The tragic story of the Garden of Eden has haunted the soul of man for thousands of years, offering its clues to the mystery of the human condition, and the hope of man’s restoration to his created purpose. That hope is expressed in two special trees that stood out from all the other trees in the Garden: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life.
You know the story.1 Deceived by the serpent, the woman ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, although it was the only tree forbidden to them. The man joined in her rebellion, and the two were banished from the Garden, never to eat from the tree of life. But where is the hope in that? Surprisingly, it lies in the words God spoke to the woman, to the man, and to the serpent regarding the consequences of their rebellion.
He told the woman that she would bring forth children with much pain and effort, that she would desire her husband, and that she would submit to his rule. Likewise the man would bring forth crops from the earth by the sweat of his brow, to provide and care for his family, and he would rule lovingly over his wife. These are the terms of an everlasting covenant with their Creator by which they could stay within the boundaries approved by their conscience. It is the essence of what it means to live by the knowledge of good and evil, for that is the tree from which they chose to eat.
The faithfulness of a woman to her husband and children, and the faithfulness of a man to his wife and family, is the foundation of all morality. Without it human society decays, and indeed the earth also, as the prophet Isaiah said, “The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, changed boundaries, broken the everlasting covenant.”2 Thousands of years later we see all too clearly the devastating effects of man’s unfaithfulness in both human society and the ravaged earth.
Yet each one of us is accountable for the impact of our own life on the lives we have touched and even the earth itself. We will neither be condemned nor acquitted based on the condition of the society into which we were born, or by comparison with others more righteous or wicked than ourselves, but only by the record of our own conscience. Each one of us is born with the knowledge of good and evil inscribed in our conscience, for that is the “tree” we were born under, so to speak. We know instinctively that keeping a good conscience has its eternal reward, and that living in contempt of conscience also has its eternal reward. This expectation of eternal consequences based on the way a person lives his life is common to all cultures, regardless of religion.
How then should we live our short life in this age? Our days are numbered.3 Inevitably death awaits us, and then the judgment. And then what? According to the Bible, it is either a second and unending life, or a second and unending death. There is a chilling passage near the very end of the Bible, in the book called the Revelation:
He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still. Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. (Revelation 22:11-12)
The word still here means to remain in that state forever. The way you live your life eventually becomes set in your character and determines how and where you will spend eternity. Four different classifications of people are identified here — unjust, filthy, righteous, and holy — which describe all of humanity. Perhaps you will be able to see yourself in one of these, and consider whether you want to remain there still.
To be unjust is to disregard the rights, needs, and suffering of others in the decisions you make, especially for the sake of your own comfort and advantage. For some this is a way of life — they are the unjust. Some are lawyers who use their wit to help the guilty avoid the just consequences of their crimes; or judges who condemn the innocent or acquit the guilty; or politicians who advance themselves by flattery and empty promises, using their office for their own personal gain; or doctors who prescribe unnecessary tests and procedures in order to generate income; or reporters and publishers who exaggerate or misrepresent stories to appeal to people’s lower nature, or to advance their own agenda; or merchants who knowingly sell faulty merchandise; or craftsmen and laborers who do shoddy work; or even the middle-aged man who forsakes his wife for a younger woman after she has borne his children and cared for his household for thirty years; or the woman who neglects the care of her children for the sake of her own career; or the lazy who live off the labor of others.4
There are countless examples, but they all have one thing in common. The unjust justify themselves in the pursuit and maintenance of their own comfort at the expense of the suffering of others. At the end of their lives they will have received their comfort in full.
The filthy are those who use and abuse others to gratify their own sexual cravings, as well as those who indulge and profit from the sexual cravings of others. The sexual desire and capacity of men and women were given to them by their Creator for the purpose of bonding one man and one woman together in a lifelong marriage covenant that bears the fruit of healthy, happy, and secure children. Sexual relationships outside of a lifetime commitment to love and care for the other person and the children that may be conceived is just selfish indulgence. It degrades everyone involved and decreases their capacity to form deep and lasting relationships.
The unjust and the filthy, although they may appear different outwardly, are really two sides of the same coin, and they will share the same eternal destiny. It is the place the Bible calls the Sea of Fire, which was prepared for the Evil One and his deceiving spirits.5 There will be room there for all who have followed these evil spirits in this life, suppressing the voice of their conscience to choose the evil over the good.
The righteous are those whose lives were characterized by faithfulness in their relationships, diligence in their work, and kindness toward the lives they touched. Although they were not perfect in it, they suffered to do the good they knew in their conscience, even when it cost them discomfort or rejection. They lived within the boundaries of the everlasting covenant in fear of their Creator. They will be restored to their created purpose and given a restored earth to care for and fill with their offspring, with no trace or influence from the Evil One. Although there are very few of them in comparison to the unjust and filthy, ultimately they will fill the universe, for the earth will be too small for them. That is their eternal destiny.
But who are the holy? That takes us back to the tree of life, and the words spoken to the serpent in the Garden long ago:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel. (Genesis 3:15)
This is the first promise in the Bible of the coming of a Savior who would bring an end to the tyranny of the Evil One on the earth. In the fullness of time, God sent His Son, born of a Hebrew virgin named Miriam7 who was betrothed to Yoceph.8 They called Him Yahshua,9 which means Yahweh’s Salvation. The prophecy calls Him her seed, even though “seed” (sperm) doesn’t come from woman, in order to emphasize that He would be human, born of woman, but not from the fallen seed of man.
There is a lot more that could be said about this miraculous birth, but space doesn’t allow it here. The point is that Yahshua did not inherit the fallen nature of Adam, but was from His conception vitally connected to God. Although He was human, His spirit was organically “one” with the Holy Spirit in His human spirit.10 He lived in constant communion with His Father, eating from the tree of life just as Adam had the potential of doing before he fell. Yahshua’s life of unbroken communion with His Father put Him on a collision course with the religious leaders of His day who were threatened by His spiritual authority. But when they who were controlled by the Evil One crucified this perfectly innocent man, they unwittingly sealed the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15.
Yahshua bruised the serpent’s head, being bruised on the heel Himself in the process. He overcame the Evil One, never giving in to the voice of the tempter, for He would only heed the voice of His Father. Having no sin of His own, He willingly took all of our sins upon Himself, dying and going into death in our place. But because the Evil One had no claim on Him, death could not hold Him, and He rose triumphantly from death. Now He is at His Father’s side, waiting for His enemies to be crushed under His feet.11
You see, the serpent’s head was bruised, but not crushed.12 That is where the holy come in. By His death, Yahshua opened the way to the tree of life so that a people could walk in the same way He did. Those who are weary of their own sin and the death sentence it merits, and who see Yahshua as worthy of their whole life, will leave everything behind to follow Him — not only their sin, but everything — family, career, possessions. They will become a set-apart people, wholly devoted to Him, for that is what holy means. They become His visible, tangible Body on earth, living together and loving one another just as their Messiah Yahshua loved them. Through their vital communion with Him they overcome just as He did, putting all of His enemies under their feet. Then He will return for them, as a bridegroom comes for his bride, bringing an end to this fallen age as they crush the serpent’s head.13 Together they will rule through all eternity over the righteous people who will fill the earth and the universe in the ages to come.
Have you considered what path you are on, and where it is leading? We would love to talk with you about it. You are welcome to call or visit any of our communities.