Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,
“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”
although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
Since, therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words 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 of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
Let us, therefore, strive to enter that rest so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
This is the follow-up to what he said in the previous chapter; that these believers avoid becoming like their fathers who died in the wilderness. In the previous lesson, we saw that he had warned them about giving rise to an evil heart of unbelief. Now he continues in a positive manner by encouraging them to realize that there is still a glorious rest to be entered into.
A question might naturally arise: “How can God still be calling us to rest after so many years? The answer is found in Psalm 95, which the author now expounds. This Psalm, written by David centuries after Israel entered Canaan, identifies Canaan as the place of rest. Why did He call it the place of rest? Well, one thing is for sure, it was a place of rest in that they could unpack their suitcases and remain forever. But there is another reason God called it a place of rest. They would not have to labor for what they would receive since it was already accomplished and simply had to be entered into. Remember how he described that place they were going as “houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied” (Deuteronomy 6:11).
That shouldn’t be strange since it is exactly what man had in the Garden of Eden. After God labored for six days to create, Scripture says he “rested from all his work.” We should not read that as saying God rested because he was tired. It is more like an artist who, after working on a masterpiece, steps back to enter into his work to enjoy it. And we should take notice of the fact that man was created on the sixth day so that his first full day was the seventh, the day of rest.
The author uses Psalm 95 to issue the call to enter another rest. He can’t be talking about Israel’s inheritance in Canaan since they were already living in the land. He is speaking of another day called ‘Today.’ It was actually offered to Israel if they had been obedient in the wilderness. They failed, and God now offers it again to another people. If Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken of another day.
The author now sums it up by saying, “There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9). He even defines it: “For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His” (4:10). This is one of the most amazing statements in Scripture that is not difficult to understand. How does the Christian life begin? By believing that another has finished the work for us and now invites us to enter His finished work. When Jesus uttered those matchless words “it is finished” on the cross, he completed everything that was needed for our salvation. When we heard the gospel, we were told we were helpless sinners who couldn’t save ourselves. But we put our trust in Messiah and his finished work, and we started to live the Christian life.
But rest doesn’t just characterize how we began the Christian life, but the entirety of our life going forward. In this regard, we are to be like Jesus whose entire life on earth was lived in complete dependence on the Father. We should notice that much of the work that He did during his earthly ministry was performed on the Sabbath. For example, when confronted about healing the man paralyzed for thirty-eight years on the Sabbath (John 5:1-10), He replied by saying, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (5:17). Why did He do many of his works on the Sabbath? To undoubtedly demonstrate that He was at total rest with His Father.
There is another rest to be entered into by God’s children: “And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, ‘Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’ ‘Yes, says the Spirit, so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them” (Revelation 14:13). The theme throughout this epistle is of believers as pilgrims, marching on their way to the promised land. This relates to our future inheritance in the kingdom of God. In this regard, these believers were just like their fathers, who had left Egypt and were marching on their way to the promised land. We aren’t marching to a physical land but passing through this world on our way to the next. Our ultimate rest is not to be found in this life but in entering the kingdom of God, where our lives will forever be characterized as being at rest.