The writer of Hebrews continues his warning for the Hebrew Christians not to fall away from Christ and return to Judaism.
Only Those Who Believe In Christ Enter His Rest
The writer begins this chapter by saying the promise of God’s rest still stands. But, they must heed his warning or some of them might not reach the fulfillment of the promise. He is concerned for each and every member of his congregation. He said they should fear if any one of them should fail to reach the promise (1).
We know that the promise still stands, because the good news came to us as well as the generation that failed to go into Canaan. The good news for those Old Testament Hebrews was that God would deliver them from the wilderness into Canaan, where he would give them rest from their enemies and their struggles to survive. The good news for us is that Jesus came to save us from our sins and give us rest from trying and failing to earn our salvation through works. Galatians 2:20 says we are saved by grace through faith and not by our own works.
The writer reinforces his idea by pointing out that the good news did not benefit the Old Testament Hebrews because they did not believe it. He said they were not united by faith with those who listened (believed). (2) All of those of all times who believe God’s promise of redemption are united in salvation for eternity. In verse 3, he said “for we who have believed enter that rest”. Again, he shows that salvation comes through faith in God’s promise of redemption.
Much of the Jewish religion in New Testament times was based on works. They had commandments, regulations and interpretations. Jesus clashed with the Pharisees numerous times, accusing them of greater loyalty to their own rules than to God. In contrast, he said “This is the work of God (or the work required by God for salvation), that you believe in him who he has sent”. (John 6:29)
The second part of verse 3 may seem jarring to you. After he said believers enter into God’s rest, he quoted Psalm 95 again to say God swore the disobedient Old Testament Hebrews who refused to go into Canaan would not enter his rest. But he is presenting a comparison for his audience of Jews and for us. Those who believe will enter into God’s rest. Those who do not believe will come under his wrath as the disobedient Hebrews did. They will not enter God’s rest, but will enter into his wrath.
The example of wrath is that of Numbers 14. When the Hebrews refused to go into Canaan, God swore they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years until all of that generation died. It is a picture of being cast from God’s presence. The New Testament Jews, and we also, will be cast from God’s presence for eternity if we do not believe. In John’s vision of the judgment in Revelation 19:15, anyone whose name was not written in the book of life (those who believe and are saved) is cast into the lake of fire (hell).
God’s Own Rest
In these verses, the writer expanded his concept of God’s rest by referring to creation. He wrote that God rested from his labors of creation on the seventh day. This rest is where the Sabbath concept originates. God rested because everything was accomplished or finished. The writer is telling us that God’s rest from creation is the ultimate origin of the concept of rest.
In literary terms, then, God’s rest is the archetype of rest. It is the original patter from which all of types of rest in the Bible are based. Then, the Sabbath is a type of God’s rest. The land of Canaan, or the Promised Land, is a type of God’s rest. A type is a symbol or image of a greater truth. Finally, our eternal rest in God’s presence is the antitype, the real thing, the ultimate truth.
The Promise of Rest Is Still Available
Here the writer returns to his original thought, expressed in 4:1, that he promise of God’s rest still stands, or is still available. So, in verse 6, he says “it remains for some to enter it”.
A Hebrew might have responded to this statement by saying God promised “rest” by promising that the Hebrews would enter Canaan. Joshua led them into Canaan after the unbelieving generation died in the wilderness. Therefore, God kept his promise to the Hebrews and it is among the Hebrews they should stay. No other promises exists.
The writer rebuts this thought in verse 7. His reasoning is based on the wording of Psalm 95:7, where David tells his people “today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts”. So if David promised rest many years after the time of Joshua, the promise of rest was not complete. (8) So the writer says God’s promise of rest continues until the present day.
Notice that in verse 8, the writer says “Sabbath rest” for the first time. He knew his Jewish readers would make the connection between God’s rest from creation and the observance of the Sabbath. They would also know the rules of the Sabbath rest. What is the principle of the Sabbath? It was the seventh day, it was set aside to God. In other words, it was holy and they were to keep it holy, or set aside to God. (Exodus 20:8) They did this by refraining from the activities of work. They were to do no work. (Exodus 20:10) And the reason given for it was that God rested from his creation labor on the seventh day.
Of course, it was about rest. But it was also about belief. The Hebrews had to believe God. They had to trust him to provide food for them even when they did not work that day. It was even more crucial for the Sabbath year. Every seventh year, they had to let the land rest. (Exodus 23:10) They had to trust God for a whole year’s provision. Image not working every 7th year and depending on God to pay your rent, buy your food and clothes, and keep you financially sound!
The writer is pointing out to them, and to us, that both God’s rest from creation work and the Sabbath were types of God’s ultimate rest for believers. They were to point men and women to faith in Christ. Jesus pointed out this comparison by using the word “rest” himself. He said come to me, you who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
What is the rest that Jesus gives those who come to him? The writer of Hebrews tells us in verse 10: “for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his”. The Pharisees worked hard to earn salvation through observing the law in great detail. But Jesus repeatedly said God was not pleased with them, for they were only Godly on the outside. He called them hypocrites. (Matthew 15:7) They looked good in their observance, but their hearts were far from God. (Matthew 15:8)
When the Holy Spirit convicts you of your sin, and that is one of his jobs, you began to lose all hope in the idea that the good you do will outweigh the bad and God will let you into heaven. You begin to see the great holiness of God. You compare it to the filthy rags of your acts of so call righteousness. The voice of Paul thunders in your head “for by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight...” (Romans 3:20) Then you want to rest from your works. Then you rejoice to turn to Christ and receive his salvation by faith. (Romans 3:21-25)
You Cannot Fool God
Just as the Pharisees could not fool Jesus into thinking they were righteous, you cannot fool God into thinking you are righteous in your own works. It does not matter if you sit in church for every sermon, give generously, talk piously and refrain from outward sin. God knows your heart.
So the writer says strive to enter that rest so that no one falls by disobedience. Preach to gospel to each other, live the gospel among each other, worship in gratitude of salvation and confess your belief.
The word of God prevents you from fooling God. Verse 12 tells us it penetrates. It goes past all pretense and appearance, to judge our hearts. Verse 13 tells us we are defenseless before God and his Word. We are naked and exposed to him.
So forget about acting. Believe in Jesus. Trust him for salvation. Rest from working to please God. Join the congregation of believers in joyful worship.
As David said in Psalm 95, today is the day. Do not harden your heart. Believe.