Written by 5:14 pm Bible Studies, Hebrews

Belief and His Rest – Hebrews 4:1-13

If you haven’t read the entry for Hebrews 3:7-18, I highly encourage you to read it before going any further. This article is a part two of sorts. It finishes the thought that the author began in chapter three. I said at the beginning of the last lesson that I believe 3:7-4:13 may be one of the most compelling portions of New Testament Scripture concerning the eternally secure nature of salvation. The content from chapter three contained a warning against unbelief. What we’ll deal with in chapter four still contains a warning, but it reveals the hope of a rest that transcends time and geography. It’s a rest that’s more than a weekly rest from work. It’s a rest for our souls. Let’s dig in.

They were not united in faith

The conclusion of chapter three is somewhat of a cliffhanger. If you stopped there, you’d be left with the idea that believers can apostatize – i.e., reject the Gospel they once believed in and fall away from the living God. Remember, fall away comes from the Greek word, apostēnai. There’s an aspect of that word’s definition that I didn’t mention in the last article, but my friend, John, reminded me of it in a private message. Apostēnai also contains the idea of standing apart. With that in mind, I think it will be helpful as we look at these first few verses of chapter four.

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.
– Hebrews 4:1-2 (ESV)

Since unbelief is the thing that prevented the first-gen wilderness Israelites from entering the Promised Land, we should be vigilant against it. Exhort one another daily, as 3:13 instructs. But here, the author introduces the concept of transcending rest. It’s bigger than land promises. While I don’t wish to minimize the land promises, like the author, I want to put them in their proper place. The geographical land that OT Israel received was not their ultimate rest. When the author wrote this, Israel hadn’t been a sovereign nation for centuries. In fact, historically, Israel only existed in the fullness of the land promises for approximately 80 years. King David completed the conquest that Joshua began a few hundred years earlier. He reigned for forty years. His son, Solomon, reigned for forty years as well. During their respective reigns, Israel had rest from their enemies and lived in the fullness of their geographical size. Things began falling apart after Solomon died.

If we tied God’s rest to geography, they rested for about 80 years. But even within that timespan, there was internal turmoil. David and Bathsheba. David and Absalom. Solomon’s idolatry and excesses. Was it really the fullness of God’s rest? No.  The geographical land promises were a foreshadowing of the ultimate and final rest, which is why the author leaves the door open for still entering His rest. Hence, we exhort one another daily so that none of us are deceived by the deceitfulness of sin!

That brings us to verse two, a linchpin verse for this whole discussion. Let’s break this verse down.

  • For good news came to us just as to them,
    • It’s helpful to remember that the word gospel means good news. Christians have essentially taken over the use of the word gospel, but in the first century, it had a much broader use. Any good news was called gospel. So from that standpoint, gospel came to the Israelites – via their dramatic deliverance from Egypt – just as gospel comes to us – via Christ’s death and resurrection. If I could paint with a broad brush, the good news in both cases is that God is with you and is your Deliverer! Both then, and in the case of Christ, there were miracles that testified to the good news. Both then and in Jesus, God Himself came down to reveal Himself and make a covenant with His people.
  • But the message they heard did not benefit them,
    • This is one of those statements that you can only make in hindsight. How can you know that a generation received no benefit until that generation is gone and the proof is in the so-called pudding? The author points out that despite all the LORD did on their behalf, they didn’t benefit from it. It’s strange because it would seem that the surrounding nations understood what happened, but the people for whom it was done were blind. Exodus 15:14-16 says the nations trembled at what the LORD was doing for Israel. Yet, Israel didn’t get it. Why?
  • Because they were not united by faith with those who listened.
    • Despite what they saw with their own eyes and heard with their own ears, the first-gen wilderness Israelites were faithless. This is where apostēnai becomes relevant. They stood apart from the ones who believed. This is a call-back to the return of the twelve spies. Only two spies, Joshua and Caleb, believed the LORD would give them victory over the inhabitants of Canaan. The other ten stood apart. They were not united in faith with Joshua and Caleb. But it wasn’t just these ten spies. As a whole, they represented the heart of their entire generation. They were a grumbling, complaining, impatient, stiff-necked, fearful people despite everything that the LORD did for them. Multiple times they lamented that they would have been better off remaining in Egypt. They were never people of faith. They wanted deliverance their way. They wanted the LORD to do Egypt all over again to Canaan rather than strapping up and letting the LORD lead them in battle. Instead of stepping out in faith, armoring up against foes who, from all outward appearances, should be able to defeat them, and trusting the LORD to do miracles through their weakness, they remained in unbelief.

Good news that reaches the ears of people who refuse to believe, has no benefit. So, the question now has an answer. Did those Israelites who died in the wilderness lose their faith?

No. They never believed to begin with, which is why no amount of good news was going to change their hearts. They stood apart from faith in the LORD. They were apostates from the start. The LORD rescued an apostate people out of Egypt so that His ultimate purpose to redeem the whole world in Christ could be accomplished. That doesn’t mean that the LORD didn’t love that generation.  He did. He called Israel his firstborn son in Exodus 4:22. And His response to Israel’s outcry was motivated, in part, by His love for them. But He also knew exactly whom He rescued, and His plans for their rescue had purposes that transcended their generation.

Unending Rest

The author did something here that likely turned the Jewish thought of rest on its head. It’s evident that many, if not most, Jews of the first century still had their hope set upon the nation-state of Israel regaining their own sovereignty through their Messiah’s political/military leadership. Their idea of rest was still rooted in geographical and political goals. But the author reminds us that God’s rest existed from the foundation of the world, and we can still enter that rest with Him. So there are aspects of God’s rest that none of Canaan’s conquest could ever satisfy.

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.”
– Hebrews 4:3-5 (ESV)

For the sake of brevity, I won’t spend any time rehashing the fact that belief is the ticket to His rest. We’ve covered that very well so far, and it doesn’t need further explanation. What should be highlighted here is the roots of God’s rest. That takes us back to the beginning.

2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
– Genesis 2:2-3 (ESV)

There are three things that make the seventh day unique from the first six.

  • God rested and did no creating work.
  • God blessed the seventh day, making it holy.
  • There is no end. It doesn’t conclude with, and there was evening and morning, the seventh day.

God rested. I think there’s a fair question to ask about the nature of His rest. Does this mean the LORD did absolutely nothing on the seventh day? Did He kick back, put His feet up, and refuse to take calls all day? I’m being a little silly, but what you think about this affects you down the line in how you practice Sabbath. Well, the answer is actually in the verses. Twice it says he rested from, all His work He had done. So, the answer is He rested from creating. All the stuff He had been doing for the last six days, He stopped doing them on the seventh. He didn’t stop working altogether. He didn’t stop holding all of creation together. He didn’t stop listening to His creations ask Him questions, nor did He stop answering their questions until the seventh day was over (because, as we’ll see, it never ended). But what He had been doing for six days, He stopped. His creative work was complete.

God blessed. He didn’t do this to any other day. He set the seventh day apart by blessing it, thus, making it holy. This is huge, and it became a central command given in the Ten Commandments. It wasn’t just God’s rest, but it was His blessing on the seventh day that made it holy. You can take a day off and do nothing, and there be nothing holy about it. But the LORD blessed His “day off,” making it holy, and commands us to observe a Sabbath day every week. No other day of the week received His blessing. No other day of the week was set apart as a holy day. Only the seventh day. Now, I’m not desiring to turn this into a discussion about working on Sundays or going to church on Saturdays, or anything of the sort. Jesus is the LORD of the Sabbath, and because by the indwelling Holy Spirit, He lives through me, there is room for discussion about how we practice Sabbath under the new covenant. But what is important is that the LORD expects us to enter the seventh-day rest that He established, both in a here-and-now way and in a completely fulfilled way when Christ returns.

There is no end. This is the most exciting part. When we enter into His rest, we enter into an unending rest. Don’t let that thought terminate on things like work. The difficult thing for us is that our experience of life in a cursed world is that our work never ends. You can weed the garden, and for a couple of weeks, you may be able to rest from that. But eventually, the weeds return, and you’ll have to do it all over again. Whatever it is that needs repair, remodeling, reconstruction, or whatever, eventually, it needs it all over again because nothing in a broken world remains fixed. Nothing remains clean. Nothing remains in a functioning state forever. Everything dies, everything atrophies, all things tend toward a state of disorder and disrepair unless you do something to stave off that unrelenting march toward rust and ruin. Yet, here we have a promise of unending rest. If this rest can be entered now – and it can – what does that say about tomorrow when the troubles of this world weigh heavy on us all over again? How do we walk in an unending rest when nothing in this world remains fixed?

Great question. And, of course, hopefully, you know by now that the answer is belief. If that seems too simple, don’t be surprised. The word of the cross if foolishness to men, but it is the power of God unto salvation – HIS REST – for those who believe. Let’s continue.

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.
– Hebrews 4:6-10 (ESV)

We’ve discussed this previously. When is the best time to enter His rest? Today. Always today. Any time you have a moment of clarity, where the gospel and your need for Jesus weigh upon your soul, that is the best time to respond. Don’t harden your heart and suppress the truth that the Holy Spirit is making clear. That’s what the author meant when he said that it remains for some to enter it. God isn’t finished building His family. He puts the knife to the very heart of Jewish thought. Joshua’s work was incomplete, and, therefore, could not be the promised rest for God’s people. There is a Sabbath – seventh-day – rest for God’s people that has nothing to do with geography and political power. It’s an unending rest that begins now, for all who believe, as a rest for our souls, and will culminate with an eternal whole-being-rest on a new heaven and new earth.

The Only Striving That Matters

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 discerning 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.
– Hebrews 4:11-13 (ESV)

Here’s another of those pastoral, let us, admonitions. The author includes himself in this. We must do this. We, together, must strive to enter that rest. As this winds down, I want to draw a contrast between this and Psalm 46:10 and Luke 14:24.

10 Stop striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the [b]nations, I will be exalted on the earth.”
– Psalm 46:10 (NASB) 

24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.
– Luke 13:24 (ESV, emphasis added)

Which is it? To strive or not to strive! Well, that’s the wrong question. The question is this: what are you striving for? It’s like you’re climbing a mountain because you were told at the summit is a treasure beyond your wildest dreams, but there’s a catch. Once you reach the summit, there’s no way to go back down without a parachute. Fortunately, there’s a parachute included with the treasure. The climb is arduous and filled with peril. You nearly fall several times. Finally, you can see the summit is within grasp. You muster your strength and push through your exhaustion. When you get to the summit, you look around, and to your shock and frustration, there’s no treasure, and also, no parachute. You are stuck, and you know that there’s no way to climb back down.

As you sit there, dismayed, you start looking around at the landscape. It’s a landscape of mountain peaks, just like the one you’re on, as far as the eye can see in all directions. Then you notice that not too far away, on a peak very similar to yours, there’s an oasis. It’s the only peak out of the several dozen that you can see that has such a place. You get out your binoculars, and your heart sinks. The treasure is on THAT peak, parachute and all! You spent yourself climbing the wrong mountain.

In a very real sense, we are told to strive to make sure we are climbing the right mountain. It’s paradoxical, but we are to strive to make sure that we are entering His rest. The Greek word for strive means to be zealous, to be diligent. In other words, there’s a kind of zealous, diligent work that one should engage with, which helps us know we are entering His rest. In fact, the author has linked the veracity of our faith to whether we’ve entered His rest! Therefore, fight for His rest. Strive to enter into it.

What is that work? Unsurprisingly, it’s knowing the Word. The author said, “FOR the word of God…” That is the same as saying, “because the word of God.” So put it all together. Strive to enter His rest, for the Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword. Hebrews 4:12 is one of the top ten quoted verses of Scripture by most evangelicals because, broadly speaking, we have a high regard for the Word. Because it’s quoted so much, it’s often applied to contexts that the author didn’t have in mind. Remember: what is the topic? God’s rest. If the topic is God’s rest, what relevance does Hebrews 4:12-13 have to that subject?

That is the correct question. The author’s intent for this popular verse is this. Strive to enter God’s rest because God’s word uncovers the thoughts and intentions of your heart. It reveals which mountain you’re climbing! Are you striving to enter His rest, or are you striving for something else? THE WORD KNOWS!! In fact, you stand naked before the one who made you, so you might as well let His Word do its surgical work and divide soul and spirit, joints and marrow, thoughts and intentions.

Striving to enter His rest is allowing God’s Word to dissect you and remake you. And there’s real work in that because all of this kind of surgery is done while you’re wide awake. God doesn’t knock you out to change you. He cuts you deep with His Word and removes the things that don’t look like Jesus while you watch. There’s an aspect of seeing the ugliness that He takes from us that helps us never want to return to that state.

I know I’m waxing a little. But we’re still on target.


I’m way long, so there won’t be a big concluding thought. Obviously, this subject is a deep well. I don’t pretend that effort to explain it has been comprehensive. But I do believe this subject is one of the biggest themes in Hebrews, so it demands our attention. God’s rest is what we’re seeking. If we’re not careful, people can miss it, even in the midst of overwhelming demonstrations of His power. So we must strive, together, to exhort each other daily with the Word so that none of us will miss the boat and be deceived by the deceitfulness of sin.

If you have questions, leave them on the Facebook group, or in the comments section below. Next time we move into the next great subject of this letter. Jesus, our High Priest!

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Last modified: May 10, 2023