The Way of Rest
A recent article on leftists website, The Huffington Post recently ran an article by Howard Fineman entitled, “Why The World Is Spinning Into Crisis Everywhere”? Fineman was relying heavily on the work of Richard Haass who has served as president of the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations for many years and served under several presidents including both Bush presidents. Haass essentially argues for global destabilization because of what he calls, “the age of nonpolarity” where super powers are no longer the sole players who control and change the world. Speaking about the 20th century when the shift from single or unipolar power changed, he wrote, “Now the world faced a free-for-all in which “non-state actors” -- terrorists, global corporations, religious and ethnic tribes, sovereign wealth funds and nonprofit charities, to name a few -- were as crucial as countries in shaping the order of a “nonpolar” world.” We only need to look at Al Qaeda and ISIS to see how terrorism can unsettle the world as much or even more than a legitimate state or country. In light of this article, Fineman wrote as his opening statement to his post, “Israel vs. Hamas. Ukraine vs. Russia. Unaccompanied minors at the Texas border. Syria in flames, with a militant “caliphate” at the door. Iran stalling for time on nukes. A rising China sowing fear throughout the rest of Asia. The world seems dangerously unmanageable these days.” The opposite of this world’s, nonpolarity, global instability, and well as local fears is security, peace and a world at rest. On a personal level, the issue is no better as far as the world without God is concerned. Total depravity renders man, restless, reckless, immoral, and darkened in thought and mind— blinded by his own fallen ambitions. What the world needs of course is rest, peace from its dangers and evils.
God offers rest to this weary world and to every weary soul that would come to Him for peace and rest, for safety and security. But what is this rest? What is the way of God’s rest? How do we get it? And what does it look like to have true rest? There are several ways we can define the way of God’s rest.
The Way To God’s Rest Is By Faith Alone
Scripture presents itself in a series of covenantal arrangements where God is in Covenant with man, where God makes certain covenantal promises to His people and God’s people experience certain covenantal blessings in light of God’s covenant promises. God’s covenant blessings however, are never fully experienced until we see God and man in full covenantal consummation where God is dwelling in the midst of His fully redeemed people for all eternity in the New Heaven and the New Earth. Revelation gives us the complete picture of an eternal state of covenantal bliss where all things are complete every wrong has been put right, and all that remains is for God’s people to dwell in God’s glory-presence forever. This is God’s rest, His eternal Sabbath. However, Revelation also contains the consequences of failing to enter God’s eternal rest through unbelief and in that way it is quite relevant to what Hebrews is saying here:
Revelation 21:3–8 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” 5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” 6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. 7 “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. 8 “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
This is the consummation of God’s rest. Its typological form reaches the full antitype here. Hebrews 4 however is focused not on the consummation of that rest but its inauguration and looks forward to its completion.
If the way out of God’s rest is through unbelief than the way of God’s rest is through faith. In fact, it is only faith or faith alone. What the author of Hebrews is trying to stress here is the opportunity of entering God’s rest by trusting in the gospel firm to the end. The negative example of Israel is proof that God’s rest was looking forward to future rest, the fact that God is at rest and man is not at rest also looks forward to some future rest, God’s OT vow that some will not enter His rest in Canaan always looked forward to the fact that there still was a promise of entering His rest:
Hebrews 4:3–6 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, “As I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest,” although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; 5 and again in this passage, “They shall not enter My rest.” 6 Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it…”
Now there is a raging debate in terms of the experience of this rest (see, Peter O’Brien, Hebrews, 164-166). Is the rest solely a future reality because after all it seems as if the whole point is that of entering the rest (4.1), the rest is cast as a promise (4.1, 9), the rest is something that remains for the people of God (4.9)? Or, is the rest a present reality based on past faith? The grammar has the past tense aorist participle to “believe” (οἱ πιστεύσαντες) and the present middle verb “we enter” (εἰσερχόμεθα) (note the author includes himself in the present reality). After a long discussion about the various arguments, Peter O’Brien argues for a strict futuristic rest in the consummation (O’Brien, Hebrews, 165-166). However, there is no talk about Hebrews 12.22ff where the consummation language there is referred to as a present reality! As with all soteriology there is an all-ready-not-yet aspect where because of our union with Christ believers can be said to be both already at rest and not yet at full rest. So then, we have already come to Mount Zion and yet, we will one day be in Zion, we have already come to the city of the living God, and yet, we will one day enter the city of God, we have already come to the heavenly Jerusalem, and yet, we will one day see the heavenly Jerusalem, and we have already come to myriads of angels, and yet, we will one day see the angels around the throne of God to praise God forever more in a state of eternal rest. Philip E. Hughes states:
“God’s rest, then, is already, and has been since the creation of the world, a reality, and it is future only in relation to the consummation promised to his people, who have yet to enter into it.” (Philip E. Hughes, Hebrews, 159).
Faith gives us the assurance that we have entered God’s rest and that ultimate future rest lies ahead if we hold fast our confession, our confidence and assurance firm till the end (3.6, 14; 4.14; 10.23; cf. 6.19).
The Way To God’s Rest Is By Divine Analogy
The fact that God’s rest is a present reality and the believer’s rest is also a present, however partial reality, means that the way to understand God’s rest is also based on a human-divine analogy. To understand our rest, we need to understand God’s rest and the point the author is seeking to make. At the end of verse 3 the author prepares us for this analogy, “His works were finished from the foundation of the world” (4.3b). This provides the basis for the analogy between God’s rest and our rest. First the author points out that some have failed in this analogy, “As I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest,” which again, comes from Ps. 95. Second, he quotes the Gen. 2.2 as the basis that God has entered His rest (note, present not future aspect). Third, those who lack faith, fail to enter the present state of God’s rest, “For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; 5 and again in this passage, “They shall not enter My rest” (4.4-5).
After God created the world, He entered into a state of perfect rest where He was refreshed (Gen. 2.3), that is, God appreciated what He had done. This is what Sabbath rest is really all about, God looking back with pleasure upon His accomplishments. It really is a picture a type and shadow of God’s redemptive work in Christ, who after He had accomplished redemption entered into a state of eternal rest. When a person believes in the gospel they cease striving from their works (4.10), and enter into a state of rest (cf. Mt. 11.), peace with God and ultimately heaven with God. Jesus spoke about this rest in a similar sabbatarian context in Matthew 11. Leon Morris comments on its significance:
“… those who bear Christ’s yoke know rest at the center of their being. They do not worry and fuss about what they are doing, for their commitment to their Savior means that they recognize his sovereignty over all and the fact that he will never call them to something that is beyond their strength. Paradoxically those who take Christ’s yoke on them have rest, rest now and eternal rest in the hereafter.” (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 297).
As creatures in God’s image we are called to be like God in many respects. It is not surprising then to see an analogy here between God’s rest and our rest. Through faith we enter into fellowship with God, we inherit His promises, we enter His rest, experience His peace at the center of our beings. Like God, we rejoice in His redemptive glory which was made known through Jesus Christ. Jesus now is our rest. We rest in what He has accomplished, we rest in His gospel, we rest in the good news about what God did in Jesus. Even before we rejoice in His benefits, we rejoice in the benefactor of our joy. The author will tell us much more about this rest in the next section (vv.8-11); here however, he goes on to remind us of the OT example of rest relinquished and the promise of redemptive rest.
The Way To God’s Rest Is By Redemptive History
Again we learn the powerful lessons of redemptive history. If we are going to follow God in His rest, the rest that the wilderness generation forfeited, we must look and learn from their failures so that we would succeed. To help us to see the validity not only of looking at Old Testament history as historical narrative but as redemptive-historical-narrative, we need to look at history the way that Paul did:
1 Corinthians 10:11 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
When we study history, we may or may not have anything to do with that history. Reading the history of the Ming dynasty has very little to do with you and I today. But biblical history does not work that way because we have a connection to Biblical history and further we anticipate the consummation of that history in every generation. Paul sees the New Covenant believer as one who stands at the end of the age where the history of God is about to consummate, the climax of Scripture’s story having reached its highest point in Jesus all that remains is for us to see the story for this age completed. That’s why he describes us as, “[those] upon whom the ends of the ages have come”— Simply fascinating. It brings us great comfort not only to know that history has a point (which already sets us apart from much of culture today); that life is not just an endless succession of meaningless and random events in the lives of meaningless and insignificant human beings. Rather, God’s history is gospel history. The point of it all is rooted in the good news of Jesus Christ and what interest we might have in that news.
The wilderness generation did not take advantage of the good news they heard and as we saw in v.2 and reiterated here, they did not unite the word of God with faith and thus were “disobedient” and disregarded God’s promises (4.2, 6). We have the gospel now, and from it, we must hear what God wants to teach us. Again, Hebrews quotes Ps. 95 from which we stand to learn several valuable lessons.
Learning To Listen To The Gospel
The first of course is listening to the good news. Faith comes by hearing and hearing the word of Christ; that is, the message concerning Christ (Rom. 10.17). In other words, what Hebrews is saying is that, when the redemptive historical message came to the Jews in the wilderness they did not take heed to it (2.1; cf. Num. 14). They failed to discern how what God was speaking through Moses and later through Joshua was really good news. The message involved risk, danger, consecration, resignation to the power and sovereignty of God; but such a message was rejected in unbelief. We do have good news preached to us (4.2, 6). However, like Israel, the good news does not mean safe news, comfortable news, popular news, or easy news. The gospel is good news not because of what it does for us. That’s not what makes it good news; at least not primarily. The gospel after all is the good news of Jesus Christ. Listen to the way Paul articulates the gospel in Romans and see if you can see the good news prior to any reference to yourself:
Romans 1:1–4 1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,
That means He is the focus of the good news not us. The Benefactor comes before the beneficiaries of the promise. If we do not listen to that, we will become disillusioned when God does something with our lives that remind us that we are not upper-most in God; God is upper-most in God. When we see that, when we understand the God-centered, Christ-centered nature of the gospel it will be good news indeed. This is why our personal circumstances do not affect the good news at all and no amount of suffering, persecution or trials will ever undermine the precious nature of the good news. The whole universe could reject it and it would still be good news! It is the man-centered worldview that rejects the supremacy of Jesus Christ.
Learning To Obey The Gospel
When the gospel is not heard, heeded or believed, it is not obeyed, “those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience” (4.6). Now, the author has already mentioned unbelief in 3.19, “So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.” Here we see the inseparable connection between faith and obedience for, one leads logically and necessarily to the other. When God’s word is not heard it is not honored either. Scripture is filled with obedience language (2 Cor. 2.9; Col. 3.10; Tit. 3.1; 1 Pet. 1.14). And one of the reasons why we do not need to run around in a state of spiritual paranoia- making sure everyone is being obedient is because obedience flows naturally from a regenerate heart. A heart that has been subdued by the gospel and brought into a teachable frame. This is why the apostles engage in so much general thanksgiving to God for the obedient faith of the churches (cf. Rom. 1.5; 6.17; 15.18; 16.19; 2 Cor. 7.15; 9.13; Philem. 21; 1 Pet. 1.22). Paul trusted in the power of the gospel, having been heard, understood and apprehended by faith, to produce obedience in those who believe:
Romans 16:25–26 25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith;
Learning To Apply The Gospel
The problem with the wilderness generation is that the word of God never got to the point that it was applied and therefore, it was emptied of its power because of their disobedience. The marvelous thing about Hebrews here is that, Hebrews sees yet another day where God’s word will give a fresh generation the opportunity to believe and apply the gospel to their lives. God gives us this opportunity when He says, “He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts” (4.7). The cross is where this “today” dawned. Even though the faith of men failed the promises of God did not. In fact, he says, “after so long a time” meaning that the as far as redemptive history was concerned, the promise of rest that God gave seemed to be long gone. People think the same way about our future rest today. They think of about the promise of Christ’s return as something God promised so long ago that it seems like a distant fairy tale now. The good news is that, even if we waver about God’s promises, He will not (cf. 2 Pet. 3.9ff.). And when Jesus returns, our hopes will be realized and our eternal rest will begin.
Returning to the chaos of this world for a moment. Our rest should express itself in a certain amount of carefree living that liberates us from the anxiety producing, fast pace, up-to-the-minute breaking news culture that has everyone on edge. We can be carefree not careless. The peace of God does not produce a careless state of mind of course but a cared-for state of mind that is rooted in the reality of God’s sovereignty. This world is striving, sinning, restless and duty-bound when God’s rest is by faith alone. When we are at rest, we are like God. Our salvation should produce more and more Christlikeness in us. After all He is our ultimate analogy, we imitate Him, we follow His example. And we look to the example of the past because God’s rest is birthed in the redemptive story of which we are a part. This is the value of looking backwards- it helps us to look forward. If we look back at the example of Israel then we can learn how not to approach the gospel and how to avoid forfeiting the promises of God. Instead, we must listen to the gospel, and if we take heed to the gospel we will obey the gospel and if we obey the gospel we will apply the gospel in our “today”, our daily battle to endure so that we do not fall short of God’s promises.