Jesus: Our True Sabbath Rest
Entering God's Rest: A Thorough Examination of Hebrews 3 and 4
In discussions about the nature of "rest" within Christianity, two chapters from the Book of Hebrews - chapters 3 and 4 - offer profound insights. By examining these chapters closely and in their entirety, we discover a compelling case that our true rest is found in Christ, entered through faith, and not merely tied to observing a particular day.
The Faithfulness of Jesus
Hebrews 3:1-6 CSB
Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.  He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was in all God's household.  For Jesus is considered worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder has more honor than the house.  Now every house is built by someone, but the one who built everything is God.  Moses was faithful as a servant in all God's household, as a testimony to what would be said in the future.  But Christ was faithful as a Son over his household. And we are that household if we hold on to our confidence and the hope in which we boast.
The Warning against Unbelief
Hebrews 3:7-19 CSB
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: Today, if you hear his voice,  do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness,  where your ancestors tested me, tried me, and saw my works  for forty years. Therefore I was provoked to anger with that generation and said, "They always go astray in their hearts, and they have not known my ways."  So I swore in my anger, "They will not enter my rest."  Watch out, brothers and sisters, so that there won't be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin's deception.  For we have become participants in Christ if we hold firmly until the end the reality that we had at the start.  As it is said: Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.  For who heard and rebelled? Wasn't it all who came out of Egypt under Moses?  With whom was God angry for forty years? Wasn't it with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?  And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who disobeyed?  So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
These verses draw heavily from Psalm 95, using Israel's history to emphasize two intertwined themes: the importance of hearing God's voice "Today" and the tragic results of unbelief. Notably, the Israelites' failure to enter the rest of the Promised Land is connected to their unbelief. This is a precursor to Hebrews 4, where the nature of "rest" expands beyond a physical land or day.
The True Nature of Rest
Hebrews 4:1-11 CSB
Therefore, since the promise to enter his rest remains, let us beware that none of you be found to have fallen short.  For we also have received the good news just as they did. But the message they heard did not benefit them, since they were not united with those who heard it in faith.  For we who have believed enter the rest, in keeping with what he has said, So I swore in my anger, "They will not enter my rest," even though his works have been finished since the foundation of the world.  For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in this way: And on the seventh day God rested from all his works.  Again, in that passage he says, They will never enter my rest.  Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news did not enter because of disobedience,  he again specifies a certain day-today. He specified this speaking through David after such a long time: Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.  For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.  Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God's people.  For the person who has entered his rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from his.  Let us, then, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience.
By examining these verses closely, we discern a continuous argument. The "rest" spoken of isn't just about a day of the week but represents a deeper spiritual state, accessible "Today." This chapter builds on the historical account of Israel but emphasizes that the "Sabbath rest" is not confined to a day. The focus is the spiritual rest found in Christ, which believers can enter through faith. This understanding is supported by passages from other New Testament books:
Matthew 11:28-30 CSB
"Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Colossians 2:16-17 CSB
Therefore, don't let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day.  These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is Christ.
While the Sabbath day holds deep significance in biblical history, Hebrews 3 and 4 provide an expanded understanding. True rest is not limited to a day but is found in Christ, a rest from works and self-effort, reflecting God's rest from creation. By hearing His voice and placing faith in Him, we can enter this profound rest "Today."
Questions that Challenge Your Current Understanding
- Given the repeated emphasis on belief in Hebrews, how do you differentiate between a faith that leads to true rest and a mere adherence to the Law?
- How does understanding Jesus as our true Sabbath rest shift your perspective on the original intent and purpose of the Old Testament laws about the Sabbath?
- Reflecting on Hebrews 3:7-19, in what ways can strict adherence to the Law, without understanding its spirit, lead to a hardened heart?
- In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul describes Old Testament observances as "shadows." How does understanding them as precursors or foreshadowing help clarify their role given the revelation of Christ?
- Given that Jesus offers rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28-30), how does this rest differ from merely abstaining from work on a particular day?