Invitation to Rest – Hebrews 4

Read the Passage: Hebrews 4

Listen to the Redeemed Mind Podcast: Hebrews 4

God’s Promise (4:1–10)

In Hebrews 3 the author encouraged his readers to be sure that they were in Christ, as he taught that a reliable mark of being a believer is holding fast to Jesus until the end (cf. Heb. 3:6, 14). In Heb. 3:16–18 the author appealed to the example of the Israelites who died during the wilderness wanderings. The warning in this passage is that while all those who left Egypt looked like the people of God, ultimately, they died in the wilderness and fell short of God’s rest in the Promised Land “because of unbelief” (Heb. 3:18). In Heb. 4:1, the author exhorts his readers to look to this example of Israel and “fear lest any of you seem to have come short of [God’s rest].” Furthermore, the author emphasizes that the rest which Israel missed—and, by implication, the readers might miss too—is salvation, for “the gospel was preached to us as well as to them” (Heb. 4:2; cf. John 8:56; Gal. 3:8).

In Heb. 4:2b–3 the author emphasizes the lost estate of the majority of those who left Egypt during the exodus. Whereas earlier he had cited the peoples’ rebellion, provocation of God’s anger, and unbelief (cf. Heb. 3:16–18), here he mentions their lack of faith in “the word which they heard” (Heb. 4:2b; cf. Ps. 78:8, 10, 22–23, 32, 36–37, 41 56–57), which was the gospel. The author is clear that the Israelites’ failure to enter God’s rest was not because of the lack of availability of salvation, for “the works were finished from the foundation of the world” (Heb. 4:3; cf. Rev. 13:8). Moreover, in Heb. 4:4 the author appeals to God’s own example of rest as he quotes Gen. 2:2, to make the point that God’s resting on the seventh day of creation was an object lesson depicting salvation. This becomes clear in Heb. 4:10, as the author writes, “For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.”

In Heb. 4:6–10 the author continues his discussion of rest, noting again that Israel “did not enter because of disobedience” (Heb. 4:6). Yet, since “a promise remains” (Heb. 4:1) and “the works were finished from the foundation of the world” (Heb. 4:3), then “some must enter [God’s rest]” (Heb. 4:6). In Heb. 4:7 the author quotes Psalm 95, for the fifth time in two chapters, to teach that the time to enter God’s rest is today, and to do so by not “harden[ing] your hearts” (cf. 2 Cor. 6:2). Some readers may have been tempted to view the rest mentioned in Psalm 95 as only the physical rest of the Promised Land, which some Israelites did attain after forty years of wilderness wanderings. However, the author points out that since David wrote Psalm 95 roughly four hundred years after Joshua led the second generation of Jews into the land of Canaan, the promised rest (cf. Deut. 12:9) must entail more than just physical rest.

Man’s Diligence (4:11–13)

In light of the warning in the preceding verses, the author once again exhorts his readers to “be diligent to enter that rest” (Heb. 4:11). The idea here is not to work hard for one’s salvation, as justification comes through putting one’s faith—or resting—in Christ alone. Rather, the encouragement to diligence here is a reminder to monitor one’s faith, to hold to one’s confidence (cf. Heb. 3:6, 14), and to be sure that one’s salvation is authentic. Indeed, we must work hard at resting. The best tool to use in such self-reflection and evaluation is the Word of God, which is “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12). The idea is that within Scripture, believers can see “examples . . . written for our admonition” (1 Cor. 10:11), such as the narrative of Israel during the exodus event. Furthermore, since faith comes by hearing the Word of God (cf. Rom. 10:17), reading the Bible will either affirm one’s salvation or confirm the need for salvation.

Jesus’ Mediation (4:14–16)

As he transitions into the next section of the book of Hebrews, where he’ll discuss the priesthood of Christ, the author returns to the theme of the kinship between man and God that he had explored earlier in Heb. 2:14–18. Here in Heb. 4:14 the author again exhorts his readers to “hold fast [to] our confession.” Next, as he twice notes that Jesus is our High Priest, the author teaches that Christ can “sympathize with our weaknesses. . . [for He] was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Indeed, because of Jesus’ position as a mediator between God and mankind, as well as the authenticity of Christ’s incarnation, believers can approach the divine throne and find grace and mercy to assist them when being tempted (cf. Heb. 4:16; 1 Cor. 10:13). Observe God’s earlier invitation in the Psalms, “Call on Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me” (Ps. 50:15).

Application Questions:

  1. What is a biblical definition of rest? How does the fourth commandment regarding the Sabbath relate to present rest and eternal rest?
  2. How could the gospel have been preached to Israel in the Old Testament, before the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus?
  3. As a Christian are you at rest, living a life that is mostly free of anxiety and worry? What types of things rob you of rest?
  4. What is the difference between sinfully doubting one’s salvation and wisely evaluating one’s salvation?
  5. When you are tempted, suffer, or otherwise in trouble, do ever neglect to approach God for assistance?