A Further Warning against Unbelief. Heb. 4, 1-10.

The promise still in force: V.1. Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any one of you should seem to come short of it. V.2. For unto us was the Gospel preached as well as unto them; but the Word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. V.3. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as He said, As I have sworn in My wrath, if they shall enter into My rest; although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. The inspired writer here continues his warning based upon the incidents of the journey in the wilderness: Let us, then, fear, lest perchance, there still remaining a promise of entering into His rest, one of you may seem to have come short of it. To work out their own salvation with fear and trembling is a duty incumbent upon all Christians, Phil. 2, 12. The life of the believers may not be spent in a carnal, false security, with the idea that they can live and act as they please, still cherishing their pet sins. The situation is rather this, that the believers are assured in the Gospel, by the promise of God, that there is a rest remaining for them. This is extending the promise of mere temporal blessings, such as the peace in the Land of Promise here on earth, to include the eternal rest with the Lord in heaven above. God wants all men to enter into the salvation prepared for His own in the mansions above, and His particularly urgent plea goes out to those that have accepted the hope and guarantee of the life to come by faith. Every believer, therefore, will take heed for himself, and the entire congregation of believers will watch carefully, lest by some temptation of Satan one of them should be in danger of losing the coveted prize, or should believe himself to be too late for its attainment.

We should not resemble the Israelites in their unbelief in the Word of God, as the writer wishes to emphasize: For indeed we, as also they, have had a Gospel preached to us, but the Word of their hearing did not profit them, because it was not thoroughly mixed with faith in those that heard it. The promise of God even to the children of Israel did not merely embrace the promise of the possession of Canaan, but also that of the blessings of the Messiah. The redeeming grace and favor of God had been proclaimed to them at various times; the promise given to Abraham that in him and in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed was their precious heritage, whose significance was also understood by their teachers. But all this glorious proclamation did them no good. They heard it, indeed, it was passed on from father to son, but it was not mixed with faith in their hearts, they did not place their hope of salvation in its gracious promises, and so it really profited them nothing. The fault thus lay not with God, for He had provided for the proclamation of the Gospel-message, but with themselves; they lost the blessings of the promise by their unbelief, Hos. 13, 9.

This warning example the believers of all times should therefore keep in mind, that they may become and remain partakers of the blessing: For we do enter into the rest, we that have believed, as He says, As I swore in My anger, they shall never enter into My rest; although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. The solemn oath of God by which He denied certain people entrance into His rest was directed against the unbelievers. So far as the believers are concerned, if they but remain true to their faith and confidence in the promises of the Gospel, they do enter, they are continually entering into the eternal rest above. One by one, as the Lord calls them home, they leave the scenes of their earthly pilgrimage and are received into the rest, into the peace of heaven. Note: Had it not been God’s gracious will and earnest desire to have all men saved, to have them all enter into His rest, it could not be said that He afterward, in wrath over the defection of some, had excluded them from the blessings intended also for them. Thus the failure of the unbelievers to obtain the blessings of the eternal rest was not due to the fact that the rest did not yet exist, for all of God’s works were finished when the world was founded. God had planned and provided for the eternal rest of His own when the foundations of the world were laid, and He wanted all men to enjoy the beauties and glories of this rest. This fact is of immeasurable comfort to the believers, since it gives them the assurance that God has the earnest, sincere desire and will to have all men saved. This is substantiated still more fully in the next paragraph.

The rest remaining to the people of God: V.4. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest on the seventh day from all His works. V.5. And in this place again, if they shall enter into My rest. V.6. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief; v.7. again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, Today, after so long a time; as it is said, Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts. V.8. For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of an other day. V.9. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. V.10. for he that is entered into His rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His. The fact that all the works of God, including the eternal rest in the mansions above, were finished from the foundation of the world, is here substantiated from Holy Writ: For He spoke somewhere concerning the seventh day thus, And God rested on the seventh day from all His works, Gen. 2, 2. Note that God is distinctly named as the Author of this passage as well as the next. The argument is that, if God rested from all His works, then that of preparing the rest here spoken of must also have been finished. Not only was the earth, as the footstool of the Lord, created and filled with the glories of His goodness, but the heaven itself was at that time united in fellowship with the earth in a paradise which should have lasted forever. The blessed rest of God was ready for all men when the works of creation were finished. This appears also from the passage to which the inspired writer has alluded throughout his argument: They shall never enter into My rest, Ps. 95, 11. For these words prove that God had a rest, and that He had intended this rest for all men, the disobedience and unbelief of certain men making it necessary for the Lord to exclude them from the salvation which His gracious will wanted to give them. Thus the Lord did not withdraw His rest from mankind because of sin, the promise of this rest being rather based upon Christ Jesus the Redeemer, but He is obliged to deny its blessings to the unbelievers, since unbelief rejects the proffered grace and prefers to live without God’s blessings.

The inspired author therefore returns to his argument: Since, then, it remains that some should enter into it, and they to whom the good news was first proclaimed did not enter on account of their unbelief, He again fixes a certain day, Today, saying in David, and after so long a time, as has been stated before, Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts. From the passages quoted it is clear that the rest of God’s salvation is still there, that it is reserved for some to enter into, that the promises of God stand secure, that God has not changed His will or mind with reference to the enjoyment which men should have in the bliss above. In this knowledge and belief we should not be shaken by the fact that they who first had the opportunity of hearing the good news, the Gospel-message as given to the patriarchs, did not enter into the rest of the Lord, for this was due entirely to their unbelief. In addition to these facts, however, the certainty that some must enter into the eternal rest is supported also by the repetition of the promise. For many years after the days of Moses, in the time of David, through the mouth of David, God again fixed a day when men should enter into His rest. It is the same passage upon which the inspired writer has based his arguments throughout this long section. With the eternal God “today” is not confined to the time of Moses, nor to that of David, but extends to Christian times and includes the period of God’s gracious dispensation till the end of the world. Israel came short of the rest through unbelief; we do enter it who believe.

Lest some reader now raise the objection that the rest referred to in the quotation from Psalm 95 was that of Canaan only, the author guards against this misunderstanding: For if Joshua had brought them to their rest, He would not speak after these events of another day. It is true, of course, that Joshua, through the victories over the tribes of Canaan, gained possession of the Promised Land. But that this rest and peace is not completely covered by, is not identical with, the rest proclaimed in the Gospel-promise by Moses, is evident from the fact that the Lord, long after these events had taken place, had the prophet record the passage in which He referred to a today which manifestly was not covered by the period of the conquest of Canaan, by which Joshua brought the people to rest in the land of their fathers. The inspired writer, therefore, once more reaches the conclusion or statement which he had placed at the head of the discussion as a topic: There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God. The rest appointed to the saints is characterized by the name “Sabbath-rest,” to indicate that it is like that and belongs to that which God Himself entered into on the seventh day, Gen. 2, 2. It is the rest of perfect happiness and contentment, of a bliss immeasurable and unspeakable, in the presence of God and of Jesus Christ. There can be no doubt that this rest is meant in the passage upon which the author’s entire argument is based. The great Sabbath-rest is appointed to the people of God; it is secure, safe. For all those that belong to the people of God it is safe, whom Jesus has brought back into that blessed fellowship with God that was intended for all men at the beginning. For them all, for all believers, the rest of God is an eternal Sabbath reserved for them in heaven.

It is God’s rest in which man is to share also in another respect: For he that enters into His rest himself also rests from his works, just as God did from His. Even as God, at the end of creation, entered into His rest and is even now resting from all the works which He made, so those that become partakers of this rest by faith will rest from their labors, Matt. 25, 35-40; Rev. 14, 13. All the works of the believers, weak and sinful as they are in themselves, yet are consecrated by the fact that they are performed in the name of Jesus, to the glory of God. In this respect the rest of eternity will be a reward of grace. And a rest it will be for the believers, at any rate, because it will mean a deliverance from all evil, from all tribulations, trials, temptations, afflictions, miseries of this earthly life, from all cares and pains and distresses peace, perfect peace, in the presence of God. Therefore the Christian’s heart, as St. Augustine says, is not content till it rests in the Lord throughout eternity.

Boldness in Faith in Our High Priest. Heb. 4, 11-16.

The power of God’s Word in the face of unbelief: V.11. Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. V.12. For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. V.13. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight; but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. The exhortation follows naturally from the exposition: Let us, then, earnestly strive to enter into that rest, lest any one fall in the same sort of unbelief. Christians should be eager, they should make every effort, they should strive with all the power of their regenerated heart to enter into that rest which is held out before them by the promise of God. The children of Israel in the wilderness had the Word of God proclaimed to them; the promise of salvation had been held out to them by Moses, but they had refused to heed and obey, they had not believed the precious and glorious message. Their behavior, therefore, will serve as a warning example for all times, to keep men from becoming guilty of a like transgression and being rejected by God as disobedient and unbelieving children.

For this matter is not to be thought of lightly, as the sacred writer proceeds to show: For living is the Word of God and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, and penetrating to the very division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and judging the conceptions and ideas of the heart. If the message of salvation were a dead, ineffective sound, an unbeliever might have the excuse that he had gotten no value out of his hearing the Word. But we are told that the Word of God is living, instinct with the wonderful life of its source, full of quickening power, John 6, 63; 1 Pet. 1, 23. It is in itself active, effective, energetic, able to carry out the work which it was intended to do, Jer. 23, 29; Rom. 1, 16. It is keener, sharper than any two-edged sword, Rev. 1, 16; 2, 12; Eph. 6, 17. Its penetrating power is so great that it pierces to the very division of soul and spirit: it cuts apart, it makes a clear line of division between the old natural and the new spiritual life of a man, just as a Damascus blade will cleave the joints and lay bare the marrow of the bones, Acts 2, 37. The entire passage is figurative, of course, the writer’s object being to produce an effect by the rhetorical fullness of the expression. In plain words, as he adds, the Word of God judges the conceptions and ideas of the heart. The innermost ideas and deepest movements of the heart are open before the all-seeing eye of God and before the omniscience of His Word, John 3, 20. 21; 1 Cor. 14, 24. 25. There is nothing hidden before the proclamation of God’s will, both the holy and just will and the good and gracious will; He knows our hearts far better than we ourselves know them, and His Word opens up to us hidden depths of which we ourselves never dreamed.

The emphasis is continued in the next verse: And no created thing is unrevealed before Him, but all things lie naked and exposed before His eyes with whom is our reckoning. The figure used by the inspired writer at this point is that of a sacrificial animal whose head was bent back and then cut open, exposing the interior to the inspection of the priest. The person who fatuously believes that he is able to keep some transgression, some sinful condition hidden before the eyes of God and the penetrating power of His Word, is deceiving himself. No man may forget for any length of time that there will be a final reckoning, at which time all the hypocrisy and deceit practiced by men will be exposed and laid bare in all its hideous nakedness. Knowing this, we Christians will certainly abstain from all attempts at deceiving the omniscient Lord and strive with all earnestness to enter into that rest which is prepared for us in the mansions of our Lord. For how can we escape if we neglect so great salvation? Chap. 2, 3.

The encouragement offered by our great High Priest: V.14. Seeing, then, that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. V.15. For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. V.16. Let us therefore come boldly unto the Throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. The picture which the inspired writer had just drawn of the omniscience of God as revealed through His Word might well cause the average reader to quail in terror, feeling his own insignificance in the face of such divine perfection, his own sinfulness in the face of such divine holiness. But here is a comforting reassurance for all poor sinners: Since, then, we have a great High Priest, who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. The author never loses sight of the fact that Jesus the Savior is his great topic, chap. 1, 2. 3; 2, 17; 3, 1, and that the preaching of the Gospel of salvation is the only way of working faith. Of Jesus it is truly said that He passed through the heavens. For just as the high priest of the Old Testament passed through the forecourts and behind the veil to reach the Holy of Holies in the Temple, so Jesus passed through the heavens and appeared among eternal realities in the very throne-room of God. We know that this our High Priest is pleading for us the atonement made during His whole life and completed on Calvary's hill, and that the Father cannot withstand the pleading of this Advocate. And what better and more cogent argument could be devised to keep us in the confession of His holy name, in our Christian profession, than this saving knowledge?

This encouragement is further confirmed: For we have not a High Priest unable to have sympathy with our weaknesses, but tempted in all things like us, without sin. This is one special point of human interest that tends to draw our hearts to this great High Priest. He was and is flesh of our flesh, true man. And during His earthly life He underwent the severest temptations that have ever come upon any man. It was not merely that the temptation came near Him without really assailing Him. It was rather so that His entire being, body and soul, was sometimes shaken to the very depths, as when He declared His soul to be exceeding sorrowful unto death, and when He found Himself forsaken of His heavenly Father, not to speak of the attacks of the devil which beset Him time and again. Cp. Matt. 4, 1-11; Luke 4, 1-13; Matt. 16, 21-23; 27, 45. 46; Ps. 22, 2-21. So He can indeed be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, He can indeed have sympathy with our weaknesses; He knows what it means for weak flesh and blood to battle with dangerous enemies. Since, however, in His case He passed through all temptations without sin, He is able to be our High Priest and Advocate with the Father.

This fact should therefore serve as an inducement to us to place all our trust in Him with all cheerfulness: Let us, then, approach with confidence to the Throne of Grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace for help in time of need. Ordinarily no sinner would dare to come near to the holy and righteous God. Through the merit of Jesus, however, we are enabled to enter upon this act of worship, that of approaching the very throne of the great God Himself, with all cheerfulness and confidence. For it is not that we intend to urge any merit on our part in vindication of ourselves, but that we know we may obtain mercy, the free favor of God, that we shall find grace, God’s free love. In all hours of trial and affliction, then, when we feel so sorely in need of some comfort that cannot be challenged and doubted, we have this fact to rely upon, that our High Priest has perfected a full and complete reconciliation, and that God no longer is angry with us, but will accept us with all the kindness of a fatherly heart and give to us all that we need for the enjoyment of eternal bliss in His presence. Thus both the assurance of pardon and of divine assistance is ours, and we may go on through life in the cheerfulness of faith, knowing that the rest of the Lord awaits us at the end of the course, when He takes us home.

Summary. The sacred writer continues his warning against unbelief by showing that the promise of God is still in force, that there is still a rest remaining to the people of God; he points out the power of God’s Word, and shows that we may boldly approach the throne of God in reliance upon the mercy earned by our great High Priest.