AVOID HARDNESS OF HEART AND UNBELIEF SO YOU DON’T MISS OUT ON PERSEVERING IN FAITH AND REALIZING GOD’S REST
The confusing aspect of this topic of entering into God’s rest is that there are so many different levels of how the term “Rest” can be applied to believers. Certainly the historical example for the nation of Israel of crossing over the Jordan River and entering into the Promised Land provides a base starting point. This does not seem to strictly typify heaven (although that seems to be a secondary level of application) but more the rest by faith in the resources and provision of God. There are still battles to be fought and temptations to be overcome and victories to achieve in Canaan. But there is a rest in God’s blessing and security. Moses and Aaron and many other adult Israelites were prohibited from entering into this rest in Canaan because of unbelief (not fully trusting God’s commands and promises along the journey) … but that in no way disqualified them from inclusion in the family of God from the standpoint of eternity.
However, in the context of the book of Hebrews where apostasy is in view and the issue is perseverance in faith, the failure to enter into God’s rest does seem to be associated with exposure as not being genuinely included in the family of God by faith. So all points of the analogy cannot be pressed. The rest for a believer today seems to have both an “already” and “not yet” aspect to it – just like it does for participation in the kingdom of God. There is a sense in which we enter into God’s rest right now as we avail ourselves of Christ’s invitation to “Come to Him” and He will give us rest (Matt. 11:28-30) – both rest today and rest for eternity. We need to rest right now from the burden of trusting ourselves and trying to please God by our own efforts. There is an entrance into present “Peace with God” and yet still the anticipation of future ultimate peace. So the full realization of that rest awaits future glorification when we cease from the good works which He has prepared ahead of time for us to accomplish by His grace and strength.
Kent: The exhortation is built upon the premise that God’s promise to enter into his rest is still valid. The failure in the wilderness did not nullify it, nor did the next generation which actually entered Canaan complete it. . . The problem was that some of the readers were contemplating a return to Judaism on the false assumption that Christianity was not itself sufficient. They thought they had fallen short unless they resumed all the rites and ceremonies of the Old Testament system. The writer wants to make it clear that this is not so.
To summarize the idea of rest in these two chapters, it can be seen that the concept may have as many as four aspects:
1. God’s rest (or creation rest): 4:4
2. Canaan rest: 3:7-19
3. Salvation rest: 4:1, 3a, 8, 9
4. Heaven rest: 4: 10, 11
Basic to the entire discussion is god’s rest, begun at the conclusion of creation. It is this present blissful condition of God which He longs to share with men. From this beginning the author develops the theme from one step to another. The physical rest in Canaan was merely one limited aspect, and is used as a type of picture of a deeper spiritual concept. That spiritual reality is the spiritual rest which the true believer may have even in this life, but it does not bring the fullest satisfaction until the future day when believers actually enter God’s presence in heaven and “rest from their labors.” God’s salvation for man thus is covered in broad strokes, and is shown to involve physical as well as spiritual blessings, both in time and in eternity.
Richard Phillips: When we say that Hebrews holds a “realized” eschatology, we mean that the writer emphasizes our present possession of things that God has promised. Although those blessings will be fully received at the end of history, we already begin to realize their benefits now by faith.
Vine: What has been given of Israel’s history in chapter 3 is now applied with emphasis on two facts,
(1) that Israel failed to enter into rest through unbelief,
(2) that rest was yet assured and that believers who are not seeking rest here but who accept the present world as a wilderness, should enter God’s rest now.
I. (:1-7) OPPORTUNITY TO ENTER GOD’S REST
A. (:1-2) Fear of Missing Out
1. (:1) Availability of God’s Promise Must Not Be Neglected
“Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it.”
Our rest must be found in God alone; any other pursuit of ultimate rest will be futile and unproductive
A. W. Pink: “Therefore” — The opening words of this chapter bid us seriously take to heart the solemn warning given at the close of 3. God’s judgment upon the wicked should make us more watchful that we do not follow their steps.
John Owen: The fear intended in this verse is a combination of two things. First, it is a reverent understanding of God’s holiness and greatness, and his severity against sin. Second, it is using the means of grace carefully to avoid the evil of unbelief and disobedience.
2. (:2a) Access to Truth Not Enough
“For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also;”
Mohler: these verses remind us that the message of salvation was not different for those in the Old Testament. Regrettably, many false teachers have pointed to the numerous commands in the Old Testament and argued that works saved old covenant saints, but now, by the work of Christ, grace saves new covenant saints. This text, however, demonstrates that the same “good news” preached in the new covenant was also preached in the old covenant. Of course, now that Christ has come and fully revealed the Father (John 14:8-9), new covenant believers have a fuller picture and a greater understanding of how God has acted to save. Nevertheless, old covenant saints were saved by faith in the promises of God just as we are today. Paul makes this clear in Romans 4:1-25 when he argues that Abraham was justified by faith.
Ray Stedman: He means the “good news” of the divine rest, which was promised in the Old Testament and, also, is still promised to them. It’s helpful if we remember that the term, gospel, may be used in a technical sense of Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried and was raised again, and was seen. That’s the technical term of the gospel. But it also means, simply, good news. So the good news concerning the Abrahamic Covenant, that there would be a seed of Abraham, through whom the whole world would be blessed, all the families of the earth be blessed, that’s called gospel in Galatians chapter 3 in verse 8, also. It is good news.
So good news is the characteristic expression to keep in mind, but the details of it vary with the particular context.
3. (:2b) Application of Faith Needed to Not Miss Out
“but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.”
F. F. Bruce: The practical implication is clear: it is not the hearing of the gospel by itself that brings final salvation, but its appropriation by faith; and if that faith is a genuine faith, it will be a persistent faith.
B. (:3-5) Faith Still Efficacious Today
1. (:3) Proposition: Participation Not Nullified by Prohibition
a. Faith Grabs Hold of the Promise of God’s Rest
“For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said,”
So there is a sense in which we have the opportunity to enter into God’s rest right now – even though there is still a future aspect, an eternal aspect to that rest.
Kent: The truth insisted upon by the author is that Israel’s failure to believe, and the subsequent oath of God which prevented their participation in His rest did not annul the fact that God’s plan for believers to enter this rest would still be carried out. . . it should be regarded as a statement present experience in which true believers presently enjoy God’s rest to a certain extent, while at the same time looking forward to a glorious consummation in the life to come.
Spurgeon: Do not tell me that there is no rest for us till we get to heaven. We who have believed in Jesus enter into rest even now. Why should we not do so? Our salvation is complete. The robe of righteousness in which we are clad is finished. The atonement for our sins is fully made. We are reconciled to God, beloved of the Father, preserved by his grace, and supplied by his providence with all that we need. We carry all our burdens to him and leave them at his feet. We spend our lives in his service, and we find his ways to be ways of pleasantness, and his paths to be paths of peace. Oh, yes, we have found rest unto our souls! I recollect the first day that I ever rested in Christ, and I did rest that day. And so will all of you who trust in Jesus as I trusted in him.
b. Prohibition Remains In Place
“‘As I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest,’”
Exclusion from God’s rest is associated with God’s wrath – not just temporary discipline as a Father would lovingly administer to his child.
Ray Stedman: Now, the reason that sounds contradictory, if you think about it for a moment, all he wants to do is, simply, to affirm that there is a rest, and the fact that he’s sworn his wrath at certain ones would not enter into his rest is evidence there was such a thing as a rest. God would never say, “You’re not going to enter into my rest,” if there was no rest at all. So the fact that he warned the Old Testament professing individuals, “You’re not going to enter into the rest,” is evidence that there is such a rest.
c. Promise of God’s Rest Traced Back to Creation
“although His works were finished from the foundation of the world.”
God is the own who has defined Work; and He is the one who defines Rest.
2. (:4-5) Proof Texts
a. (:4) Rest Available Since Creation
“For He has thus said somewhere concerning the seventh day, ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all His works’;”
Kent: What is this rest of God? Certainly it did not connote the cessation of all activity, for that is contradicted by the Biblical teaching of miracles and providence, as well as by the statement of Jesus cited from John 5:17 (“My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working”). Inasmuch as the author takes us to God’s rest after creation, the prominent thought would seem to lie in the concept of the rest which comes with accomplishment, completion, and satisfaction. At the conclusion of creation, God “rested” from His project because it was accomplished; and because His work was good, His rest was also one of satisfaction and enjoyment. This rest of eternal blessedness and fulfillment is what God wants to share with His children.
Ray Stedman: So God rested on the seventh day from His works. Incidentally, the kingdom of God upon the earth is the extension of that rest which God enjoyed when he created all things and the beauty and glory of that creation.
b. (I:5) Prohibition Does Not Nullify Availability
“and again in this passage, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’”
C. (:6-7) Focus on Responding Today
1. (:6a) Door is Still Open
“Since therefore it remains for some to enter it,”
Wuest: The writer now proceeds to show that those under Moses have failed completely of the rest in Canaan through unbelief, that those under Joshua had entered into the temporal, physical, and material rest in Canaan, and that the rest under Joshua was not a complete and final one since God invited Israel into rest during David’s time. The words “it remaineth” are the translation of apoleipo. The idea is “remains over from past times.” The promise of rest had not been appropriated in the first instance, and in the second instance the character of the rest was not final, so that the promise of rest still holds good. The rest was not provided for nothing. God’s provision of a rest implies that some will enter into it. But the appropriation of that rest is still future. Some, therefore, must enter into it.
MacArthur: When man lost God’s rest, God immediately began a recovery process. Through His Son, Jesus Christ, some would be brought back in. He created man for fellowship with Himself, and His plan would not be thwarted, either by a rebellious archangel or by disbelieving mankind. By divine decree, therefore, there has always been a remnant of believers, even among mostly disbelieving Israel. “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice” (Ro 11:5). The way of God’s rest has always been narrow, and only a few, relative to all of mankind, have ever found it. But some must enter into it, because God’s purpose must be fulfilled. By sovereign decree He designed a rest for mankind and some, therefore, are going to enter it.
2. (:6b) Disobedience is Still the Disqualifier
“and those who formerly had good news preached to them
failed to enter because of disobedience,”
Morris: The writer concentrates on two generations only: the wilderness generation and his contemporaries. There had been other generations who might have appropriated the promise. But the focus is on the first generation who set the pattern of unbelief and then on the writer’s generation, who alone at that time had the opportunity of responding to God’s invitation. All the intervening generations had ceased to be and cold be ignored for the purpose of the argument.
2. (:7) David Warns Against Hardening Your Heart
“He again fixes a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, ‘Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.’”
Ray Stedman: Delay hardens the heart, especially when we are fully aware that we have heard the voice of God in the inner soul. Every shrug of the shoulder that puts off acting on God’s urging for change, every toss of the head that says, “I know I should, but I don’t care,” every attempt at outward conformity without inner commitment produces a hardening of the heart that makes repentance harder and harder to do. The witness of the Spirit must not be ignored, for the opportunity to believe does not last forever. Playing games with the living God is not only impertinent, but also dangerous.
II. (:8-11) PERSEVERANCE NEEDED TO ENTER GOD’S REST
A. (:8) Future Orientation of God’s Rest
“For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that.”
This proves that we are talking about a different level of rest than just that which was provided upon the entrance into Canaan in Israel’s prior experience.
Mohler: The author has already demonstrated that Christ is superior to the angels and Moses. Now he must demonstrate that Christ is superior to Joshua.
Morris: The name “Joshua” is the Hebrew form of the Greek name “Jesus.” . . . There had been a “Jesus” who could not led his people into the rest of God just as there was another “Jesus” who could.
B. (:9-10) Perseverance is the Realization of God’s Rest
1. (:9) Sabbath Rest Available
“There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”
Ray Stedman: God’s glorious rest, in which man may participate by faith, is still available. That’s what he is saying. The human longing for peace and rest is future, and it’s given by God. It’s in the coming kingdom of God.
2. (:10) Sabbath Rest Patterned After God’s Cessation from His Works
“For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.”
The analogy breaks down if you view the believer as ceasing from his bad works (self effort at trying to earn salvation) since God’s works were good. So it must refer to some type of final rest from works:
– Either the rest of believers at the end of their life as they have persevered in performing good works by the grace and power of God (Rev. 14:13)
– Or a reference to Christ resting from His earthly works and returning to heaven
Kent: To cite Christ’s example as an incentive for believers to follow (v. 11) is fully consistent with the author’s practice elsewhere of regarding Christ as the believer’s forerunner, opening the way for him to follow (6:20). . . the singular “he” in verse 10 is noteworthy and may suggest a change to Christ.
Parunak: His work was to purge us from our sins. Having completed that work, he entered into his rest, at the right hand of the Father. So the sequence of thought is:
1. God rested on the seventh day, Gen 2
2. The Son of God, having finished his work, sat down at the right hand of God
3. We will one day enter that rest
C. (:11) Exhortation to Pursue God’s Rest
“Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience.”
There is both a present and future orientation for our salvation. We need to apply diligence as we persevere in our confession and in our faith in the Lord Jesus.
This verse provides an excellent transition to vv. 12-13 and could be taken with either what comes before it or what comes after it.
Spurgeon: It is an extraordinary injunction, but I think he means, let us labor not to labor. Our tendency is to try to do something in order to save ourselves; but we must beat that tendency down, and look away from self to Christ. Labor to get away from your own labors; labor to be clean rid of all self-reliance; labor in your prayers never to depend upon your prayers; labor in your repentance never to rest upon your repentance; and labor in your faith not to trust to your faith, but to trust alone to Jesus… I remember an old countryman saying to me, long ago, “Depend upon it, my brother, if you or I get one inch above the ground, we get just that inch too high”; and I believe it is so. Flat on our faces before the cross of Christ is the place for us; realizing that we ourselves are nothing, and that Jesus Christ is everything.
John MacArthur: The need for God’s rest is urgent. A person should diligently, with intense purpose and concern, secure it. It is not that he can work his way to salvation, but that he should diligently seek to enter God’s rest by faith—lest he, like the Israelites in the wilderness, lose the opportunity. God cannot be trifled with.
III. (:12-13) ACCOUNTABILITY WILL EXPOSE THE GENUINE PARTICIPANTS IN GOD’S REST
A. (:12) Accountability Applied by God’s Word
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Profession of faith does not mean necessarily that our faith is genuine. Jesus said that in the last day many would claim to have identified with Him and worked on His behalf, but He will judge that He never knew them as genuine disciples.
Morris: The Word of God passes judgment on men’s feelings (enthymeseon) and on their thoughts (ennoion). Nothing evades the scope of this Word. What man holds as most secret he finds subject to its scrutiny and judgment.
F. F. Bruce: we may compare Paul’s language about the coming day when the Lord “will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts” (1 Cor. 4:5). It is not surprising, accordingly, that a judicial function is here attributed to the word of God. It is “discriminative of the Heart’s thoughts and intents”; this is the rendering of E. K. Simpson who, in a survey of the use of the adjective kritikos (ARV “quick to discern”) by Aristotle and others, says: “In all these examples it is a sifting process that is at work; and what winnowing-fan can vie with the gales of the Spirit blowing through the Word?”
MacArthur: The Word of God is not only saving and comforting and nourishing and healing, it is also a tool of judgment and execution. In the day of the great judgment His Word is going to penetrate and lay bare all hearts who have not trusted in Him. The sham and hypocrisy will be revealed and no profession of faith, no matter how orthodox, and no list of good works, no matter how sacrificial, will count for anything before Him. Only the thoughts and intentions of the heart will count. God’s Word is the perfect discerner, the perfect kritikos (from which we get “critic”). It not only analyzes all the facts perfectly, but all motives, and intentions, and beliefs as well, which even the wisest human judges or critics cannot do. The sword of His Word will make no mistakes in judgment or execution. All disguises will be ripped off and only the real person will be seen.
The word translated open had two distinct uses in ancient times. It was used of a wrestler taking his opponent by the throat. In this position the two men were unavoidably face to face. The other use was in regard to a criminal trial. A sharp dagger would be bound to the neck of the accused, with the point just below his chin, so that he could not bow his head, but had to face the court. Both uses had to do with grave face-to-face situations. When an unbeliever comes under the scrutiny of God’s Word, he will be unavoidably face-to-face with the perfect truth about God and about himself.
B. (:13) Accountability Applied by God’s Omniscience
“And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open
and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”
You can’t fake out God. All the pretenders are exposed.
Morris: Here the same truth is expressed in different imagery. This time the impossibility of hiding anything from God is illustrated b the thought of nakedness.
F. F. Bruce: We may conceal our inner being from our neighbors, and we can even deceive ourselves; but nothing escapes the scrutiny of God; before Him everything lies exposed and powerless. And it is with Him, not with our fellow-men or with our own conscience, that our final reckoning has to be made. Stripped of all disguise and protection we are utterly at the mercy of god, the Judge of all. Therefore, “let us give diligence . . .”