“Living in His Rest” Hebrews 4:1-10
In Hebrews 3:14-19, we listened as the writer to the Hebrews told us about the wilderness wandering Israelites and their failure to believe God and enter His rest. As we turn the page to Hebrews 4, we will learn more about the “rest” God offers to His people. We do not reach the writer’s climax until Hebrews 4:11, but to understand the writer’s warnings and exhortations, we need a grasp of what this “rest” is.
While I do not normally put the conclusion first in a study, we will discover this rest is a “right now, not yet” idea. The ultimate rest that God offers is yet future. Still, there is a “rest” that we should enjoy “today.” Three thoughts govern the writer’s discussion of God’s “rest.” First, there are lessons to be learned from the wilderness wandering Children of Israel. Second, there are reasons why we know we can still enter God’s rest. Finally, the writer described what this rest was all about.
We begin in Hebrews 4:1. “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.” The author stated his premise at the beginning of this discussion and attached a warning to it.
His premise was there still is a promise that his readers, who are believers, can enter God’s rest. The writer warned that some may seem to have come short of the rest.
Did the writer suggest in Hebrews 4:1 that some can lose their salvation? Some exegetes think he did. However, the rest of the New Testament militates against this position (see Romans 8:35-39). Rather, our author warned that some will never know the joy of walking in fellowship with God. The key word in this warning is the word translated “seem.” The Greek phrase could be translated, “appear to fall short of it.” Since, earlier in 3:15-16, the writer addressed his words to his readers as “brothers,” and pressed them to “exhort one another,” he assumed his readers were converted. The issue does not appear to be conversion here. We also need to recognize the “rest” promised to the children of Israel in the Promised Land was not the rest which concerned the writer in 4:1.
Next, the writer supported his assertion with three statements in support of his premise and his warning (v.2-5). Each statement starts with the word “for.”
“For indeed the [good news] was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.” (Hebrews 4:2). Entering God’s rest is always faith in God’s Word. God made promises to them in the desert, but they refused to believe Him. Because they would not trust, they could not enter the “rest.” The “good news” proclaimed to them in the desert was different from the “good news” of salvation. Moses did not tell them, “Here is the Romans road to salvation in Christ.” Christ was not yet born, and Romans was not yet written. This does not imply that the good news by which we are saved is different than we have been taught. It just means the good news proclaimed to the wanderers differs from the good news we have heard. The emphasis is on their faith.
“For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: ‘So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’ although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.” (Hebrews 4:3). Second, because unbelief keeps people from entering God’s rest, we who have faith must be able to enter. The “rest” was already part of God’s plan at creation. The wanderers did not fail because rest was not available.
“For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all His works’; and again in this place: ‘They shall not enter My rest.’” (Hebrews 4:4-5). When God created the earth, He rested from His labor on the seventh day. He is not still resting. He rested from the completed work of creation. The point of this quote is to underline that this “rest” existed from the beginning of creation. Rest was available to the wanderers and is still available to believers today.
We have learned thus far that this “rest” exists today, existed from creation, and was available to the wandering people of God. Now, we read in verses 6-8: “Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, ‘Today,’ after such a long time, as it has been said: ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.’ For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day.”
We know believers today can enter this rest because some must enter it, and David in Psalm 95 calls on us to hear God’s voice and respond to it, so we are not forbidden to enter God’s “rest.” “Today” could mean a 24 hour day or it could refer to a period of time designated as “a day” as in “The day of the LORD.” We know we can still enter because although Joshua led the Children of Israel into the Promised Land, yet David many centuries later called on his hearers to enter into God’s “rest.” While this does not rule out a future “rest,” it must also refer to a present day “rest.”
The writer concludes from these premises: “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.” (Hebrews 4:9). The New Covenant people of God can also enter into God’s rest. What is this “rest?”
Ultimately, God’s “rest” is the eternal rest that awaits us who belong to the Lord Jesus. “For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.” (Hebrews 4:10). First, when we come to our “rest,” the work of this life will be finished. We will enter the presence of God. The “rest” God designed from the beginning shall be ours in His presence. We reach this “rest” by faith in the finished work of Christ our Savior (the writer will say more about this in the pages ahead).
Saying that we can have an eternal home with God by faith does not mean we are to be inactive here today. “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:11). This verse leads to the point that the writer has been driving at all along. While we will someday have rest from all our labors in eternity with God, it does not imply that we are to be inactive here in this life.
The verb, “to be diligent,” means “to be zealous” or “to make every effort.” This sounds like working so we can rest.” This is not working to become saved, nor is it working to stay saved. Rather, it is making sure we are saved by seeking to constantly work together with God to do His will. (Philippians 2:12-13). “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
The concept of “being diligent” is found in another passage on making sure we are converted. 2 Peter 1:10, says, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble.” Being diligent to make our calling and election sure is not working to stay saved. In fact, it is working to grow in Christ to show that we are saved.
There are two important applications to this. First, do you know that you are saved? Have you mixed the truth of the gospel with your faith so you can look forward to eternal rest with God? The Good News is still “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”
Second, If we are careful to demonstrate our salvation and faith by our obedience, we will experience the present rest” in God, which prefigures our eternal rest” with Him. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30).