The Epistle to the Hebrews
Hebrews Chapter 4
Rest is the repose of the soul in God. We taste its sweetness when we come to Christ (Matt. 11:28). We continue in its enjoyment when our lives are lived in the will of God (Matt. 11:29-30). Then when our little day is done here we shall enter into the fullness of God’s rest where no opposing forces will ever disturb it for ever (Rev. 14:13). It is because of these opposing forces that would disturb our rest in God now, that the four exhortations of our chapter are given, “Let us fear,” “Let us labor,” “Let us hold fast,” “Let us come boldly to the Throne of Grace.”
A sad epitaph is raised over the history of God’s earthly people, the nation of Israel, “So we see then that they could not enter in because of unbelief (3:19). They came short of God’s rest because they doubted the power of God, the love of God and the Word of God (Num. 13:31, 14:1-3, Heb. 4-2). In chapter 4 the writer turns to the needs of God’s heavenly people. Israel has been labelled a failure, but in chapter 4 the Christian, Israel’s spiritual counterpart, has described for him in explicit detail three beautiful and necessary provisions that are designed to lead him into the enjoyment of God’s rest. These are: the Word of God (vs. 12-13), the Great High Priest (vs. 14-15), and the Throne of Grace (v. 16).
But first, let us look in a little more detail at the rest of God (vs. 1:11) that He provides by His grace, and into which He would lead us.
As we review with joy the various aspects of this rest as unfolded in these verses, we cannot help but realize that God’s provision along the way is meant to keep us from wavering. This rest acts as a goal or object in the Christian life. Just as the goal posts in a football game govern the movement and action of the players, so the rest of God establishes the perimeter and progression as well as the goal of the Christian life.
The writer painting his description of the rest of God, chooses four colors, as it were, to brighten the course of a life lived to the will of God.
(a) The color in Creation Rest (v. 4). Inasmuch as God did rest the seventh day from His work so the rest to the Christian will be a rest from work. The toils of the day will seem as nothing when we bask in the sunlight of His presence for ever.
(b) The color in Christian Rest (v. 3). The writer draws an analogy from the very basic Christian experience, that of believing. He says that when we believed we entered into rest. All that we were — untamable, disobedient and unlovable —we placed in the everloving hands of the God of Eternity. Our future was hopeless so this rest became to us a rest from worry. The Spirit of God is simply saying that all that we have entered into by faith down here, one day will be a grand reality when we rest in the comforts and perfection of Heaven and home.
(c) The color in Canaan Rest (v. 8). Canaan is ever in Scripture a picture of that which the Christian may enter and possess by conflict. Rest came when the battle was over and the inheritance taken from the hand of the enemy. It became a rest from war. Paul draws a picture of this Canaan rest in Ephesians. In that Epistle there is an inheritance purchased at infinite cost (1:18-23) to be possessed by faith (v. 18). There are opposing forces to rob us of the enjoyment of that rest (6:10-18). The indwelling Spirit of God is the Earnest, down payment, with the greater and more wonderful things yet to come (1:13-14).
(d) The color in Celestial Rest (v. 9). The word for rest here is different from that used elsewhere in the chapter. It is the Greek word sabbatismos which literally means “to keep a sabbath.” It is really an Old Testament word referring to the sabbatic observations in the Book of Leviticus. Used in this connection we believe it has the thought of perpetuity. So our pilgrimage will soon be over and the journey done. It will be a rest from walking a rest that will never be interrupted. Is there any wonder the poet wrote:
“Stepping ashore and finding it Heaven;
Of taking hold of a hand and finding it God’s hand,
Of breathing a new air and finding it celestial air,
Of feeling invigorated and finding it immortality,
Of passing from storm and tempest to an unbroken calm,
Of waking up and finding it home.”
The first thing that God supplies in order that we enter in and enjoy the rest of God is His Word (vs. 12-13). This is the true Urim and Thummim (lights and perfections) in the breast-plate of our Great High Priest. This provision, with its positive, powerful action of discerning right from wrong, is necessary in our Christian experience to save us from wilfulness. There are five things suggested here about the Word:
It is vibrant in its life. The Greek word for quick is zao, and literally means alive. It is the same word used by Paul in Philippians 1:21, where he said, “To me to live is Christ.” What is the lesson? Is it not this? The life that filters through the pages of the Word of God making it a living Book, will begin to flow through that individual who diligently addicts himself to it. Paul advises Timothy that the Word of God was vital if “the man of God was to be throughly furnished.” In other words the man of God must become a “master craftsman” in his use of the Word of God.
It is vigorous in its action. The word for powerful is not the word normally used. This word is only used twice elsewhere in the New Testament. It is used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:9, where he says that an effectual door was opened unto him and then in Philemon 6 where the faith of Philemon is said to be effectual. Both verses have the thought of something being active and operative. Such is the thought here. It really means life (the first word) in action.
It is vindictive in its judgment. First, he uses the analogy of the sword. The sword is always the symbol of judgment (Gen. 3:24, Rev. 19:15). Self-judgment is the most difficult and yet the most necessary experience the Christian will ever encounter. Yet it is only when the sword with its two edges, is allowed to work in us that we will be trimmed to a useful size for God.
Second, he uses the analogy of the judge. The word discerner comes from the same root as the word judge. Hence the Word of God acts as a judge of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Thoughts refer to what is deliberated and intent to motives. Thoughts point to my occupation and intent to my motivation. When these are judged in the thought-and-intent stage it is not too late to have a life in which actions are ruled by the Word of God.
It is violent in its operation. The word piercing literally means “coming through.” In doing so it divides the soul and spirit from the joints and marrow. That is it separates that which we can see and feel from that which is intangible. May we put it another way. That which is tangible represents the material or carnal things and that which is intangible represents the spiritual part of our being. The Word of God divides between the two. In its search for the sins of body, soul and spirit, it seeks our separation from all that would disqualify for God’s pleasure. Separation is always the loving response of the redeemed soul to the claims of the Son of God.
It is valuable in its revelation. The word for opened (v. 13) is the Greek word tetrakelismena and is rooted in another Greek word trakelos, meaning “neck.” What is the significance? When the priest offered the sacrifice he was obligated to ensure that the animal was indeed without spot or blemish. He, therefore, just before he plunged in the knife, took hold of the animal’s neck, held his head back and in so doing exposed the entire body of the animal to his scrutiny. The Word of God likewise exposes our whole life. It points out our failures; governs our actions; guides us in our pathway that God has marked out for us.
The second provision of God to enable us to enter in and enjoy His rest is our Great High Priest. His ministry is designed to support us in our weakness. The Spirit of God emphasizes His two Names here. Jesus is His earthly Name for it was given to Him at birth. It is the Name that links Him to His people,” Thou shalt call His Name Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins.” The Son of God on the other hand unquestionably links Him to the Godhead, for He is one with the Father and the Spirit. In between these two Names is the word “priest.” The Latin word for priest is pontifex and means bridgebuilder. Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ is linked to His people and to the Throne of God. As the divinely ordained Priest (bridgebuilder), He spans the gap.
The writer uses a word that carefully describes His sympathy toward His people. It is translated here, “Touched with the feeling of.” It is the Greek word sumpatheo. It comes from two other words, sum, meaning with and patheo, meaning to suffer. Thus we have an High Priest who suffers with His people. Not only does He lead us home by the path that He Himself has trodden before us, but in all the grief that fills the heart, the Man of Sorrows has a part. Like the high priest of Israel (Exod. 28) that bore the names of Israel upon his shoulder and his breast, and wore the mitre upon his brow, so the Lord Jesus imparts His strength (Heb. 2:18), His love (4:15) and His wisdom (2 Tim. 1:7) to enable us to have our whole satisfaction in God.
The third provision of God for His people is the Throne of Grace (v. 16). This is designed to save us from wandering. The word “boldly” is interesting here. There are two other words translated boldly in the New Testament. First, there is the Greek word tahmao which has the thought of presumption, forwardness or over-stepping one’s bound of authority. It is the word used of Joseph of Arimethea when he “boldly” craved the body of Jesus. This is not the word used here. Second, there is the word thareo which has the thought of being confident that something will happen, and, therefore, speaking boldly about it. It is used in Hebrews 13:6. This is not the word used here. The peculiar word chosen by the Spirit to describe the Christian as he approaches the Throne of Grace is the word parresia. It means to have absolute right. Based on the work of Christ the way to the Throne has been opened to the Christian. The Israelite stood without the tent in fear and trembling. The Blood of Christ assures the Christian’s right to the Throne.
Two things are dispensed from the Throne, grace and mercy. It is pardoning mercy for the past and helping grace for the future. Mercy for our failures and grace for our weaknesses.
It is to be noted that the phrase “in time of need” is one Greek word — ukairos. It is used only once more and means suitable assistance. It does not mean that we can secure help today for to-morrow’s problems. It does mean that today’s problems can find their solution at the Throne of Grace today. The reservoir is full. The resources are never diminished.
Perhaps the key to this whole passage is found in chapter 4:2. It is the word faith. It is indeed interesting that the verb to fall, pipto, is used in only two settings in the Hebrews. In chapter 3:17, it describes those who through lack of faith “fell” in the wilderness. In chapter 11:30, it describes the “fall” of the walls of Jericho by faith. The walls could represent any obstacles that face the Christian and which are overcome by faith. Perhaps here we have struck the nerve-centre of the question, what makes the difference between a vibrant, successful Christian and a weak, defeated Christian? The answer is faith! Faith that appropriates all the provisions that God has made; faith that reaches out beyond the things of time and sense; faith whose horizons are not limited by hills and mountains or walls; faith that lays hold of the Throne of God and makes those unknowable, unfathomable spiritual things his very own.