The book of Revelation is written to a persecuted church from a persecuted apostle. John writes the revelation on the island of Patmos where he is located, “On account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 1:9). In the midst of such suffering John reminds the church of their victory through the conquering lamb of God (Rev. 7:14). Even with that in mind, suffering can bring despair, cynicism, and hopelessness. In order to remind Christians of their hope, John discuses a series of rewards that will be given to the one who conquers. The first is found in Revelation 2:7:
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”
When speaking to the church in Smyrna John didn’t beat around the bush: some of them would die (Rev. 2:10). They would be cut off from this current life—all its joys and hopes and dreams. What could possibly conquer the fear of losing such? John fights such fear with the promise of access; unrestrained, unhindered access to the tree of life in the garden (translated Paradise here) of God.
Of course, this imagery brings the Biblical message full circle. The story begins with a garden and ends with one as well. Because of sin, our access to the tree of life was terminated (Gen. 3:22-24), but Jesus, “has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Rev. 1:5). Therefore, the barrier that kept us from the tree of life (sin) is broken down by the forgiveness we receive through Christ. The message John is writes is such a comforting one: they may soon be cut off from this life, but that doesn’t mean they are cut off from true life. Even after death, God would welcome them into His garden so that they could eat on the eternal delicacies of the Tree of Life. What a beautiful picture.
Notice also the tension between God’s activity and our obedience: the tree is given to the one who conquers (our faithful obedience) but God must grant us access (His grace). Similarly, Peter reminds us that we are being guarded by “God’s power” but it is “through faith” (1 Pet. 1:5). This reminds us that, as Christians, our “Blessed Assurance” isn’t an ambivalent, inactive trust that God has eternally secured our salvation apart from our obedience. Instead, this tension should challenge us to “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). At the same time, this shouldn’t make us confident in our own strength or righteousness, because our conquering only comes because we have washed our robes in the blood of the lamb (Rev. 7:14).
The central message to the church—both now and then—is this: We are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Rom. 8:37). That even when life and circumstance say otherwise; even when the world is so set against you, you question and doubt yourself; even when your name isn’t remembered, your body is broken and aching from cancer, arthritis, chronic pain; even when your mind struggles to come out of the fog of depression—yes, that even then! Jesus promises that, if you place your faith in Him, you will conquer all and partake of the sweet fruit of the Tree of Life.