Hebrews Chapter 4: Entering into Rest

Jan 7th, 2010 | By | Category: Hebrews, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Hebrews Chapter 4: Entering into Rest

Heb. 4:1 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.

The previous verse said that the Israelites “could not enter in because of unbelief.” Now Paul continued, “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 [because of unbelief].” What about “unbelief”?

Comment: On the one hand, once we trust in the blood of Jesus, there is nothing we can do, but on the other hand, we need to strive for perfection, so a balance needs to be achieved. We cannot be slack in trying to perfect our characters.

Reply: Yes, as stated earlier by Paul, we are not to let things slip and gradually glide away (Heb. 2:1). To onlookers, a departure from the faith may seem sudden but not to the individual, for the Scriptures suggest there is a precondition.

Comment: We need to have an abiding faith and trust in order to enter into God’s rest.

Reply: We are to “hold fast … [our] confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” (Heb. 3:6). Paul also said to “hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end” (Heb. 3:14). Other factors can also cause a departure from the faith, for example, yielding to temptation according to the flesh, disputation, the introduction of doctrinal error that leads away from the faith, and allowing a root of bitterness to spring up in our heart (Heb. 12:15).

Thus far in this epistle, we have been reading about the subtlety of sin and the necessity to give all diligence to making our calling and election sure. If we understand the matter correctly, the Book of Hebrews addresses both the Little Flock and the Great Company. All of the consecrated have to keep their hopes high unto the end in order to secure life.

Sometimes we have to review the past and take inventory on what we were prior to consecration and what we have become. God has done great things with each of us. Great changes have been made, and the fact that we have cooperated with the Heavenly Father and Jesus in making that progress should be an encouragement to us not to give up hope.

Especially for one who has been relatively long in the truth and has been attaining love, which is the main objective, the text “Let patience have her perfect [or perfecting] work” is applicable (James 1:4). “Having done all, … stand” shows resistance and strength, but we are also to keep going and not give up (Eph. 6:13). In a marathon, the last 300 or 400 yards are the hardest of the entire race, even if that race is 26 miles long. The runner gets a feeling that is almost like dying, yet he must persevere if he is to finish the race, and those who persevere best win the race. The hope of life is not giving up at all, no matter what progress we make. We must never let go of our anchor, which is in the Most Holy. If we let go of that hope beyond the veil, we might go into perdition (destruction) and thus lose all life.

This epistle is one of Paul’s last works, and his primary concern was for brethren to make their calling and election sure—something like the writings of the Apostle John. John especially emphasized the importance of getting everlasting life and how wonderful that would be. Paul, generally speaking throughout his ministry, kept the objective so high that he repeatedly emphasized the hope of the high calling, but now, toward the end of his Christian walk, he was becoming more reflective and philosophical and was trying to help the entire brotherhood.

Therefore, the emphasis here is to hang on and finish the race. He began the Book of Hebrews with the thought of Jesus’ being the starter and the finisher of the race. Since Jesus endured such sufferings and severe tests unto the end, he will help us in a particular period of dire need. The bottom line is to trust in our invisible but very much alive Savior to tide us over so that we will be faithful unto death for any hope of life. Although earlier Paul always held up winning the race by making such statements as, “Let us run the race as if there is only one prize,” we do not get that feel in the Book of Hebrews (1 Cor. 9:24 paraphrase). If we are correct, he sounded very much like the Apostle John at this point. Of course John was quite old even when he wrote his Gospel, let alone his epistles. Therefore, his Gospel is very different from the other Gospels, which are general narrations of the life of Jesus.

Q: What is the thought of “fear” in verse 1?

A: It means, “Do not fall asleep as far as running the race is concerned. Never give up; fear to lose.”

At any rate, the Book of Hebrews is quite different from Paul’s other epistles. In addition, he had other motivations for the Hebrews, which are woven into the epistle, and Jewish Christians were the majority of the early Christian Church. However, Paul opened the door of hope to the Gentiles, and John and others followed after.

Q: Why did Paul say, “Let us therefore fear, lest … any of you should seem to come short of it,” rather than to omit “seem to” and just say, “Let us therefore fear, lest … any of you should come short of it”?

A: Paul used that wording because by nature, some people are overconfident, and some are just the opposite. God calls two types of individuals, and the ones who are more serious and not that confident need encouragement. What happens when Christians consider the obstacles in the way? Why did the unfaithful spies give an unfavorable report? They were considering the difficulties in the future—the men of stature, the walls being great, etc.—and from a natural standpoint, they were correct. However, they did not add the necessary ingredient, namely, to have confidence in the unseen God. Another illustration is David, who came to the battle scene and heard the giant Goliath challenging the whole nation of Israel and cursing God. King Saul, a warrior who was taller than anyone else in Israel, did not act. The attitude of David, who could not understand why no one would fight Goliath, was, “Do you mean to say you let him talk like that?” David then went out with a slingshot in the strength of the Lord. Imagine! The giant was covered with armor from head to foot, and David thought he could slay that giant with a stone! But he went with the confidence of knowing that it would be right to fight that man, who was slandering God, and that God would help him to enter into combat. David won because in laughing, the giant tipped his head back, and the protective visor slipped off his forehead. In that little chink, the stone from David’s sling found its mark, sinking into the giant’s forehead. The stone was one of five, and we can be sure that one element in David’s success was faith that God would direct the issue.

The promise is left—it remains behind—for us to enter into God’s rest. The subject started in earlier verses with the mysterious “Today.” God had said to the Israelites at the time of the Exodus, “If you do certain things today, I will do such and such for you,” but what happened?

The Israelites failed because of unbelief. With regard to the Christian, Paul reasoned, “Even though we are now a couple of thousand years past that incident, the promise of that ‘Today’ is still valid. It still exists for those who have the faith to take hold of the promise of entering into the Promised Land.” If we concentrate on our own weaknesses too much, we will become discouraged. People who are basically honest see their shortcomings, but that does not mean they overcome them. However, seeing the shortcomings can be discouraging. A person’s seriousness and honesty of heart, coupled with measuring his progress and problems, can be a discouraging factor. Not only did the Lord begin and end his own race successfully, but also he will help us to do likewise. And that is where prayer becomes an important element. The “fear” of coming short should induce prayer because that is exactly when we need it. Undoubtedly David silently prayed to God before going out to fight Goliath. Prayer helps to overcome fear.

It is dangerous for unbelief to enter in. In fact, it is so dangerous that if unbelief is allowed to prosper, it will have a deadening effect. To our understanding, the type of those who did not enter the Promised Land, which was half of the Israelites, represents that half of the people will not get life. We may be wrong, but that is our understanding based on certain types.

Therefore, in this epistle, Paul was broadening the issue to say, “Hold on to that anchor of faith!” Hebrews 6:19,20 gives the theme of this epistle: “Which hope [the Abrahamic promise] we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus.” Paul wanted to leave behind good advice for all of the consecrated. In addition, he felt a responsibility to his own nation. For almost all of his ministry, he spoke basically to the Gentiles. It is true that when he went to a city, he first went to the synagogue. If given an opportunity, he preached there, but invariably he was expelled. Then the Lord opened the door for individual Jews, apart from the synagogue, and Gentiles to join his ministry. Basically, the nucleus of a Gentile Church was developed under his ministry. He went from one city to another, and the converts he left behind had only a letter from him to study, for there was no New Testament at that time.

What his ministry did, therefore, was to open the door, and not until the second and third centuries were his letters collated, the Gospel of Matthew being the exception.

Paul was trying to be encouraging, and although his method, or technique, was a little different from that of the Apostle John, there was a similarity. As an older person, he was trying to leave behind a legacy of hope and encouragement with as broad an effect as possible, rather than to be too strict and limit his advice to the few.

John’s message was different from the other three Gospels in that it was more universal. Mark was written for the Roman soldiers, Matthew was directed to the Jews, and Paul’s ministry was primarily to the Gentiles. John’s ministry embraced different classes because he wrote later, when a large group of Gentiles were in the Church, as well as Jews. In manner of speech and direction, the appeal of his message was quite different than Paul’s. However, there was a similarity between John’s epistles and the Book of Hebrews. Because of its style, some feel that Paul did not write this letter to the Hebrews, but subtle internal clues prove otherwise. The difference in style can be attributed to the fact that this epistle was Paul’s swan song.

In verse 1, Paul used “fear” in a constructive sense. It is good to have a barking dog as long as it does not bark constantly. A properly trained watchdog is very helpful. As we continue, we will find the Book of Hebrews to be very encouraging.

Heb. 4:2 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.

The gospel was preached “unto them [the Israelites]: but the word preached did not profit them, [because it was] not … mixed with faith in them that heard it.”

Heb. 4:3 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.

Verse 3 is a quote from Psalm 95:10,11, “Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.” God dealt with natural Israel for 40 years in the wilderness, and what did they do? Ten times they grievously lacked faith and complained about God’s leading, and their questioning of Moses was really a questioning of God’s character, for Moses was only a mouthpiece. As the Israelites continued to disobey, God remonstrated more severely. For example, suppose that as a parent, we had a child who repeatedly disobeyed. At first, we would reason and plead with him and try to be merciful, but as time went on, we would become more and more frustrated. Accordingly, God swore in His wrath as if to say, “Do you not hear what I am saying?” but the Israelites did not pay attention. Therefore, wrath was mixed in with the promise and the encouragement to enter into God’s rest. In the final analysis, only two entered that rest—Joshua and Caleb.

“Although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.” Here Paul was saying that the “rest” of “Today” actually started with the ending of the sixth Creative Day. Although not much instruction was given at that time, God did tell Adam, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof dying thou shalt die” (Gen. 2:17; compare KJV margin). The implication was that as long as Adam obeyed, he would live. As time went on, the instructions and the admonitions increased.

Heb. 4:4 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.

Heb. 4:5 And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest.

Heb. 4:6 Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:

The ability to enter into God’s rest existed in Old Testament times, and it still exists in New Testament times. The wording of verse 6 does not mean that none entered into God’s rest. For example, Moses was faithful in all his house, and the “sure mercies” were extended to David because he paid for his sins in the present life before he died (Heb. 3:2; Isa. 55:3). A study of David’s life shows the retribution he received so that God could honestly reward him on the basis of what he did faithfully.

The Ancient Worthies entered God’s rest and, for want of a better term, so did the Great Company class prior to the Gospel Age. That selection was made because of their obedience and faith. We, too, enter into God’s rest by exercising the same faith, but since we are living after Christ’s death and resurrection, we get life on a higher plane if faithful unto death. God wanted Jesus to be the first to experience honor and resurrection in the real sense of the word.

Heb. 4:7 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.

Heb. 4:8 For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.

“Jesus” should be “Joshua” here, both words being the same in the Hebrew. “For if Joshua had given them [the Israelites] rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.”

Heb. 4:9 There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.

Verse 9 suggests the difference between faith and works. Faith justifies, not works, but God is looking for works that are a product of faith (James 2:20,26). Works that are the result of an obedient faith in Christ are acceptable to God. In fact, one cannot have a real faith and then do nothing, for a living faith will produce works of some kind.

Comment: A marginal note for “rest” is “keeping of a sabbath.”

Reply: The reference is to the seventh Creative Day sabbath. The sabbatical rest of God was His rest from the physical creative works He had done on the previous six Creative Days— planets, suns, moons, animals, fish, etc., and finally Adam and Eve. And so, for Christians to enter into God’s rest means they would not be seeking and centering their hopes on a career, for example, since one cannot make his calling and election sure while pursuing a career. For marital and family purposes, the Christian works to provide things decent and honest in the sight of men, but that should not be his vocation. The Christian’s vocation is making his calling and election sure, and his avocation is earning an honest living.

From another standpoint, entering into God’s rest is not inactivity, for we are to work out our own salvation (Phil. 2:12). We are engaged in a spiritual work of faith, and we have spiritual hopes, aims, and ambitions. To mix spiritual and worldly hopes, aims, and ambitions results in a double-minded man (James 1:8).

Heb. 4:10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.

“For he [the believer] that is entered into his [God’s] rest … hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his [previous works].” Jesus’ refusal to kneel down and pay homage to Satan, who offered him all the kingdoms of this world, was his rest of faith. Jesus thus manifested his confidence and belief in God. The human mind is treacherous, and the heart is “desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). The human mind can reason on subjects and philosophize and imagine things in a way that is contrary to God’s way, yet the thinking will seem very reasonable, as did Satan’s argument with Jesus. Had Jesus succumbed, he would have bypassed the Cross.

Therefore, the “rest” is very meaningful; it is a rest from doing things our way and trying to do them God’s way.

Heb. 4:11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.

“Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest” suggests diligence, effort, circumspection, and noting whether we are making any progress.

Comment: To the natural mind, it would sound contradictory to say that we labor to enter into rest. Such statements can only be spiritually discerned.

Reply: On the one hand, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God … because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). On the other hand, as Christians, we have the advantage of knowing the human mind, which we had before consecration, so we know the works of the flesh from experience. Now, as new creatures, we are getting an education along another line. Therefore, we can see and judge the deeds of the natural man, but the natural man cannot judge us. What he may consider to be inconsistencies in us may or may not be, but even then, God does the judging based on our heart intent and effort to please Him.

Comment: We should not be too lenient in examining self.

Reply: In judging our thoughts, words, and deeds, we need honesty, humility, hunger, and hope—the hope of making our calling and election sure. We must finish the course with faith.

Heb. 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

The Holy Spirit is everything that is mentioned here. When we examine our thoughts and find that some are impure, we should obey the corrections of the Holy Spirit.

“The word of God is … piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit.” What is the difference between “soul” and “spirit”? The soul is what we are—the real “us”—and the spirit is what we should be or what we should be trying to do. The Word of God is like a mirror.

When we look in the mirror of the Word, we see ourself, and then on the side, we see the perfect example exemplified in Jesus. Of course we see our imperfections in the comparison, and we should try to make progress in overcoming them. Prayer, fasting, repeated efforts, and diligence in striving are all needed. God looks at the effort we make to conform to Christ’s image, and the real effort being made is the will—our will to do God’s will.

The Holy Spirit is a very sharp sword. In Revelation 1:16, the Word of God is called “a sharp twoedged sword.” It shows up not only the faults of others but also our own faults. Being twoedged, it works two ways—against others and against self. We can judge the deeds of others, but we cannot judge the outcome of an individual who does not overcome in a certain area, for that would be judging a destiny. Each one of us gets a report card at the end of our course.

Some seem to go abruptly out of the truth, but actually the departure starts with a small beginning of lack of obedience. Faith and obedience are like two brothers.

Heb. 4:13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

In this context, “all things are naked and opened unto the eyes” of Jesus, the High Priest. In him, we have a companion, a leader, a Savior, a helper, and a lawyer. To keep in mind the thought that Jesus knows everything we do is helpful.

Heb. 4:14 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

Jesus, the great High Priest, is with us now; that is, he is the High Priest for the Church in the Gospel Age. He will be the world’s High Priest in the Kingdom Age. He is dealing with us on behalf of his Father; therefore, “let us hold fast our profession.”

Heb. 4:15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

Jesus “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” This embracive statement was discussed earlier.

Heb. 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

How do we “come boldly unto the throne of grace”? We do this in prayer, trusting that we are being heard. We pray to “obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” In prayer, we are to be like the importunate widow who kept petitioning the judge. Finally, because of her  persistency, he granted the petition (Luke 18:1-6).

Thus in chapter 4, Paul brought in prayer, faith, trust, and obedience to instruction.

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