Have you ever considered the importance of rest in the biblical storyline? Hebrews, one of the most biblical books in the Bible, has a lot to say about it. Let’s look deeper into this theme with some help from the Reformed Expository Commentary series.

The Sabbath Rest

One of the striking characteristics of the Book of Hebrews is the distinctive view of history it sets forth. We have been encountering this in the long exhortation that began in chapter 3 and continues through chapter 4. This exhortation centers around the writer’s use of Psalm 95, with the key verse, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

The key term is “Today,” which the writer says applies to his first-century readers just as it did to David’s readers a thousand years before, and just as it did to the exodus generation he is referring to. “Today” is the time when the promise that all believers will enter God’s rest is still open and available. “Today,” in that sense, is our time as much as it was theirs.

The backdrop, as we have seen in previous studies, is the exodus wanderings of Israel in the wilderness. That generation failed the test; they complained and disobeyed God, not turning to him in faith. As a result, they did not enter into God’s rest—that is, into the Promised Land. The author of Hebrews now emphasizes: “You need to realize that you are in a similar situation. Your trials are like their trials; how you respond to them will determine whether or not you will enter into God’s salvation.”

Therefore Take Heed

It is in this context that we read the words of verse 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.” The Greek text literally says, “Let us be afraid.” The point is to say: “Therefore, let us be alarmed at the prospect, given this decisive age of opportunity and testing, that any of you should not press on to salvation.”

We see a couple of emphases here that are central to the overall message of this book. First is the demand for perseverance under trial. That is what the author means by saying “lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.” The metaphor is an athletic one, and the idea is that of finishing the race. Perseverance is an essential element of the Christian life. Indeed, running the race to the end is the hallmark of genuine, saving faith, while falling away is the mark of a spurious faith that does not lead to salvation.

The second emphasis is that of corporate or mutual responsibility. We saw this a few verses earlier in Hebrews 3:13. Here we have the same point of view: “Let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.” Notice that the subject of the sentence is plural—it is “us” who must be careful—while the object is ­singular—lest anyone fall away. This is the attitude we need in the church today, one that says: “Yes, I am my brother’s keeper. I have a stake in the spiritual affairs of others here and a responsibility not merely for my own salvation, but for theirs as well.”

Salvation as Rest

The matter the writer of Hebrews has in mind here is nothing less than the eternal salvation of our souls. He has been referring to this with a term we have not yet discussed in detail. Consistently, and drawing his terminology from Psalm 95, he describes salvation as the “rest” offered by God.

What does he mean by this kind of language? The first way to answer is by looking at the context, namely, the exodus of God’s people from Egypt to the Promised Land. As one commentator explains: “The concept of rest in the context of the promise to the Exodus generation had the connotation of entrance into Canaan (the Promised Land), where Israel would experience relief from turmoil and security from their enemies.”

In what sense does this apply to the readers of Hebrews? the meaning is spiritual. It is our souls that will be supplied and kept safe. Jesus offers our souls the same benefits offered to Israel in the Promised Land: bountiful provision and complete security. Indeed, the language Moses used for the Promised Land may be directly applied to our spiritual blessings in Jesus Christ: “A land flowing with milk and honey. . . . A land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven, a land that the LORD your God cares for. The eyes of the LORD your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year” (Deut. 11:9–12).

God’s Sabbath Rest

All of that is clearly implied by the reference to the exodus wandering and the offer of rest. The writer emphasizes this by repeating the quote from Psalm 95 in verses 3 and 5: “They shall not enter my rest.” The point is not just to reiterate the failure of the unbelieving Israelites, but to emphasize the reality of the rest that was provided and remains offered to this day.

The writer of Hebrews adds another Old Testament reference to expand his definition of the salvation rest. Here the citation is from the creation account at the beginning of Genesis: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works” (see Gen. 2:2). The point here, and it is a weighty one indeed, is that the rest God offers to us in salvation is nothing less than the very rest he himself has enjoyed since the completion of his creation work.

To enter God’s eternal Sabbath rest, therefore, means to enter into saving relationship with such a God. When God becomes our Savior, we become part of that kingdom in which he so utterly and sovereignly rules over us and for us. His work in our lives is established, even as the writer of Hebrews says of God’s work in creation, “His works were finished from the foundation of the world” (Heb. 4:3).

This means that if you have put your faith in this saving God, if you have trusted his gospel in Jesus Christ, you now can rest. You can stop worrying about whether or not you will have a place in heaven. You can stop fretting about whether you will endure as a Christian. And you can stop being afraid of what the world will do to you. Through faith in him you enter into his rest.

The Way into God’s Rest

Hearing the offer of such a rest, we can understand the urgency with which the writer of Hebrews speaks about faith in Jesus Christ. The question is: How can I enter into this wonderful rest? The answer is, by trusting the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Verse 3 tells us, “We who have believed enter that rest.” Who are the people who are saved, the people of God who enter into his rest and enjoy a saving relationship with him? It is those who believe the message of the gospel they have heard.

What this means is that you must rely for your salvation not on what you have done or might do—which can lead only to condemnation because of sin and failure—but on what Jesus has done. Hebrews 4:10 puts it this way: “Whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” You no longer trust your own works but rest upon God and his finished work of salvation.

What a difference it makes to rest upon the Lord Jesus and thereby to enter God’s rest. This brings peace with God and produces inward joy. That is all the more reason to trust in the Lord during this present day of opportunity, when the promise of entering God’s rest still stands. For it will not profit any of us to hear without believing, without stretching out on him who came to save, calling us into God’s eternal Sabbath rest.

An Expositional and Reformed Commentary

The Reformed Expository Commentary is a Christ-centered commentary in the Reformed tradition. Instead of detailed exegetical notes and comments, this commentary is essentially a collection of sermons of the biblical books. Learn more about this series from this blog post or from visiting our store.

Write A Comment