God's 'Rest' Demands Ongoing Faith
God took His people out of Egypt to give them His peace and 'rest' from their enemies (Deuteronomy 12:10). But the 600,000 men aged 20 and over (Exodus 12:37) never arrived: they perished in the wilderness because they did not trust God or believe His Word (Numbers 14:30). Their fate is evidence of the authority of God's promises: all who keep on trusting in Jesus can be assured that they will enter His rest - not the Promised Land of Canaan, but the promise of peace with God (Romans 5:1) and a home in heaven.
After God created the world, He rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2-3). He did not rest because He was tired or weary (Isaiah 40:28) - God's energy is inexhaustible - but because He had completed His work. In the same way, Jesus is now seated at the right hand of God (Hebrews 12:2) because on the cross He has already done all that is necessary to vanquish sin and Satan, and reign as heaven's undisputed King.
Today's passage uses the 'rest' which the Old Testament Israelites forfeited to illustrate the importance of keeping on trusting in Jesus. No enemy can touch Him now; He is fully alive and 'at rest'. The question to the Hebrew readers of this letter, as to us, is whether they/we are determined to join Him in His heavenly rest, or not (Hebrews 4:1). Hearing the gospel is good but it needs to be believed (Hebrews 4:2). When we believe, the blood of Christ atones for our sins and gives us rest from the slavery of sin now: Hebrews 4:3 says, "Now, we who have believed enter that rest". It is a present reality which will be fully revealed when Jesus returns. In that confidence of faith and obedience we continue until we see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Our eternity does not depend upon our effort but our faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). True faith will express itself in obedient service (James 2:18-19), but striving to do good works can never atone for our sins. That work has already been fully completed by Jesus on the cross (Hebrews 10:12). Our responsibility is to thank Him and show that we still trust Him every day until we see Him. His promise of salvation is as sure as His promise of judgement, because He is the living God who keeps His Word (Hebrews 10:31). So He calls us not to fall short of entering His rest: "Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon." (Isaiah 55:7)
© Dr Paul Adams