Hebrews 2008 Bible Study (The Superior Christ)

Hebrews 4:1-13, The Promised Rest

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In chapter 3 the writer of Hebrews has warned the Christians not to give up on their confidence and to hold it firm to the end. The warning looks back to the nation of Israel who were freed from Egyptian slavery and passed through the Red Sea, but perished in the wilderness because of unbelief. Christians must not fall back and succumb to unbelief. They missed God’s rest. The writer continues forward with his admonition.

1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For 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. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,'” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.”

The “therefore” connects us back to the previous point that the people of Israel were unable to enter the rest because of unbelief. But then we come across these shocking words: “while the promise of entering his rest still stands.” We thought that we were talking about entering the promised land of Canaan. But the writer of Hebrews clears this up now. Chapter 4 is the proof that the promise of entering the rest still stands. But before he explains how this could be, the writer continues with his warning.

The promise of rest remains. Therefore we must fear so that we do not fail to reach it. A couple translations read “let us be careful.” This is an unjustified rendering and unfortunate, in my opinion. We need to fear God and not fall to unbelief so that we do not fail to reach the promised rest.

Do not think that our situation is different than their situation. The good news came to them just like it came to us. But the message of that good news did not benefit them. Why did it not benefit them? It did not benefit them because they were not united with those who heard it in faith (HCSB). I think the TNIV does well here and reads, “because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.” The people missed entering the rest because they were not joined with the same faith as Joshua and Caleb. They believed that God would provide for them. They believed that God would eliminate the obstacles to reach the promised land. They put their full trust in God. The people, however, did not have this faith. They complained in the desert. They did not believe God would provide. They saw the size of their enemies and wanted to go back to Egypt. They were not united with those who heard the good news in faith.

But we who have believed will enter that rest. The writer reminds the audience of the quotation from Psalm 95, which the writer dealt with extensively in chapter 3. It is for these, that is those who have believed, that the rest was intended. That is why God said in his wrath that the generation in the wilderness would not enter the rest. It is not that the rest was not available to the wilderness generation. In fact, the rest has been available since God finished from all his works. The writer then quotes from Genesis 2:2 in his typical fashion. The writer says, “He has somewhere spoken,” which continues to place the emphasis on God as the author and not the human mouthpieces who said these words. The writer quotes the solemn words of Psalm 95, “They shall not enter my rest” as a reminder that the rest has been available from the beginning, but they missed the rest because of disobedience and unbelief.

6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

The rest remains for some to enter, but not everyone, because not everyone will choose to hear God’s voice. Those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience. But another day is appointed to receive the promise of entering the rest. That day is called “today.” The promise for entering the rest is available today. Proof is the quotation from Psalm 95. David said in Psalm 95, “Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

But the “today” argument goes further. Since David said “today” the promise is still available, he said those words long after the wilderness generation failed to enter the rest. David did not say that the promised rest is past. He said today the promise still stands even after the wilderness generation.

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. Further, the writer continues the parallel to the wilderness generation. Joshua and Jesus are the same name. Jesus is the name in Greek, Joshua is the same name but in Hebrew. So there is a wordplay being made. The Old Testament “Jesus” (that is, Joshua) led the people into the promised land of Canaan. Jesus leads the heirs of the new covenant into the heavenly promised rest. Joshua did not give them the final, promised rest, though they entered Canaan. Joshua led the people to a temporary rest, but Jesus will lead us to true, spiritual rest. Thus, a Sabbath rest remains for the people of God.

The promise of the rest is available today. But we will enter God’s rest when we have rested from our own works. Therefore, we are not at rest now. We have obtained the promise of the rest and we work so that we do not fall short as they did before entering the rest.

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Therefore, we must give greater effort to enter the rest. We do not want to fall by the same example and pattern of disobedience that we see with the wilderness generation. We do not want to copy those who missed the rest. We do not want to make the same mistakes. How can we enter the rest? How can we ensure that we do not copy those whose bodies fell in the wilderness? Verse 12 is the answer.

We need the power of God’s word. The word of God is what we need to be using to make sure that we do not fall to the same pattern of disobedience. There are some interesting pictures concerning God’s powerful word.

  • God’s word is living and active. The word of God is alive and brings life to those who listen and obey those words. God’s word is not like reading a novel. There is power in God’s words because the words are from God’s mouth. The words can change your life to enter the rest God has promised. Nothing else you read can bring life to your soul.
  • God’s word is sharper than the sharpest sword. The word of God is intended to cut. The word of God is not a butter knife intending to butter your roll and make you feel better. God’s word is supposed to cut. If it is not cutting, then it is not being used properly. God’s word convicts us.
  • God’s word penetrates. It pierces to the soul and spirit. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. The word of God is not supposed to cut superficially. God’s word is supposed to cut us to the core. As the scripture says of the Pentecost audience, they were cut to the heart. That is what the word of God is supposed to do. The word of God is often not used this way. The word is supposed to step on our toes and crush them. Why? Not because we come to services to feel bad about ourselves do we cut and penetrate. No, the word of God needs to penetrate so that we do not miss the promised rest like Israel did.
  • God’s word exposes. Nothing is hidden from God’s sight. The word of God cannot be avoided. It ignites our guilty conscience and presses us to act. Don’t think that God does not see our disobedience and will not keep us out of rest. Therefore, we must make every effort to enter by using the word of God, so it can cut our spirits so that we can purge our sins and unbelief.
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