5

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:9-10)

What are God’s conditions for entering into this Sabbath rest for His people, since God declared that some shall never enter His rest?

So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ (Psalm 95:7-8)

What does it mean for Protestant Christians to enter into the Sabbath rest for God's people as described in Hebrews chapter 4?

11
  • 1
    That question asks for an OVERVIEW of the main interpretations of the concept of "Sabbath-rest" within Christianity. My question is specific in asking for the view of Protestant Christians. Your question has not elicited the information I seek. – Lesley Jan 3 at 13:12
  • That's why I said related and not duplicate :-) – Spirit Realm Investigator Jan 3 at 13:13
  • 1
    Okay - that's cool. Hope someone gives you the overview you seek. – Lesley Jan 3 at 13:15
  • @Lesley - Walter Chantry's book "Call the Sabbath a Delight" is fabulous on this very passage in Hebrews. What is Hebrews about? It is to encourage Jews not to go back to the Old Covenant. The New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant. "Better" appears 13 times in Hebrews. The hint of Hebrews 4 then is that there is "another day", another Sabbath day, for the New Covenant, i.e. Sunday, entered by faith in Christ and the Gospel. Why is this idea not more clearly said in Hebrews? Clearer expression might have lead to a rejection of the Gospel by the Jews. Read the book! Fabulous. – Andrew Shanks Jan 3 at 16:04
2

This is brought over, in part, from a related overview question.

For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works. - Hebrews 4:4

Hebrews 4 defines this rest that is being spoken of as that rest wherein God rested from all his works. Verses 3 and 5 further define that rest as a possession of God: My rest. It is that rest with which God has rested. In the creative act God accomplished all that He intended including those things which, in our temporal economy, appear as yet future. In this way the coming forth of Israel's ruler (yet future) is said to be "from of old, from ancient days". (Micah 5:2). In this way also the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). God has rested and yet His works continue to unfold.

For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest - Hebrews 4:2-3a

Hebrews clearly presents faith/belief in "the message" as the mechanism of entry. In context it is the people of Israel's entry into the promised land that is treated immediately and "the message" is that God has promised to give them the land and has promised to go before them preparing the way and fighting the battles for them. In chapter 3 we see the flip side where unbelief is categorically given as the reason some did not enter rest:

And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. - Hebrews 3:18-19

The exodus generation refused to believe "the message" regarding entry into what God had promised and they spun 'round in the wilderness for 40 years and most died there because of unbelief. The current generation, to whom Hebrews is written, are similarly in danger of falling short of belief in "the message" regarding the Christ of God. The entire epistle appeals to them to cease going about (through religious activities and works of the Law) to establish their own righteousness and to instead receive the righteousness of God which is by faith.

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

  • Hebrews 3:12-14

It appears as though it were possible to become hardened by sin's deceitfulness into developing an evil, unbelieving heart which may lead one to fall away from the living God. It is unclear in the text whether this falling away can occur once entry into "rest" has taken place or if developing unbelief simply hinders entry. Significantly, this passage links entering God's rest with "sharing in Christ" and also links the belief needed to enter with perseverance in that belief until the end.

Note: Theological bunny trails may begin here regarding perseverance as an act of human will, a gift of Divine grace, or some mixture of the two but they need not be entertained under this question.

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. - Hebrews 4:9-10

The content of the Sabbath rest that is available for the people of God to enter is not a list of prohibitions or prescriptions; it is a cessation of works. Just as God rests in this Sabbath from His works so too, we who enter into this Sabbath rest from our works.

The report from the scouts into the promised land (Numbers 13) described all the ways that the people of Israel could not possibly enter the land and overcome the difficulties they perceived there. In other words, their faith lay in what works they could accomplish rather than trusting in the promise of the Living God. They were not resting from their works, they were relying on them. This is the unbelief which hindered their entry: Trusting in their works rather than God's.

In like manner we must not entertain all the myriad ways that we cannot possibly enter into eternal life. We must not allow ourselves an evil, unbelieving heart by which we abandon full trust in the promise of God and by which we begin to try to work our way into the kingdom or count ourselves as worthy or not by virtue of our works. God, in Christ, has done all that can be or need be done regarding reconciliation and all who enter by Him will be rested.

For Israel, entrance into the rest of God necessitated trusting in the "work" that God would do on their behalf in the promised land. In the Gospel age entrance into the Sabbath rest now is entirely a matter of trusting that God will accomplish what He has promised in Christ. Once entered that person has ceased from his own works.

Resting from our works is not a condition for entry into God's Sabbath, it is a description of that rest. It is also not a motionless rest:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. - Ephesians 2:10

And we also see Divine activity within this Sabbath rest of God:

And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” - John 5:16-17

In the following verses of John 5 Jesus explains how that He only does what He sees the Father doing. He has just done a work of healing on the legal Sabbath (religious rest), all of which fall within the confines of the Divine Sabbath (God's rest), to demonstrate that He is Lord of the Sabbath and that good works are always permissible because they are not man's works but God's works which, in the Divine economy, are already completed.

Jesus, in doing only God's work, was "resting" from his own works. Now we, who have believed in His Name and been saved are "in Christ" and have entered into the Sabbath rest of God with Him.. Jesus is the Sabbath rest that we may enter.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” - Matthew 11:28-30

4

What does it mean for Protestant Christians to enter into the Sabbath rest for God's people as described in Hebrews chapter 4?

Since joining mainstream Protestantism in the 1980s (baptised in a British Baptist church), I soon learned from many a sermon that the idea of this ‘Sabbath rest for God’s people’ has a two-fold aspect.

(1) Resting from their own works by trusting utterly in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Christians do good works but not in order to enter into God’s rest; on the contrary, supposing that one must do things in order to be at peace with God results in distress – ceaseless striving to be good enough, as if what Christ had done was insufficient to bring peace with God. Spiritual ‘resting’ in Christ is the present, on-going ‘rest’ in this world where we can be at peace with God, despite all else going on around us. “O rest in the Lord, wait patiently for him... Wait on the Lord and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land.” (Psalm 37:7 & 34)

(2) In the world to come, it will be the joyous rest of being in Heaven and actually in God’s presence, away from the strife, turmoil and often misunderstood business of just trying to live as a Christian in a largely godless world.

The points made in Hebrews 4 must include chapter 3, which is the foundation for the writer’s conclusion in 4:8-11. The example is drawn of the sin of disbelief by Israel at the borders of Canaan, which prevented them entering into God’s rest back then. Believing, acting faith is key to entering in to rest with God. Disbelief and disobedience denies us the rest God would give us. This link is made in this Protestant book (originally published in 1899; my quote is from the 1978 reprint):

“For faithful though he was, Moses was only a servant within God’s house, while Jesus was a Son over it… the writer first of all impresses upon his readers the need of this continued faith and perseverance (c. iii.7-19), and then shows them that there is still a true Sabbath-rest after which to strive, of which the rest of Canaan offered to their fathers had given them the promise (c. iv. 1-13).” The Theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews by George Milligan (p 62)

A 2011 Protestant book detailing core doctrines for Christian disciples makes the same point:

“Paul’s legalists had misunderstood the true nature of the law: to lead us to Christ, not to lead us to self-salvation. The demand for faith does not turn faith into a work. On the contrary, it is a command to cease our labors and enter God’s rest (Heb. 4:10). We are commanded to repent not only of our immoral life that we once approved but of self-trust, which is the greatest sin of all – the chief form of idolatry.” (p 267) “The Everlasting Sabbath of the New Heavens and Earth is the heading on p 452. Pilgrim Theology by Michael Horton, Zondervan

The Sabbath is a day of rest, and the literal 7th day of the week rest of the old testament becomes, for the Christian, the 7-day-a-week rest of peace with God due to the finished work of Christ on the cross. A Christian who rests in faith while being busy working for the Lord knows this non-legalistic constant rest of faith even now, on earth. Then, in the Everlasting Sabbath to come, the words of Revelation 14:12-13 could not be more inspirational:

“Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.”

The condition for entering into that Sabbath rest of Hebrews 4:9-10 is active, believing faith.

3
  • 1
    This is a good answer. I am unsure if SE allows one to paste an answer from one question into another AND I do not wish to step on your toes. Would you look at this and tell me what you think? christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/80299/… – Mike Borden Jan 6 at 13:20
  • @Mike Borden I'm glad you brought that to my attention for my permission was not obtained for copying part of my answer (above) into another person's answer to a similar but older question. However, I was credited, and the link for this Q given, so anyone checking could see my full answer. It seems as if quoting from my answer here was done to contribute to an 'overview,' as other sources and quotes were also given. I don't mind being quoted. It's up to the Moderators, if they want to make such quotes, or if others might object. – Anne Jan 6 at 16:54
  • 1
    @MikeBorden - this sounds like a good question for meta. – Spirit Realm Investigator Jan 6 at 16:54
1

The concept of "rest" in the Bible is an important one. God's Sabbath-rest in the days of creation is given as something for Christians to enter into. Compare Revelation 14:13:

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write this: blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labour, for their deeds will follow them.’

I believe 'rest' in Hebrews 4 is being used to describe essentially entering into the new creation / eternal life. Those who persist in trusting the Lord Jesus will enter their rest with him, whereas those who abandon Christ will not enter his rest. (There is some debate about whether the 'rest' can be entered into now in this life, or is purely eschatological. I think there is a now and not yet aspect to the 'rest' envisioned here - in the same way that John's Gospel considers believers in Christ to have already crossed over from death to life, even though we still have to die to pass to eternal life).

That is why Psalm 95 is quoted - it is a warning. Those who abandon the Lord, as those did who hardened their hearts against the Lord in the wilderness, will not enter into God's rest. This is the exact point the writer of Hebrews is wanting to make: it's a warning against abandoning the Lord. There are several warning passages in Hebrews (see e.g. "Warning and assurance: run the race to the end" by Thomas R. Schreiner in The Perfect Saviour (2012 IVP), ed. Jonathan Griffiths). These are designed to warn the Christians against abandoning Jesus and sticking with him to the end.

This is what the Commentary on the Old Testament Use of the New Testament (2007 Baker; ed. G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson) says about the theme of rest:

Therefore, it may be suggested that the "rest" of which the author of Hebrews speaks is entrance into the new covenant. Some in the community are in danger of rejecting it, not combining faith with their hearing of the "good news" (4:1-2). It is a rest that one must strive to enter (4:11) - the entrance into the new covenant involves taking a bold stand with Christ and his people - but at the same time involves ceasing from one's own works (4:10). In context, this seems to point to a life of faith and obedience to God, in which a person turns away from a "wandering" way of life in order to embrace the proclaimed word of God. Finally, it is a rest that may be entered now by believing (4:3) and will be consummated at the end of the age. (p. 960)

I believe this is fairly representative of a protestant understanding of Hebrews 4, at least from with a Reformed perspective.

1
  • 1
    I believe that Don Carson is co-founder of The Gospel Coalition (Tim Keller being the other co-founder). TGC is a network of “broadly reformed” evangelical churches and seem to embrace a very wide range of doctrinal views. TGC isn’t an actual Protestant denomination though. Interesting answer, though - thank you. – Lesley Jan 6 at 17:31
1

Don't take this the wrong way, my friend, but there are well over 60 Christian denominations in North America alone that would likely call themselves Protestant. Looking for an interpretation of virtually any biblical passage that all Protestant denominations would agree upon is a sort of fool's errand (NOT that I'm calling you a fool!!).

Perhaps a better tac is to limit your search to the Christian denominations that a) hew to the traditional belief in the "verbal plenary inspiration" of the Scriptures; and b) believe Jesus to be the only person through whom salvation can be found and, moreover, that salvation is obtained by God's grace through faith. Even the faith to believe comes to believers by God's grace as a gift that could never be earned.

When you limit your search in that way (and frankly, I do not know how exactly you would do that), you will likely find that the rest of which the writer to the Hebrews speaks is the blessing of not having to work for your salvation. In other words, there is no regimen of good works and obedience to the Law of God that will ever assure you of a place in heaven. The reason: We all are fallen creatures who are "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1; and Colossians 2:13).

As the saying goes, a corpse cannot do good works.

When people in search of peace with God give up striving, that is when they enter God's rest, because the battle against sin has been fought and won by the Lord Jesus Christ. While even the holiest Christians will slip up from time to time, believing falsely that with every slip-up they need to work their way back into God's good graces, their standing before God is assured. Their state may change from day to day, and sometimes from minute to minute(!), but from the time they were born again, their spiritual standing before God is guaranteed by Christ's death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and intercession for them at the right hand of God the Father (Romans 8:34).

Am I implying that Christians are not to struggle against sin? By no means. What I do mean is that the battle Jesus fought on the cross both to atone for his image-bearers' sins and at the same time to defeat the forces of evil, was won on the cross. Their unrighteousness became his; his righteousness became theirs. Instead of having to work for salvation, they are encouraged to work out their own salvation, realizing all along that God is the one who is at work within them "both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13 NIV). Day-by-day victories are not achieved in their own strength but in the strength God supplies through his Holy Spirit (see, for example, Romans 8:1-4).

When believers walk according to the Spirit, the law's just requirements are fulfilled in them, not by them. This is all God's doing, so his children need to enter their rest every day of their lives.

5
  • 1
    I do not see how this answers the question. You have stated your own opinions in paras 5 and 6, but not stated any Protestant view, with references. – Nigel J Jan 3 at 20:38
  • @NigelJ: I'm sure you are not alone in your opinion. Frankly, the OP's question is likely not a big issue in Protestant circles. It's certainly not in the "Big Ten" of Protestant non-negotiables! If I am correct about this, then I am probably also correct there is no uniform consensus within Protestantism about what constitutes a "rest," at least of the kind addressed in Hebrews 4. Jesus's invitation to those who labor and are heavily laden includes the promise they will find rest unto their souls. Rest from the vain attempts to earn salvation, to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. – rhetorician Jan 5 at 1:07
  • What does this mean "While even the holiest Christians will slip up from time to time, believing with every slip-up they need to work their way back into God's good graces, their standing before God is assured." in the context of your answer? I cannot tell if you hold 'believing they need to work their way back into God's good graces' as a true or false belief in context. – Mike Borden Jan 6 at 13:15
  • @MikeBorden: Good point. The belief that believers need to work their way back into the good graces of the Father after a slip-up is a false belief. A simple confession of sins is all that is needed to restore fellowship between Father and child. No amount of good works or penance is needed, since our Sabbath-rest was achieved for us on the cross of Christ. Christians are incapable of earning that restoration any more than they can earn salvation. Belief and confession alike are not works, but are humble admissions we cannot earn God's favor. They evidence a Sabbath rest. – rhetorician Jan 6 at 17:08
  • @MikeBorden: I just added a couple words to my answer, and they are "believing falsely." – rhetorician Jan 6 at 17:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.