The Trees of Christ

The Trees of Christ

The Trees of Christ.

“Faithful cross! above all other, one and only noble tree!

None in foliage, none in blossom, none in fruit thy peer may be;

Sweetest wood, and sweetest iron! Sweetest weight is hung on thee.

Bend thy boughs, O tree of glory! Thy relaxing sinews bend;

For awhile the ancient rigor that thy birth bestowed, suspend;

And the king of heavenly beauty on they bosom gently tend.” 

(Honorius Fortunatus, 569 AD).


The Cross of Christ was understood to be a tree since the earliest days of the Faith… a tree of wood without its roots, leaves or branches. In those early days after Christ’s ascension, believers would refer to two interchangeable terms for the Cross: the “Wood” and the “Tree.” In the book of Acts, both Peter and Paul were reported to use the Greek word “xulon“, which could be translated either wood or tree. (Acts 5:30, 10:39, 13:29). Peter once again used the world “xulon” in his epistle, 1 Peter 2:24, translated as wood, tree, or cross, all interchangeable. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the (tree), that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” In the New Testament, the term tree was used in a general sense of anything constructed of wood, but in the case of the Cross it was not just any tree, it was “the Tree.” Some things made of wood could be used as a reference to the Cross. The prime example would be the wooden doorposts in Egypt covered in lamb’s blood. The Cross was seen as the wooden doorway to salvation and deliverance covered in the Lamb’s blood, a type of Cross, the Passover event of Jesus.

The Cursed Tree. According to the Law of Moses, anyone found guilty of a capital crime was to be “hung on a tree.” (Deut. 21:23). The Tanakh translated that phrase as meaning “impaled on a stake.” And that person who was executed was considered cursed by God. The execution was thus considered an act of divine vengeance, a sign of God’s rejection. God directed the scales of justice to be balanced in this way after the more serious disobedience to His instructions. Those who do evil suffer the consequences, the Lord is saying. In the Sinai Law there were 16 offenses that qualified for the death penalty and thus God’s curse: from murder and kidnapping to magic and bestiality; from adultery and incest to blasphemy and fornication. A person could even be executed for being seriously rebellious against one’s parents, such as striking or cursing them. The Tree of Calvary reveals an utterly pure Person, completely innocent of all those capital offenses, absorbing the curse and the guilt. Jesus never hurt anyone, He never broke the Law of Moses, and He certainly wasn’t a rebellious child to the heavenly Father or His earthly parents. Jesus actually became the curse of sin on the Cross, taking it completely into Himself, and then dissolving the curse through the Cross and the empty tomb. As Dr. David Stern said, “Messiah must come under the curse in order to pay the full penalty for sin required by God’s justice.” Jesus suffered through the execution-stake in our place. We are all sinners and deserve execution, but Jesus covered over our sins and we are forgiven. As St. Paul says in Galatians 3:13, “The Messiah redeemed us from the curse pronounced in the Law by becoming cursed on our behalf, for as the Scripture says,Everyone who hangs from a tree comes under a curse.

The Tree of Life. The early Christians loved calling the Cross the Tree of Life. The Cross was the life-giving tree that bore the fruit of eternal life. Believers receive the reality of everlasting life when we believe in Jesus and eat of the Tree.  The Cross was seen as the Tree that provides nourishment for those who have been redeemed in Christ, the Tree that gives spiritual shelter under its shady leaves. An ancient Christian hymn reads, “O Tree of Life, you surpass in greatness all the cedars of Lebanon, for on you was the Life-Giver of this world hung. The cross, which was a tree of death, was transformed into the Holy Cross, which is the Tree of Life.”  The early believers were convinced that the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden prefigured the Cross, an ancient picture of the Cross that anticipates the Tree of Calvary.

The Tree of Life in Eden was planted by God in the middle of the garden. It was put there to fulfill man’s destiny of eternal life, bearing the fruit of immortality. Those who ate of this tree “live forever.” (Gen 3:22). After Adam and Eve fell into a state of sin, God would not allow anyone to eat of the Tree of Life. This would have given sinners a hopeless life of eternal sin, a sinner’s life that would never end. A sinner who ate of this Tree would never achieve God’s eventual plan of immortality for mankind. This would be God’s worst nightmare, a humanity that would be wicked forever, a spiritual catastrophe. God needed to protect the Tree of Life at all costs, so He positioned cherubim at the Tree. Cherubim were and are the angel servants of God who accompany God’s glory around the Throne. Cherubim are those mighty and fearsome winged creatures created by God before the world began. We don’t know how many of these angels were stationed at the Tree of Life, but we do know that each angel wielded an awesome weapon, a revolving sword of fire, a flaming blade forged in heaven. These swords of fire turned in every direction, flashing back and forth to protect the Tree. We can imagine that the fires that forged these heavenly swords came from the celestial consuming fires of the glory of God.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The second tree planted by God in the Garden was also front and center, for a good reason. Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat of its fruit as a test of obedience, an opportunity God gave them to obey or disobey. God gave them the freedom to choose disobedience, to choose to become their own gods, to figure out for themselves what is good and evil, what is truly true. Satan succeeded in whispering words of insurrection, in convincing Eve and Adam to doubt God’s pure motives. Before Satan, they trusted in God’s goodness, they assumed that God wanted what was best for them. But what happened? Eve was beguiled into doubting God’s intentions when God laid down the law about the tree of knowledge and the fruit of that one particular tree. First, Eve was led to question God’s thinking. She was brought to the point of contradicting God, thinking that maybe God didn’t have their best interests in mind. She started thinking that maybe God doesn’t know what He’s doing. Then Eve elevated herself by going beyond His word of warning, desiring to see for herself why she should be limited by God in this way. Her prideful ambition at this point helped her to make that final step in disobeying God’s Word. She allowed Satan to fool her into thinking she could become independent from God. She chose to desire forbidden knowledge instead of trusting in God’s knowledge. She wanted that knowledge for herself. She fell for the oldest trick in the book… “You can become your own god! Don’t trust God’s motives, just defy His authority and become separate from Him and from all those rules. Don’t worry, you won’t die! God lied to you when He said that!” Hapless Adam, observing this interaction between Eve and the snake, could have intervened with a word of caution, but he didn’t. He simply took the forbidden fruit for himself, duplicating Eve’s sin. Adam and Eve, partners in crime. The first parents left us all something in their spiritual DNA, a genetic death wish, the tendency to repeat their monumental mistake of displacing God at the center. We humans in Adam and Eve’s extended family still have an essence of goodness, since we remain created in God’s image. But we are tainted and destined for separation from God. Adam and Eve broke their trust in God’s character, and they died a horrific spiritual death. And that’s what we have inherited from our first parents.

The Orthodox Church have a hymn that celebrates “The Tree that Heals the Tree.” Those startling words refer to the fact that the Cross healed the Tree of Knowledge. The effects of our fall from grace are healed. The Cross has healed the Tree of Knowledge’s infusion of evil into the good. The Tree of the Cross has healed the Tree of our fall. The old Adam ate from the fruit of the Tree and spiritually died, and now we can eat from the fruit of the Tree of Christ and live forever. The Tree of man’s downfall has been transformed into the Tree of our Resurrection, reversing the curse. The final Adam, Jesus, ate of the fruit of the Tree on the Cross, and has healed us of the sin of the first Adam. Another Orthodox hymn declares, “The blessed Wood, through which the eternal justice has been brought to pass. For he who by a Tree deceived our forefather Adam, is by the Cross himself deceived.”

The Tree of Heaven. “To those who overcome, I will give to eat from the Tree of Life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God… I’m about to call each conqueror to dinner! I’m spreading a banquet of Tree of Life fruit, a supper plucked from God’s orchard.” (Rev. 2:7; NKJ and MSG).  What a picture St. John paints for us in Revelation 22. There in Paradise, a pure river of crystal-clear water is flowing freely from the Throne of the Father and the Lamb. The water is John’s way of talking about the Holy Spirit. So there we can see the Trinity’s presence in the center of heaven, with the Father on the Throne, the Son on the Throne, and the Holy Spirit flowing right from their presence into heaven. And then he sees that the River is somehow flowing right through the Tree of Life, the Tree on both sides of the River as it travels through Paradise. A pure River of Life flowing right through the roots and bottom trunk of the Tree of Life! Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the restored Tree of Life is now ready to fulfill mankind’s destiny, the believer’s assurance of eternal life. This Tree, once planted in God’s first Paradise, is now planted in eternal Paradise. God desires to restore the Garden of Eden in the new heaven and the new earth, and so God has placed the restored Tree of Life in the middle of the new Kingdom. This Tree reverses the hostility and woundedness of the first rebellion, and is ready to be productive and useful, bearing a fruit that is ripe for each of the twelve months. Its leaves are intended for the permanent healing of the nations, the nurture and care of all people, Jew and Gentile. This restored Tree of Life in the New Jerusalem reverses the curse of the Garden of Eden. Jesus promises that all the overcomers, believers in Christ, will eat the fruit of this Tree in heaven, this Tree that heals our deadly wounds and gives us wholeness and everlasting life. The Tree of Life will be enjoyed by all those who participate in Christ’s victory and salvation.