Thursday, May 12, 2011

Connections Between the Tree of Life in Revelation and the Psalms

"But his delight is in the law of the Lord...
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither."
(Psalm 1:3)

"Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of the street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."
(Revelation 22:1-2)
Here is something I've been thinking about with reference to these two verses. I'm not actually taking a stand here and arguing that this is the case, but I want to bounce this idea off of our readers and see what everyone thinks, because I can't find anyone who has ever discussed the relationship between these verses before.

There seems to be an allusion to Psalm 1:3 in the tree of life section of Revelation which I want to understand, but I can't find any commentaries that observe the connection. I'm defining an 'allusion' as when the New Testament refers to the Old Testament using similar imagery and language.

Look at the common features between the two:
  • The river
  • The location of the tree
  • The seasonableness of the fruit
  • The mention of the tree's leaves.
  • Chronologically they are structured the same: (River & Tree, Fruit, Leaves)
Another connection to keep in mind is the eschatalogical natures of Psalm 1 and Revelation 22. The first half of Psalm 1 describes the blessedness of the man who delights in the Lord. But the second half is a contrast where the wicked are described as chaff "which the wind drives away." It is said in verse 5 that the "wicked will not stand in the judgment."

No doubt, as most commentators point out, the river is a reference to Zechariah 14:8. However, there are many mentions of the tree of life in scripture to one degree or another, but none so clear and pronouncedly similar as these two references. As I see it, there are a few possibilities for understanding the nature of a relationship between Psalm 1 and Rev. 22:
  1. The author of Revelation was offering the fullest description of the tree of life possible and found that imagery in Psalm 1:3 but attached no significance meaning beyond imagery.
  2. Since Psalm 1:3 is a reference to the believer, then perhaps Revelation 22 is referring to the Church as the tree.
  3. The parallel usage of the imagery of Psalm 1:3 is coincidental.
  4. The imagery is drawn from many passages (Genesis 2:9-10, Ezekiel 47:12, and Psalm 1:3).
I cannot find any commentaries that see a connection between Rev. 22 and Psalm 1:3, and yet to me it seems undeniable. Option 3 seems completely out of the question. For my own part, I favor the fourth option. It seems to me that the Apostle John, in writing Revelation, was in fact, echoing the description of the tree of Genesis 2:10 but using the description from Psalm 1:3. The question is, how deep is the connection meant to go? The question really is, does the context of Psalm 1:3 carry over when it is quoted by the Apostle John? I guess I'm not prepared to say one way or the other, but if the context did carry over, then Revelation 22 is saying that the Church will be firmly planted along the river of life which flows from the throne, and the church would be bearing fruit for the healing of all the nations. Such an understanding has many applications:
  • The permanence of the Church's place in the new creation.
  • God is the source of her life and fruit.
  • The Church continues to glorify God in her fruitfulness.
  • Applying the eschatalogical nature of Psalm 1 to the tree of life also shows, once again, that the Church has endured while the wicked were carried away like chaff, just as was promised in Psalm 1. God has kept his promise to save His Church and to carry away the wicked in judgment.
I don't necessarily think that this interpretation is harmed by 22:14 which says that the blessed will "have the right to the tree of life." It is possible for the Church to be the tree of life and for the blessed individuals to have the right to that tree.

If someone else has a better understanding of these two verses, I would love to hear it. This is the best I could do without a commentary helping me out. Either way, doesn't it seem like there is enough of a similarity between these two verses that at least someone would have at least mentioned this in a commentary at some point?


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