Jesus Christ alone can provide mankind with perfect rest. In the Book of Hebrews, Christians are warned of the danger of “coming short” of the rest that God has offered in His Word. In the Old Testament, the children of Israel who disbelieved and disobeyed God in the wilderness “came short” of reaching the Promised Land. Rather than entering the Promised Land—the land of rest “flowing with milk and honey”—instead, they died in the wilderness because of their unbelief.
What does this mean for us today, and how does the historical and theological truth about true rest help us as men today? How does the Word of God give us a true picture of Who and when that rest will be? How can we make sure that we do not “come short” of entering this rest?
The author of Hebrews draws upon this history in these words: “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world” (Hebrews 4:1–3).
Although God had fulfilled His promise to the Israelites, they never fully realized the rest that He intended for them to enjoy. The Sabbath, rooted in the rest of creation, finds its ultimate fulfillment in the rest of redemption. To fail to realize this truth is to “come short” of all that God intended.
“For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Hebrews 4:4–7).
In these verses, the author of Hebrews is reminding us that Moses and David never lived to see the perfect rest that was promised. Moses saw the Promised Land from afar. Joshua entered the land by faith and conquered much of it. But even this was not the complete fulfillment of the rest that God had promised.
“For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day” (Hebrews 4:8). The name Jesus as rendered here is not the Lord Jesus Christ. The names Joshua and Jesus are the same in Hebrew, and this transliteration into the Greek New Testament is a reference to the conquest of Joshua in the Old Testament. Joshua’s work of leading the children of Israel into rest was a beautiful picture of the wondrous reality, but it was not the ultimate reality itself.
At this point and on this basis, the author of Hebrews gives an appeal to us: “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9).
The word in Greek is σαββατισμός (sabbatismos). The Sabbath of the Old Testament was incomplete. The true and blessed perfection of the Sabbath is not fulfilled in an effort to please God by fasting, praying, worshipping, and singing. These activities are all good in their proper Scriptural place, but by themselves they do not comprise the rest of the Sabbath. The true Sabbath is not a day nor a list of activities but rather a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Many sincere people do certain things or even avoid particular activities on a specified day each week. Some continue to observe Old Testament ceremonial and religious observances and feasts. While there will always be debates over particulars of ceremonial observance, one thing is abundantly clear in this text: If we have Jesus Christ as our Savior, that is our rest. In this relationship with Jesus, our rest is complete in Him. From this position of faith, we are to be guided by the Word of God. Whatever the particulars of our observance of days and feasts, we are to do all things with the understanding that our rest is complete in Christ.
In the larger context of the entire Book of Hebrews, the author is building a case that the Lord Jesus is superior to the angels, superior to Moses, superior to Aaron, superior to the Levitical priesthood. In the argument of Hebrews Chapter 4, Jesus is superior to the Sabbath. Not only is He the Lord of the Sabbath, as we saw last week in the Gospels. He is the Sabbath! He is the rest that we are seeking. He is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises. He is the Creator. He is the Redeemer. He is the Messiah of Israel. He is the Savior of the world. He is the ultimate Sabbath Rest that God has promised to His people.
The next two verses encourage us to find our rest in Him and Him alone. “For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief” (Hebrews 4:10–11). If we have Jesus, we have the Sabbath. Our own human endeavors to please God, to obey God, and even to love God are not enough. Jesus pleased God fully. Jesus made one perfect sacrifice for sin forever. Jesus entered into the Holiest of Holies and presented His blood for our redemption. Jesus purchased our eternal rest. It is folly and unbelief to try to add anything to what Jesus has already done.
In the perfect work of Christ, we find rest. May God give each one of us the grace to enter into this rest by faith. May we use each Sabbath Day to recall and delight in the rest that God has provided for us through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.