It is a popular teaching in both Dispensational and Covenantal circles, that Adam was on probation, engaged in a period of testing by God. In the garden and in that state, had he been successful he would have received eternal life. However, as we know happened, if he disobeyed God’s command, he would receive death.
That is, if Adam would have perfectly obeyed God, the reward would have been to live forever. In that condition, he would have been able to eat of the Tree of Life and sustain his life, and those of his family, eternally. Further, this comparison is extended to Jesus’ work on the cross as well. At least, on this point, the two theological systems agree.
But, is it true that Adam was on probation? Is it true that had he obeyed, he would have had access to the Tree of Life and lived forever? As will be shown below, the answer is, no. No, he was not on probation and no he did not forfeit access to the Tree of Life by sinning. Therefore, any implications of a probationary period are purely hypothetical and imaginary.
What actually was happening in the garden?
8 The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed.
9 Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The Scripture indicates that in the creation work of God, He made a garden in which He planted and grew every kind of tree that is pleasing to look at, i.e. beautiful and appealing to eat. That is, the trees were alluring in the best sense.
These trees included the Tree of Life, which was in the midst of the garden, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. These two trees were also alluring and presumably placed side by side in the midst of the garden (Genesis 2:9). These two were bunched in with the group of trees that God made.
However, they were identified distinctly by Moses for a reason. They were special trees that had specific functions. One tree would produce and maintain eternal life (which requires comment in a moment). The other tree, by virtue of eating its fruit, would produce the knowledge (“experience”) of good and evil in contrast.
These trees were created at the same time as the others and were in the garden like the others. Although they are identified separately, they are in the same group and therefore must be treated not as separate from the other trees, but in the same category of trees as the rest.
However, these two, as mentioned, were identified by God and had specific purposes. God verbally gave Adam a two-sided command in Genesis 2:15-17:
15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.
16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely;
17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
He commanded the man 1) to eat of any and all the trees in the garden; 2) but don’t eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If Adam were to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he would die. And, sadly, he did eat and he did die.
However, did you notice that he was told to eat freely from any (other) tree in the garden? The Tree of Life was in the garden and was a tree. Therefore, Adam already had access to the Tree of Life and such access was not the result of passing a test of obedience.
Just as in the New Jerusalem in Revelation 22, which will contain the Tree of Life once again (v. 2), this Tree will maintain eternal life for those who eat of it. Did Adam already have eternal life? Yes. The only condition of death was to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eating of that Tree would be transgression, disobedience to an express command, and would result in death at the hand of God.
In short, Adam already had eternal life and already had access to the Tree of Life. There was no probationary time and he was not being tested. He simply disobeyed God’s command and ate of the Tree he was told not to eat of and God punished him by death (Romans 5:12-14).
Therefore, we must not look at the life of the Second Adam as a probation either. His absolute obedience was not to test Him. Like Adam, He already had eternal life. It was simply a demonstration of His perfection and His love for the Father (John 14:31).