Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,
“So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.
And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”
The warning continues in this text, but now the warning is building up to something wonderful. The “promise” of entering His rest still stands. Needless to say, this is sometimes a source of confusion; what exactly is this “rest” that still stands? In the original Old Testament context, the “rest” was the Promised Land, but it was also the Sabbath. Now, there seems to be another context taking shape: What’s going on?
Whatever is going on, we still have that hope somehow, and we need to be careful that we don’t fall away from God before we get there. Now our author adds the rest and the Sabbath. So, is the Sabbath a promise? Some say so, but last time I checked, it wasn’t a promise, it was a Commandment! In fact, it’s one of the 10 Commandments, but unlike the other 9, Jesus didn’t re-assert this one in the Gospels: Why? Because it was the sign of the Old Covenant, just as circumcision is the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant; neither are in force now. And yet, there is still a rest for the people of God…?
Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”
There it is again! There is still a “rest” that we might enter into, and we need to ensure that our hearts aren’t hardened into disbelief, or we might miss out. I don’t know about you, but I think this is really cool… and great fun! What could he mean?
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.
Again the promise, again the warning- and more clues. Joshua led the people into the Land, Moses had given them the Law, and still centuries later, David spoke of another “rest” and the disobedience of old. Hebrews has several instances where the Old Testament is said to contain “shadows” that are pictures of the glorious reality to come in Christ, and this is the first one of them, even though the author hasn’t come right out and said so yet. In this case, both the Land and the Sabbath are mere shadows of a great reality that doesn’t come until Christ. Everything in the Old Covenant is centered on the physical world. The promises, the curses, the worship, the Temple, the festivals… all are physically oriented, but point to a great reality that was to come; this is called “typology” and these things are called “types.” Thus, the Land and the Sabbath are “types” of something wonderful that the people of the Old Testament had no real concept of… eternity. When Jesus began speaking of eternal life, He was speaking of something that the Old Testament made no mention of… at all. All of the promises in the Law were earthly, not one was eternal in scope. Jews do not die and go to Heaven; they die and live through their children. If you don’t believe me, ask one of your Jewish friends.
Yes, I know that some Christians might want to dispute this, saying that God hasn’t kept the Land promise, and will do so in the Millennium. Personally, I think that runs counter to our text right here, but my normal reply is: “Would you rather have a Tel Aviv address for a thousand years, or eternal life with Christ?” Jesus fulfilled the promise of land with something far better than real estate: This is the wonderful part. Yet, another warning, “make every effort” to enter the rest and not to perish because of disobedience.
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
This is the sternest warning of all in this section, and yet it is wonderful at the same time: The Word of God- powerful, penetrating, alive! We often refer to the Scriptures as the Word of God, and so they are. Then we go and relegate Him to a mere academic discipline full of teachings, rules and promises… even trivia, but the Word of God is never trivial. The Word of God is powerful, the most powerful force in our universe, for He holds the entire universe together as we saw in chapter 1. The Word is also a Person. Go back and read John 1:1-4; 14. The Word of God is none other than Jesus Christ Himself: The Word of God is Wonderful!
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, 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 empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
It is altogether fitting that the text shifts from warning against falling away, to the piercing power of the Word of God, and then to our Great High Priest Jesus, for our author has been warning and encouraging his readers to hang on to their faith through a time of great trial lest they should perish. Think about it: They were being told to endure a really horrible time in history, Christians were being burned alive for fun and amusement, and the author is telling the people to endure that rather than turn their backs on God: Yikes!
There is a huge difference between unbelief, turning our backs on God and making an error or committing a sin. The error part, the sin part is not a problem, for we have a great High Priest. Since Jesus, our “big brother” has ascended into heaven where He is our high priest who makes intercession for us with God, we must, and we can hold onto our faith. Jesus, who makes intercession for us with God, has endured every temptation; He knows what it’s like to be a weak human, so He will understand and intercede for us.
Do you see how encouraging this must have been for those brothers and sisters who first heard it? Isn’t it pretty encouraging for us now?
With this in mind, the next step is to approach the throne of grace with confidence. Why? Because we know who our High Priest is, there is nothing to fear… We can remain in our faith and seek forgiveness when we fall short; there is no need to give up and turn our backs on God, thinking that our case is hopeless, for Jesus is in our corner.