Hebrews 4:9

Saturday, 29 September 2018

There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. Hebrews 4:9

The same word translated in verse 4:6 as “remains” is used again here. There it said, “Since it therefore remains that some must enter it.” This was speaking of God’s rest. Now the author clearly and concisely states what he has so methodically been building up to by saying, “There remains therefore.” The author, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says unambiguously that the day, called Today, still allows for obtaining what was once denied, which is “a rest for the people of God.” Further, as Charles Ellicott says, “It is tacitly assumed that no subsequent fulfillment has altered the relation of the promise.”

As noted in the comments of verse 4:6, what this means is “that which was available in past times still remains available.” Because it is promised, and because the promise was not laid hold of, the promise remains unappropriated. And though unappropriated, it is also not retracted. What is not noticeable in the English, but which blazes forth in the Greek, is that the word for “rest” is not the same as has been used thus far. The word is sabbatismos, a Sabbatism. It is an emphatic verbal noun which occurs only this once in all of the Bible. It is a derivation of the word sabbaton, or Sabbath day. Thus, it signifies (as some translations more appropriately translate it) a keeping of “Sabbath-rest.”

This then takes the thought all the way back to Genesis 2:2 where God is said to have “rested” on the seventh day. The word is shabath, the verb from which the idea expressed in the noun Sabbath is derived. God rested, implying He had a rest. It is this rest that has remained unappropriated but not retracted. But to whom is this directed? It is a Sabbatism “for the people of God.” The question then is, “who is this referring to?” Many Christian scholars say that it is a type of heaven for the church, or the “true Israel.”

However, it has already been seen that those who believe have entered their rest. It is a place of rest which is granted by faith in Christ. No distinction can be made between Jew and Gentile. It simply says that those who believe have entered. And yet, there is the unappropriated offer of entering into God’s rest for the people of God. This term is notably used in the New Testament, with certain exception when speaking of the Gentile-led church, to speak of Israel.

Thus, it is not a “spiritual Israel” that has replaced the people of Israel, but actually the people known as Israel. Speaking of the literal people of Israel, Paul uses the term “His people” in Romans 11:1 & 2. The author of Hebrews, speaking of the “house of Israel and the house of Judah,” uses the term in Hebrews 8:10. He also calls Israel “the people of God” in Hebrews 11:25. Peter informs his Jewish audience that they “once were not a people but are now the people of God.”

The implication is that they were rejected by God, but then after that rejection, they are once again called as His people. Even Paul, in Galatians 6:16, speaks of the “Israel of God.” That does not refer to Gentiles who have replaced Israel, but rather those Israelites who have come to Christ in contradistinction to those Jews who have not. And finally, the audience of the book of Hebrews is the Hebrew people. The overwhelming evidence then points to the subject of this verse now as the Jewish people. It is they who are being referred to.

The rest which remains for them, that of the true rest found in Christ Jesus, remains open to them. With this understanding, this does not negate that Gentiles are included in this. Anyone who believes in Christ Jesus’ finished work is granted this rest. But the context is that the “people of God” being referred to are the people of Israel. It is they who were with Joshua (verse 4:8), and it is they to whom the psalmist wrote the words of the 95th Psalm.

Life application: The rest of God which has been from the foundation of the world is a rest which can be entered into by trusting in the completed work of Jesus Christ. It is He, and only He, who makes this possible. One cannot earn heaven by taking a weekly Sabbath, nor can one earn heaven by refraining from eating certain meats. One is not granted heaven because he is circumcised. The only way one can enter into this blessed state is to trust that Christ did all of these things already. He has merited for us what we could never do. Trust in the Lord, and enter into His rest.

Glorious God, why do we always attempt to merit Your favor through external rites? “Keep the Sabbath.” “Don’t eat that type of food.” “Cut your flesh to stand approved.” None of those things can bring us a step closer to You because we are already infected with sin. Only Jesus, born without sin, and who fulfilled the law on our behalf, can make us right with You. May we rest in Him alone, never trusting in our own deeds as a means of attaining that which You offer through grace. Amen.

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