The writer of Hebrews spent the second chapter saying “Because we see the superiority and preeminence of Christ, let us believe right doctrine,” and warned his readers to guard against their faith drifting.

In chapter 3, the writer had a second “therefore” followed by five directives for our response to right doctrine. The first three are in chapter three, and the fourth comes at the beginning of chapter four:

  1. Follow Jesus as Preeminent Apostle and High Priest
  2. Resist the Pull of the Past
  3. Help Each Other Remain Faithful
  4. Enter Into God’s Rest

But what does it mean, exactly, to enter into God’s rest?


From A Saved Point of View

“God’s rest” cannot mean the whole of salvation, if the first generation of Israelites delivered from enslavement in Egypt are the example.

  1. Though God would not permit them to enter the Promised Land (“God’s rest” in the writer of Hebrews’ text), they would forever remain rescued from their Egyptian overlords.
  2. God expressly denied both Aaron and Moses permission to enter the land, but that did not mean they were denied eternal salvation. Else, how could Moses be with Elijah and Jesus at the moment of Jesus’ transfiguration?
  3. God continued to supernaturally protect them, guide them, and provide for them during the rest of their (now forty-year-long) sojourn in the wilderness.

Because of all these factors, it is a better reading of the writer’s exhortation to see “God’s rest” as the process of sanctification in this life, a process that grants every believer peace from God that “passes understanding,” confidence in God, and a willingness to fully surrender to God’s will, guidance, empowerment, and word.

See if this perspective helps to clarify the meaning of the writer’s explanation.

For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,

“As in my anger I swore,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”

though his works were finished at the foundation of the world. For in one place it speaks about the seventh day as follows, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this place it says, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains open for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he sets a certain day—“today”—saying through David much later, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later about another day. So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs. For we who have believed enter that rest . . .

Hebrews 4:2-12 (NRSV)
x1952-216, The Seven Trumpets of Jericho, Artist: Tissot, Photographer: John Parnell, Photo © The Jewish Museum, New York

We will find, throughout the rest of his letter, the writer would urge his readers again and again to go deeper with God, to move beyond the elemental truths of the gospel into the much deeper truths of intimacy and union with God, to full surrender, to glad acceptance of the cross, to confident and willing obedience to God’s words and the Word.

Benefit of the Good News

For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.

Hebrews 4:2 (NRSV)

The first benefit, of course, that comes immediately to mind is redemption! Justification! Substitution! Being rescued from enslavement to sin, to be set free, to be born anew, born from above, adopted by God as one of God’s own.

But that is just the beginning.

It is certainly glorious to be given life! But what would happen to that newborn if it were abandoned? If there were nothing more for that little one that simply to be born?

Instead, God nurtures the newborn with pure spiritual milk, and the infant grows up, first a child, then a youth, then a full grown person, vibrantly ready for all life has to offer.

Do not miss this benefit!

God Rested on the Seventh Day

. . . just as God has said,

“As in my anger I swore,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”

though his works were finished at the foundation of the world. 

For in one place it speaks about the seventh day as follows, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this place it says, “They shall not enter my rest.” 

Since therefore it remains open for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience . . .

Hebrews 4:3-6 (NRSV)

The writer made a fascinating correlation to God’s rest, as described in Genesis. After the sixth day, God gazed upon all that God had made, the heavens and the earth, the completed cosmos, and found it not only good, but very good.

And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and [God] rested on the seventh day from all the work that [God] had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

Genesis 2:2-3 (NRSV)
The Pillars of Creation | Kevin Gill from Los Angeles, CA, United States, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Note that rest, in the writer’s example, comes from a completion of work. So, in a very real sense, we have been given direction from the writer that the “rest” of God is not about rescue, but about reward. That sense of deep satisfaction that comes from working hard and well, producing an excellent outcome.

As it were, after God had rescued the Israelites, God brought them through a journey then metaphorically opened the door to Canaan as if to say,

“Here is your reward for trusting Me, and following Me through the wilderness. Good job, everyone! Now you can enter into Canaan! It will require a whole new level of trust and hard work to reap the full reward from this land, but it will be worth it. Just have faith.”

But that was just it. The people did not have faith, they forfeited their reward.

Come To Me . . .

There is another correlating passage found in the words of Jesus,

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus’ invitation to all people, Matthew 11:28-30 (NRSV)

Jesus is offering rescue and reward for faithful obedience, for Jesus’ yoke is easy and light, Jesus is gentle and humble, there will be joy in serving Him, in bearing His yoke, and His rest will go so deep even our souls will be refreshed.

A Second Chance

. . . again [God] sets a certain day—“today”—saying through David much later, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later about another day. So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from [God’s].

Hebrews 4:7-10 (NRSV)

God continued—and continues—to hold out the offer of rest, now through Christ.

Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.

Hebrews 4:11 (NRSV)

The Sermon on the Mount | James Tissot (1836 – 1902), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s