A Perfect Future Rest
(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)
In our last study we examined Hebrews 3:7-19. This was the first part of the second warning passage. The author quoted from Psalm 95, comparing Israel's grumbling and unbelieving hearts to those of the Hebrews. The author illustrated that God had always kept His promises to the Israelites, and always keeps His promises to us. The reason that every Israelite over age 20 never saw the promised land was because they refused to believe God and rejected Him, not because God failed to give them the land.
The warning is issued in verse 12, where the author reiterates that we must 'Take care brethren, least there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God.' The danger is that some would fail to learn from the example of Israel. They would fail to believe the life giving message of Jesus Christ, and turn their back on God.
In verse 14, the author contrasts an evil, unbelieving heart to the faithful heart of a believer; 'For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.' This phrase is in the perfect tense, indicating an event that happened in the past, but continues into the future. We became partakers of Christ the moment we believed in His person and work. If we really did become partakers of Christ, if we really did trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, WE WILL HOLD FAST 'firm until the end.'
The danger is that some people will profess to believe in Jesus Christ, but then go back to their old way of worship. This was the case with the Hebrews. Many of them were professing believers, but they wanted to return to Judaism because of the persecution they were facing. It is a danger for us today as well. Many people, professing to be believers, turn their back on Christ by returning to their old, false worship because their parents want them to, or because they do not want to break 'tradition,' or because they are afraid people will not think that they are 'cool' anymore. What does this say about that person's true spiritual state? It is an indication that they never believed in the first place. They have been deceived by an 'evil, unbelieving heart.'
What is the consequence of having an unbelieving heart? God says, in verse 19, 'And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.' The majority of the Israelites were not able to enter into the promised land because of their unbelief. This denotes the truth that disobedience is a manifestation of unbelief. When someone rebels against God, it is because they do not believe God and trust Him to do what He says He will do.
Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, 'As I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest, 'although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has thus said somewhere concerning the seventh (day), 'And God rested on the seventh day from all His works'; and again in this (passage),'They shall not enter My rest.' Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He again fixes a certain day, 'Today,' saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, 'Today if you hear His voice do not harden your hearts. '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. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through (following) the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
The author begins chapter 4 saying 'Therefore.' In other words, he is saying 'In light of what we have just seen in chapter 3,' '...let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it.' There should be fear among us, so that we do not repeat the mistake of unbelief that Israel did. This will be the development in chapter 4. Usually, we talk about 'casting out fear,' or 'resisting fear.' But there are areas of our lives where it is healthy to have a 'fear.'
The warning in verse 1 is to those who profess to be believers, but are contemplating resuming to their old way of worship because of persecution. Those who do such things ought to 'fear.' What is it that we are to fear? That '...while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it.' The danger is that we will deceive ourselves, and like Israel, fail to enter God's rest.
The word 'rest' has a broad use in verse 1, and we can see several specific examples of this 'rest' throughout Scripture. It denotes the fullness of blessing and enjoyment that God promises to those who believe. We have seen Israel going into Canaan as an example of God's rest for His people. God promised them freedom from their enemies and freedom from obstacles if they entered the land in faith.
Another example of rest is the Sabbath day. One more example is the rest that we, as believers, receive today when we trust in Christ as our Lord and Savior. As one can see, the word 'rest' is used in several different ways, but it does have one ultimate meaning: the fulfillment of God's promises to those who believe.
The problem that the Hebrews had was not that they lacked God's promise of 'rest.' The problem was that they 'seem to have come short of it.' Now, some may say, 'The author says they 'seem' not to have God's rest. It is only his opinion. The author does not know what the Hebrews believe so why is he giving a warning at all?' Well, the word 'seem', as used in the context of Hebrews 4:1, means 'to be judged or accounted.' In other words, the sentence means 'you have the promise of God's rest, but when it comes right down to it, you have been found to have come short of entering into God's rest because you never became true believers.'
The fact that some of the Hebrews have never really trusted Christ as their Savior is clear in verse 2. The author begins, 'Indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also....' One will note the parallel between this verse and what we have seen in the Old Testament. The Jews had the good news preached to them. What was the good news? God promised them that if they believed Him and His Word, He would bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey, and give them freedom from their enemies. The author says that we have the 'good news preached to us, just as they also....' What has God promised us? He says that if we believe in His Son, and in His finished work on the cross, He will forgive us of our sins and bring us into a personal relationship with Himself.
If the Hebrews had the good news preached to them, what was the problem? The author continues in verse 2; '...but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.' The problem was not that the Hebrews did not hear the good news. The problem was that they did not believe it when it was preached to them. The same is true for us today. Everyone who sits and listens to me preach will hear the good news of Jesus Christ. And anyone who believes the good news, and places his faith in Him as Lord and Savior will be delivered from the bondage of sin, and enter into God's rest. But there will also be those who hear the good news, but they do not profit from the message because they refuse to believe what God says about salvation, and they will not enter into God's rest.
Israel heard the good news, but most of them rejected it and did not enter God's rest. The Hebrews had the 'word' they heard it preached to them, but it went by many of them. These did not accept the truth of God's Word in faith. Tragically, we see this in the church today as well.
The Hebrews had the 'word.' They 'heard' it preached to them. But they did not accept it with faith. This pattern of unbelief is seen in Romans 10:14 'How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?' This has been the pattern of communicating God's message to His people throughout the entire Bible. In the Old Testament, Moses was sent with a message. He preached it, people heard it, some people believed it, and they experienced salvation.
Anybody can preach, but only those who are 'sent' can preach the Word of God. When people hear the message preached, the result is either belief and salvation, or disbelief and condemnation. Earlier in Romans 10, Paul said, 'But what does it say? 'The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart'--that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with you mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation' (Romans 10:8-10). This is the message of salvation, and we do not have to go to heaven to find it. It exists today here on earth for everyone who believes. This is the emphasis that is made in Hebrews 4:2.
In verse 3, the author clarifies the position of those who have believed the 'good news.' He says, 'For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, 'As I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest,' although His works were finished from the foundation of the world.' Those 'who have believed' are those who 'enter that rest.' It is a completed action (believed) that continues into the present (enter that rest). Believers are continually abiding in the rest that only God can provide. And ultimately, believers will be building to the future, when they will enter complete rest in eternity with Him.
Those who believe the message of salvation, and 'enter that rest' have tranquility in their lives. They have forgiveness of sins. They have peace from God. But God says that those who do not believe the message '...shall not enter My rest.' The difference is obvious: God's blessing for believers, versus God's wrath for those who reject Him.
The author concludes verse 3 saying, '...although His works were finished from the foundation of the world.' This statement may seem like it does not belong in verse 3. However, if one reads on, it is clear that it is in connection with verses 4 and 5.
In verses 4 and 5, the author illustrates a different type of 'rest.' He moves away from the example of lsrael going into the promised land, and uses God's rest on the seventh day after creation as his example. He says, 'For He has thus said somewhere concerning the seventh day, 'God rested on the seventh day from all His works'; and again in this passage,' They shall not enter My rest'' Again, the author continues his pattern from chapter 3, quoting from Psalm 95, but not identifying his source of Old Testament quotation, knowing that the Jews would be familiar with the passage.
The author concentrates now on God's rest. The point being that the rest promised to Israel was the rest that was typified in God's rest on the seventh day after creation. We see this account in Genesis 2:2; 'And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.' Now, this does not mean that God ceased from doing anything, but He did cease from His activity of creating. The 'rest' God experiences becomes a picture of the ceasing from labor and toil that awaits everyone who begins to share with God in His rest. Notice that the seventh day is never mentioned as closing in Genesis. It was another literal 24 hour day, but the picture is of an eternally continuing rest.
This type of rest is connected to Israel in verse 5. Israel did not just fail to go into the promised land. Israel failed to experience the full blessing of rest that God promises to all those who believe in Him. It went far beyond the promised land. The proof of this is found in Joshua 22. In this account, God promises Israel a future rest, even after they had entered the promised land. God's rest did not end when Israel entered into the promised land This is why God continued to promise a future rest.
The author emphasizes the continuing availability of God's rest in verse 6. He says, 'Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience.' God's rest was there before there was an Israel, and it continues until the present day.
The author continues his emphasis on the availability of God's rest to all those believe. In verse 7 it says, 'He again fixes a certain day, 'Today,' saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before 'Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.' For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that.' Again, God's rest is available 'Today' for all who believe. For us who enter into His rest, we have been forgiven of our sins, we have entered into a personal relationship with Him, and we will spend eternity in His presence. Those who reject him have no rest. Instead, they are storing up wrath for the day of judgment, after which they will spend eternity in hell, apart from the love of God forever.
Verse 7 contains the warning '...if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.' Israel is the example to us in this passage, and we have seen from their example that there are consequences to rejecting and disobeying God. One of those consequences is the fact that those who reject Him will never be able to enter His rest.
Verse 9 identifies the type of rest that is given to believers: '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.' This is the same type of rest that we examined in Genesis 2. God ceased from labor and toil. The same is true for believers. We will be freed from the toil and persecution of this world, and brought into 'rest' with our Lord and Savior.
We will not fully recognize this rest until the future. We have only begun to experience His rest today. When we believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we begin in His rest. We experience forgiveness of sin, and we have peace, but we still labor and toil. But in the future there is a time when even the presence of sin will be removed from us.
Verses 11-13 apply God's rest to us in a very personal way. The author says, 'Let us therefore by diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.' Just as Israel was judged for their disobedience, those who refuse to obey in this day will be judged as well. Disobedience and disbelief become synonymous with one another. The illustration is that those who disobey do not believe, and those who do not believe do not obey.
The author commands, '..be diligent to enter that rest....' I understand this command to be directed toward unbelievers. What is meant by '...be diligent'? Don't unbelievers just have to believe to enter God's rest? But our diligence manifests our faith. It is our diligence and perseverance under trials and persecution that displays our faith. Once one trusts Christ as Savior, his salvation can never be taken away. But the danger is assuming that you are saved, when in fact you are not. And those who desert Christ when they are faced with persecution are likely not saved. They lack diligence and they lack perseverance. This is what is meant by the Calvinist Theology 'Perseverance Of The Saints.' Those who are truly believers will be 'diligent' and persevere to the ultimate end of glorification.
The believers will be able to persevere only because of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Philippians 1:6 says, 'For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.' This is the determining factor of the reality of our salvation. If we are truly saved, the Holy Spirit will give us the strength to persevere. If we are not saved, the Holy Spirit is not in our lives, and we will not have the strength to persevere.
Israel was in this situation. They did not believe, and as a result, they could not enter the promised land. They went to destruction and the torment that is mentioned in Revelation 14:11. 2 Corinthians 13:5 warns us to be alert concerning our salvation. Paul says, 'Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you--unless indeed you fail the test' The goal of this instruction is not to make people doubt their salvation. It is to make people carefully examine themselves so they do not assume they are saved whey they are not.
How are we to test ourselves? We must 'examine' ourselves to see if we are in the faith. How are we to do that? We cannot open ourselves up, and see if Jesus Christ is in us. But we can test our diligence. In other words, what is the character of our lives? Do we manifest Christ's character and produce the fruit of the Spirit seen in Galatians 5? Our answer, to these questions, tells us a great deal about our spiritual condition and our eternal destination.
2 Peter commands us to be sure of our salvation as well: 'Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent (the same word that we have in Hebrews 4:11) to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.' If we examine ourselves to be sure we are manifesting the character of Christ in our lives, we will be sure we are in the faith, and we will never stumble. Do you see God's character in your life? Do you see Christ being manifested in your life, and in your conduct? Some people might say, 'Those characteristics are not showing up in my life because I am a carnal Christian.' Well, they are only lying to themselves. Tragically, they will be tormented forever and ever in an eternal hell.
I do believe that a Christian can be in rebellion against God. But I think that the danger is that a person will think that they are a Christian who is going through a 'phase' in his life, but in actuality, he is not a Christian at all. This is the reason we are told to 'examine yourselves.'
A Christian who is in rebellion might be able to fool his Christian friends, and his pastor, but he will not fool God. The author says that when we examine ourselves with the Word of God as our standard, we will be found out: 'For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.' When one examines himself through the Word of God, nothing can be hidden. The Word of God reveals the truth of a person's salvation. It does not matter if you go to church every Sunday. It does not matter if you put on a happy face, and say the right thing, when you are around Christians. If you are not saved, you may fool everyone else, and you might even fool yourself, but you will not fool God.
The author says that the Word of God is 'living.' This is where we get the word 'energy'. This is the reason that a good church grows and is blessed. It is not because of good preaching, it is not because of good choir music, and it is not because of friendly people. A church that preaches the Word of God accurately does not grow because of all those outside factors. It grows because the Word is 'living' and accomplishes God's purpose and God's work. It changes your life. Other churches may grow as well, but people do not go because they want to hear the truth of the Word of God. The reason they go is because they want to 'feel good.' And if they examine themselves through the Word of God, they will see that their lives have not really been changed in any way. That is an indication they are not truly believers.
Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 says, 'And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God's message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.' For whom does the Word of God work? It works only for those who have believed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. If you are not being changed when you hear the Word of God, there is a very good possibility that you have never believed, therefore you cannot be changed.
The point is, the Word pierces us down to our very souls. In the same way a sharp, two edged sword would penetrate our muscle and bone, so too does the Word of God pierce our being. This is an amazing message. Nothing else but the Word of God can change a depraved, wretched, sinner into a child of God. What a weapon!
Verse 13 continues the warning that 'all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.' Every thought we have, every intention we have, every desire we have, is seen by God. If we only profess to believe in Christ with our mouths, but have never believed with our hearts, God knows, and He will still judge you as a sinner separated from Him. But if you believe in your heart that you are a sinner, and that you can only experience the salvation of God by accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, He will forgive you of your sins, and allow you to enter His rest.
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