In the famous scene in Genesis the author describes two significant trees. There was the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Both of these trees have specific fruit attached to them. Theologians articulate that the word “fruit” holds great poetic meaning to a deep reality of the story. The word fruit in Genesis is not meant to be taken as simply physical food. It is food, but there is more than mere food going on here. Rather, fruit’s greater meaning is a metaphor to describe a certain teaching. So, when Adam & Eve ate from the rotten fruit, the author is indicating they aligned themselves with a demonic teaching that would usher in negative consequences. To correct this, it would make sense that God would manifest his teaching into food or more broadly speaking “fruit.” Indeed, when one consumes God’s food, one would be putting God into his inner being – just like back in Eden. So, what is this fruit in which God will place himself into? Let us now follow how the Bible poetically describes how this fruit will come about from a new seed that will “branch” into God’s fruit.
We can pick up a few clues of what type of fruit this is. After Adam ate the bad fruit (i.e. bad teaching), God tells Adam that, “Thorns and thistles it shall bear for you, and you shall eat the grass of the field” (Genesis 3:18). This defective fruit brings forth thorns and thistles – which are associated with pain and suffering. However, the next verse is revealing: “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19). Notice that God tells them that they will have to eat from the grass of the field, and then eat bread. Here, we see how God will provide for both their physical needs (from the field) and their spiritual needs (eat bread). Therefore, since God made man from the original holy ground, what God is indicating is that now you are going to have to eat bread until you come back to that sacred place I made you from. So, we can conclude that this new seed God is replanting into humanity will have something to do with bread.
Then, a few chapters later in Genesis we see the first time the word “priest” appears in the Bible. A priest is the mediator between God and man. And this particular priest (named Melchizedek) is called “priest of God most high.” What does this high priest bring with him as a sacrifice to connect man with God – bread and wine (see Genesis 14:18, Hebrews 7: 1-17 says that Christ is like this priest). Also, in Exodus 16 we read how God brought down heavenly bread to his people (see also Psalm 78: 23-25, 29, Wisdom of Solomon 16: 20-21) So, God coming down with bread is a significant theme throughout the Bible. In fact, the word “bread” appears roughly 360 times in the Bible. There is also countless references of bread in the Bible when we see words such as “flour,” “wheat,” and “grain” that describe where this bread comes from.
Additionally, there is a famous prophecy that Isaiah declares: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1).
The two words I want to focus in on are “branch” and “fruit.” This “branch” likely poetically represents the original tree of life in Eden and the “fruit” this branch produces is the fruit of life – the original fruit intended in Eden. It is significant to point out that the word “branch” in Hebrew means Nazareth. So, this branch Isaiah is talking about is supposed to come from Nazareth. Also, In Zechariah chapter 3, God says that he will bring his servant, the Branch, to remove human sin, and thus revive the human soul to its original state back in Eden. Interestingly, God mentions that all people are sitting under a fig tree when they are called by “the Branch” out of the fig tree to remove their guile/sin (see Zechariah 3: 8-10, 6:12).
Recall, that Adam and Eve covered up their sin by putting fig leaves on them. If they used fig leaves right after they sinned, then we can likely conclude that the tree of knowledge of good and evil was a fig tree. Therefore, the Zechariah message in which all people who have sinned are represented as sitting under a fig tree carries a bit more weight to it. The Zachariah prophecy is fulfilled as Jesus came from Nazareth (the town of “Branch”). Additionally, there is the scene in John’s narrative when Nathan realized that Jesus was “the Branch.” Nathan knew this because by knowing the Zachariah prediction, he made the Nazareth connection when Jesus (the Branch) said he saw Nathan sitting under of all trees – a fig tree (see John 1: 45-49).
There are more clues other than coming from Nazareth. God also made it clear that the town the Branch was to be born in was Bethlehem (see Micah 5:2, 1 Samuel 16: 1). It is significant to point out that Bethlehem in Hebrew means “house of bread.” Therefore, branch and bread are interconnected. We can safely assume that in order to remove the sin of humanity the Branch will bring forth fruit and this fruit will have something to do with bread.
Did Jesus himself say anything about what type of fruit he will give us? Yes, he tells us directly, “Truly, truly I tell you unless a grain of wheat falls and falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit” (John 12:20-33).
What “fruit” does a grain of wheat bear? If an apple seed’s fruit is an apple what is a grain of wheat’s fruit? A grain of wheat’s fruit is bread. And notice Jesus talks about dying to bring forth this fruit of bread.
We also see the word “fruit” is associated with wheat and bread throughout the Old Testament. In the book of Leviticus, as God is describing to Moses the way worship is connected to the growth and changing seasons of the earth, God instructs “to present a new cereal [bread] to the Lord” and “to present your first fruits to the Lord you shall bring two loves of bread” (Leviticus 15:17). Additionally, Moses connects that this bread is their “first fruit.”(Leviticus 15:20). Might this “first fruit” of bread literally be the original good fruit of the tree of life in Eden?
There is also a mysterious reference to this holy bread in Exodus 25 and Leviticus 24 that many translations call “showbread.” This bread was significant because it was to be placed in the holy Tabernacle that God instructed Moses to make. The Tabernacle was a portable tent of worship for Israel during their time in the desert. There were three sacred objects to be kept in the Tabernacle.
- The Ark of the Covenant.
- The golden Lampstand known as the Menorah.
- The Golden table where this showbread was placed.
These three objects are especially significant since Moses saw the pattern of these three while being in God’s presence (see Exodus 25:9, 40). It is interesting to note that the sacred Lampstand (commonly called menorah) was to be decorated like a tree. What is also interesting is that this holy bread was placed next to the treelike image of the Lampstand. Could this be a vision of the original tree of life in Genesis and the holy fruit of bread that will bring man back to God?
The fruit coming in the form of bread reaches its pinnacle when Jesus said that he is, in fact, the bread of life (John 6: 36, 48, 51) and that this bread of life will bring eternal life of the soul (John 6: 50-51). Furthermore, he explained that this bread is his actual flesh (John 6: 51), and that unless you eat this flesh and drink this blood you have no life in you (John 6: 53-55). And if the reader completely missed this Jesus then sums it all in the next verse by saying:
“He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him . . . so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died, he who eats this bread will live forever” (John 6: 56-58).
Additionally, when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, Jesus taught them the Our Father prayer. The first part of the prayer is who God is, and the second part of the prayer is asking God to give us what we need. And what is the first petition that Jesus tells us to ask for? “Give us this day our daily bread“(Matthew 6:11).
Therefore, we have all these bread passages associated with fruit. Additionally, we also have the famous statements in the climax of the Gospels when Jesus takes bread and says, “This is my body” (see Matthew 26: 26-27, Mark 14: 22, 24, Luke 22: 19-20, 1 Corinthians 10: 24-25, 16). The early Christians knew that there was something sacred about this bread (see Acts 2:42, 1 Corinthians 10: 16-17). In Luke’s description, he indicated that the two disciples on the road to Emmaus recognized Jesus “in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). Additionally, in John’s vision of heaven Jesus declared to him, “To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna [bread]” (Revelation 2:17). In fact, if you study the letters of the early Church, you’ll see that the teaching of Jesus’s real presence in the Eucharistic bread was practically a given for the first 1500 years of Christianity.
We notice a lot of passages that talk about consuming the word of God through eating (see Ezekiel 3: 1-3, Psalm 34:8, Revelation 3:20, 10:9-10) and coming closer to God through a great banquet meal (see Exodus 12:8, 11, 24: 11, Isaiah 7:7, 25: 6-9, 55:2-3, Proverbs 9:5, Luke 14: 16-18). It should be noted that our very bodily existence depends on food. Without food, we cease to have life. Moreover, the concept of putting food in you in ancient times, represented putting that very organism’s life in you. As Leviticus articulates, “For the life of a creature is in the blood” (Leviticus 17: 11, 14). This is why God instructed Israel to only eat certain foods. These images of banquet meals act as a metaphor to take us beyond a physical meal to a spiritual reality through consuming God’s very being in us. This is why the angel instructed John to eat the scroll of paper with God’s words on it. (Rev. 10:9-10). Consuming a life in us actually gives us that life embedded within us. In other words, just like our physical bodies are dependent on physical food, our soul requires God’s teaching manifested in us. Given that the human person is a body soul composite, the physical food points us to a spiritual reality – an eternal soul. Therefore, to not consume God in your soul, is as problematic as someone who refused to consume food or drink in their body. This would result in a death of the body, and not consuming this spiritual “food” would result in a lifeless soul (see John 6:50-53, 56-58). So, putting food in your body parallels putting a certain teaching into your soul. If you put junk food into your body, you’d have a negative effect. Similarly, if you attach yourself to a lousy way of thinking, your soul will be in a miserable state.
As we add these clues up of “bread” and “eat,” we notice that Jesus is masterfully connecting what God instructed to Adam by saying “you shall eat bread” until you come back to where you came from (see Genesis 3:19). In other words if eating bad fruit (figs) caused the problem in Eden, then eating good fruit (bread), is God’s way of fixing the problem.
What God is doing is re-creating our soul with new fruit in a way that mirrors his original creation of mankind.
In the original creation, God called the good tree “the tree of life.” God also referred to this tree of life as “good for food.” What did all the early Christians call the cross? They called it the “tree of life” (cf. Acts 5:30, Deut 21:22, Galatians 3:13). Also, Revelation reveals that the tree of life is connected to God’s very presence (see Revelation 22:2-4). So, when we add these lines together with the Eucharist, we have the good food that will connect us with God’s inner presence. This idea would only make sense if the tree of life’s fruit is the Eucharist – the actual presence of God. Once we assume the Eucharist is true then all of a sudden everything makes sense.
In fact, the prophet Hosea hinted that the Eucharist was the original recipe God intended for his people. However, since humanity rejected this, God had to hide his recipe until the right time. “Since she has not known that it was I who gave her the grain, [bread], the wine, the oil [sign of confirmation] . . . therefore I will take back my grain [bread] in its time and my wine in its season” (Hosea 2: 10-11). Interestingly, when Hosea begins to talk about restoring the original recipe of God guess which thing God wants to destroy? “I will lay waste her vines and fig trees” (Hosea 2: 14).
When Jesus cursed the fig tree during his passion week (see Matthew 21: 18-19) he was doing something stunning. He was taking down the old, crummy, fig tree because this tree and its fruit (its teaching) takes us away from God. He then, took on the negative effects of the evil tree to deliver us the original tree of life.
Effects of bad tree in Eden Jesus takes on these effects at the cross
Thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:18) Crown of thorns (Matthew 27:29)
Sweat of your brow (Genesis 3:19) Sweat of blood (Luke 22:44)
Naked (Genesis 3:7) Naked (John 19:23)
The new tree Jesus is implanting is the original tree of life back in Eden. This tree comes in the form of self-giving love, not Eve’s mistake of self-getting pleasure. This new tree comes with new fruit that is “good for food” and will deliver God’s presence and soul back into us – just like in Eden.
Interestingly, the tree imagery in Eden can be seen in the Book of Daniel. In Daniel chapter 4, King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream in which a tall tree touches heaven. The tree was wide with its branches filling the whole world and the best of fruits in greatest abundance. However, the tree was then cut down because of Divine judgement (the Fall), and was stripped of its fruits. The only thing that was left of this once beautiful tree was it’s stump and roots. (see Daniel 4:10-15). If we combine this dream in Daniel with Isaiah’s prophecy that a “shoot shall sprout up from the stump and from it’s roots a branch will bring forth fruit,” we now see that the original tree of life is restored in Jesus who will bring back it’s original fruit – the Eucharist. In other words, the original “tree of life” is the cross and its original fruit that was “good for food” is the Eucharist.
In addition to bread, Jesus expressed his intention to be with people though grape-wine imagery in John 15. Jesus delivered this sermon during the Last Supper, so this message is packed with Eucharistic coloring. Here, instead of the Branch, Jesus is referring himself to the vine and the Father as the vinedresser.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit” (John 15 1-2).
He then brings up fruit again as the way to “abide” or “be with him” when he says, “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me” (John 15:4).
Recall, we heard “abide in me” in John 6:56 where he was linking flesh and bread together as a way to connect with him. The references to “abide in me” means to be in direct contact with God and his teachings.
Then, Jesus goes further, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, is he that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch that withers (John 15: 5-6).
Therefore, if we add up the references to “abide in me” in John 6 as bread and in “abide in me” in John 15 as wine, we come to the fascinating conclusion that to have Jesus in you is to have the very bread and wine he consecrated at the Last Supper. Moreover, to have Jesus in you is to have his way of thinking embedded into your soul. When we realize how beautiful the Eucharist is we also realize how troublesome it is to water down the teaching of the Eucharist and to reject its significance.
St. Ignatius was a student of the Apostle John. He was very close to the source so we need to take him seriously. Let’s see how he told us to identify false prophets:
“But look at those men who have those perverted notions about the grace of Jesus which has come down to us. They even abstain from the Eucharist because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the same body of our Savior Jesus Christ.” -Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 6, 7 (written in 106 AD)
It is interesting to realize that back in Eden God gives humanity the instructions to “not eat” because if we do, it would drive us away from God. Humans did eat the bad fruit, and the result was a divorce from God. So, to correct the problem God gives us Jesus in the Eucharist to “eat this” to bring us closer to God.
Let us ponder God’s message of the “bread of life” as truly being with God – just like back in Eden.