Lesson 9: "We Which Have Believed Do Enter Into Rest" (Hebrews 4:3)
The Book of Hebrews. Welcome to lesson # 9. In this lesson, we would like to delve into division #3 of that larger section we blocked out back in lesson tt7. The text we hope to cover in this lesson involves the first ten verses of chapter four. Please get your markers set; we'll be reading those 10 verses in just a moment. But, we must remember! God hath spoken. Jesus is the captain of our salvation (2:10) or as the HEBREWS writer later says (12:2), Jesus is the "author and finisher of our faith." Thus, the writer pleads and appeals (3:1), let us CONSIDER the Apostle and/or High Priest of our profession. This consideration led us to block-out 32 verses (i.e. Heb. 3:1-4:13), which we divided into four parts. In lesson #7 we considered the first part which might be summarized briefly, Christ is as superior to Moses as one that builds a house is superior to the house. Then in lesson # 8, our last lesson, we covered the second division, which had to do with "holding] the beginning of our confidence [or faith] steadfast unto the end." I.e. we must recognize there is urgency in hearing the voice of Jesus, or to say it another way: we must not procrastinate our salvation. Both of these divisions started out "WHEREFORE," i.e. in considering the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Jesus Christ (3:1). Then the third division, which we are now launching upon here at the beginning of ch. 4, begins with the words: "Let us THEREFORE fear..." i.e. with respect to the two previous considerations, we must have a certain attitude also, i.e. the attitude of fear. However, before we begin reading, take just a moment to notice how the next section, the fourth section, (down in v.11) begins with similar wording: "Let us labor THEREFORE..." I.e. with respect to the previous considerations, we must not only have the right attitude, of fear and respect, we must also work at it (i.e. "labor" is the word used in v.11). AND this, you must keep in mind was first written to the Christians of the first century in and around Jerusalem, something like a generation after the time of Jesus; although, it obviously applies to us with equal force. O.K. let's read! Are you ready? Ch.4, v.1 beginning. Have you got it? Let's read.
"Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise. And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, Today, after so long a time; as it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his."
O.K., now, you must keep this within the context in which it was written. You see, the writer was dealing with the mentality of those Jewish Christians who were on the verge of backsliding. Those who spoke the Hebrew language in and around Jerusalem. You see, most of those people knew the O.T. like the back of their hand. They had been taught the law and the prophets from infancy. So, when this writer quoted from the O.T., he was in their ball park, so-to-speak. Not only were they familiar with these Scriptures; those Judiazing teachers who were persuading them to turn back to the Mosaic covenant and the temple worship and give up Christianity, were also well versed in the law and the prophets, you see. Thus, it was only natural that the writer uses accommodative language, i.e. take his examples from that with which they were familiar. Now, get the writer's thesis: Christ was infinitely superior to Moses (we've covered that). We must not harden our hearts as those under Moses did, that could not enter in because of unbelief (v.19, -tip the page). "Let us therefore fear..." (v.1), lest the same tragedy strike us through that same avenue of unbelief. Now the word "fear" here does not mean to run for your life or fear that arises from distrust. The thought "let us therefore fear" is associated with the natural state of alertness which accompanies danger. The danger (here) is exhibited through that word "therefore" i.e. based upon what has already been said, (1) we are dealing with God himself as compared to those in the wilderness dealing with Moses. (2) Those Israelites in the desert under Moses did not have this FEAR-FACTOR (i.e. alert and obedient, concerned attitude) that the writer is here suggesting (i.e. "let us [have this factor]", v.1); thus, they died in the wilderness without attaining the promised land, finally reached by the next generation under the leadership of Joshua. AND, incidentally that phrase down in v.8, "If Jesus had given them rest" (do you see that?) should read: "If Joshua had given them rest." This is a reference to the leader of the Israelites in the wilderness, that generation following Moses, that DID GO in as they were instructed to GO and WERE GIVEN the promised land. In the Greek language, (in which this was written, we talked about this language business back in our introduction), the word Joshua in the Greek and the word Jesus in Greek are exactly the same name, spelled the same way. It is unfortunate there is no distinction here in the English Bible. Some translations make this distinction; however, the KJV does not...so get this programmed in your noodle up front (O.K.?).
Alright, up until this point, I have avoided using the word REST, R-E-S-T. The word "rest" here in this paragraph has dual meaning. It is used (#1) as a reference to the Israelites entering into the promised land (going back to the O.T. books of Numbers and Deuteronomy and the book of Joshua). The promised land, i.e. the land of Canaan, that God gave the Israelites was looked upon as a "rest," i.e. as compared to their forty years of sojourning in the desert and their experience in Egypt. Now, in terms of shadows and types, this was/is a figure of heaven, i.e. the ultimate rest. (#2), the word IS a reference to heaven in terms of our state of affairs, i.e. as pertains to us. Thus, as I said, the word has dual meaning as used in the O.T. and as used in the N. Testament. In these passages here in the book of HEBREWS, the writer makes a play upon this dual meaning of the word "rest." If you go back to that quote (here in v.3) "As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest..." (which the writer took from David in the last verse of Psalm 95), the word "rest" there refers back to the promised land. However, David in Psalm 95 (v.7, just before that), in speaking to and dealing with the people of his day, said: "To day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart, as in the provocation." Thus, the HEBREWS writer shows that David implied in the word "rest" a dual meaning also. Jesus, our Saviour, used the word "rest" to mean heaven, e.g. in Matt. 11:28, Jesus said: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," implying, as I have said: heaven, the place of ultimate rest for God's people, i.e. the saints of God. NOW, THERE IS a place of heaven, a place of ultimate rest, the HEBREWS writer assures us. Look at v.3, "we which have believed DO enter into rest." Then going down to the bottom line (v.9), "there remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God." Heaven is still there.
Now, go back to v.1, just a moment. "Let us therefore fear..." WHY? "lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest [i.e. heaven], any of you should seem to come short of it." In other word, we must have an attitude of fear, or alertness as to our spiritual state; because, without that alertness (or ."fear", as the HEBREWS writer called it) we may very well miss heaven just as those Israelites of the first generation missed the promised land. Now, it was there for them. They simply did not seize it. "For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them." Those people in and around Jerusalem in the AD 60's had been taught and had accepted the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, just as we have been taught today. You cannot become a Christian without being taught about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel (I-Cor. 15:1-3) is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. If you have been scripturally baptized into Christ, then you know the meaning of that act. Now, look at the phrase, "as well as unto them" (middle of v.2). Those Israelites were not baptized into Christ; but, they were instructed as to what was expected of them; just as we have been instructed what is expected of us in obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ. They flunked out, WHY? Their actions were not consistent with their understanding. That's another way of saying "unbelief" (as used up in the last verse of ch. 3). Here in v.2, the writer says it like this: "the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it." Thus, the implication and the message to us is clear, obey or be lost ...miss heaven ...that "rest" God has prepared for his people (John 14:2). Don't fiddle around, don't take chances, don't procrastinate and sour on the vine as those of the provocation in wilderness did.
Then, v.3 down thru v.9, here in Heb. ch. 4, the writer develops this argument (we have just summarized) from David (i.e. Psalm 95) and the Israelite-desert of Sinai experience as recorded in the Old Testament. He draws his conclusion in v.9, "there remaineth therefore a REST to the people of God." AND, stirred into this (v.3-4) is the thought that this is not just some after thought. This is the way God set up these things "from the foundation of the world" (v.3). Then, notice in v.4, that the writer brings into this discussion a reference to God's rest, back at the beginning (as recorded in Gen. 2:2), concerning the seventh day. I think the bottom line is, the writer makes the point (if you skip down to v.10), God rested AFTER He had completed the work of creation. Thus, our rest comes after we complete our work, our labors of obedience and service in this life. This rest of heaven follows, in other words (if we'll get on the ball, so-to-speak) ...if we are accepted ...if we accomplish acceptably to God's grace. But, that labor, that service, must be done now, before death. That's the thought in v.10, "he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works..." We work while we live here on this old planet; but, our rest comes after we cease from our work, i.e. after death. This is the same order in which God did it, except that God did not die, of course.
Now, while we are at this point, let me take just a moment to say there is a big cackle in the religious world through what we call denominationalism with respect to the dual meanings (here), big conclusions are drawn on what is sometimes termed type-ante type or shadow-type discussions. These discussions seem to stir-up everyone and are sometimes used to draw invalid conclusions. So, be careful here! ...e.g. this is the approach of the Sabbatarian. Now, I refer to so-called Christians, who religiously observe Saturday, the seventh day, as a day of rest. Now, I'm not talking about the Jews of today who do not believe in Jesus and claim to be following the Mosaic Law and keeping the 4th commandment: "remember the sabbath day to keep it holy" (Ex. 20:8). I'm talking about denominationals, i.e. so-called Christians who keep the sabbath, thinking and teaching it is required of Christians today. Sabbath keeping began with Ex. 16:22, where Moses taught the Israelites to do this when gathering manna, if you remember, i.e. just a few days before the giving of the law on Mt. Siani and as part of that general teaching. There is no evidence the sabbath day was ever kept before that. Now, someone is going to say... yes but, God rested on the sabbath (Gen. 2:2). Well, there is that reference to God resting on the sabbath day; but, you must remember: the book of Genesis was written by Moses after the time of the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai. Thus, that reference was put there for those already observing the sabbath. So, I repeat, there is no evidence the sabbath day was ever kept before Ex. 16:22. As a matter of fact, Neh. 9:14 says that it was made known at the time of Moses and this is verified again in Ezek. 20:10-11-12. These direct statements (therefore) nullify any big shadow-type conclusions which takes sabbath keeping back to the garden of Eden and makes it any thing more than simply a part of Law of Moses which was done away in Christ (Col. 2:14). Now the HEBREWS writer did this double play on the word "rest" legitimately. This was done through the Holy Spirit, i.e. by inspiration. And the HEBREWS writer gives us a few more big mind-boggling shadow-type insights before we finish this book, interestingly enough. However, we must be careful about trying to draw such conclusions through such an empirical process on our own. Stick with what the book says. Don't try to stretch it! Don't try to shrink it! Truth cannot be re-shaped, re-painted or overhauled. When you alter it, it ceases to be truth. So, be careful! Speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent. Stick to the terminology given. Call Bible things by Bible names. You see, when we get away from this, we are doing the very same thing as those Israelites in the wilderness. "The word preached did not profit them." WHY? "Not being mixed with faith in them that heard it." You see, they didn't believe it as it was presented. They wanted to bend the rules to suit them. They had fear! They feared the Canaanites more than they feared God. The HEBREWS writer, fortified by the conclusions of David, is teaching that heaven can slip right through our fingers. God wants to give it to us, it's a gift, yes (Eph. 2:8). It is given by unmerited favor, i.e. we cannot earn it. It is by grace (Eph. 2:8); but, that verse also says "through faith." It's a free gift, yes; but, there is also another process tied in here. The process of believing in Jesus the Christ as God's Son, honoring the Christ, and obeying him. This process starts by hearing the gospel and obeying the gospel. That's called faith. Our actions and our conduct must conform to our faith, that's called repentance. We must do this and have this to a. rather high degree. To the degree that, we are willing to speak out and tell others, I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that he was raised from the dead, that's called confession. To the degree we are willing to be baptized in water to verify this faith. We cannot pick and choose what we want to do and ignore the divine rules as the Israelites did in the wilderness. OH, we can do that! BUT, if we do, we lose that "rest" called heaven as our predecessors, the Israelites, have exemplified. Have a good day.