“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” — Hebrews 4:9-11
The Hebrew writer had just reminded his readers of the rebellious Israelites who had perished in the wilderness under Moses’ leadership due to their unbelief and sin (Hebrews 3:16-19). Because of their constant provoking, God swore “that they would not enter his rest,” referring to the promised land of Canaan. The Hebrew author then opened chapter 4 by using that well-known Old Testament history to show the need for continual faithfulness to Christians today.
“Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it” (Hebrews 4:1). A popular teaching taught in many religious circles today is the doctrine of “once saved, always saved,” the idea that it is impossible for a saved Christian to sin so as to lose their salvation.
For the faithful, penitent Christian this is true, because their strong faith prompts continual repentance when they fall short, resulting in continual forgiveness from God (1 John 1:7-9). Yet it is also possible for Christians to have weak faith, a faith which prompts unrepentant apathy towards sin or even a rebellious heart, resulting in the loss of their salvation (cf. Hebrews 10:26-31).
The Hebrew Christians of the early church were being tempted to forsake Christianity. If they had unrepentantly given into that temptation, they would have ultimately forfeited the salvation they had received. Thus, the author warned them of the possibility of failing to reach the eternal rest God offers to them just as the Old Testament Israelites had failed to reach the rest of the land of Canaan. It is a warning all Christians today must take to heart.
Continuing his warning, the author again compares New Testament Christians to Old Testament Israel (Hebrews 4:2). Moses had shared the good news of God’s promised land of rest across the Jordan to them just as the good news of Jesus has been preached to Christians today. Yet that gospel message ultimately will be of no benefit if one does not truly believe it. True faith is always proved by works of obedience (James 2:14-26). Hebrews promises that those “who have believed enter that rest,” unlike those who rebelliously lack faith to whom the author refers by citing God’s promise in Psalm 95:11: “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest’” (Hebrews 4:3).
Pointing out that “his works were finished from the foundation of the world” (4:3), the author now brings up how this was God’s plan even at the beginning of time. Citing Genesis 2:2’s account of God resting on the seventh day, the author ties it in with Psalm 95:11’s promise that the rebellious Israelites “shall not enter my rest” (Hebrews 4:4-5). This shows that the Old Testament commandment of the end of the week being a Sabbath day of rest and the Old Testament promise of the land of Canaan being a “rest” for Israel foreshadows the New Testament promise of heaven being the promised “rest” at the end of time for Christians who are faithful. The author alludes to this by pointing that “since therefore it remains for some to enter” the rest of heaven, while also pointing back to the Israelites (“those who formerly received the good news”) who “failed to enter because of disobedience” (4:6).
Thus God “again ... appoints a certain day, ‘Today’” (4:7). Quoting Psalm 95:8, the Hebrew author shows the need to avoid procrastination. Christians who wish to avoid hardened hearts and enter the eternal rest of heaven will choose to obey God “today” (cf. James 4:13-17). The Israelites who had eventually entered the promised land of rest under Joshua’s leadership had yet to obtain eternal rest, the day God later spoke of (4:8). Referring to eternity in heaven for Christians today, Hebrews promises that “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God,” a place where we can rest from our works just as God did from his on the seventh day of creation (4:10).
All who would profess Christianity must “strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” shown by Old Testament Israel in the wilderness (4:11). Are you taking this warning to heart?