JohnSWilson3 Blog


“…a Sabbath-rest for the people of God…”
July 2, 2011, 3:20 pm
Filed under: Q - Letter to Hebrews

In chapters 3 and 4 of the letter to Hebrews God’s great desire is that His people would “enter into my rest.” In chapter 3 the sixth verse the author said “Christ was faithful as a Son over His house whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end” (NASB). Christ is our hope and in Him we have our “confidence” and in whom we “boast.”

The author then contrasts this with “God’s house” during the time of Moses. The author quotes from Psalm 95 describing Israel, the people of God’s house, and their lack of “confidence” and “boast” in Him and the consequences. The author says that:

“So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest,'” (NIV)(1)

The rest of these two chapters in Hebrews uses this portion of the Old Testament to reinforce the importance of holding onto Christ Jesus our Lord. This analogy is based on the understanding that in Christ we have the “true passover,” “a new Exodus,” a new “baptism,” a new “wilderness,” and a new “rest.” (2) “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold firmly till the end our original conviction” (TNIV). During the time of Moses the people of Israel literally saw and heard “the living God.” Although the Law of Moses was meant to be an outward adherence to God following an outward set of rules together, they saw and heard Him literally. Today in Christ, the Law of Christ, the law of love, is meant to be an inward adherence to God living by Christ’s indwelling life together, and we too see Him as He manifests His life of love and grace through us. Holding onto Christ together involves humility, believing what He says and speaking or serving as He directs to the encouragement of each other every day.

I really want to understand this and so after some praying and looking at the words in Hebrew and looking at what the author has written some things began to come to mind. As brothers and sisters we have the “living God,” Christ Himself who now dwells inside of us and is now our life. Christ in us is the Logos of God, the Word of God. The author describes how He speaks to us inwardly (using the literal translation of the Greek and capitalizing the word logos): “For the Word (logos) of God is living and operative and sharper beyond every two-edged sword and passing through as far as division of soul and spirit, both of joints and marrows, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of a heart; and there is no creature unmanifest before him, but all things are naked and having been laid open to the eyes of him, with whom to us is the Word (logos).” (3) We must hear our indwelling Lord, the Logos or Word of God! When we hear Christ inwardly we are called, just like with the people of Israel, to “not harden your hearts.” Using the Hebrew definition of these words this phrase literally means to “not make dry or hard your inner conscience and will.” (4) When “a man goes on his own way, his ‘heart’ becomes harder and harder.” (5) Christ desires that we have soft hearts, that we would be “quick to listen” and “slow to speak” so that we can hear Him inwardly. To become selfish, to have our focus on someone or some thing other than on Christ, to not care about our conscience towards one another is to harden our hearts, to fall away from Christ’s rest that He desires for us. We must remember that “we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed enter that rest.” Do we not realize that everything is known to our indwelling Christ? Everything is laid before him. When our conscience is not clear in a matter there is a reason, our indwelling Lord is trying to tell us something, we need to listen to Him, and by faith follow what He says, whether by what we say or do. He will empower us to speak and do that which He is calling us to and as we do so we will see His life manifested in and to and through one another and to all we meet, we will see a greater fullness of our Lord! That is the place of rest, that is the place Christ desires that we enter!

The author then tries to understand what appears to be a contradiction between the Genesis account where “God rested from his work” and that with the people of Israel now being offered another or “new” rest. The author makes a point that even Joshua and David made a point that God meant a later rest, “about another day.” Moses was given the commandment from God Himself that we are to “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or cattle or your sojouner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.” Many of the words used in the Ten Commandments are found just in this one commandment. God’s desire is to have His people to enter His rest! This commandment was to teach His people to find rest in Him, that He was their rest as they believed Him and followed what He said and it involves not doing our own work. Now in Christ He has accomplished that! It is now in Christ who leads us to enter into His rest. Christ is our Sabbath, our place of rest! It is no longer a particular day of the week, but a particular Person and every day! “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.” And yet it is still a commandment as the author compares: “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” with “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” As we hear Him inwardly daily and by faith say or do what He says, keeping a clear conscience, we encourage one another “each day” enabling us by His strength and as a result we enter His rest! This rest though is fluid, it is something that we “make every effort to enter…so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” To not move forward in Christ is to go backward, is to fall. Fall does not mean perish as some translations have it, it just means that fall, to fall down. Although it is possible, like the people of Israel, to literally die in the wilderness. So it is a thought to consider if we continue to harden our hearts to His voice. If we have been tempted and and have fallen down let us help pick each other up and help each other move forward in the Lord and so fulfill the law of love that has entered our hearts by our indwelling Lord.

We do not enter His rest on our own and with our strength. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Everything that is necessary to enter God’s rest is found in Christ! We must learn to hear Christ together, to be taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus. He so desires that we listen to Him, let us be quick to listen to Him! And when we hear Him, when our conscience is moved by His Spirit, let us act on what He says. That action will in truth not be our own it will be His strength. When what is said and done is in His strength we will enter His rest, we will know in our spirit, “for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” What a great salvation we have been given in Christ! As the Sabbath rest was to be kept holy, separated to God, so to in Christ we are separated to Him who is our rest every day!

(1) The author appears to paraphrase the Psalm and seems to use the words from the Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint. F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Revised), The New International Commentary on the New Testament, 1990, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 98.
(2) Ibid. Bruce states: “The New Testament bears witness, in a number of places, to a primitive and widespread Christian interpretation of the redemptive work of Christ in terms of a new Exodus…The death of Christ is itself called an ‘exodus’; he is the true passover, sacrificed for his people, ‘a lamb without blemish and without spot.’ They, like Israel in early days, are ‘the church in the wilderness’; their baptism into Christ is the antitype of Israel’s passage over the Red Sea; their sacramental feeding on him by faith is the antitype of Israel’s nourishment with manna and the water from the rock. Christ, the living Rock, is their guide through the wilderness; the heavenly rest which lies before them is the counterpart to the earthly Canaan which was the goal of the Israelites.” p96-97.
(3) Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear KJV-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English, 1975, The Zondervan Corporation, 647.
(4) W.E. Vine, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 109
(5) Ibid.

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