The Rest is Yet to Come

Sabbath Study, Part 34

In Hebrews 3, we are reminded how, during their trial in the wilderness, many of the Israelites hardened their hearts through unbelief, leading the Lord to declare, “They shall not enter My rest” (v. 11)—i.e., the Promised Land. This sobering example from Hebrews 3 prepares the reader for chapter 4, where the author applies the principle of promised rest to the life of the believer found in Christ—and ultimately found in Heaven.

Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard. For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: “So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’” [Ps. 95:11] although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; [Gen. 2:2] and again in this place: “They shall not enter My rest.” [Ps. 95:11]

Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” [Ps 95:7, 8]

For if Joshua had given them rest*, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.

Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:1-11)

* “Given” and “rest” are one word in the Greek, divided in English by the word “them.”

A promise remains of entering His rest.
In this passage, there are three different Greek words used to describe the idea of rest. The most prominent (highlighted in blue) is utilized 9 times in the New Testament, 8 of which are found in Hebrews 3 and 4. (The only other place is Acts 7:49: “Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the LORD, or what is the place of My rest?”) This Greek word can mean either “a putting to rest (as in a calming of the winds)” or “a resting place: metaphorically, the heavenly blessedness in which God dwells, and of which he has promised to make persevering believers in Christ partakers after the toils and trials of life on earth are ended.” So the idea behind the main word for “rest” in this passage is the ultimate and heavenly respite promised to the Christian.

The second Greek word for rest in this passage (highlighted in red) is defined as, “to cause to be at rest, to grant rest.”

We will look at the third Greek word (highlighted in green) when we get to verse 9.

We…do enter that rest.
A.T. Robertson informs us that the phrase “do enter” is in the “emphatic futuristic present middle indicative” tense. In other words, it is a present tense Greek term used to indicate a future action. Thus what it means is, “We are sure to enter in, we who believe.” While this rest is certain, it is not fully realized yet.

“There is a rest promised to believers now as really as there was to believers in the days of Moses; and true Christians have a foretaste of it. It is a spiritual, holy rest, like the rest of God on the Sabbath after he had finished the work of creation; and of which the right keeping of the Sabbath is to believers an emblem” (Justin Edwards).

As He has said.
“God’s saying that unbelief excludes from entrance implies that belief gains an entrance into the rest. What, however, Paul mainly here dwells on in the quotation is that the promised ‘rest’ has not yet been entered into” (JFB).

I swore in My wrath, “They shall not enter My rest.”
God’s wrath means, at least in part, a withholding of true rest. The first generation of Israelites wasn’t allowed to enter into the Promised Land because their unbelief (and consequent disobedience) aroused God’s wrath; they were refused access to the rest of Canaan. As a result, they wandered in the wilderness for the remainder of their earthly lives.

In the gospel age, God’s wrath is revealed—again, in part—through a lack of true rest for the soul. And in the age to come, Divine wrath will have its final say, declaring a punishment of eternal restlessness apart from God. “And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night” (Revelation 14:11).

Although the works were finished.
“Although God had finished His works of creation and entered on His rest from creation long before Moses’ time, yet under that leader of Israel another rest was promised, which most fell short of through unbelief; and although the rest in Canaan was subsequently attained under Joshua, yet long after, in David’s days, God, in the ninety-fifth Psalm, still speaks of the rest of God as not yet attained. THEREFORE, there must be meant a rest still future, namely, that which ‘remaineth for the people of God’ in heaven” (JFB).

If Joshua had given them rest.
The Israelites did eventually enter into the rest of the Promised Land, but the writer of Hebrews is showing that the true and ultimate rest promised by God was not the land of Canaan.

There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.
The word “rest” in this verse is translated from the Greek sabbatismos, which is used only this one time in all the New Testament. Many versions translate it as “Sabbath rest” because the word literally means, “keeping of a sabbath.” If this future heavenly rest is referred to as a Sabbath rest—that is, if the Sabbath is a precursor to Heaven—it stands to reason that the earthly Sabbath celebration would not cease until the Heavenly Sabbath arrives.

“Moses, the representative of the law, could not lead Israel into Canaan: the law leads us to Christ, and there its office ceases, as that of Moses on the borders of Canaan: it is Jesus, the antitype of Joshua, who leads us into the heavenly rest. This verse indirectly establishes the obligation of the Sabbath still; for the type continues until the antitype supersedes it: so legal sacrifices continued till the great antitypical Sacrifice superseded it, As then the antitypical heavenly Sabbath-rest will not be till Christ, our Gospel Joshua, comes, to usher us into it, the typical earthly Sabbath must continue till then. The Jews call the future rest ‘the day which is all Sabbath’” (JFB).

Be diligent to enter that rest.
Our ultimate rest is still in the future, something to which we are called to look for in faith. Elsewhere in the book of Hebrews, we see this future-oriented mindset exemplified through the Old Testament patriarchs, who eagerly anticipated the fulfillment of God’s promised rest—not in Canaan, but in Heaven:

  • “By faith Abraham…waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:8, 10).
  • “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland…. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).
  • “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come” (Hebrews 13:14).

When we finally enter our homeland, and the city prepared for us, we will enjoy true and lasting rest—the eternity that is “all Sabbath.”

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
Word Pictures in the New Testament, by A.T. Robertson
The Family Bible Notes, by Justin Edwards
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary