The Rest to Which the Wilderness Leads

Hebrews 4:1‑11  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 8
EB 4:1-11{Hebrews 4:1-111Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. 2For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. 3For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. 5And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. 6Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: 7Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. 8For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. 9There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. 10For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. 11Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. (Hebrews 4:1‑11). The wilderness journey of the children of Israel, of which the writer has been speaking in chapter 3:7-19, was in view of the rest of Canaan. Into this rest those who came out of Egypt could not enter because of the hardness of their hearts, their sin and their unbelief (Heb. 3:15,17,1915While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. (Hebrews 3:15)
17But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? (Hebrews 3:17)
19So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:19)
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This rest—the rest of God—is wholly future. It is not the present rest of conscience that faith in the Person and work of Christ gives the believer, according to the Lord’s words, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Nor is it the rest of heart that is the daily portion of the one who walks in obedience to Christ, submitting to His will, again according to His Word, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:28-2928Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Matthew 11:28‑29)). Nor is it the temporary rest of a tired laborer, of which we read in the Gospels, when the Lord said, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while,” words which imply that we must be working again (Mark 6:3131And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. (Mark 6:31)).
God can only rest in that which satisfies His love and holiness. God’s rest will be reached when God’s love has fulfilled all His mind for those He loves. When righteousness is established, and sorrow and sighing flee away, God will “rest in His love” (Zeph. 3:1717The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)). “Holiness cannot rest where sin is; love cannot rest where sorrow is” (JND).
The Christian is called out of this world of unrest to have part in the rest of heaven. For the moment he is in the wilderness—neither of the world he has left, nor in heaven to which he is going. Faith keeps in view the heavenly rest to which we are going, which Christ has secured for us, and where Christ is; as we read a little later, He has entered “into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb. 9:2424For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: (Hebrews 9:24)).
EB 4:1-2{Hebrews 4:1-21Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. 2For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. (Hebrews 4:1‑2). Having this blessed promise, we are warned of seeming to come short of God’s rest. The mere professor, who gives up his Christian profession and returns to Judaism, would not only seem to come short; he would actually do so, and perish in the wilderness. But the true believer may appear to come short by turning back to the world and settling down on earth. Of old, Israel heard the good tidings of a land flowing with milk and honey, but they hearkened not to the word. (Compare Heb. 3:1818And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? (Hebrews 3:18) (JND) with Deut. 1:22-2622And ye came near unto me every one of you, and said, We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land, and bring us word again by what way we must go up, and into what cities we shall come. 23And the saying pleased me well: and I took twelve men of you, one of a tribe: 24And they turned and went up into the mountain, and came unto the valley of Eshcol, and searched it out. 25And they took of the fruit of the land in their hands, and brought it down unto us, and brought us word again, and said, It is a good land which the Lord our God doth give us. 26Notwithstanding ye would not go up, but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God: (Deuteronomy 1:22‑26).) The Christian has still more glorious tidings of yet greater blessedness in heaven’s eternal rest. To faith, these coming glories are real. If the Word is not mixed with faith, it can no more profit the hearer now than of old.
EB 4:3-4{Hebrews 4:3-43For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. (Hebrews 4:3‑4). Nevertheless, though some in days of old did not believe the glad tidings of the Canaan rest, and though the vast profession today may not believe in the glad tidings of the heavenly rest, the blessed fact remains that God has a future rest, and believers are to enter into that rest. Every step they take is bringing them nearer to God’s rest. The mere professor, without personal faith in Christ, will irretrievably fall in the wilderness. God’s oath, “If they shall enter into My rest,” (a quotation from the Septuagint version of Psalm 95:1111Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest. (Psalm 95:11)) actually means, “They shall not enter into My rest.”
The writer refers to creation to show that from the beginning God has had before Him “rest,” and to manifest the character of God’s rest. After the world was formed and man was created in the image and likeness of God, the creation works of God were finished. This led to creation rest with its two distinctive marks: first, God’s satisfaction in all that He had made, as we read, “God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good”; second, the entire cessation from all His creation work, as it is written, “He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made” (Gen. 1:3131And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31); Gen. 2:22And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. (Genesis 2:2)). Thus we learn the two great truths that mark God’s rest: the absolute complacency in the result of the labor; and satisfaction being reached, the absolute end of all toil.
EB 4:5{Hebrews 4:55And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. (Hebrews 4:5). The creation rest is a foreshadowing of the eternal rest. The creation rest was broken into by sin. Nevertheless, God does not give up the settled purpose of His heart to have a rest—an eternal rest—which no sin will ever mar. Thus again, in the days of Joshua, God’s rest is kept before us, for once more there is the good news of rest, even though the unbelief of Israel hindered the enjoyment of the Canaan rest, so that God has to say, “They [shall] not enter into My rest” (Psa. 95:1111Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest. (Psalm 95:11)).
EB 4:6{Hebrews 4:66Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: (Hebrews 4:6). In spite of the fact that sin had broken the creation rest and unbelief marred the Canaan rest, God assures us that He still has a rest before Him, which He calls “My rest,” and that there are some who will enter into God’s rest, even though those to whom it was first preached missed the rest through their unbelief. God’s purpose to secure a rest according to His own heart is not to be thwarted by the sin and unbelief of man.
EB 4:7-8{Hebrews 4:7-87Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. 8For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. (Hebrews 4:7‑8). If the creation rest is marred and the Canaan rest is lost, what is the rest of God which those who believe are to enter? Joshua had failed to bring the people into the Canaan rest. David, therefore, long years after, speaks of another rest in “another day.” To set forth this rest, the writer quotes Psalm 95:7-87For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice, 8Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness: (Psalm 95:7‑8). This Psalm is a call to Israel to turn to Jehovah with thanksgiving in view of the future coming of Christ to earth to bring the nation into rest. In view of the glad tidings of this fresh day of grace, Israel is warned not to harden their hearts as in Joshua’s day. To refuse this fresh appeal would be to miss the earthly rest under the reign of Christ.
EB 4:9-10{Hebrews 4:9-109There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. 10For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:9‑10). The writer concludes his argument by saying, “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God,” and the great characteristic of this rest will be cessation from toil, for “he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works.” Thus the great truth is established that, whether it be God’s heavenly rest for a heavenly people or God’s earthly rest for an earthly people, the rest is still future. It is a rest to which faith is pressing on. Moreover, it is not rest from sin, but rest from labor, and not rest from labor because the laborer is tired, but rest because his work is finished. As one has said, “No present rest is the rest of God; and the futurity of that rest is a grand safeguard against the snare for any Christian, most of all for a Jewish one, to seek it now here below. As God cannot rest in sin or misery, neither ought we to allow it even in our desires, still less to make it our life. Now is the time for the labor of love if we know His love, now to seek true worshippers of the Father as He is seeking Himself” (W.K.).
There is the danger that we may despise the rest of God that lies at the end of the journey or grow weary of the labor of love on the way. Israel did both. Let us then beware lest any of us fall after the same example of unbelief. The two great exhortations are, “Let us... fear” lest we despise the promise of the rest (verse 1) and “Let us labor” on the way to the rest (verse 11).