Hebrews 4 – Entering Into His Rest
A. How to enter God’s rest.
1. (1-2) The warning is repeated: don’t miss God’s rest.
Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.
a. Therefore: The idea is carried on without pause from Hebrews 3, that unbelief kept the generation that escaped Egypt from entering Canaan. The promise remains of entering His rest, and we can enter into that rest by faith. Unbelief will make us fall short of the rest God has for us.
i. The old Puritan commentator John Owen described five features of this rest for the believer:
· Rest means peace with God.
· Rest means freedom from a servile, bondage-like spirit in the worship and service of God.
· Rest means deliverance from the burden of Mosaic observance.
· Rest means the freedom of worship according to the gospel.
· Rest means the rest that God Himself enjoys.
b. Let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it: This place of rest is so glorious it should concern us when others or we seem to come short of it. It isn’t enough to almost enter His rest; we don’t want to come short of it.
i. Adam Clarke on come short: “It is an allusion, of which there are many in this epistle, to the races in the Grecian games: he that came short was he who was any distance, no matter how small, behind the winner.”
c. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them: Hearing God’s word isn’t enough. Ancient Israel heard the word but it did not profit them because they did not receive it with faith. Hearing gave them the opportunity, but the opportunity only profited if it was mixed with faith.
d. Mixed with faith: You can hear the word and have spiritual experiences, but unless the work of God is mixed with faith, it will do no good. This explains why two people can hear the same message and one benefits while the other does not. It also shows that when there is more faith – more of the anticipation of blessing and favor from God – there is more blessing indeed.
i. Clarke on mixed: “It is a metaphor taken from the nutrition of the human body by mixing the aliment taken into the stomach with the saliva and gastric juice . . . so that on this process, properly performed, depend (under God) strength, health, and life itself.”
ii. Think of the joy Israel had in coming out of Egypt and approaching the Promised Land – and then think of all the graves dug in the desert. A wonderful promise was available but unattained. They came short because though they heard God’s word, it was not mixed with faith.
2. (3-9) Proof that a “rest” remains for the people of God.
For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: “So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’ ” although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; and again in this place: “They shall not enter My rest.” Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, 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.
a. So swore in My wrath: This quote from Psalm 95:11 demonstrates that God has a rest available to us. This rest is after the pattern of God’s own rest on the seventh day from all His works, as described in the quote from Genesis 2:2.
b. Therefore it remains that some must enter it: God did not create this place of rest in vain. If Israel (those to whom it was first preached) failed to enter because of disobedience, then someone else would enter into that rest.
c. Today, if you will hear His voice: The appeal in Psalm 95:7-8 proves that there is a rest remaining for God’s people to enter, beyond the fulfillment under Joshua. If Joshua completely fulfilled the promise of rest, God’s appeal through David, saying “Today” makes no sense.
d. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God: All this together proves the point that there is a rest for the people of God. This is a rest that is spiritual, yet patterned after the rest provided through Joshua.
i. The mention of Joshua reminds us that the name “Jesus” is the same as “Joshua.” The second Joshua will finish what the first Joshua left unfinished. Jesus is greater than both Moses and the second Joshua.
ii. This rest is in a person – in Jesus Christ, not so much in doctrines and ideas. If you meet a troubled, crying child and try to comfort him and give him rest using ideas and logic, it won’t do much good. But when mommy comes, the child is happy again.
iii. Those who preach this rest must possess it themselves. “Not long ago, one of our ministers was preaching upon salvation, and the work of the Spirit in the heart, when one of the congregation rose and asked him respectfully, ‘Sir, do you know all this by the report of others, or has this taken place in your own experience?’ The preacher was by no means put about by the question, but rather rejoiced in it; for he could honestly reply, ‘I have trusted Christ. I am saved, and I know and feel the peace which results there from.’ If he could not have made that solemn statement, he would have had no influence over the person who had put the question.” (Spurgeon)
3. (10) Rest means to not continue on in works.
For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.
a. He who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works: Entering this rest means no longer needing to work. The idea isn’t that there is no longer any place for doing good works. The idea is that there is no longer any place for works as a basis for our own righteousness.
b. Ceased from his works as God did from His: This cessation from works as a basis for righteousness fulfills our “Sabbath rest.” God rested from His works on the original Sabbath of Genesis 2:2 because the work was finished. We cease from self-justifying works because Jesus finished the work on the cross.
4. (11) Accepting the invitation to enter God’s rest through faith.
Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.
a. Let us therefore: This phrase, or this idea, appears repeatedly in the Book of Hebrews. A doctrinal truth is presented – in this case, the truth of a remaining rest available by faith – then the truth is applied.
b. Be diligent to enter that rest: The rest is there, but God does not force it upon us. We must enter that rest. Clearly, the rest is entered by faith; but it takes diligent faith. This shows us that faith is not passive; it takes diligence to trust in, rely on, and cling to Jesus and His work for us.
c. Lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience: If we are not diligent to enter that rest, the result can be a disaster. We may fall according to the same example of disobedience. We may fall, even as the children of Israel did in the wilderness.
5. (12-13) Found out by God’s Word.
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
a. For the word of God: God’s Word diagnoses the condition of man with a surgeon’s precision. It lays open our heart and discerns our spiritual health. In the case of those the writer to the Hebrews first addressed, they were too ready to follow in the failure of the children of Israel and to give up strong, living faith.
b. Living and powerful: When the word of God exposes our weakness and unbelief like this, it demonstrates its inherent power, sharpness, and accuracy. It bears constant reminding that as we submit ourselves to the word of God, we do it for far, far more than intellectual knowledge or to learn Bible facts. We do it for the ministry of the Word, because God meets us in His Word and the Holy Spirit works powerfully through the word of God. This spiritual work of God’s Word goes far beyond the basic educational value of learning the Bible.
i. God’s Word brings true health, fruitfulness, prosperity and success to what we do (Psalm 1:3).
ii. The Word of God has healing power and the power to deliver from oppression (Psalm 107:20, Matthew 8:8, Matthew 8:16).
iii. God’s Word cleans us. If we take heed according to God’s word, our way will be cleansed (Psalm 119:9, John 15:3, Ephesians 5:26).
iv. The Word of God, hidden in our hearts, keeps us from sin (Psalm 119:11).
v. God’s Word is a counselor. When we delight in God’s word, it becomes a rich source of counsel and guidance for us (Psalm 119:24).
vi. God’s Word is a source of strength (Psalm 119:28).
vii. God’s Word imparts life. It is a continual source of life (Psalm 119:93 and Matthew 4:4).
viii. God’s Word is a source of illumination and guidance. When God’s word comes in, light comes in. It makes the simple wise and understanding (Psalm 119:105 and Psalm 119:130).
ix. God’s Word gives peace to those who love it. They are secure, standing in a safe place (Psalm 119:165).
x. When the Word of God is heard and understood, it bears fruit (Matthew 13:23).
xi. The Word of God has inherent power and authority against demonic powers (Luke 4:36).
xii. Jesus Himself – His eternal person – is described as the Word. When we are into the word of God, we are into Jesus (John 1:1).
xiii. Hearing God’s Word is essential to eternal life. One cannot pass from death into life unless they hear the Word of God (John 5:24, James 1:21, 1 Peter 1:23).
xiv. Abiding – living in – God’s Word is evidence of true discipleship (John 8:31).
xv. God’s Word is the means to sanctification (John 17:17).
xvi. The Holy Spirit can work with great power as the Word of God is preached (Acts 10:44).
xvii. Hearing God’s Word builds faith (Romans 10:17).
xviii. Holding fast to the Word of God gives assurance of salvation (1 Corinthians 15:2).
xix. The faithful handling of the Word of God gives the ministers of the word a clear conscience. They know that they did all they could before God (2 Corinthians 4:2 and Philippians 2:16).
xx. The Word of God is the sword of the Spirit. It is equipment for spiritual battle, especially in the idea of an offensive weapon (Ephesians 6:17).
xxi. The Word of God comes with the power of the Holy Spirit, with “much assurance” (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
xxii. The Word of God works effectively in those who believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
xxiii. The Word of God sanctifies the very food we eat! (1 Timothy 4:5).
xxiv. The Word of God is not dead; it is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword. The Word of God can probe us like a surgeon’s expert scalpel, cutting away what needs to be cut and keeping what needs to be kept (Hebrews 4:12).
xxv. The Word of God is the Christian’s source of spiritual growth (1 Peter 2:2 and 1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
c. Is living and powerful: No wonder the writer to the Hebrews can say this. The Bible isn’t a collection of musty stories and myths. It has inherent life and power. The preacher doesn’t make the Bible come alive. The Bible is alive, and gives life to the preacher and anyone else who will receive it with faith.
i. Powerful (translated active in the KJV) reminds us that something may be alive, yet dormant. But God’s Word is both living and powerful, in the sense of being active.
d. Sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow: God’s Word reaches us with surprising precision, and the Holy Spirit empowers the ministry of the Word to work deeply in our hearts.
i. Often people wonder how a preacher’s message can be so relevant to their life. They sometimes honestly wonder if the preacher has inside information about their life. But it isn’t necessarily the preacher at all. It is the sharpness of the Word of God, delivering the message in just the right place.
ii. “A sword with two edges has no blunt side: it cuts both this way and that. The revelation of God given us in Holy Scripture is edge all over. It is alive in every part, and in every part keen to cut the conscience, and wound the heart. Depend upon it, there is not a superfluous verse in the Bible, nor a chapter which is useless.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “While it has an edge like a sword, it has also a point like a rapier, ‘Piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit.’ The difficulty with some men’s hearts is to get at them. In fact, there is no spiritually penetrating the heart of any natural man except by this piercing instrument, the Word of God. But the rapier of revelation will go through anything.” (Spurgeon)
e. Even to the division of soul and spirit: The writer to the Hebrews makes a distinction between soul and spirit, indicating that a division can be made between them.
i. Certainly, there is some distinction between soul and spirit. “The New Testament use of pneuma for the human spirit focuses on the spiritual aspect of man, i.e. his life in relation to God, whereas psyche refers to man’s life irrespective of his spiritual experience, i.e. his life in relation to himself, his emotions and thought. There is a strong antithesis between the two in the theology of Paul.” (Guthrie)
ii. But the stress of this passage isn’t to spell out a theology of the difference between soul and spirit. “Attempts to explain [these terms] on any psychological basis are futile. The form of expression is poetical, and signifies that the word penetrates to the inmost recesses of our spiritual being as a sword cuts through the joints and marrow of the body.” (Vincent)
iii. However, it is important to understand what the Bible means with the terms soul and spirit. The Bible tells us that people have an “inner” and an “outer” nature (Genesis 2:7, 2 Corinthians 4:16). The inner man is described by both the terms spirit (Acts 7:59, Matthew 26:41, John 4:23-24) and soul (1 Peter 2:11, Hebrews 6:19, Hebrews 10:39). These two terms are often used the same way, as a general reference to the inner man. But this is not always the case. Sometimes a distinction is made between soul and spirit. We can say that soul seems to focus more on individuality regarding the inner life (often defined as the mind, the will, and the emotions). The spirit seems to focus more on supernatural contact and power in the inner life.
iv. That there is some distinction between soul and spirit is obvious in passages like Hebrews 4:12 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23. Passages like Job 7:11 and Isaiah 26:9 show that the terms are sometimes both used to generally refer to the inner man.
v. Because the soul and spirit both have reference to the “inner man,” they are easily confused. Often an experience intended to build up the spirit only “blesses” the soul. There is nothing wrong with “soulish” excitement and blessing, but there is nothing in it that builds us up spiritually. This is why many Christians go from one exciting experience to another but never really grow spiritually – the ministry they receive is “soulish.” This is why the Word of God is so powerful and precise; it can pierce even to the division of soul and spirit, which isn’t easy to do.
vi. “When the soul is thus distinguished from the spirit, by the former is meant that inferior faculty by which we think of and desire what concerns our present being and welfare. By spirit is meant a superior power by which we prefer future things to present.” (Clarke)
vii. The terms flesh (Colossians 2:5, Matthew 26:41, Galatians 5:16-17) and body (Romans 6:6, Romans 8:13, 1 Corinthians 6:13 and 6:19-20) describe the outer man. The terms flesh and body also seem to include aspects of our person such as the senses and habits. When we allow our flesh to direct our thoughts and actions, it ends in spiritual ruin. God wants us to be directed not by the spirit, not by the flesh, or even the soul.
f. All things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account: There is no one hidden before God. He sees our heart and knows how to touch it, and we must give account for how we respond to His touch.
i. Naked reminds us of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and how God saw their nakedness. They could not hide from God and neither can we.
ii. Open translates the ancient Greek word trachelizo, used only here in the New Testament. It was used of wrestlers who had a hold that involved gripping the neck so powerfully that it brought victory. So the word can mean “to prostrate” or “to overthrow;” but many scholars do adopt the simply meaning of “open” – in the sense of laying an opponent open and overcome.
iii. Remember the context. The writer to the Hebrews trusts that he has pierced the hearts of his audience, who thought about giving up on Jesus. In this passage, he makes it clear that they can’t give up on Jesus and keep it hidden from God. The Word of God discovers and exposes their condition.
B. Jesus our High Priest.
1. (14) Seeing Jesus, our great High Priest.
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
a. Seeing then that we have a great High Priest: The idea that Jesus is our High Priest was mentioned before (Hebrews 2:17 and Hebrews 3:1). But now the idea will be developed more extensively.
b. Seeing then: The writer to the Hebrews calls attention to the specific, unique character of Jesus as our High Priest.
· No other High Priest was called great.
· No other High Priest . . . passed through the heavens.
· No other High Priest is the Son of God.
c. Let us hold fast our confession: It is wonderful to know we have a High Priest, and how unique and glorious He is. It is even greater to know He passed through the heavens, that He ascended into heaven, and now ministers there for our sake. Both these truths should encourage us to hold fast our confession.
2. (15) Our High Priest can sympathize with us.
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
a. We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize: Thus far the writer to the Hebrews was careful to document both the deity of Jesus (Hebrews 1:4-14), while careful to also remember His compassionate humanity (Hebrews 2:5-18). It means that Jesus, God the Son, enthroned in heaven, our High Priest, can sympathize with our weaknesses.
i. To the ancient Greeks, the primary attribute of God was apatheia, the essential inability to feel anything at all. Jesus isn’t like that. He knows and He feels what we go through. The ancient Greek word translated sympathize literally means “to suffer along with.”
ii. What makes the difference is that Jesus added humanity to His deity and lived among us. When you have been there, it makes all the difference. We might hear of some tragedy at a high school and feel a measure of sorrow. But it is nothing like the pain we would feel if it were the school we had attended.
b. In all points tempted as we are, yet without sin: Jesus knows what it is like to be tempted and to battle against sin, though He was never stained by sin. “His sinlessness was, at least in part, an earned sinlessness as he gained victory after victory in the constant battle with temptation that life in this world entails.” (Morris)
i. Sometimes we think that because Jesus is God, He could never know temptation the way we do. In part, this is true: Jesus faced temptation much more severely than we ever have or ever will. The Sinless One knows temptation in ways we don’t, because only the one who never gives into temptation knows the full strength of temptation. It is true that Jesus never faced temptation in an inner sense the way we do because there was never a sinful nature pulling Him to sin from the inside. But He knew the strength and fury of external temptation in a way and to a degree that we can never know. He knows what we go through and He has faced worse.
ii. “Yet He endured triumphantly every form of testing that man could endure, without any weakening of His faith in God or any relaxation of His obedience to Him. Such endurance involves more, not less, than ordinary human suffering.” (Bruce)
c. Sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted: Jesus can sympathize with our weakness and our temptation, but He cannot sympathize with our sin. We should not think that this makes Jesus less sympathetic to us, and that He could understand us better if He had sinned Himself.
i. “But listen to me; do not imagine that if the Lord Jesus had sinned he would have been any more tender toward you; for sin is always of a hardening nature. If the Christ of God could have sinned, he would have lost the perfection of his sympathetic nature.” (Spurgeon)
3. (16) An invitation: come to the throne of grace.
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
a. Let us therefore come boldly: Because we have a High Priest who is both omnipotent and compassionate, we can come boldly to His throne. Discouraging us from this access is a central strategy of Satan. The devil sometimes wants us to consider Jesus as unapproachable – perhaps encouraging us to come by Mary or by the saints instead of Jesus. Sometimes the devil wants us to think of Jesus as being powerless to help, not as one who sits on a throne in heaven.
i. Boldly does not mean proudly, arrogantly, or with presumption.
· Boldly means we may come constantly.
· Boldly means we may come without reservation.
· Boldly means we can come freely, without fancy words.
· Boldly means we can come with confidence.
· Boldly means we should come with persistence.
b. The throne of grace: The throne of God is a throne of grace. When we come, we may obtain mercy (this is not getting what we deserve) and find grace (this is getting what we don’t deserve) in our time of need.
i. Ancient Jewish Rabbis taught that God had two thrones, one of mercy and one of judgment. They said this because they knew that God was both merciful and just, but they could not reconcile these two attributes of God. They thought that perhaps God had two thrones to display the two aspects of His character. On one throne He showed judgment and on the other throne mercy. But here, in light of the finished work of Jesus, we see mercy and judgment reconciled into one throne of grace.
ii. Remember that grace does not ignore God’s justice; it operates in fulfillment of God’s justice, in light of the cross.
c. Find grace to help in time of need: Thankfully, God provides help in our time of need. No request is too small, because He wants us to be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer . . . let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6).
©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission