Enter His Rest

Disciples who fail to hold fast their confession due to unbelief and disobedience will not inherit the coming “rest” of God

Promised Land - Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash
The letter continues with the example of Israel’s rebellion in the wilderness to summon its readers not to make the same error of unbelief and thereby fail to enter God’s “
rest.” In the desert, God decreed that the generation of Israelites freed from bondage would not enter the land of Canaan. Believers who now fail to “hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end” will face a similar fate - [Promised Land - Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash].

The promised “rest” corresponds to the inheritance that the generation of Israelites led by Moses failed to receive, namely, possession of the Promised Land. Only, the consequences for followers of Jesus who turn away from the superior word spoken in him will be far more severe:
  • For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which, having at the first been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard?

Chapters 3 and 4 of Hebrews form a single literary unit that sets the stage for the further explanation of the priesthood of Jesus. That subject was introduced in the preceding chapter, and the narrative will return to it at the end of chapter 4.
  • Let us fear, therefore, lest haply, a promise being left of entering into his rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good tidings preached to us even as also they, but the word of hearing did not profit them because it was not united by faith with them that heard. For we who have believed do enter into that rest, even as he has said, As I swore in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has said somewhere of the seventh day on this wise, And God rested on the seventh day from all his works, and in this place again, They shall not enter into my rest – (Hebrews 4:1-5).

FAILURE TO HEAR

With them who heard.” This clause refers to the small number of the Israelites who did hear in faith and reported the “good tidings” about the land of Canaan. But the message did “not profit” the rest of the people because they did not believe the positive report by Caleb and Joshua.

The letter continues to apply lessons from the commentary in Psalm 95 to its recipients. Since Israel failed to enter the “rest” provided by God since the “foundation of the world,” logically, the promise remains open and must be available for others.

Having believed, we are entering into that rest.” The Greek clause uses a progressive present tense verb or “entering” to stress the ongoing process in which Christians are now engaged. They began to enter this “rest” when they first “believed” and have continued to do so ever since.

Having believed” translates a verb in the aorist tense that corresponds most closely to the English simple past tense. It looks to the initial act of faith in the believer’s past.

They shall not enter.” God fully intended for Israel to enter the land of Canaan, but she did not because of her disobedience and unbelief.

HIS REST

God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” The citation is from Genesis 2:2 and refers to His original creative efforts that were completed in “six days,” and from which He ceased on the seventh day.
  • Seeing, therefore it remains that some should enter thereinto, and they to whom the good tidings were before preached failed to enter because of disobedience, he again designates a certain day, Today, saying in David so long a time afterward, even as has been said before, Today if you shall hear his voice, Harden not your hearts. For if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterward of another day. There remains, therefore, a sabbath rest for the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from his. Let us, therefore, give diligence to enter into that rest that no man falls after the same example of disobedience” – (Hebrews 4:6-11).

So long a time afterward.” That is the period between the time of Joshua and David. Since the promise of “rest” was reaffirmed in the Psalm centuries after that rebellious generation had died out, the promise is still valid for others.

As before, here, “glad tidings” or “gospel” refers to the good report given to Israel by Joshua and Caleb. And this is confirmed by the reference to Joshua (“if Joshua had given them rest”).

Since there yet remains a “sabbath rest” for believers, the passage does not refer to the weekly Sabbath. That would make little sense in a letter intended to prevent Christians from leaving the church for the synagogue. Moreover, believers began to enter this “rest” following their conversion, and they are doing so even now as long as they continue in the faith.

Peaceful Land - Photo by Alexey Fedenkov on Unsplash
[Photo by Alexey Fedenkov on Unsplash]

In the passage, “
rest” represents the Greek noun katapausis, a general term for the cessation of labor. “Sabbath rest” introduces a new term into the argument. This translates sabbatismos used elsewhere for “keeping the Sabbath.”

Here, sabbatismos harks back to the original creation when God “rested” from his works – “from the foundation of the world.” The formal observation of the seventh day with all its various regulations was not established until later under the Mosaic legislation, including the several annual feast days.

TODAY.” This translates the Greek word sémeron. Here, it is emphatic and denotes the sense “THIS day” as one that is distinct from all other days. It was used at the start of the letter to describe the high position now held by Jesus. “You are my Son; this day I have begotten you” – (Hebrews 1:5, 5:5).

THE PIVOTAL DAY

The decisive “day” coincides with the “word” that God has “spoken in His Son,” the salvation that is available to all because Jesus “achieved the purification of sins” and sat down on the “right hand of the Majesty on high.”

For he that entered into his rest has himself also rested from his works.” Here, “his rest,” namely, God’s – the “rest” provided by Him. It does not refer here to an individual resting from his own personal labors. The past tense used for “entered” does not mean the believer has entered fully into God’s rest. The proposition means that when someone does enter this “rest,” whenever that is, he or she will cease from his or her works “just as God did.”

If the believer already enjoyed the full “rest” of God, there would be no reason to exhort him or her to “give diligence to enter into that rest that no man falls after the same example of disobedience.”

At this point, the letter does not detail what this “rest” will look like. The purpose is not to describe the wonders of the future life, but to admonish believers “this day” not to engage in disobedience and pull back from their calling and commitment.

Now is the time to press forward and cling to all the promises of God. Failure to do so will mean that the believer will NOT enter God’s “rest,” and instead, he will taste bitter defeat and a loss far more costly than the denial of any land inheritance.



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