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A Sabbath-Rest for the People of God April 9, 2015

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Hebrews 4:1-13.

Summary: The author begins with the following inference from the preceding passage:

  • since God has offered his readers a rest (which I will denote as Rest 1) – through Christ – in the grace and worship of the Gospel, they must have a reverent understanding of His holiness
  • if they lack this understanding, then they will not enter into Rest 1.

Indeed, the Gospel message has been preached to them; the Gospel message was also preached to the people in the desert, yet the people in the desert gained no advantage from it – since they did not respond to it with faith. In contrast, New Testament believers respond to the Gospel message with faith; thus, they enter into Rest 1. The author illustrates this point by quoting from Psalm 95:11, which shows that faith is a necessary and sufficient condition for entering into Rest 1. Now Rest 1 is distinct from another rest (which I will denote as Rest 2) which God entered after He completed His work of creation; Rest 2 is described in Genesis 2:2, and God gave His creatures the Sabbath day as a pledge that they could also enter into Rest 2.

The author then refers to another rest (which I will denote as Rest 3), which entailed the worship of God in the land of Canaan; God offered Rest 3 to the people in the desert, yet they failed to enter into it because of their unbelief. Thus, God determined the day of the Gospel message and its associated rest – which is Rest 1; this is confirmed with a quotation from Psalm 95:7-8. This quotation also refutes the hypothetical objection of some readers that Rest 1 is irrelevant since the next generation of the Israelites under Joshua did enter into Rest 3. Now God has proposed Rest 1 for New Testament believers; they are called to enter this rest by emulating the rest of Christ from His works. Given the preceding discussion, the author then exhorts his readers to endeavor to enter into Rest 1; if they are not diligent in this regard, then God will punish them for their sins – just as He punished the people in the desert for their sins when they did not enter into Rest 3.

Now the author confirms his exhortation by stating that Christ has power that is effective in actual operation; in particular, He is able to:

  • pierce their souls
  • divide the most useful and secret parts of their souls
  • accurately inspect the inclinations of their hearts along with the principles that guide their intentions
  • give sentence on them based on the results of His inspection.

The author concludes by reminding his readers that they must give a final account to Christ, who is omniscient; thus, they cannot deliberately hide any sinful affections or inclinations from Him.

Thoughts: In this passage, God promises a rest to New Testament believers – including the Hebrews who were the intended recipients of this letter. Owen discusses this rest in his commentary on verse 10:

Indeed, God’s rest from and upon his works, besides a mere cessation from working, consisted principally in the satisfaction that he had in them. But now, if those mentioned are the works intended here, people cannot rest from them in the same way that God did from his. Men cease from their works and detest them insofar as they are sinful and enjoy deliverance from them since they bring such sorrow. Now, this is not to rest as God rested. Again, when are men supposed to rest from these works? It cannot be in this world, for here we are not free from temptations, sufferings, and sorrows.

Thus, God is not calling us to rest from our jobs in this passage. I had briefly contemplated resting from my job as a potential application of this passage, but Owen’s commentary disabused me of that notion. Now Owen asserts that this rest actually stems from obedience to the Gospel, and so New Testament believers are called to rest in the Gospel. If Owen’s interpretation is correct, then we are called to worship God and enjoy His presence in this life – we do not need to wait until we enter heaven for this to occur. This raises the challenging question as to how we can rest in the Gospel more often – not just on Sundays. Interestingly, I found a sermon by John Piper on the concept of worship as our main purpose in life, and I believe that can be linked to Owen’s interpretation of rest in this passage. Now it is extremely difficult for us to ensure that every facet of our lives conforms to rest in the Gospel – yet this is a high bar that is worth aiming for.

Verses 12 and 13 show that Jesus Christ knows the thoughts and inclinations of all His creatures, and He will judge His creatures at the end of time; thus, their thoughts and attitudes must reflect their obedience to the Gospel message. Now I have great difficulty comprehending the concept of God’s omniscience. While I know my own thoughts and attitudes, I certainly do not know the thoughts of people I pass on the street, other drivers on the freeway, and other commuters on the subway. Yet God knows their thoughts; indeed, He knows the thoughts of all people who have lived on Earth. Moreover, God knows the thoughts of all residents of the spiritual realm, including angels and demons. The vast extent of God’s knowledge is absolutely mind-boggling; I suppose this highlights the gulf between finite and infinite beings. On a personal note, whenever I consider my daily thoughts and attitudes, I find that they often reflect disobedience to the Gospel message. I know that I will not be able to obey the Gospel message perfectly in this life, yet I must continue to allow God to mold my thoughts and attitudes (e.g. countering each disobedient thought with an obedient thought).

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