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: 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.
b. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them: We have heard the promise of God’s rest, just like the children of Israel did. They heard the word, but it did not profit them, because they did not receive it with faith.
i. They heard the promise. They had the opportunity to receive the promise. But they had actually enter by faith.
2. (3-9) Proof that a “rest” remains for the people of God, beyond it’s original fulfillment under Joshua.
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) did not enter because of disobedience, then someone else will 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 that remains for God’s people to enter, beyond the fulfillment under Joshua. If Joshua had completely fulfilled the promise of rest, God’s appeal through David, saying “Today” would make 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.
3. (10) What this rest is: a cessation from 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 the work is finished by Jesus on the cross.
4. (11) Application of 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 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 has diagnosed our illness with a surgeon’s precision. It has seen our hearts, and discerned that we are too ready to follow in the failure of the children of Israel, to give up belief.
b. When the word of God exposes our weakness and unbelief like this, it demonstrates the inherent power, sharpness, and accuracy of the word of God. It bears constant reminding that as we submit ourselves to the word of God, we do it for far, far more than intellectual knowledge of the learning of 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. We should consider just what the Word of God says it will do in our lives:
i. God’s word brings true health, fruitfulness, prosperity and success to the things we do. (Psalm 1:3)
ii. The word of God has healing power; it has the power to deliver us from oppression. (Psalm 107:20; Matthew 8:8; Matthew 8:16)
iii. God’s word is cleansing - 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 our counselor; as 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 to us. It is a continual source of life for us. (Psalm 119:93; Matthew 4:4)
viii. God’s word is a source of illumination and guidance to us. When God’s word comes in, so does light; it makes the simple wise and understanding. (Psalm 119:105; 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 - you cannot pass from death into life unless you have heard 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. God can do dramatic works with the Holy Spirit as His Word is being preached. (Acts 10:44)
xvii. Hearing God’s Word builds faith in us. (Romans 10:17)
xviii. Holding fast to the Word of God can give us present 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 have done all they can before God. (2 Corinthians 4:2; Philippians 2:16)
xx. The Word of God is our sword of the Spirit - it is our 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” - and critical aspect of the ministry of the Word. (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 our source of growth. (1 Peter 2:2, 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 an 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 really receive it.
i. Powerful (translated active in the KJV) reminds us that something might 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 can hit us with surprising precision, and the Holy Spirit empowers the ministry of the Word to do deep work 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 doesn’t know some “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.
e. Even to the division of soul and spirit: Is there a deliberate and significant difference between soul and spirit here?
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 when it speaks of and makes a distinction with 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 synonymously, but not always. We can say that soul seems to focus more on individuality and life (often being defined as the mind, the will, and the emotions). The spirit seems to focus more on supernatural power and life in an individual.
iv. That there is some distinction between the spirit and the soul is made obvious by passages like 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and Hebrews 4:12. The fact that the terms are sometimes used interchangeable is shown by passages like Job 7:11 and Isaiah 26:9.
v. Because the soul and spirit both have reference to the “inner man,” they are easily confused. Often an experience which only “blesses” the soul is supposed to be something which builds up the spirit. There is nothing wrong with “soulish” excitement and blessing, but there is nothing in it that builds us up spiritually. That 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. The outer man is described by 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). 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 hearts and knows how to touch them, and we must give account for how we respond to His touch.
i. Naked reminds us of the way God saw through Adam’s feeble hiding. God sees through our hiding the same way.
ii. Open is 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 and was such a powerful hold that it brought victory. So the term can mean “to prostrate” or “to overthrow;” but many scholars do adopt the simply meaning of “open.”
g. Remember the context. The writer to the Hebrews trusts that he has pierced the hearts of his audience, who were contemplating “giving up” on Jesus. In this passage, he has made it plain that they can’t give up on Jesus can keep it “hidden” from God. The word of God has discovered and exposed 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 has been mentioned before (Hebrews 2:17 and Hebrews 3:1). But now the writer to the Hebrews will develop the idea more extensively.
b. Seeing then: The writer to the Hebrews wants to call 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: Knowing that we have a High Priest, and know how unique and glorious He is, is wonderful. It is even greater to know that He has passed through the heavens, that He has ascended into heaven, and now ministers there on our behalf is even greater. Both of these things 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: Though His deity has been documented (Hebrews 1:4-14), His compassionate humanity has also been demonstrated (Hebrews 2:5-18). It means that there is a Jesus, God the Son, enthroned in heaven, our High Priest, can sympathize with our weaknesses.
i. To the Greeks, the primary attribute of God was apatheia, the essential inability to feel anything at all. Jesus isn’t like that. He knows, He feels what we go through. The ancient Greek word for sympathize literally means “to suffer along with.”
ii. What makes the difference is that Jesus added humanity to His deity, and came and lived among us as a man. 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 high school we attended.
b. But was 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 a way 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; He has faced worse.
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 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.
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. 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 how could these two attributes of God be reconciled? Perhaps God had two thrones, displaying the two aspects of His character. On one throne He would show His judgment, and on the other His 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)
©2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission.