The Nature of Rest
For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. (4:8–10)
it is spiritual
The rest spoken of here is not the physical rest of Canaan. That was only a picture. “For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that.” God’s true rest comes not through a Moses or a Joshua or a David. It comes through Jesus Christ.
God’s rest is not essentially physical at all. Certainly, resting in God and trusting in His promises can relieve us of nervousness, tenseness, and other physical problems. But these are by-products of His rest. Many cults promise their followers happiness, wealth, and health in this life. The Bible does not. The rest God promises is spiritual, not physical. Whatever physical or earthly benefits the Lord may give us, His basic promise is to give us spiritual rest, spiritual blessing. Some of God’s most faithful believers are the busiest, the hardest working, and sometimes even the most afflicted people imaginable. Yet they are in God’s salvation rest.
it is for israel
The term people of God may refer generally to anyone who knows God; but here it specifically refers to Israel. Salvation is first of all for Israel. The gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). There is a rest remaining for the people of God, and in the Old Testament Israel is designated the people of God. His spiritual rest is promised first to Israel, and He will not be through with her until she comes into His rest.
it is future
For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. (4:10)
God’s rest is also future. In his vision on Patmos the apostle John heard these beautiful words from heaven: “ ‘Write, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!” ’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them’ ” (Rev. 14:13). I believe Hebrews 4:10 anticipates that final day when we cease from all effort and all work and enter into the presence of Jesus Christ. It includes the promised rest to Israel, the ultimate rest when she and all of God’s other people will cease from work and rest as God did when He finished His creation. That is the reality of Sabbath rest.
9–10 And picking up the reflections of vv. 3–5, that rest is now described as a “sabbath-rest.” The term used is not the regular sabbaton but sabbatismos, a verbal noun used nowhere else in biblical literature but with the effect of focusing on the experience of “sabbathing” rather than merely on the day itself. Such an experience of enjoying sabbath “remains” for God’s people in that it has not yet been fulfilled in history. It is boldly equated with God’s own experience of enjoying sabbath when he had finished his work of creation. So too God’s faithful people (the evocative noun laos [GK 3295], typically used in the LXX for Israel as God’s chosen people, is here used for the people of faith), their earthly work of serving him duly completed, can look forward to joining him in his heavenly rest (cf. Rev 14:13). For the prospect of joy and security in heaven as an incentive for faithful service on earth, cf. 11:13–16; 12:22–24.
4:9 / The promised rest, therefore, remains … for the people of God to enjoy. Sabbath-rest comes from a single word that occurs only here in the whole of the Greek Bible. This word suggests God’s own sabbath-rest after creation (v. 4). God’s gift of rest may thus be regarded as the gift of his own rest. To enjoy the blessings of the eschaton is to participate in the sabbath-rest of God.
4:9–10. These two verses provide a conclusion (v. 9) and the explanation of the conclusion (v. 10). Then introduces the conclusion: God’s people enjoyed a rest patterned after God’s own rest on the seventh day. Sabbath-rest is a new word, appearing only here in the New Testament. The author of Hebrews may have coined the word to express the special significance which he wanted to communicate. God’s people will share in God’s own rest. Those who enjoy this rest will be believers, those who have approached God through Jesus Christ.
Just what kind of rest can believers enjoy? When do they enjoy it—now, at death, or in the resurrection? This rest is not merely the entrance into Canaan. It is a present experience with Christ in which the Lord provides his presence, peace, and joy to replace the labor and heavy burdens of life (Matt. 11:28–30).
God’s own rest (see 4:4) becomes the pattern of the rest of the believer. God’s rest involved the completion of his work and not mere cessation of activity. Believers have become complete in Christ (Col. 2:10), and they can live in the light of a fulfilled relationship to Jesus as their exalted head.
The work from which believers have rested is perhaps a reference to the minute details of Jewish sacrificial ritual and purifying washings. Concern about these insignificant details was unnecessary. Christ’s full work on the cross made it possible for believers to trust him instead of their own works.
When do we begin to enjoy this rest? We can live in those blessings here and now by faith. However, our present enjoyment of these blessings is not the whole story. We will receive more at the time of the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:23).
Let us summarize an involved idea: The writer of Hebrews called his readers to faith in Jesus and the enjoyment of the blessings which accompany that faith. Through faith in Jesus, believers today enjoy peace, joy, and fellowship with the living Lord as a part of their rest in him. This foretaste, which we now enjoy, will become a complete, unclouded experience of bliss at the time of the return of Jesus and the resurrection. As believers we can say, “Hallelujah!”
9. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10. for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.
From Psalm 95 the author has shown that the rest that the Israelites enjoyed in Canaan was not the rest God intended for his people. The intended rest is a Sabbath-rest, which, of course, is a direct reference to the creation account (Gen. 2:2; see also Exod. 20:11; 31:17) of God’s rest on the seventh day.
For the believer the Sabbath is not merely a day of rest in the sense that it is a cessation of work. Rather it is a spiritual rest—a cessation of sinning. It entails an awareness of being in the sacred presence of God with his people in worship and praise. John Newton captured a glimpse of what Sabbath-rest is to be when he wrote:
Safely through another week
God has brought us on our way;
Let us now a blessing seek,
Waiting in His courts today;
Day of all the week the best,
Emblem of eternal rest.
The day of rest is indeed an emblem of eternal rest! During our life span on earth, we celebrate the Sabbath and realize only partially what Sabbath-rest entails. In the life to come, we shall fully experience God’s rest, for then we will have entered a rest that is eternal. “ ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them’ ” (Rev. 14:13).
Who then enters that rest? Only those who die in the Lord? The answer is: All those who in faith experience happiness in the Lord because they are one with him. Jesus prays for those who believe in him, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (John 17:21). In God we have perfect peace and rest.
My heart, Lord, does not rest
Until it rests in Thee.
However, the text indicates that whoever enters God’s rest does so only once. He enters that rest fully when his labors are ended. He then enjoys uninterrupted heavenly rest from which death, mourning, crying, and pain have been removed; at that time God’s dwelling will be with men; he will live with them and be their God, for they are his people (Rev. 21:4).