Hebrews 4 is directly tied to Hebrews 3 and to properly understand the 4th chapter we have to know something about the 3rd and about the entire book.
Paul wrote this very long epistle to Jewish Christians, who were contemplating and leaving the way of Christ and the assembly of the church and going back to Judaism. In Hebrews 3:12 we see the reason for this apostasy, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. Now remember that Paul is writing to believers, he just called them brothers. He is not talking to lost people but is treating them as fellow believers who are in danger of falling away from the way of Christianity, of leaving the church behind and going back to the synagogue, of leaving grace and returning to the law.
" Paul points this out by calling them out for the neglect of public worship (10:25), their weakness in prayer (12:12), instability in doctrine (13:9), their refusal to teach others as mature believers ought (5:12), and the neglect of the Scriptures (2:1). To stop this backslide, this falling away, Paul uplifts Jesus Christ who is superior to angels, Moses, Aaron, Melchisedek, and especially the Levitical law." - Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett Falconer Harrison, Eds., The Wycliffe Bible Commentary
Chapter 3 ends with a warning from the Old Testament story of the Exodus about those who failed because of their unbelief in the way of Jehovah God, who had delivered them from the slavery of Egypt. They were already delivered and walking the path God was leading them on, but many died and were punished because they did not believe the promises of God as they walked that path.
Look at Hebrews 3:17-19 But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
Then without a pause we come to chapter 4 which takes the example of the failure of God’s people in the wilderness to enter into the rest of the promised land because they would not trust and have faith in God. Chapter 4 begins with “Let us therefore” and we are going to see three times in the chapter that the same phrase is used. In 4:1 it is Let us therefore fear, in 4:11 it is let us therefore enter and in the final verse 4:16 it is let us therefore come boldly.
Let Us Therefore Fear - Hebrews 4:1-10
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. 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. 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. 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. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
The Warning To Fear
A Warning about Rest vs 1-2
First Paul gives the Hebrews a warning about missing the rest of God. He tells them the reason they may miss God’s rest is the same as the reason their ancestors who came out of Egypt, missed the promised land. Vs 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. They all heard the good news, the word of God but those who missed rest, missed it because the word was not mixed, not united, not bonded, with faith. Simply put they would not fully trust the word of God. Instead finding the Rest of God through faith, they found the wrath of God through the lack of faith.
The Promise of Rest vs 3-9
then in vss 3-9 Paul tells them that those who believe God’s word, follow His commands and walk in His way will find rest. Vs.3 “For we which have believed do enter into rest,”
He goes on and tells them in vs 6 that a rest remains because of the failure of those first offered, because of God's open invitation, and because of God's promise.
In vs 9 There remains therefore a rest to the people of God. I love that phrase, that goal. There is rest for the people of God. So what kind of rest is Paul talking about is this heaven, some preachers present it that way, but the next verse exactly defines what Paul is trying to get the Hebrew Christians to understand.
The Definition of Rest vs 10
This is the first example of rest, God on the Sabbath Day rested from His labor, He was no longer actively creating the Universe, yet the Universe continues to exist by that sustaining power of God.
Rest for the people of God, must be the same, God gives to us the gift of His Son and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. These are all that is needed to sustain us in His work. I can cease from my labors, my efforts, my own work and rest in what God has promised and provided.
Yet, too often it is the rule of my life that doing the work of God doesn’t feel anything like rest. It feels like work, hard tiring, bone wearying work. This doesn’t feel like rest. The reason isn’t hard to figure out, it’s the same as the New Testament Hebrews and the Hebrews of the Exodus. It’s simply a lack of faith.
The Command Is To Enter Rest
We miss God's Rest because just like the Israelites we don’t believe that when God says “There remaineth a rest for the people of God” that he is talking about us or that he is talking about today. Our problem is not fatigue it is faith, not a lack of energy but a lack of belief.
In our own walking the path of God in our life we haven’t learned to cease from our own labors, as God ceased from His. We are still trying to do God’s work my way instead of God’s way. I’m trying to witness in my own strength, instead of resting in God, I’m trying to tithe, trying to forgive, trying to read my Bible, trying to pray in my own strength, trying to attend more than one church service a week, or a month or a year. I’m working for the Lord but I should have been resting in the Lord.
My Christian life is as hectic and stress filled as my work life, or family life. And of course, it is because I’m doing them all the same way. Instead of resting I’m laboring. But if I’m try to continue in my own power then what I’m doing is denying God's promise. I haven’t ceased from my own labors. I’m stilling struggling to be a good Christian and do all the things a faithful Christians does, all in my own strength and power and not in trust, faith and belief.
So, then God’s rest, is just believing God’s word and letting Him work through me, trusting Him instead of my self, believing in His power instead of wondering what happened to mine. Think about it, cannot the God who sustains the universe after He rested also sustain me as I rest in Him?
Hezekiah and Sennacherib 2 Chron 32:8 / 2 Kings 19:35-37
2 Chronicles 32:8-9 With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.
2 Kings 19:35-36 And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.
God won a victory for his people who rested in the Word of God. They won because they believed and rested.
Now that we know what rest is how can I enter into and stay in God’s rest? How can I know when I am in the area of disbelief and am missing this rest? Look at verses 11-13
Let Us Therefore Labor – Hebrews 4:11-12
Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. 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 Exhortation to Enter
Vs. 11 The word labor means to be diligent, to strive
I think the translators wanted to show a contrast. The idea being you have been laboring in the wrong way, now labor it the right way.
“The word diligence indicates universal earnestness in accomplishing, promoting or striving after anything” – Thayer.
It does not mean that we work in our own power for that would be the antithesis of rest. It means that we are ever diligent, ever watchful, ever on guard against unbelief, faithlessness and apathy in relationship to God’s promises.
Then in vss 12-13 Paul goes on to tell us how we can overcome our unbelief.
The Bible Is The Measure of Rest vs. 12-13
God's word measures us, it reveals us to ourselves, but cutting through everything on the outside and getting down to the truth of who we are and what we believe or don’t believe.
Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is quick (it is alive), and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, (a short dagger) 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.
God’s word, the Bible, His revelation to us is also a revelation of us to ourselves. It penetrates to the dividing point of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. God’s word measures and examines our life from the inside. It is a discerner of thoughts and intents of the heart. The Bible can’t be fooled and when we read it, study it, apply it then we will not be able to fool ourselves.
Who needs this measuring, this penetrating examination of my own heart? Well, hot God, for He already knows all about me. You know who needs to know the truth about myself, myself. This information is for us, we need this spiritual stress test so that we do not we miss His rest though our unbelief.
God's word, the living two-edged sword, needs to be buried to the hilt in my life that I might measure if I am in God’s rest or in my own labor. Not only can it measure my unbelief but if I will let it do its work through the Holy Spirit it will also cut out that unbelief that prevents me from entering rest.
Knute Rockne’s Cutting Column
During the days that Knute Rockne was coaching Notre Dame, a sports columnist in a South Bend newspaper earned the reputation of being the meanest, most cutting writer in the country. The anonymous writer, who knew Notre Dame well, wrote about the team's weaknesses. He pointed out the mistakes of individual players. He told about those who were lazy, about those who broke training and didn't discipline themselves. Of course, this column made the players roaring mad. The truth hurt and players complained to Rockne. He listened with sympathy but said he could not stop the writer. He advised that the only way the players could do so was to go out and play the game so well that they would prove him wrong. Later it became known that the writer of the column was Knute Rockne himself. As coach of the team he was best acquainted with their weaknesses. The critical column was his ingenuous device to develop a better team.
This book is God’s cutting column about me everytime I read it and If I will let it do what God created it to do, it will make me a better, stronger, more faithful believer.
Finally look at the last thing you must understand if you are truly going to Enter Into His Rest.
Let Us Therefore Come - Hebrews 4:14-16
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. 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. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
The Invitation To The Throne
Jesus is the means by which we come to know the Rest of God. Paul says, He is our High Priest, our intercessor with God. He is telling the Hebrews, don't abandon Him but hold more strongly to your profession of faith in Him. The profession is what they believe, it is their statement of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Go back to that and hold to it and in it hold to Him more than ever before.
Why should they do this? Because Jesus was tempted like they were yet he did not sin. He never gave in to the temptation to quit, to walk away, to go back.
If the Hebrew Christians, hold strongly to their profession, their belief in Jesus as Lord, Savior and Messiah, then when they need help in the trails and suffering of life, in the temptations to turn away, at those critical times then they can come boldly to the throne of grace and there they will find exactly what they need, mercy and grace.
To come boldly means to come without fear or pretense. It describes a man walking into a friend’s home. There is no fear, no worry, no awkwardness this is your close, dear friend who has proven himself time after time year after year to be utterly, unfailingly true and faithful. That friend Paul is telling the Hebrews, that friend is Jesus.
Go to His Throne of Grace. It is not a throne of judgment or punishment for past sin and failure, but a throne of mercy. It is not a throne of condemnation for my failure but a throne of grace, which I don't deserve but nevertheless is there for me by His own promise. It is not a throne of stress and fatigue, but a throne of rest when this world and its pain have deflated me.
The Throne Is the Place Of Rest
What I need to do, when this world has worn me down and when I don’t have the ability, the talent, the energy, or even the desire to continue to walk the path of God is go to the Throne.
Here it is, here is what Paul told those broken, beaten, ready to retreat Hebrews, Look to Jesus Christ. Go to your true great high priest. Go to Him in prayer, find Him at the throne of grace and then hold Him fast. You and I will fail, but Jesus…He never did. I don’t go to the throne of Grace to proclaim victory in my life but to claim His victory for my life.
Jesus was tempted, tested and tried in every aspect of human life yet he never failed, never lost, never sinned. Jesus knows our weakness now we must know His strength. Jesus knows our defeat, now we must know His victory. Jesus knows our sin, now we must know His salvation. It’s all there at the foot of the throne. At the foot of the cross I found salvation now at the foot of the throne I find consolation.
Jesus while on the earth gave only one invitation it in Matthew 11:28-30 and it is all about rest. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
What more can be said or asked? Here is the personal invitation of Jesus Himself, to rest from our labors by yoking, being joined together with Him, and in that closeness to learn of Him. There in that bond, He promises we will find rest to our souls.
The work does not stop, in fact it will increase, but now Jesus is pulling the weight with us. The creator of the universe has stooped down to shoulder my burdens, cares, problems and pain and pull me along in His great work.
The Bible tells us that God laid on His Son the sins of the world when He was on the cross and yet He rose from the grave and ascended into heaven. What burden of mine can Jesus not carry?
Dwelling in Beulah Land. By C. Miles Davis (also wrote In the Garden)
Isaiah 62:4 Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah (the one I delight in), and thy land Beulah (married) for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.
Far away the noise of strife upon my ear is falling.
Then I know the sins of earth beset on every hand.
Doubt and fear and things of earth in vain to me are calling.
None of these shall move me from Beulah Land.
I’m living on the mountain, underneath a cloudless sky.
I’m drinking at the fountain that never shall run dry.
O yes! I’m feasting on the manna from a bountiful supply,
For I am dwelling in Beulah Land.
Far below the storm of doubt upon the world is beating.
Sons of men in battle long the enemy withstand.
Safe am I within the castle of God’s Word retreating.
Nothing then can reach me—’tis Beulah Land.
Jesus and the return of the seventy: Joy!
Luke 10:17-21 And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name. And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven. In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.
That is a description of what our labor in the Lord should be like, Joy! I should come back from doing the Lord’s work have joy. I should return home after being in the Lord’s house and have joy and wishing to go back as soon as possible. I should work in the fields of the Lord, serve in the house of God, give to the Lord’s work and it should bring me, Joy! And not only that but it should bring my Lord joy.
May it be true of us as it was the disciples, “Jesus rejoiced in spirit.” Wouldn’t it be a wonderful gift to give joy to my Savior, by my service?
Let's sum all this up, it is too important for only one telling.
I must understand that God has promised rest to His own as they serve Him.
I will miss that rest if I do not trust and believe God and His promises to me.
In God’s written word, the Bible, my unbelief can be measured and removed.
Therefore, I must learn to depend completely on Jesus in all areas of my life and service.
Finally, when I am overwhelmed, defeated and broken, go to the Throne of Grace, there I will find the mercy and grace to meet the need and bring me back into His rest.