The Rest of God

Discuss the concept of “rest” as presented in Hebrews 4:1–13. To what Old Testament events is the author alluding? How does he use these stories to make his point? What is rest according to the author of Hebrews? How do faithful followers of Christ today enter into that “rest”? What does it look like? If you were asked to describe this rest to someone who did not have a church background, what would you say?

In Hebrews 4:1-13 the author uses the word “rest” to convey a spiritual reality first revealed by God. This is once again an allusion to a few sections of the Old Testament, of which the original audience would have known. First, we see the author relate the rest to the rest God receives at the end of creation, the rest from all of His work, and upon which the Jews would base their Sabbath. Furthermore, the author directly quotes Psalm 95:11, which is in reference to the desert wandering under the leadership of Moses. In that situation the rest would be the Promised Land, which is further seen as a metaphor for heaven. This analogy is only partial since when entering the Promised Land, Joshua did not give them rest “for if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day” (Hebrews 4:8). George Guthrie looks at this section of scripture by saying, “the author reasons, God’s rest must be defined as a spiritual reality in which one ceases from one’s own work.”[1] It is this spiritual reality the author is attempting to build through the stories the Jews knew so well. “Since he would urge his hearers to enter that once-forfeited ‘rest,’ he must establish both its nature and its continued availability for the people of God.”[2] But the author uses these stories first off so as to bring about an understanding of what was meant. It is likely “this ‘one who has entered his [God’s] rest’ should be identified as a faithful member of ‘the people of God’ whose perseverance is complete.”[3]

Christians today and especially those who don’t have a background involving church often fail to understand this concept of rest. However, it is not to say it can’t be done, and often the task of explanation is more intimidating than the exercise of explaining it. The allusion to the creation story in Genesis makes it really easy to explain because ultimately God’s rest is what everyone is yearning for. Anyone can enter the promised rest simply by committing their life to Christ and living for God’s glory the rest of their lives. This is the perseverance necessary in early church times as well as currently. But for those who need to understand what it is, Christians often refer to a God shaped hole, this is similar in that it is a void we will see when Christ comes again or we who are faithful die. When thinking of rest, it is better to first focus on what we are familiar with, toil, hard work, labor, pain, and everything else bad. We see the impact of sin, and how sin taints everything we do, prior to the fall man was commanded to work the land, but it was not until the fall that work was hard and painful. Similarly, many people have this longing for that place in life where they belong. Where everything is perfect. While we do see glimpses of that here, it is not until we enter the rest of God that we will be satisfied.

[1] Guthrie, George. The NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998, 149.

[2] Cockerill, Gareth Lee, The Epistle to the Hebrew, Grand Rapids: William B Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2012, 196.

[3] Ibid, 211.

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