16 – Hebrews 4:1-11: Second Warning: Don’t Doubt (Part 3)

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 wondrous serenity provided to Believers today supersedes that which was 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 were delivered from Egypt, but never obtained the full blessings they might have enjoyed (Heb.3:18-19).

v. 2
“Gospel” means the good news of redemption, whether announced to Israelites or contemporary Believers. A more complete edition of this news is obtainable today. The relative security Israel enjoyed under Joshua’s leadership was emblematic of the redemption now offered through Christ. Since God is inseparable from His Word, to reject it is to reject Him. Scripture is intended to be 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 totally satisfied. “God saw everything He had made, and behold it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). While God is never fatigued, perfect tranquility is symbolized by God “resting” after completing creation (Gen. 2:2-3). This is a type of the eternal peace awaiting all Believers. The writer compares God ceasing His creative labors with Christians enjoying heaven, having ceased from their endeavors as well.

However, there is a danger. Of the original group that left Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb entered Canaan because they had faith in God’s promises. Their example validates that Believers today should share the same optimism. 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 a meaningful Christian experience means we must not take His promises lightly. Through David’s pen, God states a similar rest is still accessable (Ps.95:7). But David cannot be referring to the Promised Land, for that era in Israel’s history occurred 500 years earlier. David foresaw the heavenly atmosphere in which we will eternally “cease from our labors”(Rev. 14:13). Jesus said, “Learn about Me…and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt. 11:29).

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 entered the Promised Land in 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 there we will face 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. What Jesus provides is far superior. The temporal blessings of Canaan cannot be compared with the eternal blessings of heaven (Heb. 11:16). 

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

1. It was designed by God to benefit Believers.
2. It is uniquely God’s rest – originating with Him and offered by Him.
3. It is available in every era of human history.
4. It is contingent upon faith in God’s Word.
5. It can be rejected, but to do so prohibits unbelievers from entering paradise.
6. It is only appropriated through steadfast faith, fidelity, and obedience.

vv. 9-11
The writer’s “therefore” indicates that this promise is still valid, for the heavenly concept of rest was not realized under either Joshua or David. The author views this as something futuristic. He now uses another variation of the term rest (sabbatismos) – “the Sabbath-rest.” This points to the completed perfection of His creative acts. In a similar way, born-again Believers cease from their work upon entering heaven. Those who walk through the gates of pearl 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 still attainable (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 receive everything God has promised, lest spiritual sloth rob us of our privilege. Jesus told us to “strive to enter the kingdom” (Lk. 13:24). Many serve Christ for awhile, but fail to pick up their cross and follow Him all their lives. 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). The blessing of eternal life is contingent upon a consistent relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.


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.


Maxim of the Moment

Chase your passion – not your pension. - Denis Waitley