Hebrews 4 tells us the various forms of rest and how they apply throughout scripture.
Hebrews 4 is an interesting chapter which speaks in length about rest, the various forms of rest, and how it applies in each instance. Rest, in this scripture, means many different things depending on the reference and the translation. It goes on to end by giving believers confidence in their relationship with Christ that first, we have empathy from Jesus who had experience everything that we do, and two that we can approach the throne of grace confidently assured of our victory.
Hebrews 4:1. “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.”
What is God’s rest?
God’s rest is two things: both a day of rest and resting/refreshing in the Lord. Our Sabbath should reflect both of these qualities if we want to live a truly balanced lifestyle. Genesis tells us that God created the universe in six days, and on the seventh day He rested. God refrained from doing any type of labour on the seventh day. He simply marvelled at His work.
The other meaning of rest which we see in scriptures is a resting in the Lord. It references being in the Lord’s presence, meditating on Him, and experiencing peace. (contrast Jesus not resting on the Sabbath).
Why is taking a day of rest so important? What does it look like? How do we do this?
Hebrews 4:2. “For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they (Israelites) did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.”
The entry into the promised land was a type of eternal rest for the Israelites. It was a covenant made between God and His people that He would usher them into a type of paradise. All they had to do was simply obey God and keep His Word. Yet, when God makes a covenant, it is often with both believers and unbelievers. The believers because of their faith will become partakers in God’s promises. Unbelievers, because of their doubt, usually receive the curses under the covenant.
The author in Hebrews references both the old and new covenant of salvation. Both covenants spoke of salvation, the only difference between the two was in the administration. In the old covenant, believers had to look forward in faith to the coming of a Messiah. Meanwhile, those who received the message of salvation after Jesus’ resurrection, look back in faith on Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Hebrews 4:3. “Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ” And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world.
The rest in this scripture refers to the peace that comes with being assured of our salvation and are assured of God’s power. The quote, “they shall never enter my rest” has been said to reference the Israelites, who, in God’s anger, God vowed to never let them enter into His rest.
In the battle of Jericho, we see the Israelites marching around the walls for six days and overtook the wall of the seventh allowing them to enter into the promised land. They did not rest on the seventh day, nor did God instruct them to rest.
Hebrews 4-6. “For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” (Genesis 4:4). And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.” Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience,
This scripture gives us a reason that the Israelites never went into a day of rest- their disobedience. This caused those who were over 20 not to be able to see the Land of Canaan. However, the rest mentioned in Hebrews is not a rest similar to the Israelites. The rest that is referenced in Hebrews 2-3 makes mention of an eternal rest- our promised land.
Hebrews 4:4 doesn’t use rest as a definitive time such as when the Israelites entered Canaan, but says that rest existed since the beginning of Creation.
Some scholars note that due to the translation, rest has come to mean different things. The New Testament vernacular is more definitive in its time, whereas the Hebrew/Aramaic translation for rest can mean an indefinite amount of time. Genesis tells us that God rested, but doesn’t say how long He rested. Scholars note that God’s time is infinite. God rested on the seventh day from labor- and hasn’t “created” anything since. They note that God is still resting by this reference.
Hebrews 7-11 “God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.”
God rested on the seventh day after looking upon His completed creation and concluding that it was “good”. Nothing needed to be added. But it is not to say that God has been idle. We know scripturally that He doesn’t sleep nor slumber. He is always there.
The rest in this case comes from Matthew 11:29-30 wherein Jesus spoke, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Hebrews 12-13. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
God’s Word always remains alive and active. It never changes throughout the ages and can be applied to every generation. God knows us intimately. Nothing is hidden from Him. God does not judge us based on our works, or any “lip service” that we give Him. He judges us based on our heart, thoughts and attitudes- of which we will give an account over.
Jesus the Great High Priest
Hebrews 4:14-16 “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
This references again how Jesus as our High Priest encountered everything that we have experienced, was tempted as we were tempted, but showed us that nothing is impossible with Him. It tells us that we are not victims of temptation, but victors because if His own Son who was tempted in every way known to man could overcome Satan’s snares, we could as well.
It tells us that Jesus can empathize with our situation- because He, too, experienced it. Yet it tells us to come to the throne of grace with confidence (because we have a High Priest who understands). If we want the strength to overcome obstacles, all we need to do is ask to receive mercy (God’s unmerited forgiveness) for our sins, and we will find grace (God’s unmerited favor) to overcome.
Through Hebrews 4, we see the differences and comparisons between God’s definition of rest. We see how it applies in each case to the believer, and it warns us about disobedience/lack of faith which affects our rest- both personally and eternally. Hebrews 4 ends with expanding on Jesus as our High Priest, and the confidence/peace that comes from knowing that we can approach the throne of grace assured of our victory.