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Hebrews 4

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Chapter 4. We Must Therefore Seek To Enter Into God’s Rest, Avoiding The Failures of Israel, For We Have A Faithful High Priest Who Will Enable Us.

This chapter deals with God’s rest into which we can enter, and must enter, escaping from dead works (Hebrews 6:1; Hebrews 9:14), and concludes by again reminding us of Christ’s High Priesthood through which it is made possible.

The nature of this rest is much disputed, as to whether it refers to a present rest of faith on earth, or the Christian’s future rest in Heaven. The rest referred to in chapter 3 was certainly a rest of faith on earth. It was a rest of freedom from enemies round about, a rest of confidence in Yahweh. The theory was that they would enter into the land flowing with milk and honey and have a life of contentment and security through faith in Yahweh in an everlasting kingdom of blessing.

We Must Beware Of Failing To Enter Into Rest For The Word Of God Searches All Things Out (Hebrews 4:1-13).

In what follows the writer now takes up chapter 3 and applies it to his readers. He make a specific contrast between ‘rest’ and ‘works’ which is constantly drawn out, with the emphasis being on ‘rest’. Christians are intended to leave ‘works’ behind and enter into ‘rest’.

In Hebrews four types of ‘works’ are described, God’s ‘works’ in creation (Hebrews 1:10; Hebrews 2:7), and His ‘works’ in judgment in the wilderness (Hebrews 3:10), both of which can be discounted; ‘dead works’ which need to be repented of (Hebrews 6:1), and from which our consciences need to be cleansed (Hebrews 9:14); and ‘good works’ (Hebrews 10:24) which are encouraged. Thus the ‘works’ that are to be left behind are clearly the ‘dead works’ which are sinful works and unacceptable to God. They are the works that men seek to do in order to make themselves acceptable to God and which fail in their purpose (see Romans 9:32; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:2; Galatians 3:5; Galatians 3:10). They are the works that lead to death. They need to be repented of and cleansed.

Verse 1

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

Although they had received God’s conditional promise Israel did not enter into their rest because of unbelief (Hebrews 3:19), and we are to take note of the lesson. Professing Christians are also therefore to be afraid lest they too fail to enter into God’s promised rest, by coming short of God’s promise, by failing to benefit from it. It is sadly something that can happen even to those who seem genuine. Note that he is not talking of them all, but of the possibility of individuals coming short, and even that as doubtful. It may happen but he hopes that it will not. The promise that each can enter into God’s rest is there. He hopes that none will come short of it.

‘Seem to come short of it.’ That is, appear in God’s eyes to have come short of it.

We must bring to mind here that Jesus spoke of a twofold rest in Matthew 11:28-29. The first was a rest of soul given by Him to those who came to Him. This would arise from a consciousness within them that they need no longer be concerned about their ‘labours’ and ‘burdens’ as they followed Him. They would be able to cast them off. In mind in those labours and burdens was the yoke of the restless conscience, and the yoke of the Law as interpreted by the Pharisees (in contrast with the yoke of Christ). It demanded from them much that had to be done that was very burdensome and required much toil, and which with failure brought heavy guilt. But He had come to deliver men from such things. Through following Him they could find forgiveness and acceptability with God. They could learn to rest in Him. And they would no longer be under the yoke of the demanding and unceasing requirements of an expanded Law.

The second was the rest that they could obtain when they took His yoke on them and learned of Him to walk in trust and humility before God, at which they would find rest to their souls. The Pharisee’s yoke was very heavy. His yoke and burden were in contrast easy and light. Thus there was a once-for-all entering into rest by coming to Christ in faith and trust, followed by a continuing entering into rest by walking with God. And this became theirs by ‘partaking in Christ’ (Hebrews 3:14).

Note also that this is not something new. ‘Rest’ in God was an Old Testament theme. See, for example, Psalms 116:7, where it resulted from His saving activity; Psalms 132:14 where the psalmist desired to rest in God’s presence; Isaiah 28:12, where it was offered to God’s professing people, and they rejected it; Isaiah 30:15, where it spoke of an attitude of heart required of God’s people, which they again rejected; Isaiah 32:17-18, where it was to be a part of a life of confidence, quietness and peace, the result of the pouring out of the Spirit from above; and Ezekiel 38:11, where it spoke of the assured confidence and blessing of God’s people who rest securely in Him and under His protection so that no other is needed.

‘A promise being left of entering into his rest.’ Now the writer speaks of ‘His’ rest. So the question is, what is this rest as far as believers are concerned? The following information is provided.

1) It is entered by believing. For those who do not believe do not enter it (Hebrews 4:3). The present tense would suggest a present experience for him and his readers. However, some see it as a futuristic present and refer the ‘rest’ to the afterlife. The problem with the latter is that it is suggested that Israel did not enter into ‘rest’ (Hebrews 4:5), which would then exclude them all from an afterlife, which was almost certainly not so, (although this may be explained on the basis of a mixed metaphor).

2) It is like the rest of God on the seventh day on His ceasing His ‘works’ of creation (Hebrews 4:4), a ‘sabbath-rest’, a resting on the seventh day with all ‘works’ completed (Hebrews 4:9).

3) It is what Israel failed to enter into (Hebrews 4:5).

4) It is entered by those who respond to the Good News (Hebrews 4:6).

5) He who is entered into His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. (Hebrews 4:10). The past tense (second aorist) means that he is speaking of an experience which occurred in the past and is relevant in the present. The question is, does this refer to a Christian’s experience when he becomes a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) with the resultant freedom from dead works in the rest of faith, and thus available now to believers, or does it have in mind those who ‘have died and entered into rest’? Thus we may see it as meaning either a present experience of believers (Matthew 11:28-29), or a future experience still awaited, but now enjoyed by the dead (see Revelation 6:11; Revelation 14:13).

But the early church did not as a whole think in terms of death but of the second coming. Would the writer then have laid such emphasis on the dead? This would suggest that it refers to a rest available to the living. On the other hand it could be argued that the writer had possible death through persecution very much in mind as in Revelation (but see Hebrews 12:4 where it is tribulation rather than death that is seemingly in his mind).

We should note further that there is a great emphasis in the passage on ceasing from works. In Hebrews 3:9 (quoting Psalms 95:0) God’s works were those He carried out when He punished unbelieving Israel in the wilderness. God had to work again there because man had sinned. To those who have entered into rest those are no more. For God, and potentially for those who are His, their ‘works’ ceased from the foundation of the world. God’s intention for both Himself and for His own after creation was ‘no more works’. But if his readers returned to Judaism they would be returning to works, to ‘heavy burdens grievous to be born’ (Matthew 23:4), to ‘works done to be seen of men’ (Matthew 23:5). That was why Israel failed to attain righteousness because they sought it by ‘works’ (Romans 9:32; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:2; Galatians 3:5; Galatians 3:10), which the writer in Hebrews calls ‘dead works’ (Hebrews 6:1; Hebrews 9:14). In contrast for God’s people there is rest, and was intended to be from the beginning. They were not to be bound up in meritorious works.

6) ‘We’ are to give diligence to enter into that rest. This probably refers again to entering a present experience of assurance and rest of soul, although some see it as to aim to enter into it on death. But the former seems more likely in view of the fact that the entry is in order prevent a fall into disobedience, hardly to be seen as a likelihood after death. Although those who support the latter idea stress that the diligence to enter is the antidote to disobedience, not the entering itself.

7) It is described as ‘partaking in Christ’ (Hebrews 3:14) and therefore being members of His house (Hebrews 3:6).

Summing up these seven points might suggest that the rest is that of the one who truly puts his trust in Christ and His saving work, becoming one with Him and partaking of Him and His sacrifice on his behalf; who ceases from all attempts at his own ‘saving’ but ‘dead’ works because all is completed; who is believing and obedient and rests in God’s faithfulness; who responds to the Good News that that rest is available; and who ceases from his own works because nothing remains to be done, all having been done by His great High Priest.

This would point to it signifying the situation of the truly believing person, whose full faith is in what Jesus Christ has accomplished, so that he recognises that there is nothing left for him himself to do but partake in Christ, because Jesus Christ has done all. He trusts fully in Christ’s sacrifice for him and knows that he cannot and need not add anything to it. He rests in Christ.

The point is not that they cease doing anything, but that they are able to rest from the particular labour in view, that of striving to build up righteousness in order to be saved (they cease from dead works which produce death - Hebrews 6:1; Hebrews 9:14), entering rather, as those who are saved by Him, into joyful service which is no labour. Here ‘works’ would seem to indicate the ‘labour’ that a man puts in, in order to attempt to secure his own salvation, his ‘dead works’.

So a person who enjoys this rest of faith rests in the security of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross, and as a partaker of Christ, will have peace, and joy, and rest, and confidence, and certainty (e.g. Psalms 16:9; Psalms 37:7; Psalms 116:7; Psalms 132:14; Isaiah 28:12; Isaiah 30:15; Isaiah 32:17-18; Ezekiel 38:11; 2 Thessalonians 1:7). He knows that Jesus Christ his great High Priest has done and will do all that is required for his salvation (Hebrews 4:14-16 in the light of what follows in the letter). And all such have boldness and access with confidence into the presence of God through faith in Him (Ephesians 3:12).

It is the rest described in Matthew 11:28-29, a rest of heart, soul and spirit, which results in finding deeper rest as they take Christ’s yoke on them, and will of course result in their final rest with Him beyond the grave (John 14:1-3; Revelation 14:13).

If his readers had this certainty and this confidence there would be no thought in their hearts of turning back. Thus they must ask themselves wherein their confidence lies, and whether they enjoy this certainty. Are they resting in Christ, and what He has done for them, or restless because they are still in the wilderness of sin?

Others refer it to the afterlife and see this rest as something to be enjoyed on death (compare Revelation 14:13, but note that the verb is slightly different). However, while we emphasise death as the Christian’s end it was not so in the early church. To them the rapture was the expected end for the Christian and death an unfortunate and temporary requirement for some (compare 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), and there is much in the atmosphere of the passage (admittedly a subjective judgment, but nevertheless to be considered) to suggest that an immediate entry into rest is in mind in this Hebrews passage.

Verse 2

‘For indeed we have had good tidings preached to us, even as also they. But the word of hearing did not profit them, because it did not meet with faith in the hearers (or, per a variant reading, ‘was not united by faith with those who heard’).’

The ancient Israelites, just like we do, received Good News of a rest that could be theirs (e.g. Exodus 6:6-8 and often). But the good news did not produce faith and trust in their hearts, and thus it did not profit them. Rather they provoked God and finally perished. We also have had Good news proclaimed to us by a greater than Moses. Have we then entered into that rest of which He spoke and become partakers of Him, or has it not met with faith in us as well?

Essentially the ‘good news’ was the same, God’s offer of grace and mercy available in response to faith. Those who trusted Him would find life transformed for them in the sphere of future blessing.

Verses 3-5

‘For we who have believed do enter into that rest. Even as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.” Although the works were finished from the foundation of the world, for he has said somewhere of the seventh day in this way, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, “They shall not enter into my rest.” ’

The argument here is somewhat complicated in presentation.

‘For we who have believed do enter into that rest.’ For we who have truly believed and recognise that all that needed to be done has been done in Christ, ‘do enter’ into rest continually by being partakers in Christ, a rest which is like the rest of God on the seventh day of Creation, a rest of contentment and satisfaction and joy, and which we know will lead on to our final rest. Legally nothing further is required of us. The present tense supports the idea of a present rest although some see it as a futuristic present signifying ‘will certainly enter into it’.

‘Even as He has said, “As I swore in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.”’ Here there is a contrast between ‘we’ and ‘they’. The entering into rest of ‘we Christians’ is in direct contrast to ‘they’, those who are in sin, disobedience and unbelief who do not enter into it. The fact that they do not enter it confirms that there is a rest to be entered into. But they cannot enter it because they are still under His wrath. They are still in unbelief. They have refused the means of propitiation and reconciliation. It is therefore left for ‘us’ to enter.

‘Although the works were finished from the foundation of the world, for he has said somewhere of the seventh day in this way, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” ’

And this refusal is sad because in fact that rest has been available to God’s people from the very beginning, from when the world was first made. God did not intend that mans should have to engage in ‘works’. Such were all performed by God in preparation for man and completed so that they ceased on the seventh day. He did not want His own to labour, His desire for them was continual rest. (So that the ‘works’ He had to carry out against Israel in the forty year period (Hebrews 3:9) meant that the ‘rest’ of creation had been disturbed by sin). God’s works were finished and His rest was available. Life was not intended to be a life of ‘works’ because God’s works were finished. It was intended to be a life of ‘rest’. And the rest that the believer enters into is like the rest on the seventh day of Creation, a rest where all works are completed and only God’s provision remains to be enjoyed (as we shall see later, all works are completed for us through our Great High Priest Who will cleanse us from ‘dead works’ - Hebrews 9:14) and nothing further remains to be done.

And this rest was intended to be enjoyed by Adam and his seed after him, had they not sinned. For them the Garden was to be a place of rest (timewise Genesis 2:0 is seen as taking place before the seventh day as the preparation of the Garden must have preceded the creation of man). They were to engage in activity but it was never to be seen as ‘labour’. Their subsequent requirement to ‘work’ resulted from sin. The ‘rest’ is thus that of Paradise, and a restored Paradise, beginning with our new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and resulting finally in the new Heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:1 to Revelation 22:5; Isaiah 11:6-9). (Note how all ‘creatures’ are to subject to strict examination in Hebrews 4:13, both old and new). And it was later to be seen as enjoyed by those who became reconciled to Him through the genuine offering of sacrifices and of a believing heart, as the Psalmists and Prophets declare (e.g. Psalms 16:9; Psalms 37:7; Psalms 116:7; Psalms 132:14; Isaiah 28:12; Isaiah 30:15; Isaiah 32:17-18; Ezekiel 38:11).

‘And in this place again, “They shall not enter into my rest.” ’ But those who are under His wrath because of their disobedience and disbelief, still fail to benefit from that rest, as the Scripture in mind has further said.

Thus from the beginning there are two types of people. Those who have believed and enter into rest, and share God’s rest, ceasing from their own law-works and efforts, and trusting in His merciful provision. They partake of Christ, and by taking His yoke on them find rest along the way (Matthew 11:28-29), and become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). See Hebrews 4:13 where human ‘creatures’ old and new are in mind. And those who have not entered into rest because of their unbelief, who are pictured in terms of the failure to enter Canaan. Of them (those who refuse to believe) God has sworn that they will not enter into His rest, life will be a constant struggle, and indeed if they will not respond in faith they cannot, nor will. But now, as the writer will soon demonstrate, that rest is available, but only through the great High Priest. Those to whom men once looked for it will no longer be able to give it, for what they offer are but shadows now replaced.

Verses 6-8

‘Seeing therefore it remains that some should enter into it, and they to whom the good tidings were before preached failed to enter in because of disobedience, he again defines a certain day, “Today”, saying in David so long a time afterward (even as has been said before), “Today if you will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterward of another day.’

The original offer to enter into His rest, as described in the Psalm, referred to the good news of Canaan. But because of disobedience they failed to enter into it, even though the offer was made clear to them. And the reason that they failed was because they did not believe.

But this Psalm in the book of David (‘David’ - The book of Psalms was often called ‘David’ because so many psalms in it were attributed ‘to David’) demonstrates that there was still an offer being made of entering into rest in the psalmist’s day, (compare Psalms 16:9; Psalms 37:7; Psalms 116:7; Psalms 132:14), and also demonstrates the same for the writer’s day (and for our day), for the Psalms were a continual offering of God’s mercies. They did not just refer to the past, but to the past as it affects the present. Thus the fact that the Psalms can still say ‘today’ in a way that is relevant to those who use it for worship, demonstrates that the rest is still one that was available ‘today’, in whatever day the Psalm was written, and indeed in any day in which it is used.

‘For if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterward of another day.’ His argument is that had Joshua given rest to the people of Israel the Psalm would have had no relevance for today, indeed would never have been written, it would not have given the impression of a possibility of entering into rest. But the Psalmist speaking by the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 3:7) clearly considered it relevant to the ‘today’ in which he wrote it, and all ‘todays’ thereafter. Thus it is clear that God still offers a rest to His people.

(The Greek here says ‘Jesus’, but that is simply because ‘Jesus’ is the Greek for the Hebrew ‘Joshua’. In Hebrew ‘Jesus Christ’ is ‘Joshua Messiah’).

It is not without significance that what the first Joshua was unable to give, the second Joshua now gives. He is a greater than Joshua. The first Joshua strove to give the people rest, but failed. But where he failed the second Joshua has been successful. For He offers His people rest (Matthew 11:28-29).

Verse 9

‘There remains therefore a sabbath-rest for the people of God.’

That being so there therefore remains for God’s people a ‘sabbath-rest’ (sabbatismos). This is a late word from sabbatiz“ (Exodus 16:30) and means here a ‘keeping of the rest as described in Genesis 2:0 and later symbolised in the Sabbath’. It may have been coined by the author. Here it is paralleled with katapausis (‘rest’ - compare Hebrews 4:1; Hebrews 4:3-4 etc. and Acts 7:49). In Revelation 14:13 a similar verb (anapauo) refers to the Christian’s ‘rest’ after death, as they leave the tribulation of the world, which is the final fulfilment of the present rest, the same verb in fact as is used in Matthew 11:28-29 where it refers to present rest.

But what is this sabbath-rest (shabath means ‘to stop working’). It is another way of speaking of God’s rest on the seventh day when He ceased activity in creation, a rest also intended originally to be enjoyed by man, illustrated from the Sabbath which was based on it, which in itself was a foretaste of that rest and a guarantee that one day it would be man’s again (Exodus 20:11). It is the rest of One for whom all that He wanted to do has been satisfactorily completed so that only a glorious future remains of watching over what He has made. No further works would be needed to put it right. It is the rest into which Adam entered when the world was ‘very good’ and which was marred by his disobedience. But once he had disobeyed no longer was everything ‘very good’. He was now destined to work. Works were the sign of fallen man. It is the rest now made available by the One Who became the true restored Man, the ‘second man’ (Hebrews 2:6-9) for those who are in Him. For with Him we are seated in heavenly places ‘in Christ’ and enjoy His triumph (Ephesians 2:6). We have entered into rest. We have ceased from ‘works’ (Ephesians 2:9). Rather do we live out His life (Galatians 2:20).

Here the present tense together with ‘sabbath-rest’ clearly does mean the present, probably suggesting a present experience, although it could admittedly here be seen as simply referring to its present availability on death.

Verse 10

‘For he who is entered into his rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from his.’

It is true that this could refer simply to one who has died in Christ, but it is then semi-redundant. Why introduce this idea at this stage? But the immediacy of the whole passage suggests rather a living present experience, which contrasts with a past experience of ‘dead works’, and furthermore God did not enter His rest by dying, but by having completed His creative work. In God’s case it resulted from the completion of creation, in the Christian’s case from the completion of his new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15), when all is supplied that is necessary for his rest and he ceases from law-works. No longer does man need to strive after righteousness. The works are complete. The thought is surely of a living positive experience, not of something that befalls on death. They ‘rest’ as in a new creation along with God the Creator, leaving their old works behind them. And we know that the One Who actually performed the creative work was the Son (Hebrews 1:2). So they rest in Christ, partaking of Him. They have ceased trying to save themselves by their works. They have put aside all such efforts. They rest in what He has done and is doing in them and what He is for them, and thus they find rest and are assured of eternal rest.

Some see the change of pronoun (from ‘they’ to ‘he’ as signifying that this is a direct reference to Christ Himself, suggesting that through what He has accomplished He entered into His rest, and because it was accomplished there is nothing further for Him to do. His work is complete. Thus as we partake in Him we too enter that happy position. But it seems more likely that the change of pronoun personalises to individual believers, in the light of the exhortation to come, the idea which is the continual thought of the passage, otherwise we would expect the writer to draw attention to the change more specifically.

Verse 11

‘Let us therefore give diligence (arouse endeavour) to enter into that rest, that no man fall after the same example of disobedience.’

His concern for his readers is twofold. Firstly to ensure that they have entered into that rest, and secondly to ensure that they fully enter into it, rather than being disobedient like the Israelites. It is so important that they are to use the utmost endeavour.

For it is incumbent on all to ensure that they have entered into that rest and also that they fully enter into it, and continue to experience it by finding their rest in Christ and keeping His yoke on them and learning of Him (Matthew 11:28-29). The writer tactfully names himself as also needing to exercise the same diligence. They must ensure that they do enter fully into that rest, so that they do not fall like Israel did, through similar disobedience. And it is necessary also to fully enter that rest so that they will be fitted to face the examination of their hearts by the word of God.

But, it may be asked, if the ‘rest’ is the rest of salvation and of partaking in Christ, how can those who have already been saved enter into it? The answer is that the rest is the sphere of salvation, the resultant position of receiving salvation in Christ, the sphere of partaking in Christ, to be enjoyed continually by faith. In one sense all have rest once they become His and partake in Him, resting in His finished work, in another they have to learn to rest, to ‘find rest’ (Matthew 11:29) as they walk with Him, to attain to confident assurance and peace, otherwise they will fall into disobedience. ‘In returning and rest you will be saved, in quietness and in confidence will be your strength’ (Isaiah 30:15), God told His people. Salvation is a free gift and results from the working of God within but from a human point of view it requires a lifetime’s diligence to enter into it and obtain its full benefit, ‘to go on being saved’ (1 Corinthians 1:18), moving from one degree of glory to another, enjoying the rest that it offers. We have partaken of Christ once-for-all, but we are also to partake of Him continually and more and more effectively, finding rest in Him. But to have finally turned away from Christ would be to lose that rest for ever, and to return to a life of ‘works’, which would soon be shown up for what they are. It would be to leave the peace of the Garden of Eden to return to a life of work and labour and would result in death.

Verse 12

‘For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart.’

For let them be in no doubt, there is no escaping the word of God which searches out the whole inner man. He knows who is in His rest and who is not, who are right with Him and who are not. He knows the truth about our ‘works’. This ‘word of God’ (compare Mark 7:13) is that which the writer has constantly cited previously in order to search them out, but seen as a part of the whole Scriptures. It also includes that word as proclaimed by God’s messengers. It tests out all men to see what they are. It is ‘living’, that is, it is still powerfully effective day by day, and it bestows life on those who respond to it; it is active, that is it does its work of ‘discerning the heart’ vigorously and without stint; and it is sharper than a two-edged sword, that is, devastatingly effective in its cutting work. Nothing can hinder its application. It searches out everything leaving no part unrevealed and untouched. It cuts into the most innermost being. It immediately (‘quick to discern’) knows a man as he really is in the intents of his heart in both his spiritual and physical aspects.

It is only if ‘entering into rest’ is a present experience that this really enters specifically into the narrative as a composite part of it, the thought being that the word of God as quoted searches out belief in contrast with unbelief, partaking in Christ in contrast with falling away, and being in God’s rest, having rested from ‘works’, in contrast with those who labour to establish themselves by works and reveal thereby their continued disobedience which deserves just recompense of reward (Hebrews 2:2).

‘Even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow.’ We are not intended to analyse this literally. The point is that the whole of man is available to its examination in every detail, with nothing hidden from its view. We may tend to speak of man as ‘body and soul’. That too recognises that there is a complexity to God’s make up. But all this fails to recognise the true complexity of man who is a unity made up many different aspects which are beyond our understanding.

Verse 13

‘And there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do.’

And not only is all of man open to Him, but all men, and indeed all His creatures (including especially human creatures). They are all openly revealed in His sight. They cannot hide from Him. They are laid bare before Him, and they have to have dealings with Him because He is the Creator. There is nothing that is not open to Him.

This mention of creatures supports the idea that entering into rest has to do with our being new creatures in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). With regard to the ‘old’ creatures he knows their unbelief and disobedience. He knows them for what they are. With regard to the new He knows them as acceptable in His sight because of the work of their great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 2:17), and their constant walk with Him under the yoke of Christ (Matthew 11:29). He knows that they are enjoying His rest, and are resting from their old works.

We Have A Great High Priest Who Will Maintain Us In Our Rest (Hebrews 4:14-16).

The account, having dealt in some depth with the question of man’s response to God, and the need for the readers to ensure that they are partakers of Christ who have entered into God’s rest, now returns to the subject mentioned in Hebrews 2:17 to Hebrews 3:1, our great High Priest. It is because of our great High Priest that the rest is attainable. Thus Hebrews 3:2 to Hebrews 4:13 is sandwiched in between those two references to the work of our great High Priest so as to draw attention to that fact.

Many criticise the chapter division here, suggesting that these three verses should commence chapter 5, but that is to miss the fact that they are very essential to the closing of Hebrews 2:17 to Hebrews 4:13. They both close that section, generally re-emphasising what was said at its opening in Hebrews 2:17, as well as preparing for the next. But we would agree with the one who chose where to end the chapter as it is, for we feel that its closest and most necessary connection is with the former section. For Christians enter into their rest precisely because of His having offered Himself as a once-for-all sacrifice, and because they have access to Him on His throne where his gracious and merciful activity is available on their behalf.

For we should note that reference to the High Priest does not commence here. In fact the High Priesthood of Jesus the Son of God has been spoken of in every chapter. In Hebrews 1:3 it is the High Priesthood of ‘the Son’, and His work is seen as completed, He has made cleaning for sin; in Hebrews 2:17 it is the High Priesthood of ‘Jesus’ Who is concerned with making propitiation for the sins of the people; in Hebrews 3:1 He is closely compared with Moses with His being seen as the builder of the house consisting of His people to whom He offers rest; and here the ideas of ‘Son’ and ‘Jesus’ are combined in the term ‘Jesus the Son of God’, the Man Who is God, but where the thought is similar to Hebrews 1:3. All aspects are combined.

As the great (superior to the earthly) High Priest He is greater than the angels, He has been humbled in order to become restored Man and be like His brothers and sisters, and He has been concerned with establishing His house and granting His people rest. Now again He is seen as having passed through the heavens to be seated at God’s right hand (Hebrews 1:3), His priestly work having been completed, in order to grant rest to His people continually.

Verse 14

‘Having then a great high priest, who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us keep on holding fast our confession.’

While the verb ‘hold fast’ is different here in the Greek from Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 3:14, the idea is the same. It ties in with Hebrews 3:6, ‘if we hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope’, and Hebrews 3:14 ‘if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm to the end’. The first is the requirement of our being His house, and the second the requirement of our being partakers of Christ. Both require that we are faithful in witness and faith from start to finish. And this is again stressed here, again bringing out that Hebrews 3:2 to Hebrews 4:13 are finally wrapped up in these verses.

Here we learn that this ‘keeping on holding fast our confession’ results from having our great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, as the One Who has passed through the heavens. He has passed into the very presence of God. He is there in the Heaven of heavens itself, in His capacity as our High Priest, as the Son of God. And yet as no ordinary High Priest but as the eternal Son of Hebrews 1:1-3. His being ‘great’ emphasises His superiority to earthly High Priests. And yet He is as High Priest also the Man Who did Himself hold fast to His confession (Hebrews 2:17). He is Jesus as well as Son of God. He it is Who has ensured that through His offering of the sacrifice of Himself once-for-all we are made His house (Hebrews 3:6) and partakers of Him (Hebrews 3:14), and enter into His rest (Hebrews 4:1-11). Thus will we maintain the faith that we confess, for it is based on this solid foundation, and is in the hands of One Who fully understands what we have to face.

‘Jesus the Son of God.’ In chapter 2 Jesus is the One made lower than the angels as Man, and Who was made representative, restored man by being crowned with glory and honour. In chapter 1 the Son is the One Who is the perfect revelation of God Himself. Here the two are combined. As Jesus He can act as High Priest because He acts on behalf of those He represents, but without having sinned, and as ‘the Son of God’ He can pass through the heavens into God’s presence to represent us there.

Verse 15

‘For we do not have a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but one who has been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.’

He is a heavenly High Priest and far above us, but that does not mean that He is not aware of our temptations and our needs. For this great High Priest is not one who can have no sympathy with us in our weaknesses, rather He can empathise (sympathise more deeply because He has experienced it Himself) with us because He Himself was tested and tempted in all the ways in which we are. He was made Man. He suffered testing and temptation. And yet through it all He did not sin (compare 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18). Thus He bore temptation to its fullest limit, a limit that we rarely reach, for we so often give way before the temptation has attained its full power.

Thus when we come in prayer to the Father we should not only consider Christ’s glory, but also His close relationship with us. He knows and understands why we come, He is aware of what needs we will have, and He has experienced them Himself. Thus can we be sure of a sympathetic hearing. As we approach He says, ‘My brother, My sister, I know. I understand. I remember when it happened to Me as well, and I remember how hard it was. I will intercede for you’

‘Cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but One who has been in all points tempted like as we are.’ It is often asked whether Jesus could genuinely be tempted like this. Scripture is quite clear on the matter. He could and He was. The fact that we cannot understand how is really irrelevant. What we should rejoice in is that He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.

Verse 16

‘Let us therefore draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us in time of need.’

And because of this we can draw near to the throne of grace with boldness (compare Hebrews 10:22), for One is seated there Who has done all for us and totally understands and empathises with us in our weaknesses. And there we can be sure that we will receive mercy (see 1 John 1:7-10) and find God’s unmerited favour granted to us, through His Holy Spirit, to help us in times of need.

‘The throne of grace.’ Note that it is firstly His throne. There He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High. Having obtained full and final purification for sins (Hebrews 1:3), He was exalted as Lord of all (Matthew 28:19; Ephesians 1:19-22). But He sits there as the One Who has offered the complete and final sacrifice, as the One of Whom we partake (Hebrews 2:14), and Who has faced all that we have to face, and He is therefore there to offer mercy, and compassion, and strengthening. He is there as our Trek Leader and our Elder Brother.

What a wonder is this. On earth the earthly High Priest stood as a suppliant before God. He offered sacrifices for himself first and then for the people, never ceasing to ‘stand’, never with the sense that all was now done. And then he retired from the scene until the next offering was due, still standing. But this One sits on the throne of God. His offering of Himself once-for-all is behind Him. All is perfectly complete. And as the heavenly High Priest Who has the means of offering full forgiveness and cleansing continually, He dispenses Kingly mercy and grace to all who come.

‘That we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help in time of need.’ Mercy for the past, God’s gracious help for the future. As we go on both are constantly needed. Without the first we would face judgment and constant shame and self-reproach, without the second we would crumble in times of need. It represents full provision for our lives.

The idea of a High Priest seated on a throne and no longer offering sacrifices would be foreign to the way of thinking of Jews. Yet this is the great contrast that the writer wants to make. We, he says, do not need to provide an offering and bring it to the priest, and then wait for him to offer it on our behalf. This High Priest has offered one sacrifice for sin for ever and therefore simply awaits our approach on the very throne of God that He may bring us blessing in response to all our spiritual needs. He is High Priest and King.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Hebrews 4". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/hebrews-4.html. 2013.
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