“Rest” in the book of Hebrews

Hebrews on “rest”

            The book of Hebrews states that those who are faithful will enter into God’s rest, but over time the location of that “rest” has changed significantly. 

            Rest is defined as “noun- the act or state of resting; cessation from labor, a place of repose or quiet; a stopping place; abode; verb- to rely; trust; base, as hope; be founded on or depend on,” (Funk & Wagnalls 997).  To do justice to the state of being in God’s “rest” we need to go back to the first reference to God’s rest, which is in Genesis 2.2-3.  In this case God completed His creation work in six days, and on the seventh day He rested from His work.  This shows that all of His labor was finished.  He no longer had to complete or work on anything.  A short time later Abraham was told by God to leave his homeland and travel to Canaan (Gen. 12.1-5).  This is significant because later Moses was to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land, which is in Canaan (Exo. 3.17).  Twelve spies were sent into the Promised Land, and only two believed God’s promise of conquest; Joshua and Caleb (Num. 13.30; 14.6).  As a result of this disobedience only Joshua and Caleb were allowed to enter the “rest” in Canaan (Num. 14.24; Josh. 1.2).  This “rest” was not complete though, because the land was still filled with the enemy.  Later David spoke of a “rest” and he warned the people of his generation not to make the same mistake as those that failed to enter Canaan (Ps. 95.8-11). 

            This brings us to the book of Hebrews where the term “rest” is implemented again in chapter four.  The author points out to the audience that there is a promise of rest for them.  The audience is warned that if they are unbelieving they will not enter the rest provided by God (Heb. 4.1-2).  The example of the disobedient and unbelieving Israelites is given (Heb. 4.2).  “Having shown the cause of the failure on the part of those Israelites who perished in the desert, he here proceeds to point out the similarity of the condition of those to whom he wrote, and their consequent exposure to the same error and ruin,” (Seiss 80).  The Israelites did not believe the promises of God concerning “rest” that were given through Moses, and now the audience of Hebrews is in danger of not believing the promises of God through Christ.  “It is in this fourth chapter of the Epistle that the writer treats the “rest of faith” as an important and scriptural aspect of a holy life,” (Orton 121).  The author builds a strong base for his warning to the present generation by citing the previous example of the disobedient Israelites not entering God’s “rest” in Canaan (Heb. 3.7-19).  That generation had to go through the desert for the possibility of entering God’s rest, which is very similar to this present audience living out their days on earth before possibly entering God’s rest.  In both situations the people had to believe God’s promise to enter His rest, but those in unbelief will not. 

            The generation that failed to enter into Canaan was set free from the land of Egypt and their oppressor Pharaoh (Exo. 14.30-31).  “They were redeemed both by blood and by power.  The blood of the lamb sprinkled on the doorposts of their houses saved them from sharing the divine judgment on Egypt and the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea and its convenient return to drown the Egyptians saved them from the power of Pharaoh,” (Hession 29).  The redemption of those in the audience of the book of Hebrews was accomplished through the blood of the lamb, which is Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1.19-23).  The author of Hebrews points out that after the Israelites were freed from Egypt, they refused to enter Canaan even though they were promised rest in the land (Heb. 3.7-11).  Instead of believing God’s promise, they wanted to go back to their former lives in Egypt (Num. 14.4).  The author draws the same parallel with those in his audience.  They have been freed from sin, death, and Hell by the blood of Christ.  Now they are approaching their rest, but the journey of life is not so easy for them.  As a result of this difficulty in life (Heb. 12.1; 13.6), they are contemplating returning to their former lives in Judaism (Heb. 3.12-13).  The Israelites and the Hebrews were both given promises by God (4.2), but the promise made to the Israelites was not received in faith and believed.  The audience of Hebrews is now standing at the border of “Canaan” and they have received the report of the spies (the Word of God), and now they are to make the decision of whether or not they believe God’s promise. 

            There are a few different aspects to this rest that is provided through Jesus Christ.  “There is a rest which is the result of receiving Christ by faith, another rest which comes only as we walk obediently to His Word, and a future rest which awaits all God’s people after this life is over,” (DeHaan 66). God’s rest on the seventh day was the result of His completion of creation.  The rest in Canaan was to be one that no longer included slavery, and endless amounts of work.  But neither of these rests are what the author of Hebrews has in mind (Heb. 4.8).  The author points out the evidence for a future rest because of David’s mention of “Today” (Heb. 4.7).  This means that as David says, and that author of Hebrews says, that there will soon be a day when God will no longer offer “rest” (Ps. 95.7; Heb. 3.12-14).  Disqualification from entering the rest occurs when the heart is hardened.  “The prophet calls on his countrymen not to be inattentive, unbelieving, impenitent, and disobedient, as their ancestors were ‘in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness’” (Brown 173).  “God spoke of rest through David, implying that up till that time the long promised rest had not come, at least in satisfying measure.  Therefore a rest remains for Christians,” (Bruce 158).

            Every person who trusts Christ as their personal Savior, is no longer an enemy of God, but now a child of God (Rom. 5.1, 9-11; Col. 1.20-22).  They not only have peace with God the Father through the blood of Christ, but now they have peace of mind (Phil. 4.7).  This seems to be a form of rest, but this peace does not seem to be the final rest that God promised to His children.  The reason for this is that this peace is earthly and temporal.  The word used for rest in verse nine is the Greek word sabbatismos and not the word katapausis (which is used previously in verses 1, 3, 4, 5, and 8).  Sabbatismos is not the ordinary word used for ‘sabbath’ either, but is derived from sabbaton and refers the celebration of the sabbath, or the Sabbath’s joyful rest.  It is used here then because, the case having been proved that there is another rest beyond God’s creation-rest and the Canaan-rest, declaration is thus made that a different and better rest, a heavenly rest, is forthcoming,” (English 119).  “This passage focuses primarily on the image of a Sabbath celebration in God’s resting place,” (Dictionary of the Later New Testament 895).  The rest that Joshua had given the Israelites was earthly and temporal.  But the rest that comes through Jesus is heavenly and eternal.  “Jesus is here placed in strong contrast to Joshua, who had not brought God’s people into their rest; and Jesus having entered into this Sabbatism, it is reserved for us, the people of God, to enter into it with Him and because of Him,” (Mantle 60). 

            Verse ten declares that the person who has entered God’s rest has rested from his works, just like God did when He finished creation.  Jesus said that He has gone to prepare a place for us in His Father’s house, so that we as children of God will be able to go there some day (Jn. 14.2-3).  This is the final rest of all believers, the Father’s house.  It is hard to tell if verse ten is explicitly the final rest of all believers.  It could be the reality that as a result of receiving salvation through Christ, the believer has ceased to work for salvation.  Possibly it refers to believers who have died, and now are in Heaven no longer working but praising God.  Lastly, it could refer to Christ being received into Heaven having completed His cross-work (Kent 86-87).  There is a problem with this last view, Christ is constantly making intercession for the children of God (Heb. 4.14-16).  He is not at rest completely.  The idea in view seems to be a combination of the first two options, and a distinction does not necessarily need to be made either.  If you have entered Christ’s salvation rest, you will ultimately enter into the Father’s final rest in Heaven. 

            Verse eleven encourages all believers to make sure that they will enter into God’s rest, and not to repeat the mistakes of those who failed to enter into Canaan.  “The verb translated strive (KJV) here means to make haste, to be in earnest, to concentrate one’s energies on the achievement of a goal,” (Hughes 162).  The author of Hebrews declares that all “believers” including himself should make absolutely sure that they are entering into the rest that God is providing.  Paul gives the same admonition, make sure that you are truly saved (Phil. 2.12).  “The issue is eternal in its consequences, for the sole alternative to entry is exclusion.  Hence the need to be serious and, like the apostle Paul, to stretch out for what lies ahead and press toward the goal of God’s heavenly rest (Phil. 3.13),” (Hughes 162). 

            Verses twelve and thirteen are included by the author of Hebrews to remind the audience that if they are not entering into God’s rest, they are only fooling themselves.  God knows who belongs to Him, and who does not belong to Him.  God’s Word reveals what is in the hearts of men.  “It is no mere figure of speech, but just as soul and spirit of this verse denotes different parts of man, so the body is, as it were, opened up, even in both joints and marrow, by the judging, living Word of God,” (Newell 139).  

            Verse fourteen is the capstone on the idea of entering into God’s rest.  Jesus Christ is the High Priest who intercedes with God the Father on our behalf.  He is greater than any other intercessor who has ever been, and the only intercessor that there will be since His ascension to the right hand of the Father.  He is a High Priest forever (Heb. 5.5-6), and He has entered into the Heavens (Heb. 4.14).  This attests to the power that Christ has, He is subordinate to no one (Rom. 14.11).  Therefore the salvation that His death, burial, and resurrection has attained is more than sufficient to save men from their sins (Heb. 10.10).  He will return someday to take those that have accepted by faith the salvation that He offers, which will cause them to remain faithful until His return (Heb. 3.6).  At that time He will take them to the place that He has prepared for them in His Father’s house (Jn. 14.2-3). 

            After studying this passage and works that were written on this subject, I believe that the rest that is spoken of in Hebrews 4.9 is the final Heavenly rest that is provided for all believers.  The only way to enter into this rest is to accept salvation from your sins through the blood of Christ, and as a result of this internal spiritual change that the Holy Spirit has caused, you will be enable to live faithfully until the return of Christ (Eph. 2.10; Phil. 2.13). 




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De Haan, M. R. Hebrews: Twenty-Six Studies in God’s Plan for Victorious Living.

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Hession, Roy. From Shadow to Substance. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House,



Hughes, Philip E. A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews.  Grand Rapids:

            William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977.


Kent, Homer A., jr. The Epistle to the Hebrews: a Commentary. Grand Rapids:

            Baker Book House, 1972.


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Martin, Ralph P., Peter H. Davids. Dictionary of the Later New Testament. 

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Newell, William R. Hebrews, verse by verse. Chicago: Moody Press, 1947.

  Seiss, Joseph A. Lectures on Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1954.  Wiley, H. Orton. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1959.

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