Hebrews 4:1-11

“The promise to enter into God’s rest is still valid. Let us therefore be on guard, lest anyone miss his chance to obtain it. We have had the Good News preached to us, just as it was to those living in the time of Moses. But the message they heard failed to benefit them, for they did not blend it with faith. God has said, ‘I have sworn in my wrath, they will not enter My rest.’ Only Believers can actually enter into that rest. Although His creative works were completed since the foundation of the world, we find in a passage that God rested from all His works on the seventh day of creation. Through this passage He is saying today, ‘Unbelievers will not be admitted into My rest.’ There is still a promise that some will enter into this rest. Since those who previously heard the Good News were not admitted because of their disobedience, He again designates a certain era, speaking again through David after a long interval, as it was said before, ‘Today if you will listen to His voice, do not harden your hearts.’ If Joshua could have provided them with true rest, He would have no need to refer to a future day. Consequently there is reserved a full and complete rest for God’s people. For anyone who enters His rest ceases from his own work, just as God did from His creative work. Let us earnestly strive to be admitted to that rest lest anyone fail through the same disobedience they exemplified.”   (paraphrased)

Approaching this passage, one must keep in mind the author’s three different concepts regarding the word rest:

1. Sabbath rest - God’s cessation from creative activity (Gen. 2:2-3).
2. Canaan rest - The rest after entering the Promised Land (Heb. 3:12).
3. Heavenly rest - The allegorical comparison to rest in heaven (Rev. 14:13).

The Jews came to the borders of the Promised Land and sent a dozen spies into Canaan. Ten came back with a negative report and an entire generation perished in the desert. The writer urges his readers to not cheat themselves, as the Israelites did, by unbelief and rebellion. Criticism and cynicism affect one’s ability to hear and obey God’s Word. Callousness and indifference bar people from entering His rest (Num.13-14).

v. 1
In chapter three, we are urged to enter His rest. In chapter four, we are to be fearful of failing to do so. The writer proceeds to prove the rest provided to Believers today supersedes the rest promised in Moses’ day. This rest is still attainable and the writer is concerned that no one miss it. “Fear” is phobethomen and literally means “to be afraid.” From this term we derive our word phobia. We must fear disobedience and remain vigilant.

“Come short” (hustekenai) means failing to obtain the goal, to arrive too late for an event, or to be excluded from something. The same term is employed when Paul writes that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom.3:23). The Israelites came out of Egypt, but came short of entering the Promised Land of rest (Heb.3:18-19).

v. 2
“Gospel” means the good news of redemption, whether announced to Israelites or contemporary Believers. This news includes a rest - promised to us today as it was to them yesterday. The redemptive rest Israel enjoyed under Joshua was emblematic of the redemption now possible through Christ. Since God is inseparable from His Word, to reject His Word is to reject Him. His Word is meaningless to the hearer unless it is blended with faith. It must be believed to be beneficial. 

vv. 3-6
“From the foundation of the world” pictures a man laying the foundation for a house, not stopping until he is completely satisfied. “God saw everything He had made, and behold it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). While God is never fatigued, perfect rest is symbolized by God “resting” after completing creation (Gen. 2:2-3). This is a type of the eternal rest which awaits all Believers. The writer compares God resting from His creative works with Christians enjoying heaven’s rest, having ceased from their labors as well.

Although God’s rest is available to Believers today, there is a danger. Of the original group that left Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb entered Canaan’s rest because of their faith in God’s promises. Their example shows it is possible for Believers to enter into rest today. Although the Israelites perished in the desert of unbelief, we need not share their fate (Mt. 11:12).

v. 7
To “limit a certain day” means to mark out boundaries. This outlines the era the writer calls today—our present age of grace. “After so long a time” refers to the period that elapsed between Joshua and David. The time constraint placed upon appropriating God’s rest means we must not view His promises frivolously. Through David’s pen, God states a similar rest is still available to God’s people (Ps.95:7). But the rest David refers to cannot be the Promised Land, for that era in Israel’s history occurred 500 years earlier. David foresaw the heavenly rest spoken of in Revelation 14:13 in which we will eternally “cease from our labors”. Jesus said, “Learn about Me…and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt. 11:29).

v.8
In this verse, the writer takes us into the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership. The name “Jesus” (KJV) is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua. Joshua could not provide perfect rest. If that first generation of Israelites had believed God and appropriated the Promised Land by faith, David would not have written about another type of rest available centuries later. The Promised Land is not a perfect type of heaven. This is evidenced by the fact that in heaven there are no enemies, affliction, reproach, or persecution (Heb. 10:31-33). Joshua led the people, but was powerless to provide lasting peace. The Jews had to constantly fight the inhabitants for possession. The rest Jesus provides is far superior. The temporal rest of Canaan cannot be compared with the heavenly country reserved for us (Heb. 11:16). 

In order to put this passage in perspective, several facts should be noted concerning God’s rest:

1. God has designed a rest to benefit Believers.
2. This rest is available in every era of human history.
3. It is uniquely God’s rest, originating with Him and offered by Him.
4. This rest is promised, but is contingent upon faith in God’s Word.
5. Those to whom this rest was first offered choose to not believe God.
6. Unbelief prohibits people from entering this rest.
7. His rest can only be appropriated through steadfast faith and obedience.

vv. 9-11
The writer’s “therefore” indicates that this promise of rest is still valid, for the heavenly concept of rest was not realized under either Joshua or David. The writer views God’s rest as something futuristic. The author uses another variation of the term rest (sabbatismos) - “the Sabbath-rest.” This Sabbath type of rest points to the completed perfection of His creative acts. In a similar way, born-again Believers cease from their labors upon entering heaven. Those who enter into this heavenly rest experience the satisfaction God enjoyed upon finishing His creation.

The timeline in this passage is as follows:

1. God rested on the seventh day from His creative works (v. 4).
2. In Joshua’s day (c. 1500 B.C.), the rest available to Israel was Canaan (v. 6).
3. David (c. 1000 B.C.) spoke of a similar rest which was still available (v. 7).
4. The author (c. A.D. 65) states this rest continues to be accessible (v. 8). 
5. A heavenly rest awaits 21st century Believers as well (v. 11).

The writer urges us to focus and apply ourselves in order to enjoy the rest God has promised, lest spiritual sloth rob us of our privilege. Jesus told us to “strive to enter the kingdom” (Lk. 13:24). Many enjoy salvation for a while, but fail to follow through and reach the supreme rest provided. The concept of “falling” means perseverance is essential in order to attain heaven. Believers will be included in His rest as surely as unbelievers will be excluded. As the rebellious Israelites did not reach Canaan, lackadaisical and indifferent Christians will never reach the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Rest incorporates many concepts, including pardon for sin through Christ, a clear conscience, communion through prayer, and the promise of heaven. If we substitute the word peace for rest, we are closer to understanding this term. “The peace of God, which passes understanding, will keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). Resting with God is contingent upon a consistent relationship with Him.


QUESTIONS: SECOND WARNING: DON’T DOUBT (Part 3)

Hebrews 4:1-11

Within the book of Hebrews, there are ten “Lettuce” passages – ten places in which the writer urges his readers to “let us” do something. Find them and list each one:

1. Let us… (4:1)

2. Let us… (4:11)   

3. Let us… (4:14 &  10:23)

4. Let us… (4:16)

5. Let us… (6:1)

6. Let us… (10:22)

7. Let us… (10:24)

8. Let us… (12:1)

9. Let us… (13:13)

10. Let us…(13:15)

11. According to I Thessalonians. 2:13, how must the Word of God be received?

12. What is the “spiritual rest” that is referred to in Hebrews 4:5 and Philippians 4:7?

13. What phrase does Jesus repeat in John 20:19, 21 & 26?

14. What salutation phrase does Paul use in every epistle He writes? (Rom. 1:7; I Cor. 1:3; II Cor.1:2; Gal.1:3; Eph.1:2; Phil.1:2; Col.1:2; I Thess.1:1; II Thess. 1:2; I Tim. 1:2; II Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4 & Philemon 1:3)

15. Jesus promised to give us something the world cannot provide. What is it? (John 14:27)

16. Discuss with your spouse the things in your marital life that bring you the most contentment and feelings of peace.

 


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