Hebrews 4 refers to the Israelites previously "not entering their rest" (verses 11, 5) and also that we should "make every effort to enter into that rest." (verse 11)

Verse 9 states:

But God has promised us a Sabbath when we will rest, even though it has not yet come.

I have understood this to be Heaven, where we will all rest with God. However, recently someone cited Hebrews 4 as a justification for why we should rest from our works now, because now for Christians God provides our Sabbath rest. (And I think, ironically, that now we don't need to rest on Sunday!)

So does Hebrews 4 refer to Christians resting from their works of the law, or to the future state of Heaven, or something else?

  • 2
    Unless you are looking for a particular denominational or doctrinal interpretation, you may be better off looking to Biblical Hermeneutics for an answer. In fact, see if this existing question over there helps you: What basis do we have for defining Sabbatismos in Hebrews 4:9?. May 8 '15 at 11:19
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    My article clarifies this well: stevehusting.com/doubtbusters/2013/01/12/…
    – Steve
    May 9 '15 at 0:10
  • Like Steve, the personal authorities I look to believe this rest is available in this world. Christ said "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Mat 11:29-30 biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2011&version=NKJV <p>John 6 "v28 Then they said to Him, 'What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?' v29 Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.'" Note the shift from 'we work' to 'work of God'
    – nickalh
    May 9 '15 at 1:58
  • I agree the NT teaches us about this rest in this world, especially Matt 11:29. However, my doubt is to if Hebrews 4 is talking about this rest. May 11 '15 at 4:22

The writer of Hebrew is using references to the Exodus from Egypt to get across the importance of belief and, if we do truly beleive, the corresponding actions that follow belief - ceasing from sin, or our own works, in other words, resting.

In Moses' day, the Children (decendents) of Israel showed to God 10 times that they didn't truly believe in God because they never ceased from sin, provoking God to wrath 10 times during their journey from Egypt, until it says that God swore in his wrath that they should not enter into his rest. This was called "the provocation" in Psalms 95. So God led them around in the wilderness for 40 years until that entire generation died off in the the wildreness (except Joshua and Caleb who showed that they did believe). After 40 years, Joshua led the younger generation, the ones who were born during that journey, into the Promised Land.

A confusing point is Heb 4:8 which got a bit lost in translation. It should say in English "For if Joshua had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day." The name "Joshua" translated from Hebrew to Greek is "Jesus", so they said Jesus here (the New Testament was written in Greek) but they mean the man that led the Children of Israel after Moses.

Even in the Promised Land the people never found the true rest of soul that God wanted for them (the rest of ceasing from your own works). They continued through out most of history to provoke God to wrath.

So Heb 4:11 says labour to enter into this rest which sounds like a contradiction - labouring to rest? But stopping sin doesn't just happen all by itself. It takes some effort on our part and of course God's help, so that we don't also "die in the wilderness" (die on our way to heaven) like they did.

So this is the "Sabbath" (which quite literally means "rest", so if you want to call it a Sabbath rest you are just saying "rest rest") that it is talking about - an end to doing our own works and even, by extension, an end to sin! Sounds wonderful doesn't it? But it's not quite talking about heaven here, although the true fulfillment of this rest will be in heaven. We've got to get there first though!

You need to read Hebrews 3 first as well as the book of Dueteronomy which is Moses' summary of the journey in the wilderness before he dies, and Psalms 95.

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    – fгedsbend
    May 11 '15 at 21:33
  • I think your answer here is right, but it may be better received with a corroborating source.
    – fгedsbend
    May 11 '15 at 21:33

When the Israelites were released from Slavery in Egypt. They had not been worshipping God, and God in teaching them how he was to be worshipped, gave Moses the ten commandments on the mount along with all instructions on worshipping him. In the book of Exodus is the first time of eight instances where God gives the command that the seventh day is to a holy day and no work must be done on that day.

Exodus 31:13 through 18 KJV Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you. 14 Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. 16 Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed. 18 And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.

  • This is good background about the meaning of the Sabbath in the Old Testament. It does not address what is different about the use of "Sabbath" in Hebrews however.
    – Bit Chaser
    May 9 '15 at 23:31
  • @disciple Please reread the question and the referenced Scripture. The poster has already and correctly identified the future rest as eternity (Heaven) so the only unanswered part of the question is the inquiry about what rest they were not observing. That is the reasoning behind my answering only that portion of the question.
    – BYE
    May 10 '15 at 13:43
  • At the end, he suggests three possibilities. All of us seem to agree Christians should not be "resting from their works of the law". Fred suggested "future state of Heaven" as the most likely answer, which I don't really disagree with, but I think there is a "something else" -- resting in Christ now, which I see as most important but not as easy to explain.
    – Bit Chaser
    May 10 '15 at 20:43

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