Why did God prevent Adam from eating from the Tree of Life after he had sinned?
In Genesis 2:9, we are told that in the midst of the Garden of Eden, God placed the Tree of Life as well as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam was permitted to eat of every tree in the garden except for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God warned that if Adam ate of its fruit, he would surely begin to die. (See this article for an explanation of why that is the best understanding).
In Genesis 3, the Bible describes the fall of mankind and how sin, death, and suffering entered the world when Adam disobeyed God’s commandment and ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Towards the end of Genesis 3, we read:
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22–24)
This raises an interesting question. Why would God prevent Adam from eating from the Tree of Life after he had sinned? The Bible tells us that the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:26). But if death is an enemy, wouldn’t it have been a good thing for Adam to live forever by eating from the Tree of Life?
When Adam sinned, mankind became estranged from God and physical death entered the world. In this way, through one man, physical death entered the world (cf. Romans 5:12, 17), and through Adam, death now came to all men. If Adam had eaten from the Tree of Life after he sinned, he would have lived forever, but he would have lived in a state of eternal estrangement from God.
While death is tragic and an enemy to God’s perfect creation, this same curse of death, is also what allowed Christ to become incarnate as a man and to actually die on the cross as a ransom for His people. If Adam had eaten from the Tree of Life after he had sinned, all mankind would have lived forever, estranged from God; and Christ, our Kinsman-Redeemer, would not have been able to die on the cross in redemption. In other words, if God did not subject sinful humanity with a curse of death, sinful man would not have any chance of being reconciled back to God. If God did not prevent Adam from eating from the Tree of Life after he had sinned, a future redemption through the physical death of one of Adam’s descendants (Jesus Christ) would not have been possible.
So the irony of it all is that while the wages of sin is death, and while death is the last enemy that would eventually be destroyed at the final consummation of all things, the entrance of physical death is also the mechanism that allows for the Gospel of redemption.
No physical death, no redemption by a Kinsman-Redeemer, no hope for a future restoration and union with Christ.
So while death is an enemy, and while creation itself was subjected by God to futility, and while the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23); through Christ, one day, at the final consummation, death will lose its sting (1 Corinthians 15:54–56). Through Christ, the entrance of physical death into the world as a result of sin, serves as the means through which the Messiah would be able to reconcile His people back to Himself by dying on the cross in redemption. Through Christ, creation itself would one day be restored to its former glory and more. Finally, through Christ, all who believe in Him would one day be redeemed, resurrected and restored in perfect union with God; God will recreate a New Heaven and a New Earth, and death itself would one day be destroyed forever (1 Corinthians 15:26).
As Romans 8:20–23 explains, the entrance of physical death in Genesis 3, through Christ, serves the purpose of bringing about the eventual spiritual reconciliation and physical resurrection of all believers; and so that creation itself would one day be set free from the curse.
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
The biblical account of creation in Genesis, the historical reality of the fall of man, and the entrance of physical sin, are all central to the gospel and our blessed hope.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:1–5).
One day, all of creation would be restored to its former glory. Death, suffering, sin, and the curse will be done away with. When that happens, believers will once again have access to the Tree of Life which will once again be present in the New Heaven and New Earth. (Revelation 2:7, 22:2, 14, 19).
The historical reality of Adam’s exclusion from the Tree of Life in Genesis 3:22, the protevangelium of Genesis 3:15, and the God-Man of Genesis 4:1, all point us forward to what Jesus would eventually do on the cross ~2,000 years ago, and how the curse of sin would one day be destroyed. Together, these verses paint for us the foundational elements of the Gospel. Through the first Adam, death entered the world. Through the last Adam, Jesus Christ, death on the cross becomes the means through which Creation is reconciled and restored; and when all is completed, death itself, the last enemy, will be forever destroyed. (1 Corinthians 15:26).
This is the reason why God forbade Adam from eating from the Tree of Life after he had sinned.
The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). In other words, the reason we die and the reason we are in need of salvation is because we are all sinners. All of Adam’s descendants are sinful from conception (Psalm 51:5). Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Thankfully, we also know from the next three verses that follow, that Jesus came to undo the curse of sin and to grant us eternal life. How is this possible? The Bible tells us that to redeem us, God had to become incarnate as man, live a perfect sinless life on our behalf, and then, as our Kinsman-Redeemer, die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. By paying the penalty for sin through his death, those who believe in Him might be reconciled back to God (cf. John 3:16). As our substitute on the cross, Jesus satisfied the wrath of God through his death; and all believers are in turn credited with the righteousness that belongs to Christ. John 3:18 tells us that “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18). One day when Christ returns, Jesus will restore His (Acts 3:21) creation to a state where once again, there will no longer be any more death and suffering. Jesus will redeem, restore, recover, return, renew creation and resurrect every believer. As Jonathan Sarfati points out, all these “re–” speak of a restoration of the very good creation that was once marred by sin.