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Wednesday, July 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 4

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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The "Rest" Promised to Ancient Israel
Is Still Available to Spiritual Israel

The Apostle Paul continues the same line of thinking in verse one of this chapter that he was using in verses 7-19 of chapter three; however, he now treats the history metaphorically, applying the teaching directly to Christians. Paul’s desire is for all Christians to know that just as their forefathers had a promise of a physical "rest," Christians have a promise of a heavenly "rest" in eternity. This promise is now and forever available to every Christian who will persevere in faithfulness to God.

Verse 1

Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.

Let us therefore fear: Paul uses the pronoun "us" to include himself in the teaching and warnings he is about to give. This word "therefore" (oun) teaches "what ought now to be done by reason of what has been said" (Thayer 463). Paul takes the warnings at the end of chapter three and makes them come alive in the hearts of all Christians. Because the Israelites perished in the wilderness because of their unbelief, Paul exhorts his Christian readers saying, let us therefore "fear," (phobeo); let us "be seized with alarm" (Thayer 655). He warns Christians of future serious danger—let all Christians attentively be aware of their own actions lest they face the same consequences as their forefathers. Paul urges the Christians in Philippi to have this same "fear" when he says, "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). The call to "fear" is for the purpose of stimulating them to greater conscientiousness in living a faithful Christian life.

lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it: Paul shares with Christians the glorious news that by the grace of God they have the promise (epaggelia) of "entering into" (eiserchomai) God’s rest: heaven. By the words, "being left" (kataleipo) us, Paul means "there still remain(s)" (Thayer 333) a promised rest; and this "rest" is for all Christians who, like Joshua and Caleb of the Old Testament, continue to live faithfully. "God’s promise of rest cannot fail! Israel having failed to enter into it, the promise remains unfulfilled, and therefore it is open for us to enter in, if we keep the faith" (Dummelow 1019). It still holds good for us today in spite of the failure of the Israelites. While Paul wants Christians to know for certain that a "rest" has been prepared for them, his warning is for them to be alarmed at the possibility of coming "short" (hustereo) of it, that is, to "fail to reach the goal" (Thayer 646) and miss their heavenly home. By the grace of God, a rest has been provided for all Christians; however, their entering into this final "rest" depends upon their perseverance in faithfulness to Jesus. If Christians today lose their confidence in Jesus, they will come short of their heavenly "rest" just as the Israelites did in the Old Testament.

Verse 2

For 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.

For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: The pronoun "us" refers to Christians as it did in verse 1; however, the pronoun "them" refers to the Israelites; thus, it appears the gospel was preached to the Israelites in the Old Testament. The word "gospel," however, is an unfortunate translation and creates confusion "since it conveys the technical and conventional idea of preaching the gospel, which is entirely out of place here" (Vincent 421). Instead of "gospel preached," many translations (NRS, RSV, NAS, New Century Version) render "good news" to mean that an announcement was made, which is contextually more correct. Therefore, Paul is saying that just as there was an announcement of good news about a promise made of a "rest" in the Old Testament, there is also good news of a promise of a blessed "rest" that comes through Jesus Christ. Paul calls this promise "glad tidings" when he speaks about David:

Of this man’s seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus: When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John fulfilled his course, he said, Whom think ye that I am? I am not he. But, behold, there cometh one after me, whose shoes of his feet I am not worthy to loose. Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him. And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre. But God raised him from the dead: And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people. And we declare unto you glad tidings (the same as "gospel preached" in Hebrews 4:2), how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee (Acts 13:23-33).

Paul’s message proves that God’s promise of a "rest" in Canaan was only a type and is fulfilled by the promise of a better heavenly rest made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One should note that the parallel between the "rest" promised to the Israelites and the "rest" promised to Christians holds in its entirety, that is, both the privilege of the rest applies, as well as the penalty of failure.

but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it: Even though the "word" (the "gospel") or the announcement of a promised rest was preached to the Israelites, it did not "profit" them (opheleo), that is, the announcement did not "help" (Thayer 689). The word was "preached" (akoe), implying the "instructions" were heard (Thayer 22); but these instructions did not help them because, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, what they heard was not mixed with faith. The words "being mixed with" (sugkerannumi) are used metaphorically of food and fluids mixed to make the food suitable for the body. Literally, "being mixed with" means to "commingle" or "to unite" (Thayer 592). God’s children, in both the Old and New Testaments, must commingle the preached word with faith; thus, Paul’s message is that God’s word without faith is of no value. "Faith is the means whereby the word that is heard is vitally appropriated and realized in action" (Dummelow 1019). The Israelites, for example, heard the message of God delivered from Moses, but they did not retain their faith and trust in the promises of God; therefore, God’s word was without value to them, and they came short of the rest promised them. The same is true with Christians today. It is essential to hear, understand, and obey the teachings and to heed the promises of Jesus; however, these teachings and promises are useless if Christians do not retain their confidence and faith in Him. Paul’s message in this verse reaches the same conclusion as Jesus’ parable of the sower in the gospel of Mark, which shows that even though good seed is sowed, it reaches people in different ways. Sometimes the seed is rejected and never accepted; at other times, it is accepted and produces as intended; and at other times, it is accepted for a short while but later rejected because it has no roots. Jesus says:

Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred. And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them. And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables? The sower soweth the word. And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended. And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred (Mark 4:3-20).

Those who followed Moses, left Egypt, and entered into the wilderness trusted in God at first and wanted to follow God’s instructions; however, they were as the seed sowed on stony ground. When faced with difficult trials, they lost their confidence in God and came short of the promised land of Canaan because of their unbelief.

Verse 3

For 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.

For 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: The pronoun "we," as with the pronoun "us" in verses 1 and 2, refers to believing Christians who remain faithful to Jesus. Christians who persevere and do not lose their faith in Jesus or His word "do enter into rest." The clause "which have believed" "is used emphatically, of those who acknowledge Jesus as the savior and devote themselves to him" (Thayer 512). Faithful Christians, Paul says, "do enter into rest." This verse categorically teaches that all believing Christians enter into a promised "rest." As confirmation of this truth, Paul quotes again from Psalms 95 ("as I have sworn in my wrath"; see 3:11), showing that practically all of God’s children were barred from the promised rest because of unbelief. Being excluded from God’s rest for unbelief implies the right of entrance into His rest for those who believe.

God’s "wrath" (orge) refers to the punishment issued to His disobedient, unfaithful, and unbelieving children. Thayer says that wrath when "attributed to God in the N.T. is that in God which stands opposed to man’s disobedience, obduracy (esp. in resisting the gospel) and sin, and manifests itself in punishing the same" (452).

although the works were finished from the foundation of the world: The Israelites failed to attain the "rest" that God promised; however, their failure to attain it was not because the rest was not prepared; it was in existence, as Paul says, since "the foundation of the world." The expression "the works were finished from the foundation of the world" refers to the seven days of God’s creating this universe and all that is therein. This phrase is somewhat perplexing and seems to have been thrown in out of the blue; however, Paul mentions the time of creation in this verse and then explains its importance in the following verses.

Verse 4

For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.

By stating "a certain place," the Apostle Paul is not suggesting he is ignorant of where this subject was spoken of; instead he is making a rhetorical statement. He knows his readers are aware that God rested on the seventh day at the conclusion of the creation of the world. This fact is well known because Moses recorded it:

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And 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. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made (Genesis 2:1-3).

Paul is saying that God "spake in a certain place "of" (or concerning) the seventh day "on this wise." The words "on this wise" (houto) mean "in this manner" (Thayer 468); therefore, the apostle’s message is: "God spake in Genesis 2:1-3 concerning the seventh day in this manner: And God did rest the seventh day from all his works."

Paul’s intent in making reference to God’s rest is to illustrate his teaching in the previous verses regarding the Christian rest. He is showing that a "rest" is appropriate at the end of successful activities. For example, in six days God created the universe and all that is therein (Genesis 1:31). On the seventh day, He rested (Genesis 2:2). Likewise, there will be a "seventh day" rest for Christians when their activities involving obedience to His commands and instructions are faithfully fulfilled. When these activities are completed at the end of their lives, there will be a reward of a heavenly rest.

Verse 5

And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest.

By the phrase "And in this place again," Paul has reference to his teaching in chapter three, verse 11, and also in chapter four, verse 3. There is some confusion regarding the words of this verse; however, Milligan appears to be correct as he explains:

The sabbatical rest was the work of creation. And then he proves from Psalms 95:11, that twenty-five hundred years after that important epoch, when the Israelites rebelled at Kadesh Barnea, God made oath concerning a rest which was then in the future and from which that perverse and rebellious generation were forever excluded. And hence he infers that this rest could not be the rest of the seventh day, which from the beginning had been enjoyed by all the true worshipers of Jehovah (163-164).

The words of this verse remind Christians that the "rest" promised by God was not only for God’s children of the Old Testament but that the promised "rest" still exists. It exists because those to whom the promises were made did not obtain the rest because of their unbelief.

Verse 6

Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:

Paul is explaining that a rest was originally offered to the first generation of the children of Israel (those who followed Moses out of Egypt); however, because of their stubbornness, lack of confidence, and unbelief in God, they failed to enter the rest provided by God. Since the children of Israel did not remain faithful and accept the rest promised by God, as Paul mentions in verses 1 and 3, the "rest" still remains. Paul’s point is that the Israelites’ lack of faith, which kept them out of the promised rest, did not remove God’s promise of a "rest"—it is still available, and some must enter or God’s promise will not have been kept. Vincent says, "God’s provision of a rest implies and involves that some must enter into it" (423). Those (Moses and his followers) to whom God originally made this promise were not allowed to enter the promised land because of their unbelief.

Verse 7

Again, 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.

It appears that someone may have objected to Paul’s teaching regarding the rest promised to God’s people who followed Moses from Egypt into the wilderness and especially to the fact that this "rest" is still available. Some apparently objected to Paul’s explanation, saying the original promised rest was received by the Israelites of the next generation who followed Joshua across the Jordan River and took possession of the land of Canaan. Paul’s expression "after so long a time" refers to the time between Moses and David; therefore, Paul is proving there was a promise of a "rest" spoken of even in the days of David (years after Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan), and that this rest continues until "today," that is, the day when Paul is writing this Hebrew letter. The words, "as it is said, To day" refers to what Paul says earlier in this epistle in chapter three, verses 7 and 8 (see for an explanation of "if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts").

Verse 8

For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.

These words refute the objection that someone made (or that Paul thought someone might make) about the rest not being received and, therefore, is still available. At first glance, this verse may be a little confusing because of the name "Jesus" used in the King James Version. The name "Jesus" here is not Jesus, the Son of God; instead, it refers to Joshua. The Greek spelling is the same for Jesus and Joshua. The message, therefore, is, "For if Joshua had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day." Paul says there is still a "rest" available to God’s children since the rest was not attained by the Israelites. There were a few, like Joshua, who reached the land of Canaan; however, their entrance did not fulfill the divine promise of God. Paul’s argument is that if their entrance into Canaan had fulfilled this promise, then there would have been no mention of a rest spoken of after they entered Canaan. Paul’s proof is there was a rest mentioned hundreds of years later:

For 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, Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest (Psalms 95:7-11).

God’s people enjoyed a type of "rest" after Joshua led them across the Jordan River; however, it was not the true rest that God would later offer through Jesus Christ.

Verse 9

There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.

The "rest" that remains for Christians is of a distinctive character from the "rest" in the land of Canaan. The word "rest" (sabbatismos) here is a different Greek term from the word "rest" in the previous verses (3:11, 18; 4:1, 3, 5, 10, and 11). Paul now refers to a Christian’s eternal rest, sometimes translated "Sabbath rest" (RV). This Sabbath "rest" signifies "the blessed rest from toils and troubles looked for in the age to come by the true worshippers of God and true Christians" (Thayer 565). This rest, to which Paul alludes, is God’s rest. Jesus, the Son of God, offers an invitation to this "rest" to everyone who will have faith in Him and obey His teachings:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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 (Matthew 11:28-29).

This final "rest" is the one that was still available for Christians in Paul’s day and is still available in our day because the promised rest was not given in the days of Moses, Joshua, or David:

The Sabbath rest points back to God’s original rest, and marks the ideal rest—the rest of perfect adjustment of all things to God, such as ensued upon the completion of his creative work, when he pronounced all things good. This falls in with the ground-thought of the Epistle, the restoration of all things to God’s archetype. The sin and unbelief of Israel were incompatible with that rest. It must remain unappropriated until harmony with God is restored. The Sabbath-rest is the consummation of the new creation in Christ, through whose priestly mediation reconciliation with God will come to pass (Vincent 424).

This Sabbath rest, as the Apostle Paul says, is only for "the people of God," that is, His children who are faithful and obedient to the instructions of Jesus Christ. "The people of God" are sometimes referred to as "my people" (Romans 9:25); "his people" (Romans 11:1); or "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16). Christians are the true Israel who will inherit the promised Sabbath rest by faith in Jesus Christ.

Verse 10

For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.

The Apostle Paul illustrates a home in heaven for the saved, which man is to share. God will then have perfect satisfaction when man is united with Him. There is some controversy regarding the antecedent of the pronoun "he." There are two major views: One view is that the pronoun "he" refers to Jesus who leads God’s people to the heavenly promised rest in contrast to Joshua mentioned in verse 8 who, after Moses’ death, led the children of Israel across the Jordan River into the land of Canaan. The second view, which seems more in line with the context of Paul’s encouragement for Christians to persevere in works of faithful obedience to Christ, is that the pronoun "he" refers to all departed saints. Paul affirms that departed saints who have kept God’s commandments have "…entered into God’s rest;" their labors are over, they have "ceased from his (their) own works," just as God ceased from His work on the seventh day after the works of creation in six days. Having departed from this life, saints no longer have works to fulfill—they have ceased from their labors. "The blessing of the Sabbath-rest is thus put as a cessation from labours" (Vincent 425). Writing about saints who have died in the Lord, the Apostle John says:

Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them (Revelation 14:12-13).

Throughout the pages of the New Testament, the inspired writers often write of the labors of faithful Christians and the reward or rest that follows this life:

  • Matthew 11:28-29 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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.

  • Corinthians 3:8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.

  • 1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

  • 1 Thessalonians 1:3 Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;

The Christians’ rest that is enjoyed after death does not suggest the doctrine of "soul sleeping." It does not suggest that the dead saints are in a state of inactivity. The Apostle John writes that departed saints are worshiping God all the time:

And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created (Revelation 4:6-11; see also Revelation 5:5-14; Revelation 6:1-7).

Speaking of the above passages and several other similar passages, Milligan writes:

These passages are therefore wholly inconsistent with the doctrine of soul-sleeping. They severally imply a state of conscious activity and enjoyment after death, as well as of freedom from the toils and sorrows of this eventful life. There can be no doubt, then, that we will be all actively employed after death. But we will be no more wearied by our exertions: for the redeemed, though serving God day and night in his temple, will "hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the Sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them into living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes" (Revelation 7:16-17) (168).

Verse 11

The Christian’s Responsibility to
Labor to Enter God’s Rest

Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.

Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest: In the previous verses, Paul has proved that not only is there a sabbatical rest for God’s people but this rest is available to God’s people today who believe in and are obedient to Jesus. However, it is a Christian’s responsibility to "labour" to enter into the sabbatical "rest" (heaven) offered by God. Bloomfield says:

It having now been shown that there is a promise of spiritual rest to faithful Christians, we have next subjoined, by way of conclusion thereto, an exhortation to strive after this rest; after which is then reiterated the caution against unbelief in the Saviour, with an intimation of the awful consequences that must attend it (485).

To "labour" implies more than a causal activity to do something; instead it indicates putting forth a great deal of effort. To "labour" (spoudazo) means "to exert one’s self, endeavor, (to) give diligence" (Thayer 585). It should also be understood that Paul is not encouraging Christians to design their own labor or their own way of entering God’s rest. A Christian’s salvation comes by the grace of God and through Jesus’ life and death. Jesus suffered and died for every man, but every man, through his labors (works), must prove his loyalty and faithfulness to Him to gain the benefits of God’s grace. Jesus, speaking to His apostles, says, "he that endureth to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 10:22).

lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief: Paul says the Christian’s failure to labor to enter in God’s rest will cause him to "fall" (pipto) or "miss a share in" (Thayer 511) the "rest" promised by God, referring to salvation. To "fall" is used in the sense of sinning, specifically sinning by "unbelief." The results of failure to labor diligently will be the same as can be seen in the Israelites’ "example of unbelief" (3:12; 4:2). Christians are encouraged not to follow the "example" (hupodeigma), suggesting a copy or "imitation" (Thayer 643) of those who were guilty of "unbelief." The word "unbelief" (apeitheia) does not suggest that this person has no knowledge or no belief in God; instead it refers to those who choose to be disobedient; that is, those who are in "opposition to the divine will" (Thayer 55). Paul is speaking of those who know God (they know God’s instructions); however, just like the Israelites, they refuse to obey. Paul, in writing to the church at Corinth, speaks about the downfall of the Israelites:

Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:1-12).

Verse 12

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Paul enforces his teaching about coming short of God’s sabbatical rest (verse 1) by describing the character and power of God’s word. He has shown that those who refuse to obey God’s word shall not enter into God’s sabbatical rest; thus, as Bloomfield concludes, "The Apostle now represents the awful nature of the denunciations of God in Scripture against unbelief and apostasy, and forcibly evinces the impossibility that any unbelief lurking in the heart can escape his all-seeing eye" (485). Contextually, Paul has specific reference to God’s spoken word regarding entrance into His rest; however, it can be applied to any teaching from God. His word, spoken through any medium, including all commands, all promises, and all warnings, must not be trifled with. Christians must learn from past examples not to fall short of God’s promises because of unbelief, that is, refusal to obey the instructions of Jesus.

For the word of God is quick, and powerful: God’s word, Paul says, is "quick" (zao) meaning "having vital power in itself and exerting the same upon the soul" (Thayer 270). The Revised Version, instead of the term "quick," translates that God’s word is "living." His word is living, as Vincent says "since it is the word of ’the living God’ " (427). God’s word must be obeyed in that it remains effective, applicable, and operative as it was when it originally came from God.

God’s word is also "powerful" (energes), from which we get the English term "energizing," suggesting that His word is "active" (Thayer 215). His word does not die when it is spoken; instead, it continues in our lives as a vital power and can still do as it was intended to do. Thus, it is to be active in a Christian’s life. When it is believed and obeyed, it will lead one to salvation. The prophet Isaiah teaches the same message when he writes of God’s word, saying, "So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11).

and sharper than any twoedged sword: God’s word is "sharper" (tomoteros) than any "twoedged" (distomos) sword. A sword with two sharp edges is not necessarily sharper than a one-edged sword; however, God’s word is compared to a two-edged sword because it has the ability to cut in all directions. Vincent says, "The word of God has an incisive and penetrating quality. It lays bare self-delusions and moral sophisms" (427). In writing to the seven churches in Asia, the Apostle John says about Jesus: "And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength" (Revelation 1:16). God’s word being sharp is speaking of what it is able to accomplish, if obeyed. The word of God is compared to a sword because His word is our defense in all spiritual matters.

piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow: God’s word, with the ability of "piercing" (diikneomai), indicates it can "penetrate" (Thayer 148) even to the "dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow." To divide "asunder" (merismos) with the two-edged sword means that God’s word has the capability of "separation" (Thayer 400) and is able to access the hidden areas of the heart. The words "joint and marrow" are to be taken figuratively, referring to joints and marrow of soul and spirit. Paul is not saying that God’s word penetrates and divides the soul from the spirit or the joint from the marrow; instead, he is proving that God’s word penetrates all that is in man to the deepest part of his heart. The power of God’s word is illustrated by the reaction of the Apostle Peter’s hearers on the day of Pentecost when the scriptures say, "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). In other words, God’s word cuts to the deepest part of their hearts: "When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them" (Acts 5:33).

Spirit and Soul

What is the difference between the "spirit" and the "soul"? This question has long been debated and usually includes a third angle, that is, the "body," and thus refers to a threefold division of human nature. The Apostle Paul, writing to the church of the Thessalonians, says, "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Most people readily understand the difference between the "spirit" and the "body"; however, the difference between the "spirit" and the "soul" is more complex. In the context of this letter, there is nothing to suggest that there is a distinction between the "soul" (psuche) and the "spirit" (pneuma). "For most parts the word pneuma ("spirit") and psuche ("soul") are used indiscriminately" (Thayer 520). Thayer, however, gives the following explanation about the subject of the "body" and the "soul" by saying:

The spirit, (pneuma) i.e. the vital principle by which the body is animated….The spirit is that which animates and gives life, the body is of no profit (for the spirit imparts life to it, not the body in turn to the spirit….The rational spirit, the power by which a human being feels, thinks, wills, decides; the soul:…Although for the most part the words pneuma (spirit) and psuche (soul) are used indiscriminately and so soma (body) and psuche (soul) put in contrast (but never by Paul), there is also recognized a threefold distinction, to pneuma kai e psuche kai to soma, 1 Th. V.23, acc. To which to pneuma (spirit) is the rational part of man, the power of perceiving and grasping divine and eternal things, and upon which the Spirit of God exerts its influence; pneuma says Luther, "is the highest and noblest part of man, which qualifies him to lay hold of incomprehensible, invisible, eternal things; in short, it is the house where Faith and God’s word are at home" (Thayer 520).

and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart: Paul says that God’s word is a "discerner" or, as the Revised Version translates is "quick to discern." As used here, the word "discerner" (kritikos) carries on Paul’s thought of dividing and denotes "judging, fit for judging, skilled in judging,….tracing out and passing judgment on the thoughts of the mind" (Thayer 362). God’s word is capable of judging both the spoken words of man and his "thoughts" (enthumesis) (Thayer 216). The apostle expounds further to illustrate the power of God’s word to show that it can discern the "intents" of the heart. The word "intents" (ennoia) denotes a person’s "mind" and "understanding" (Thayer 217). Dods says God’s word judges the intentions of the hearts:

The word of God coming to men in the offer of good of the highest kind tests their real desires and inmost intentions.

When fellowship with God is made possible through His gracious offer, the inmost heart of man is sifted; and it is infallibly discovered and determined whether he truly loves the good and seeks it, or shrinks from accepting it as his eternal heritage (282).

Philo, speaking of God’s word, says:

Cutting asunder the constituent parts of all bodies and objects that seem to be coherent and united. Which [the word] being whetted to the keenest possible edge, never ceases to pierce all sensible objects, and when it has passed through them to the things that are called atoms and indivisible, then again this cutting instrument begins to divide those things which are contemplated by reason into untold and indescribable portions (Quis. Rer. Div. Haer., p.491 – quoted by Dods 282).

Paul’s purpose in explaining the power of God’s word is to emphasize to Christians that God’s word will bring the mind of man out of confusion and unbelief and lead it to the full light of knowledge.

Verse 13

Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

Paul makes a transition from God’s word to God, Himself, who utters the word. The purpose of these words is to highlight to whom Christians show accountability. The message taught here is effectively descriptive of the ancient Israelites and the dangers of committing the sins of the heart that led to their apostasy.

Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: The word "creature" (ktisis) refers to "things created" (Thayer 363) by God; thus, Paul is saying there is nothing created by God that is "not manifest" (aphanes), that is, nothing created by God is "hidden" (Thayer 88) from His "sight." The word "sight" (enopion) denotes anything "before one’s eyes; in one’s presence and sight or hearing" (Thayer 220). Paul’s emphasis, therefore, is that no one can escape God’s sharp retributive action when he violates His instructions.

but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do: Paul’s teaching that all things are "naked and opened unto the eyes" suggests that everything and everyone is exposed to God. Paul’s warning is that God’s word lays bare the smallest microbe of every "transgression and disobedience" (2:2). Being "opened" (trachelizo) refers to who is being beheaded and his head is laid back to expose his face, or possibly to an animal being skinned, and means "to bend back the neck of the victim to be slain, to lay bare or expose by bending back" (Thayer 629-630); therefore, Paul’s says the actions of all are clearly exposed to God.

Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest 4:14 – 5:10

So far in this epistle, Paul has shown the superiority of Jesus to the prophets (1:1-3), to angels (1:4–2:18), and to Moses (3:1–4:13). He continues in verse 14 to prove that Jesus’ superiority is seen in a comparison with the high priest and the Levitical priests. In the next several chapters, Paul will prove that Jesus’ priesthood is better than Aaron’s (5:1-7:28), offers a better covenant (8:1-13), gives a better sanctuary (9:1-12), provides a better sacrifice (9:13-10:18), and is based on better promises (10:19-12:3).

Thayer gives a brief history of the priesthood that is worthy of notice before entering into the verse-by-verse study. He says the high priest is:

He who above all others was honored with the title of priest….It was lawful for him to perform the common duties of the priesthood; but his chief duty was, once a year on the day of atonement, to enter the Holy of holies (from which the other priests were excluded) and offer sacrifice for his own sins and the sins of the people,….and to preside over the Sanhedrin, or supreme Council, when convened for judicial deliberations. According to the Mosaic law no one could aspire to the high-priesthood unless he were of the tribe of Aaron, and descended moreover from a high-priestly family; and he on whom the office was conferred held it till death. But from the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, when the kings of the Seleucidae and afterwards the Herodian princes and the Romans arrogated to themselves the power of appointing the high-priests, the office neither remained vested in the pontifical family nor was conferred on any one for life; but it became venal, and could be transferred from one to another according to the will of civil or military rulers. Hence it came to pass, that during the one hundred and seven years intervening between Herod the Great and the destruction of the holy city, twenty-eight persons held the pontifical dignity (Thayer 77).

Verse 14

Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

Seeing then that we have a great high priest: These words connect with Paul’s words in chapter two, verse 17, and chapter three, verse 1, to discuss at greater length the priesthood of Jesus:

Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people….Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;

The title "high priest" is first mentioned in Leviticus 21:10 where it is used of Aaron and his successors. Paul describes Jesus as a "great" High Priest without giving any source of proof; however, he will give unmistakable evidence as he proceeds in this epistle. The term "great" (megas) refers to a person "eminent for ability, virtue, authority, power;" (Thayer 395). Being referred to as "great" suggests that Jesus is above all other high priests; it is similar to designating Him as "the true vine" (John 15:1) and "the true light" (John 1:9) as a way to distinguish Him from all others.

that is passed into the heavens: The Revised Standard Version renders that Jesus has passed "through the heavens." "In Jewish theology there were several heavens: cp. 2 Corinthians 12:2. Jesus has passed through all the outer courts into the Holy of Holies: cp. 9:24. He occupies the highest place in heaven 1:3" (Thayer 78). The term "heavens" (ouranos) are all the completed works of Jesus and refers to "the vaulted expanse of the sky with all the things visible in it" (Thayer 464).

Alford, quoting Schlichting, explains the different descriptions of heaven:

By the heavens which are interposed between us and God: viz., both the whole region of the atmosphere, which is also called heaven in Scripture, and the heavens wherein are the sun, moon, and stars, and lights of the world, than all of which Christ is become greater: see ch. vii 26. Eph. iv.10. After these is that heaven where God dwells, the habitation of immortality, which our High Priest entered, and did not pass through (The New Testament for English Readers 1484).

Jesus’ passing "into the heavens" or "through the heavens" is, as Dods says, likened to the Aaronic high priest who passes through the veil and enters the Holiest Place:

As the Aaronic High Priest passed through the veil,...into the Holiest place, so this great High Priest had passed through the heavens and appeared among eternal realities. So that the very absence of the High Priest which depressed them, was itself fitted to strengthen faith. He was absent, because dealing with the living God in their behalf (283).

Jesus the Son of God: Paul’s mentioning Jesus as "the Son of God" is possibly to ensure there is no confusion between "Jesus" (lesous), the great High Priest, and "Jesus" (lesous) mentioned in verse 8 referring to Joshua who led the Israelites across the Jordan River into the land of Canaan. Jesus’ designation as "the Son of God" is a mark of greatness that no other high priest had.

let us hold fast our profession: To hold "fast" (krateo) means "not to discard or let go" but "to keep carefully and faithfully" (Thayer 359). It is a Christian’s "profession" (homologia), that is, his "confession" (Thayer 446) of Jesus as the great High Priest and the Son of God who has passed through the heavens, that he must never discard.

Verse 15

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities: The term "feelings" (sumpatheo) signifies to "have compassion on" (Thayer 596), and "infirmities" (astheneia) refers to "various kinds of this proclivity (appetite wmb)" (Thayer 80). With these words, Paul speaks about all human weaknesses. Paul’s message, therefore, is that, regardless of how high Christ is exalted, He still sympathizes with all Christians because He has experienced the same trials and the same temptations, the same desires and appetites, of all mankind. Jesus’ suffering and sinlessness is the ground of a Christian’s confidence in Him. Later, in this epistle, the apostle says, "For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens" (7:26).

but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin: By the word "points" (pas), meaning "every one" (Thayer 492), Paul intends for his readers to understand that Jesus, like man, was tempted in every way, yet His trials and temptations never resulted in sin. "Sin" (hamartia) is "a failing to hit the mark." Jesus never failed to obey God, even though He was tempted. The word "tempted" (peirazo) means "to inflict evils upon one in order to prove his character and the steadfastness of his faith" Thayer 498). Kendrick explains these words, saying:

The participation of Jesus in every form of human suffering—the actual stirring of His emotions, His complete fellow-feeling with our weaknesses, the reality of His actual temptation—all have taken place without one single sinful emotion, and without ever finding in Him, as their condition, or point of contact, a single slumbering element of sin (98).

Paul’s point is that Jesus had to stand firm in His faith toward God just as every Christian today must do the same.

Verse 16

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace: Paul now shows that the privilege of access is one of the many points of superiority of the new dispensation over the old. To "come" (proserchomai) means "to draw near to God" (Thayer 545). To come "boldly" (parrhesia) refers to the "undoubting confidence of Christians relative to their fellowship with God" (Thayer 491). Christians, because of our sympathetic and victorious High Priest, must with all confidence draw near to "the throne of grace." The "throne" (thronos) is used metaphorically referring "to God, the governor of the world" (Thayer 292). Christians must draw near to God’s "throne of grace" where Jesus is now seated at the right hand of God and where He is performing His function as our High Priest. The apostle speaks of this place later in this epistle:

Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens;…Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God (8:1; 12:2).

that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need: Paul gives two incentives for Christians to work diligently to persevere in faithful obedience to Jesus. The first incentive is to receive "mercy" and the second is to receive "grace." The terms "mercy" and "grace" express similar qualities, yet each has different characteristics. The word "mercy" pictures man as miserable, sinful, a victim of sorrow, and death; while the word "grace" expresses man’s state of helplessness and need for undeserved bounty. To receive "mercy" is to receive compassion from Jesus, our great High Priest, in the sense of forgiveness from our sins. To receive "grace" is to receive all the help from Jesus needed to gain salvation and to gain an entrance into the sabbatical rest. Christians need both "mercy" and "grace" at all times, but especially when overwhelmed by temptation.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Hebrews 4". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/hebrews-4.html. 1993-2022.
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