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” This does not necessarily imply that John saw exactly the same tree(s) in his vision as the prophet Ezekiel, but the similarities in the scene are fascinating.

    I don’t at all mean to be pedantic or hyper-critical; this is just the kind of stuff I love and work with. :0)

    • Tim says:

      I thought of the Ezekiel passage too, Manie, where it’s clear that there are many trees on the banks. The idea of tree as a collective word also crossed my mind. But in Genesis there is one tree of life, and this new garden is the return to that Edenic creation so the idea that there is one tree as in Genesis is as likely (or perhaps more so) as there being many trees as in Ezekiel.

      • Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Tim! I suppose it comes down to interpretation. Rather than a return to the Edenic creation (including one tree) as you propose, this could also very well represent an escalated version of the paradisal state (a bigger, more glorious city, Temple, etc., and also a whole grove of the Tree of Life where the Garden of Eden had but one specimen). So I still seem to see the Greek text describing a river bordered by the Tree of Life (various trees on either side), although the interpretation you propose makes for some beautiful imagery, as described in your post.

        Incidentally, most English versions follow the interpretation “the Tree of Life” (supplying the article that is absent in the Greek), but some (e.g. REB and NLT) seem to read this as at least two trees, translating the Greek more literally as “on either side of the river stood a tree of life”. Language can be quite interesting indeed…

        • Tim says:

          Thanks for the insights on the original Greek, Manie, and your suggestion of the escalated version of the original creation. Those really help bring understanding to the passage. I think regardless of whether John’s vision was of one tree or a grove of them running along the riverbank, the point is as Aimee said below: there is one source of life and he is God alone, the one from whom the river of life flows and the one who created the tree of life itself.

  6. Aimee Byrd says:

    So, on social media you said this is your 666th post. Very fitting to have it be about the reverse of the curse. I see this as why we have the imagery of the tree of life being on both banks of the river. God’s life-giving healing power of God is abundantly showered on the bride of Christ. And just as Ps. 1 tells us that the man who delights in the law of God is like a tree planted by the rivers of water, we see here the tree of life planted in the life-giving waters of the Holy Spirit, flowing from the throne of God.

    • Tim says:

      Great comparison to Psalm 1, Aimee. God is the living water, and desires that we find our sustenance in him alone. The vision in Revelation shows that life flows from God and no other source gives life at all, right? There is only one tree of life, only one river of life.

      P.S. I wish I could say that I planned on post 666 being based on a passage from Revelation but I’m nowhere near that clever. I didn’t notice the connection until after I had everything set up for publishing.

  7. Mary Anne says:

    Yet another good metaphor for how a “tree” (=the Cross) bridges the gap between one shore and another.

    As for me, I want to see those gates that are each made of one large pearl. Think of the oyster that made THOSE! 8-D

  8. Tim says:

    Thanks for that wonderful connection to the cross, Mary Anne!

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