NOTES on Hebrews
4:1-11 (click here for study)
The author of Hebrews has just warned the Hebrew Christians against unbelief by reminding them that their forefathers failed to enter their promised rest because of their disobedience and unbelief. He also reminds them that Today they can still receive God's grace and enter his rest. In fact, he warns them to "be careful that none of [them] be found to have fallen short" of that rest.
God promised the Israelites rest in Canaan. That rest was to include freedom from the slavery of Egypt, ownership of their new land, unity in their nation, peace from their defeated adversaries, and freedom from disasters. (see Josh. 1:13; Deut. 3:20; 2 Sam. 7:1, 11; 1 Kings 5:4)
The people of Israel never experienced lasting rest in Canaan. Their disobedience, arrogance, and unbelief continually caused them to fall into idolatry and subsequently into captivity or exile.
Hebrews cautions us not to "fall short" of God's rest. A life falling short of God's rest will be a life marked with bitterness (Heb.12:15; Deut. 29:18), with a sinful, unbelieving heart (Heb. 3:12), with legalism (Gal. 5:4; Romans 3:28), and with deception, emptiness, and boastfulness (2 Peter 3:17)
We don't have to live, however, in bitterness and deception, unbelief and legalism. Today we can choose to receive God's word by faith, believing that it is His word, not the words of men, and follow Him wholeheartedly. (1 Thess. 2:13, Deut. 1:34,35)
God's Rest: Complete at Creation
Verses 3 and 4 make these provocative statements: "And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: 'And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.' "
This passage refers to Genesis 2:2 where it says, "By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work."
The Hebrews passage goes on to quote again from Psalm 95:11: "So I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.' "
Many of us learned that these passages in Genesis and Hebrews refer to God's work of creating the world. On the seventh day, we learned, God rested from his work of creating the world and all life on it. That rest from creation, we learned, is what the fourth commandment commemorated.
"For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy," says Exodus 20:11.
God clearly rested from his creation activity on the seventh day. In Hebrews 4, however, ceasing from the work of creation doesn't seem to explain the plea to enter God's rest Today. If Sabbath rest was only about remembering creation, expanding it from the seventh day to Today seems unnecessary. If God's rest was only about creating the world, it seems unrelated to the rest God promised Israel.
The last book of the Bible gives us added insight into God's finished work at creation. Revelation 13:8 says: "All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast-all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world."
And in Revelation 17:8b we find this: "The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come."
John the Revelator is telling us that not only did God finish creating the physical world on the sixth day, but the entire plan of salvation was complete at creation. God, who is not limited by time, had already set the death and resurrection of Jesus in place when he created the world. Jesus' victory over sin and death as well as our acceptance or rejection of His great sacrifice and gift were already accomplished facts to God.
The reality of Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection and the miracle of our redemption still had to play out within time. But in eternity those things were completed at the creation of the world. God already knew his incarnation and humanity; he already knew his death and resurrection. Salvation was an accomplished fact in eternity when God rested on the seventh day.
When God promised Israel rest, therefore, he was not simply referring to escaping Egypt and living without wars in the land of Canaan. He was giving them a living metaphor of their salvation. The Canaan rest he promised them was actually a type of their salvation from sin. The seriousness of their failure to enter their promised rest was not that they failed to live right in the land of their enemies. The real seriousness of their failure was that they failed to enter the rest of salvation. They failed to leave behind their own works and enter the rest of God.
Rest and The Sabbath
Genesis 2 tells us that on the seventh day God rested from all his work. Many of us learned that God gave Adam and Eve the seventh-day Sabbath at creation. But Genesis does not say that Adam and Eve rested on the seventh day; it says only that God rested from his work.
Before they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve had no need to enter God's rest. They were sinless, and they walked and talked face-to-face with God. They had no need of salvation. They had no works from which to rest.
God was resting from his work of creation and salvation. All was in place. While Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, they were whole and one with God. His rest was not something they needed or entered. In fact, as sinless humans, they had no reason or way to enter his rest. They had no need of being saved.
God was resting from something far bigger than Adam and Eve could have comprehended. While they lived fully the joy of being united with God, the rest God entered was rest from already providing for their future salvation.
When they sinned, however, they suddenly had need of God's rest. In a few moments all reality changed for Adam and Eve. They went from being alive to being spiritually dead; they went from walking face-to-face with God to hiding from him. They went from knowing God to struggling to justify themselves to him. They went from unselfconsciously rejoicing in life to needing God's rest. They needed salvation.
When God gave the fourth commandment to Israel, it was not an arbitrary demand simply to remind them he created them. The seventh-day Sabbath was about salvation. The seventh day was a way of saying to Israel, "The pagans around you work unceasingly to please their gods. You will take one day off per week, whether you're in the middle of harvest or lambing season, and you will be successful beyond anything you can imagine. Neither you nor the pagans around you will be able to say you are successful because you work hard. Your success will be entirely because of Me. I will make you successful. Your own work will never be your ticket to success. Your success will always be a gift from Me."
From the creation of the world, God's rest has been about salvation, not just creation. When Jesus came, however, his death and resurrection occurred within time. Humanity at last could understand what Sabbath was about. At last they could see that Sabbath was about living in God's rest all the time. No longer did they need a weekly day to make them think about their coming redemption. Their redemption was complete, and they could rest every day in the assurance that they were saved. At last they could enter the rest that God entered at creation: the rest of salvation completed.
Throughout the Old Testament Israel had a symbol of God's rest: the seventh-day Sabbath. Under the New Covenant, however, they finally had the tangible realization of the real thing. Jesus had entered time as a human and had lived, died, and risen in order to forgive, once for all, the sins of the world.
God's Rest, Not Ours
"There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his," the author continues in verses 9-10.
It's interesting to note that God refers throughout the Bible to his people entering His rest, not to his people entering their own rest. For people to enter their own rest would be pointless. Their own works and rest cannot accomplish salvation. No matter what we do or don't do, we will not find rest.
It's only when by faith we enter God's rest and submit ourselves to his finished work of salvation that we finally find rest. Only by entering the rest God established at creation-our completed salvation-are we able finally to rest from our own works. Without experiencing God's salvation rest, it's impossible for us to cease our own works. Our natural sinful condition demands that we control our lives. Only in Christ's rest are we able to find peace and to cease from our works.
God asks us to enter his rest. He asks us to see that Sabbath rest has always, from the creation of the world, been about salvation. Sabbath has always been about the finished work of Christ.
He asks us to enter his rest Today. He wants us to see that his rest is bigger than our traditions. It's not just about remembering; it's about knowing our Savior.
God asks us to submit our hearts to him. He asks us to trust him to reveal to us the deep wounds and hurts we hold hidden in our hearts. He asks us to let him redeem those scars and to give us rest for our souls. He asks us to let go of our stranglehold on our own lives and let him reveal his love and salvation to us.
God's rest has the power to change us. His rest is our only source of peace.
Today he asks us to enter the rest he entered at the end of creation. He asks us to trust him to heal our brokenness and to love us. He asks us to trust him to make us one with him.
"Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts."
Today, enter God's rest. Today, let your soul enter eternity with God.
Today, begin to live in love.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised November 26, 2000.