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.
2 For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.
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.
4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘On the seventh day God rested from all his works.’
5 And again in the passage above he says, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’
6 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,
7 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.’
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.
9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God;
10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.
11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:1-11
I won’t be able to do justice to this passage in one post but I will try to give a brief summary of what I believe is being said. Verses 1 & 2 are a transition between what has been said in the last verses of chapter 3 and 4:3-11. It is important for us to remember that the faithlessness of Israel in the wilderness is a framework that the whole passage hangs upon.
For the authors’ audience the gospel means salvation preached, proclaimed through the Lord (Hebrews 2:3, 4) For the Israelites in the wilderness it was a promise of entering the Promised Land. The difference between the people the letter is being written to and the Israelites in the desert isn’t about the difference of the teaching. Both had the promise of God presented to them but the Israelites, under Moses, didn’t hear it while true followers of God will listen.
The Israelites heard the promise but didn’t accept it, believe, or follow through on God’s directives. They rebelled and following their own ways putting their own wisdom over God’s plan for them and ended up dying in the wilderness. The church is being reminded in verses 1 and 2 not to go the way of Israel in the wilderness, but listen to God so they don’t fall short. (v. 1)
Therefore, those who believe enter the rest of not having to depend upon their own works to be saved. Verses 3-11 is about trust in God that revolves around finding true rest in the saving grace of God. He contrasts that rest with the Sabbath rest the children of Israel followed and obeyed but never understood. Once again, they simply turned it into a series of rules and came to believe that the keeping of the day was what designated them true followers of God while at the same time not hearing the message of spiritual rest from their works that lay behind the day.
So what is being said?
Verse 7: David lived long after the children of Israel were offered rest in the wilderness. God offered a further promise (Psalm 95) that the people of God may still enter the rest if not disobedient to God’s word like the Israelites.
Verse 8: God gave this promise through David because the physical entrance into the Promised Land didn’t fulfill the original promise made through Abraham and Moses.
Verse 9: Psalm 95 shows that a Sabbath rest still exists for the people of God who are under obligation to hear His voice in the time frame of “Today”.
Verse 10: The essence of entering God’s rest means resting from one’s own works just as God did on the seventh day.
The above commentary on verses 7-10 is taken from George H. Guthrie’s commentary, Hebrews, New NIV Application Commentary, p. 153 and it seems to sum up nicely what the author of Hebrews is saying.
How does Sabbath rest fit into this story? The author of Hebrews, up to this point, has been using the word katapausis for rest. Now in verse 9 he coins a new word sabbatismos (earliest known use of word in Greek literature) “Sabbath-rest” to get across the idea of rest. Why?
The root of sabbatismos is sabbatizein which means to “celebrate the Sabbath with praise. Sabbathisos, therefore, may suggest the festive joy surrounding a celebration of the Sabbath in which one joins in praise and adoration of God.” Guthrie, p. 154 Guthrie believes that the author is combining the idea of Sabbath and rest together based upon his exegesis of the Old Testament.
Stay with me here because this is important. If we go to the book of Leviticus we notice that the Pentateuch joins together ceasing from work and Sabbath in chapters 16:29-31 and 23:26-28, 32. (Be sure to read these passages.) In these passages the Sabbath is associated with the high priestly offering on the Day of Atonement.
Why is that important? Because the argument made in Hebrews 8:3-10,18 revolves around Jesus our great High Priest who is the true Atonement and gives us rest spiritually from our works. The Day of Atonement pointed forward to the true rest that the Sabbath of rest, in the concept of Day of Atonement, could never do. The author is saying that the people were not to do any work and God would cleanse them of their sins. If we understand the meaning of Sabbath as it relates to the Day of Atonement as stated in Leviticus, it lays the whole foundation for the rest of Hebrews.
The immediate context for this is found in 4:1 & 2 where it is mentioned that “the good news” (gospel) was preached to them. This by necessity would revolve around forgiveness of sins through faith, which was the original plan the Day of Atonement celebration pointed towards.
So how do we reconcile verse 11 with the idea that we cannot work our way into salvation? “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.”
The Israelites had rejected God’s directives for them and turned away from the borders of the Promised Land just as God was about to deliver it into their hands. They would have entered into the rest given by the land of Milk and Honey (the Promised Land). Verse 11 is reminding the listeners that they must make every effort not to be like the children of Israel in the desert but instead to put their trust in God. To be obedient is to put trust into action.
The true rest for a Christian is found in Christ our great High Priest who is sitting at the right hand of God as our great intercessor and friend. He has paid the price of being the Pascal Lamb of the Passover and has defeated sin, death, and Satan at the cross. We cannot take this lightly nor be disobedient to the call to come just as we are to the cross. Our focus is upon the grace of God and the time to do that is “Today”.