Then Yahweh God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us to know good and evil; and now, lest he send forth his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever”—therefore Yahweh God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken.
So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22-24)
On God’s part, salvation requires security. This is a very important point. Because right after the fall, we’ve got a serious problem.
Man now has the knowledge of good and evil experientially – not in the sense of knowing good and evil outside of oneself, as God knows it, but in the sense of knowing good and evil inside.
Man knows enough now to be in danger. He’s experienced good and he’s experienced evil. He doesn’t like evil. And he would like to mitigate its circumstances. Wouldn’t you? If you were Adam, you’d be immediately looking for some way to get out of the mess you’d gotten yourself into, right?
He was feeling things he’d never felt before, and dealing with attitudes and impulses and lusts and desires he’d never experienced before. He felt shame. He knew he was dying. He knew there was a moral, spiritual consequence as well as a physical consequence to what he had done, and he now understood the impact of that consequence. He would want to do anything he could to rectify that.
If you were heading toward death, the natural inclination would be to spin around and head toward the tree of life, right? You’d say to your wife, “If we can get to that tree of life, we won’t die. We’ll be OK. Maybe that’s why it’s here. Isn’t that great?”
They knew enough to realize that goodness was better than evil. And feeling the tremendous impact of evil, they would want to run back to what they might perceive as the way of mitigating that evil.
But God can’t let them do that. God sends them out.
What this indicates, first of all, is that Eden existed for some time after the fall. It was still there. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was still there, and the tree of life was still there. All the rest of the paradise of God was still there. The rivers that flowed through it were still there. It existed for some time.
We don’t know how long it existed. It would have been destroyed, ultimately, at the time of the flood, but it could have died off long before that. We don’t have any way to know that. But at this particular time after the fall, the tree of life was still there. And if they ate of it, they would live forever.
Now, remember this: The eternal life in the tree of life is not in the botany of the tree. It’s not in the DNA of the tree. It’s not something in the chemical of the fruit. It is simply by divine decree that the tree would give life. It’s simply because that’s what God said it would do and, therefore, that’s what it would do.
You say, “Well, isn’t that a good thing? They could just run over there and eat and it would neutralize the effects of death and they would live forever.” But here’s the problem: They would live forever as wicked, depraved, fallen sinners.
That’s not good. It’s tough enough to get through your 40s and 50s and 60s. You get pretty sick of it. To live forever as a fallen, wretched, wicked sinner is not a blessing.
God has something much better. You know what He has? He says, “Die, and I will raise you in a new kind of life without sin. And then you’ll live forever.” Much better.
You know, eternal life as a fallen sinner – that’s what hell is. There’s no hope of deliverance from decay, no hope of deliverance from wretchedness. It’s a condition where the worm never dies, the fire is never quenched, where you’re weeping and wailing forever because there is never any end to your wretched wickedness.
If Adam and Eve had remained in the garden, the temptation to overpower death by eating would have been overwhelming, and they would have gone straight to that tree thinking they could neutralize the effects of death by eating from the tree of life. And they would have sentenced themselves to the most gruesome kind of living.
God didn’t want them to do that. It would have been a just punishment if God had said, “OK, have at it and sentence yourself to a hell of perpetual, eternal wretchedness.” But He wouldn’t do that. I believe He wouldn’t do that because they belonged to Him.
It’s an affirmation that His atonement had been applied to them. Even though Christ hadn’t yet died, Christ’s atonement was applied to them upon the evidence of their faith in the promises of God. And now they belong to God.
God had applied the symbol of His covering in the skins that He made for them. And here is further evidence of their salvation, in that God prevents them from ever going to hell.
God says, “It is better that you get out of the garden and never touch that tree. It is better that you die. Then I will raise you again in a new kind of life, and you can live forever – not in wretchedness, but in holy perfection. Instead of eternal sorrow, you can experience eternal joy.”
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 2000, titled “The Promise of Redemption, Part 2.” In addition to serving as the pastor of Grace Community Church and the voice of Grace to You, Dr. MacArthur is the chancellor of The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, Calif. You can learn more about TMU at masters.edu.
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