Enter His Rest
The letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament of the Bible was written to Jewish converts to Christianity approximately 30 years after the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The authorship of the letter is in dispute among biblical scholars, although it is clear that it was written by a Christian leader who also was a Jewish convert. Although the author makes a reference to his imprisonment as well as a mention of Timothy, which could indicate that the letter was written by the apostle Paul, the fact that the writing style is notably different than Paul’s other letters, plus the fact that Paul explicitly states his authorship in all of the other letters, leads scholars to believe that some other Jewish leader had written this letter. The important thing for us to observe is that this letter was written by a Jewish Christian leader of that time to other Jewish Christians. Therefore we must consider the content of the letter in the light of the author’s viewpoint and his intended audience, knowing that we can’t fully comprehend their position regarding the Jewish understanding of salvation by the Mosaic Law and the traditions surrounding these beliefs that were replaced by the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
J.B. Phillips, in his introduction to his translation of this letter, under the explanation of the letter’s theme, says this:
“The general idea of the letter is to demonstrate that Jesus amply fulfils all the highest conceptions of the Jewish religion, and is infinitely superior to any predecessors. Christian Jews must realize that Christ has fulfilled and surpassed all their old ideas, and they must not therefore relapse into the old Jewish religion. Because the new agreement was established by God’s visiting the earth in person, it is infinitely more important than the old agreement of the Law. There is, therefore, for those who belong to Christ far greater privilege in knowing God, but far greater responsibility in serving him loyally.”
Although this letter is directed to the ancient Jews, the underlying principles can be applied to us (modern Jews or Gentiles) today, and this is what I am attempting to glean out of the letter.
Hebrews begins with this statement: that God has revealed a message of truth to us through Jesus and this message was intended to save mankind. We are then warned that we must take this message very seriously:
“Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward (i.e. retribution or penalty), how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will? (Hebrews 2: 1-4)
The writer of Hebrews goes on to expound on this warning and to encourage the readers to continue in their adherence to this message of salvation in Christ Jesus.
To be clear, the warning stated in the quote above is this: We must give more earnest heed to the message or else we are at risk of drifting away. This warning is repeated in Hebrews chapter 3:
“(we are a member of Christ’s household) if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.” (Hebrews 3:6)
And again, we see this same warning at the end of chapter 3:
“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort (encourage) one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.” (Hebrews 3: 12-14)
In other words, we have been given the assurance of the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ. We have placed our confidence in this promise and it has become the focus of our hope, in which we rejoice. We must encourage one another every day to remain steadfast in this confident hope of eternal life in Christ Jesus.
Notice that we are to encourage each other to be steadfast and confident in our hope on a daily basis, not once a month or once a year, but every day. Also, this encouragement is a protection against the hardening that comes from the deceitfulness of sin. Focusing on the steadfastness of our confidence in the promises of eternal life in Jesus is our protection against sin’s influence on our lives.
To illustrate this truth, the writer of Hebrews uses an analogy that the Jews of that time would clearly understand. He compares the confidence we have in the promise of eternal life to the confidence of the Israelites that were fleeing Egypt with Moses and traveling to the Promised Land. While traveling though the desert, the Israelites began to complain about not having water. This complaining then escalated to outright rebellion against Moses and ultimately against God. They threatened to stone Moses, saying that he had led them out into the desert purposely to have them die of thirst. The scriptures say that they were contentious, arguing against Moses and God, and that they “tempted” the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7) Because of this display of unbelief, or lack of steadfast confidence in the Lord’s promise to them, the Lord became angry with them and did not allow them to enter into His rest.
“Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, ‘They always to astray in their heart, and they have not known My ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ” (Hebrews 3:8-11 or Ps. 95:7-11)
It’s not difficult to be confident in God’s promise when times are easy, but when we are faced with challenging circumstances, like the thirst that the Israelites faced in the desert, this is when we lose our confidence. The daily encouragement is meant to prepare us for the difficult times. As we endure various trials in our life, we become stronger and our endurance and patience increase. This is the Christian’s purpose, to be steadfast in our journey through this life, with our focus on the destination of our journey, that is, eternal life with Jesus in heaven.
The word rest here in the original Greek is katapausis, meaning “reposing down, i.e abode, – rest” from the root word “katapauo” meaning “to settle down, i.e to colonize, or to cause to desist: -cease, rest”. I take this to indicate that the meaning of rest is to end the journey and settle down or find a place to make a home. I believe this is both a literal home, like the Promised Land for the Israelites or heaven for the Christian, or figuratively, an end to our search for a home, the end to our search for meaning or purpose in this life, or the resting from this search, by placing our confidence in our future hope.
We enter into God’s rest now by trusting and believing in God’s promise, by ending our stress and anxiety from trying to work out our own future and trying to control our circumstances. We enter in now by ending our journey though life’s wilderness, searching for a purpose and answer to our existence, lost in the confusion and turmoil. Instead, we rest in God’s ability for care for us as His children; we rest in His faithfulness and love for us, waiting for that day when He fulfills His promise and takes us home.
Much like our salvation, in which we are both “saved” now and will be “saved” when we enter heaven for eternity, we can enter into God’s rest now, and we will ultimately enter into His final rest in Heaven. Likewise, the Israelites could have entered His rest while traveling through the wilderness by confidently trusting in His promise to lead them to their destination, and ultimately, their children entered into His rest when they reached the Promised Land, with some of them crossing the Jordan to enter into it.
The writer of Hebrews confirms, though, that there is still a “rest” that remains for us to enter, and that the Psalm of David that he quoted also referenced this future rest.
“Since therefore it remains that some must enter it (God’s rest), and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, ‘Today’ after such a long time, as it has been said: ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.’ For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.”
To summarize, we earnestly heed the message of salvation, that was communicated to us by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, by remaining steadfast in our confidence in His promise of eternal life in heaven, and by rejoicing in this hope. By doing this, we also protect ourselves from the hardening of our hearts caused by the deceitfulness of sin. For the Israelites in the wilderness, the hardening of their hearts was the result of their response to their situation in the desert where they were without water, causing them to rebel against God. As a result of this hardened heart, unbelief, and rebellion by the Israelites, they died in the desert and didn’t enter into God’s promised rest. We need to learn from this example and work towards entering God’s rest by focusing on strengthening our confidence and steadfastness in God’s promise. We also need to encourage one another daily to do the same.
And so I encourage you today, to confidently and steadfastly enter into this rest and remain there until Christ brings us home.