I always thought this verse was so strange. Why is everything perfect except for that one tree? If God didn’t want them to touch the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then why did He put it there in the garden first place?
I am not a Bible scholar or a great theologian but what I gathered from study of the Bible and reading commentaries and other published works written by biblical scholars and theologians is that there was nothing evil about the tree itself or the fruit of the tree. It's also unlikely that the fruit, in and of itself, gave Adam and Eve any further knowledge. Adam was already smart because He named every animal that God created.
Genesis 2:19-20 NIV Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.
God had already said that everything He created was good.
Genesis 1:31 NIV God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
Plus, God had put him in charge of everything.
Genesis 1:26-29 NIV Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.
I think a lot of times we miss the point of what God was doing with that command. It’s not an arbitrary command but an invitation to intimacy.
God put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden to give Adam and Eve a choice to obey Him or disobey Him. If God had not given Adam and Eve the choice, they would have been robots, simply doing what they were programmed to do. God created Adam and Eve to be “free” beings, able to make decisions, able to choose between good and evil. For Adam and Eve to truly be free, they had to have a choice.
God allowed Satan to tempt Adam and Eve to force them to make the choice. Adam and Eve chose, of their own free will, to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit.
The results of Adam and Eve's decision; evil, sin, suffering, sickness, and death—have plagued the world ever since. Adam and Eve’s decision results in every person being born with a sin nature, a tendency to sin. Adam and Eve’s decision is what ultimately required Jesus Christ to die on the cross and shed His blood on our behalf. Through faith in Christ, we can be free from sin’s consequences, and ultimately free from sin itself.
The tree of life, mentioned in the books of Genesis and Revelation, is a life-giving tree created to enhance and perpetually sustain the physical life of humanity.
Genesis 2:9 NIV The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the trees of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Notice the both the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life were both located in the center of the Garden of Eden and would have been easily accessible to Adam and Eve from any point in the garden.
More details concerning the tree of life come after Adam and Eve’s sin:
Genesis 3:22-24 NIV And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
In his disobedience, Adam lost his eternal life. The tree of life in Eden must have had some role to play in maintaining the life of Adam and Eve. Adam would “live forever,” even in his fallen condition, if he had eaten the tree of life after his sin. God placed a sword-wielding cherub at the entrance to the garden specifically “to guard the way to the tree of life”.
Access to the tree of life would have prolonged Adam’s physical life indefinitely, dooming him to an eternity in a cursed world.
It was the mercy of God that kept us from the tree of life. By barring access to the tree of life, God showed compassion in His omniscience. Knowing that, because of sin, earthly life would be filled with sorrow and toil, God graciously limited the number of years men would live. To live eternally in a sinful state would mean endless agony for humanity, with no hope of the relief that comes with death. By limiting our lifespan, God gives us enough time to come to know Him and His provision for eternal life through Christ but spares us the misery of an endless existence in a sinful condition.
In His great love, God provided the One who would redeem fallen mankind.
Romans 5:17 NIV For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
Those who avail themselves of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross will be resurrected to see the tree of life again. It stands in the middle of the Holy City, New Jerusalem.
Revelation 22:1-2 NIV Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Access to the tree of life will be reinstated, and darkness will be ended, and Eden will be restored.
Revelation 22:5 NIV There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.