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Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 4

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Verses 1-11

The Rest of God

Hebrews 4:1. This chapter starts with a strange call, at least at first glance, to “fear”. But ‘fear’ here doesn’t mean that you should continually live in fear and doubt whether you will end up saved after all perseverance. To fear does not mean: to be afraid of God, but: to be afraid of yourself, of your own weakness and of your own wicked and sinful heart.

If you fear God you will take to heart the warnings that are made to Israel, that you will not follow them in their ways of unbelief. However, if you ignore those warnings and think self-confidently that you will achieve the final goal by your own power, it means that you have no confidence in God and you live independently of Him. In that case you may possibly imagine that the promise to enter God’s rest also applies to you, though reality will show that you will come short of it. To have come short of it means to perish in the wilderness and not reaching the rest. Though, if you completely trust in God for entering God’s rest, you will undoubtedly enter His rest at last. Mistrusting yourself and trusting in God are the proof that you have new life.

Hebrews 4:2. You received that new life when you accepted the “good news” that was proclaimed to you. The same goes for the readers of the letter. The good news (literal meaning of the word gospel) was proclaimed to them by the Son of God (Hebrews 1:1; Hebrews 2:3).

Also to the people of Israel the good news was once brought. It may remind you of two events. The one is the good news of their liberation from Egypt. The other is that they were going to enter Canaan. Therein lies an application for you. The good news means to you that you were liberated from the power of sin and that you entered the heavenly blessings.

Whatever the proclamation of that good news consisted of, if it was not accompanied by faith the hearers would not benefit from it.

Hebrews 4:3. To partake of the contents of the good news, faith is essential. That applies to everyone who hears. Only then is there an entry into the rest. The emphasis is that only those who believe will enter the rest. Like Joshua and Caleb we, who have believed, shall enter the rest. They who do not believe now, will not enter it shortly, just as sure as those who did not believe did not enter then.

The rest is nothing new in itself. The rest that you will enter, exists from the beginning. The first time rest is spoken about in the Bible is in connection with the day of God’s rest on the seventh day that followed the six days of creation. In that rest God intended man to partake of, but sin disturbed that rest. Therefore a new work from God was necessary (John 5:17) to be able to give and to enjoy a new rest.

God cannot rest where sin is present. Only when the curse has been taken away from creation He will be able to rest again in His works. When it is written that God rested from all His works it doesn’t mean, of course, that God was tired and needed rest. The rest of God has to do with His inner being. It is the rest of the inner satisfaction with which He can look at His works.

Hebrews 4:4. The writer supports his argument with a quotation from Genesis 2. God had worked in His creation and had rested from His works when He had finished them (Genesis 2:2). In that way He proved from the foundation of the world that He had a rest. As it is said, God’s rest came to an end through the fall of man. But the Son of God has taken care of a new rest. God is resting in the work that His Son fulfilled on the cross. In that work also everyone, who is dealing with the burden of sin, can find rest (Matthew 11:28). Because of that work God can find rest in His love, which will involve the whole creation shortly (Zephaniah 3:17).

Hebrews 4:5. In this verse the writer once again quotes Psalm 95 (Psalms 95:11). His whole argument is focused on making his readers fully aware of the fact that there is a rest of God and that God desires to have people taking part in this rest. He also shows clearly that man did not enter God’s rest, because he acted in unbelief.

Hebrews 4:6. He reminds them that the rest is still accessible, but also reminds them that everyone who doesn’t believe will never enter it. As a kind of summary he poses that some – those who believe – will enter into the rest. He also poses that those to whom the good news was proclaimed during the desert journey, did not believe God and that they disobeyed His commandment, which was the cause they did not enter into this rest.

Hebrews 4:7. However, the last word has not been spoken by that. God is still busy in His mercy to lead His people to partake of His rest. Therefore He again fixed a certain day, which He does in the time of David. That is “so long a time” after the events of the desert journey of forty years.

The writer again quotes Psalm 95 (Psalms 95:7-Ruth :) with in it the call to Israel to convert to the Lord with a view to the coming of Christ to earth, in order to lead the people into the rest. “In David”, the man after His heart, He offered the people a new opportunity to receive the fulfillment of His promises. But even then the promised rest did not come. Not even under Solomon, who was a man of rest (1 Chronicles 22:9).

Hebrews 4:8. God would not have spoken about another day “through David” if Joshua had brought the people into the rest when he captured the land. Their hearts were not changed by the dwelling in that land. They were still unbelieving and disobeying like they were in the desert. All the blessings in that land only made more obvious how little they valued God’s provision for them.

Hebrews 4:9. All of this means that the rest for the people of God that is being presented by the Sabbath, still is to come. It also means that we should not expect the rest here and now and we should even less expect that we would have already achieved it. The writer doesn’t say where the rest is. In that way he leaves room for a rest in heaven for a heavenly people and a rest on earth for an earthly people. Not Moses, not Joshua, not David and not even Solomon, but the Lord Jesus will realize and preserve the true rest. It is a rest “for the people of God”.

That rest of God is for all the fallen asleep believers from the Old Testament and the New Testament in heaven. That is not the Father’s house, but heaven as that will extend over a purified earth. It is the situation of the millennial kingdom of peace, when Christ will be Head over all things that are in heaven an on earth (Ephesians 1:10). The Lord Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). The Sabbath is not an image of the everlasting rest, but of the rest of the millennial kingdom of peace.

The great character of this rest is the ceasing from work. The rest of the millennial kingdom is still to come both for the heavenly people of God, the church, and God’s earthly people, Israel.

Hebrews 4:10. There is also a rest from your works and that is when your life of faith on earth has come to an end. That rest is the part of all those who have persevered in faith and have not fallen and perished because of unbelief. He who dies in faith, enters into the rest of God and rests from his works. This is being compared with the rest that God had after His works. Those works are of course good. Therefore the works here are the works of the believer. Those are the works that were done by faith and are not works for earning salvation (Ephesians 2:8-1 Samuel :; Romans 4:5). From those works the believer rests when he enters into the rest of God when he has come to the end of his pilgrim’s journey.

Hebrews 4:11. In order to achieve the rest of God you have to persevere. A present and apparent rest is not the true rest. The faith of the Hebrews was weakened by the continual trials, through which the coming rest faded more and more. Therefore they were exposed to the danger of changing the life of faith for enjoying a rest that is an apparent rest. Therefore the writer appeals to be diligent to enter the promised rest, which is still to come.

“To be diligent” means resisting the temptation to give up under the pressure of circumstances of whatever nature. The diligence of the believer implies a continual examination of the believer himself and of the circumstances. As a perfect touchstone you therefore get the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12). On that basis you can examine if there are wrong thoughts or considerations in the heart.

Love can never rest where sin rules and where sorrow and misery are seen all over. That goes for God and for the believer. The time will come when God wipes all the tears from the eyes. Then you are in His rest.

Now read Hebrews 4:1-11 again.

Reflection: When will you enter the rest of God?

Verses 12-16

Three ‘Aids’

In this section the Holy Spirit presents to you three ‘aids’, which will enormously support you and which are also absolutely essential for you on your road to the rest. These supporting aids are:
1. the Word (Hebrews 4:12-1 Chronicles :);
2. the Lord Jesus as High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-Ezra :);
3. the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).

Seek your help only there and there alone to conquer all adversaries (Psalms 60:12).
1. The Word guards over your inward and judges sin;
2. the High Priest guards over you with regard to every circumstance you found yourself, He suffers with you and He helps you;
3. the Throne of grace is where you can always come boldly like going to the Lord Jesus.

You see, everything is taken care of. This is how God is for His people.

Hebrews 4:12. We first look at the Word. In what you read about the Word three features of God are presented: life, power and omniscience. Beware of making the mistake to criticize the Word, for the consequences are fatal. You are not the one to judge the Word, but the Word should judge you. In fact you do not know your own heart, but God surely knows it (Jeremiah 17:9). Through the Word you learn to know your own heart. When you read the Word, sin and unbelief become apparent. If you are sincere in your heart, this judgment about the effects on the heart has a great value (Psalms 139:23-Jeremiah :).

The “Word of God is living”, because this Word is the Word of the living God. He gave to Israel ‘living words’ (Acts 7:38). The Word is also “active”. It is not like the empty words of people, without content. It ‘works in you who believe’ (1 Thessalonians 2:13), but it also accuses (John 5:45). Furthermore it is “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Revelation 1:16; Ephesians 6:17). By using it it is destroying, it cuts away what is not supposed to be; it kills what is not supposed to live.

It is not only destroying, it is also discerning. In that way it is “piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit” which means that the Word discerns what comes from the soul and what comes from the spirit. The ‘soul’ rather indicates feelings and lusts, the ‘spirit’ indicates more the hidden considerations and belief or unbelief. Soul and spirit are, so to say, the two parts of the non-material nature of man.

The Word also unveils the distinction between “joints” and “marrow”, whereby ‘joints’ indicates more the outer actions and the ‘marrow’ the inner power of those actions. The sinfulness of the human heart shows itself by the members of the body that are functioning through ‘joints’ and ‘marrow’.

Soul and spirit on the one hand and joints and marrow on the other hand present the total man. In this way the writer shows that no single aspect of the total man escapes from the operation of the Word of God.

Finally it is said of the Word that it is “able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (cf. 1 Chronicles 28:9). Here we have come to the most inner part of man, the center from where soul and spirit and joints and marrow are being directed in their operations. What becomes visible in life emerges from the heart. Therefore you should keep your heart above everything that should ever be kept (Proverbs 4:23). And therefore the Word has been given to you. So use it!

Hebrews 4:13. In this verse the writer suddenly moves from the Word of God to God Himself. What the Word does, God does. This connection between the Word that is being addressed to you and God Himself is remarkable. The Word comes from God. It is as it were His eye that is focused on your conscience and that brings you into His presence. God exposes everything in you.

He does not do that for Himself, for He does not need it. There are no secret things for Him that He should expose. All things are naked and opened before His eyes. But He wants to make you aware that you are dealing with Him. You are going your way under the all-seeing eye of the living God. If you are aware of that, you will, in self-judgment, put away everything that could possibly hinder you to persevere in the way of faith.

Hebrews 4:14. Then the writer comes back to his main subject: the High Priest in the heavens (Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 3:1). The ministry of the Lord Jesus as High Priest is diverse. Therein the grace of God is revealed magnificently. Consider just the connection with the two previous verses about what the Word does. When the Word exposes in you whatever can go wrong, don’t you see your weakness and incapability to reach the final goal by your own strength?

Therefore it is a great blessing that you have a great High Priest and a throne of grace. The Lord Jesus exerts His high priesthood in heaven, where God is, in order to help you from there in accordance to Whom God is. Christ not only went into heaven, but He passed through the heavens. He did not stay in the first or second heaven, but He entered the third and highest heaven.

So He is not only High Priest, He is the Son of God. To be able to become a High Priest the Lord Jesus has gone a long way. He has become Man and has suffered on earth. He also accomplished the work of propitiation. Then He passed through the heavens to take His place on the throne of grace. He is also appointed by God as Son over His house and He now can also suffer with us in our weaknesses. Without being the Son of God He couldn’t be our High Priest. However, now He is able to comfort us as Man, while He, with the full knowledge of God as Son, draws near to God for us.

Therefore it is justified that He is called here the ‘great High Priest’. That’s something that was never said of any high priest in the Old Testament. Again and again the writer points to the greatness of the Lord Jesus. Here He is great in His compassion for us. He is “Jesus the Son of God”. ‘Jesus’, the humiliated Man on earth in all our afflictions, Who as ‘the Son of God’ can suffer with all His own.

Now He has been presented like that, the writer exhorts us again to hold fast the confession, which is hold on to Him Whom you confess. You are on the way to Him and you may thereby know that He helps you.

Hebrews 4:15. And Who is He Who helps you? He is Somebody Who knows exactly whatever you’re going through and Who understands you thoroughly, because He Himself also has gone through all of that. You can count on His suffering with you.

To sympathize with another person it is not necessary that you feel at the same time what the other person feels. When you suffer pain you cannot think of the pain of someone else. Though to share in suffering you ought to have a nature that enables you to be aware of what the pain of the other person is.

This is how Jesus exerts His high priesthood. In every way He is beyond the reach of pain and affliction, but He is Man and He not only has the nature of man who used to suffer pain, but He underwent afflictions that a believer has to endure in a more than perfect way than any of us ever endures.

He was tempted in all points as you are, “[yet] without sin”. That doesn’t mean ‘without sinning’, but it means that He absolutely had no part in sin. He knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21); in Him there is no sin (1 John 3:5). Satan had nothing in Him (John 14:30) – neither did God find anything in Him (Psalms 17:3) – whatever could be a point of reference to sin.

His suffering was not caused by sin (as it could be the case with us) and it neither led Him to sin. But because He was tempted, He is able to fully sympathize with you. He feels what you feel and therefore He is able to understand and help you. He cannot sympathize with your sins. If you have sinned, He is the Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1). Infirmities are no sins. Paul boasted in his infirmities (2 Corinthians 12:9-2 Samuel :), but never in his sins.

Hebrews 4:16. When the writer has presented the glory of the great High Priest to you like that, it could only cause the result that your heart is full of boldness to come “to the throne of grace”. You may say that to yourself: ‘I can come with boldness, because I can liberally look God in the eyes, because my sins are taken away and also because the High Priest, Who can sympathize with my infirmities, is there.’

‘The throne of grace’ reminds us of the ark in the tabernacle. God dwelled between the cherubim on the mercy seat of the ark. That throne was a judgment throne, but through the offering that the judgment had borne, the blood was sprinkled on the ark. Therefore the judgment throne has now changed into a throne of grace. To us Christ became the offering and through His blood we are able to come to the throne of grace. Christ Himself was set forth by God as a throne of grace (Romans 3:25). Therefore you may come to God without any hesitation. This you do when you focus on God directly from your heart and tell Him everything that is within it.

Christ represents you there and therefore God is pleased towards you. You take refuge in the throne of grace, because you are aware that you will fail if God doesn’t help you. Then you receive “mercy”, that is God’s sympathy in your circumstances; you are made aware again of His mercy and protection. You also find “grace”: you are made aware again that you stand in grace with God (Romans 5:2).

This awareness is your “help in time of need”, at the crucial moment, the moment that the hardships nearly become too much for you. You suddenly see again that God is greater than the hardships and that the Lord Jesus is always beside you in times of difficulties.

Now read Hebrews 4:12-16 again.

Reflection: Just reconsider the means that God has provided you with and thank Him for them. Ask Him to help you to use them extensively.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Hebrews 4". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/hebrews-4.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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