Before we dive into chapters 3 and 4 of Hebrews there are two verses and a few key points you must keep in mind as to dismiss any confusion about what is written within the next couple chapters. Here are the ESV and NKJV interpretations for Hebrews chapter 4 so you may follow along with this study.
The two verses to keep in mind are Colossians 2:16-17 “…Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ….” and also Hebrews 10:1 “…For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near…..”
Here are four points to consider when following along with this study; (1) All things in the ritual (old testament) law find their reality and fulfillment in the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ (said here). (2) Even in the Old Testament the Sabbath law had spiritual significance, it was not an erratic and meaningless ritual, or a law for the sake of law. It was given by God to the Israelites as a reminder of an extremely important truth (scripture reference). Teaching us that the Sabbath was presented to the Israelite’s to remind them that it was not in fact they themselves, but the Lord, who made them His people. Literally all day long as they sat and did absolutely nothing, they were forcibly reminded that the Holy God made them, the Isrealite’s, His holy and chosen people. (3) Long before Jesus lived on earth, Sabbath keeping had been turned into a laudable act, by which one searched to earn or gain God’s favor by doing something. Plainly stated; Sabbath keeping evolved to a notion of one having to do something in order to become one of God’s people. The symbolic nature of the Sabbath had been completely reversed. (4) In this study of Hebrews 3:7-4:16 we learn about the connection between believing and obeying the Gospel and having rest with confidence. We are not presented with something that will be ours only when we ‘get to heaven‘. Nor are we presented here with a concept of the Christian life in which there are two levels of Christians; one level is where we struggle and strive with sin and temptation and the second advanced level where there is rest from such struggles. Rather we are being taught of a rest which is the gift of God to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
V.1-11 – What the writer states within this chapter is based on what he has previously established; that the sin of unbelief prevented the Israelites from entering into God’s rest. His back up argument is as follows –
(1) “Promise of entering His (God’s) rest still stands“, verse 1 – This immediately lifts the meaning of rest out of the physical plane and places it in the spiritual plane. Historically the opportunity to enter into the physical ‘rest‘ of the promised land has long since been gone. However the true rest, or spiritual rest, that was foreshadowed by physically entering the rest which the promised land provided, that is anticipated in Sabbath regulations, ‘still stands‘. The provision of God’s rest for his people is still available, meaning the opportunity to enter this ‘rest‘ is still open to all who believe.
(2) “Lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it” lets readers of the letter know to be careful that none of them miss out on this ‘rest‘, verse 1 – As the writer points out in the verses that follow, the way the Israelites fell short of God’s rest was by their failure to believe in Him and His promise to bring them to the promised land. The presence or absence of faith is the critical, so he continues by saying …
(3) “For good news came to us just as to them (Isrealites), but the message they (Isrealites) heard did not benefit them, because they (Isrealites) were not united by faith with those who listened” meaning that if you don’t believe, or are united by faith, the message you hear is of no benefit, verse 2 – The point made is that though they heard it, but because it was not united or combined with faith, it becomes of no value or worth. In this it is both a warning and a challenge. Hearing the message does not save a person, only believing God, which is demonstrated by believing His message, can save a person. Conversely; to fail to believe the message, disobeying its command to repent and believe, is to fail to believe in God and miss out on the spiritual rest promised by His Gospel, or good message.
(4) “We who have believed enter God’s rest“, verse 3a – Leaving aside the possibility that some of his readers lack genuine faith, the writer makes a confident affirmation. Contrastingly; it is just as certain that those who have believed do enter God’s rest, which is confirmed by God’s previously demonstrated oath that those who did not believe would not enter his rest (3b).
(5) The reality of God’s rest is confirmed, verse 3b thru 5 – In these verses the real existence of God’s rest is affirmed by one – the fact that God has been ‘resting‘ since the completion of his work i.e. creation in Genesis 2:2, and two – the fact that God makes reference to ‘my rest‘. He grounds the certainty of the existence and reality of ‘rest‘ on the foundation of God’s action and God’s word.
(6) “therefore it remains for some to enter it….. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God“, verse 6a and 9 – Even though some missed out on it by their unbelief in verse 6b. Because God’s rest is a continual present reality, as seen in verse 3c, it’s still possible to enter God’s rest today. The fact that some persons missed out does not mean the availability of spiritual rest has ceased, rather it points to the ‘disobedience‘ in their refusal to believe God. Therefore God, speaking through David, many years later, said “…Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…’ (found here). Whenever God speaks, that day is ‘today‘, and on that day we are challenged to believe in Him. Thus the opportunity to enter God’s rest persists wherever and whenever His good message is proclaimed.
(7) “Remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God“, verse 9 – The eventual entry of the Israelites into the promised land, under Joshua, is not to be considered the real rest of God’s people, stated in verse 8, but only a prophetic foreshadow of the real Sabbath rest – which is still available for the people of God. When we consider the two verses quoted at the beginning of this study, Colossians 2:16,17 and Hebrews 10:1, we begin to understand that Jesus Christ IS this Sabbath rest. God’s Son is the reality to which the weekly Sabbath has pointed. In Him, the believer lives in a perpetual spiritual rest.
(8) “Whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his“, verse 10 – Here is the key to understanding this passage… What does God mean when he holds before us the promise of entering his rest?
(a) The mindset of the Israelites, in Numbers 13 and 14, is instructive. They looked at the size of the task; they looked at their own ability; and they saw the impossibility of them ever going toward or entering into the land and winning it from its current inhabitants. Their mindset was the mindset of their flesh – the mindset which looks at their own performance or ability to perform, and acting on the basis of what they see. Focusing on themselves, though they had heard the word of God, they did not believe it. They made their choice on the basis of their own ‘work‘.
(b) Consider the two texts quoted earlier from Exodus 31:13 and Ezekiel 20:12 (found here). Here God specifically states that His Sabbaths were given to remind the Israelites that it was He who sanctified them, or made them holy. In other words it was not because of their works, but because of his action that they were His people, His chosen, set apart by Him to be His own special possession. It was a great gift, not an earned reward. It had nothing to do with human work and activity.
(c) The promise of Jesus is ‘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‘ in Matthew 11:28,29 (found here).
(d) This rest, of which the Sabbath rest is a prophetic symbol and foreshadow, consists in establishing a relationship with God which is the result of His sheer and abundant grace and love for His children/people. No way is it caused by our own human works or deeds (reference here). In the mindset of grace we have ceased to give saving significance to our own works; we have ceased to credit our performance with the ability to gain or maintain for us the legal right to live in the presence of God, and we have also ceased to credit our performance with the ability to disqualify us from the legal right to live in the presence of God.
Thus the writer makes this bold and freeing affirmation: ‘…anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his...’
(9) Therefore we should “…make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience…“, verse 11 – The Gospel of Jesus Christ has told us to believe in Christ and to put no confidence in our flesh. The auto-pilot tendency of the human heart is to trust its own performance; to believe that we have to gain, earn, or maintain our own salvation by our own efforts and acts. This is the world view, and carnal,thinking of the salvation we’ve received by the saving grace of God. All world religions, all cults, all nominal Christianities try to relate to ‘god‘ and expect salvation to be on this basis. We humans do not like to have to depend on anyone else. We humans like to think that we have the necessary ability to be independent and save ourselves, or to keep ourselves saved. Accepting that we don’t have to earn or gain or maintain or salvation goes against our inclination. It cuts right through our pride and self-conceit so our hearts can be prepared to receive salvation as just a sheer gift from God’s hand. It is hard for us to do that. It is hard for us simply to believe it and receive it from God’s hand. But this is exactly what we have to do. This pure faith, this pure obedience to the command to believe the good news, is what we are here challenged to make every effort to do.
We must be careful to remember that the ‘disobedience‘ and unbelief that the writer is referring to here is the refusal to believe and trust God; the overall refusal to believe his promise. All other shapes and sizes of sin(s) stem from this main sin of unbelief and lack of faith in our all mighty and powerful God.
V.12-13 – Here the writer seems to digress into a eulogy about God’s word. It is however closely connected to what has just been said and what is about to be said. God’s word is able to penetrate the heart and discern if what is there is faith or unbelief. The outside of a person may look like that person is obeying the Lord – while all the time the heart can be empty of faith.
Thanks for joining and we hope to see you for our next study in Hebrews. Thanks and God Bless!