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So There Remains a Sabbath Rest - Hebrews 3 & 4
By Heath Robertson from Expositing Light: Volume I, Nr. 1

The Hebrew letter focuses on the greatness of Christ and the superiority of the second covenant over the first. The inspired writer aids us in understanding that the first covenant was not inferior by mistake but by design. “For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never... make perfect those who draw near” (Heb. 10:1). Paul stated this a little simpler to the Galatians. “Therefore, the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ” (Gal. 3:24). This foreshadowing of what was to come through Christ is not only found in the Law of Moses itself but in many events throughout the Jewish history. In chapters three and four of Hebrews, there is a comparison between the life of a Christian and one such event.

The inspired writer begins chapter three with a comparison of Jesus and Moses (vs. 1-6). He states that Moses does indeed deserve honor because of his faithfulness as a servant but that Christ deserves more honor because He was perfectly faithful as a Son. “Therefore,” he writes before he quotes Psalm 95:7-11, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me... in the wilderness” (3:7). In other words, if God told the Israelites not to harden their hearts concerning the Law which came to them through Moses, how much more must we be ready to hear and obey the Words which came through God’s own Son? God stated that these who did harden their hearts “shall NOT enter (His) rest” (3:11). Why, then, would He allow us to enter if we are guilty of the same charge of hardening our hearts to His Word?

In verses sixteen to nineteen of chapter three, the Lord makes it clear that He is referring to the Israelites unwillingness to go in and take the land He had promised them (Num. 13). The writer states that it was simply “unbelief” that held them back (3:19). The Hebrew writer follows this thought with “Therefore, let US fear (Heb. 4:1). There is a strong connection between fearing God and having faith in Him. Solomon wrote that fear is a prerequisite to understanding and obeying God’s Word (Prov. 2:5; 9:10; 15:33; Ecc. 12:13). In fact, Paul wrote that when people no longer have the respect for God that they should it is almost inevitable that even acknowledgement of God’s existence will soon escape their minds (Rom. 1:21-25).

He continues: “For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them” (Heb. 4:2). This people who had been delivered, by God’s power, from their long bondage in Egypt were told by God to “send out for yourself men so that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel” (Num. 13:2). It should have been such a wonderful thing to hear that God was finally going to fulfill His promise to Abraham by giving Canaan to his descendants. However, when ten of the twelve spies saw the large stature, might, and number of the Canaanites, there was no remembrance of God’s power and might. How sad that there was only fear in their hearts for these men and none for the living God! Therefore, God’s proclamation that He would give them the land was “not united by faith in those who heard” (Heb. 4:2) and they died in the wilderness never entering the promised land.

After establishing the reason God would not allow that generation into His “rest,” the inspired writer takes up the task of explaining what the “rest” of God is. First and foremost, the writer wanted the reader to understand that the promise of this rest has yet to be fulfilled (Heb. 4:3). He knew that some might assume that God’s “rest” refers to God’s command to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exo. 20:8) which was based upon the fact that God “rested” or was inished with His creative work on the seventh day after beginning it. Considering the present tense of “they shall not enter My rest,” he concludes in vs. 5-9 that God cannot be referring to the Sabbath command. For, they not only kept the Sabbath to some extent while in the wilderness, but when the Lord spoke through David in Psalm 95:7-11 they had already kept the Sabbath in the promised land for many, many years. “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Heb. 4:9).

“...For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His” (Heb. 4:10). God’s plan for man was finished “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:3, 4). So, after He was finished creating the world and everything in it, “His works were finished” (Heb. 4:3). Then it is after our death that we too shall rest, for that is when we are finished with our works (Heb. 9:27; Rev. 2:10). The Sabbath rest foreshadowed the complete rest that God will give to those who die as His faithful servants.

“Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest” (Heb. 4:11). Why does it take diligence? Because “...the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Our carelessness or carefulness, disobedience or obedience, and neglect of or attention to God’s Word reveals the nature of our hearts. There is a danger, which described many of the Jews through the ages, of considering oneself God’s servant but in reality only serving self. Jesus described the Pharisees and Scribes as people who “honors (Him) with their lips but their heart is far from (Him)” (Matt. 15:8). Oh how so many have deceived themselves that in doing certain good actions or going through certain motions they secure for themselves eternal salvation! Our worship can never be pleasing to God if it is not done with understanding and willing hearts (John 4:24). God will not reward any good deed that isn’t committed out of love and compassion (Matt. 6:1-4). God will never give one of “the water of life” if they are not “thirsty” for it (Rev. 22:17)! The commands of God are not meant to simply push one to do good things but rather they are meant to attract the heart that wants to do good things. That is, we are “called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

There is no hiding from God. Our hearts our laid “naked” before Him (Heb. 4:13). However, He is not some cosmic bully waiting to pounce on us when we make a mistake. Much to the contrary, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” as an offering of grace and mercy to those who would believe in Him (John 3:16). Jesus Christ “passed through the heavens” (Heb. 4:14) to be our example, to lead the way through this life to God (Heb. 12:2). Christ experienced humanity to the fullest. He felt weakness and has known temptation and suffering beyond what most humans could ever imagine. And “yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). “Since we have a great High Priest… let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). It is there, at the foot of Christ’s throne, that we will find God’s rest.

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