No rest for the wicked! So the old-fashioned saying goes! It is actually a quote from the last verses of Isaiah chapters 48, 57, and 66. But it is also a development of Psalm 95 that is referenced here.
The term ‘Rest’ might have meant the seventh day of creation, when God rested from his creation work. But that rest had already happened when Psalm 95 had occurred.
Therefore ‘Rest’ could have referred to the leaving of the wilderness after 40 years and finally entering the Promised Land. But that great occasion – assisted by Joshua – was also long past when King David wrote the psalm.
The ‘Rest’ that Hebrews refers to, therefore, is targeted at God-fearing Jews who are working hard at obeying the Law of Moses in order to obtain their salvation. Verses 9 – 11 tell them (and us): “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience”. These Jewish believers, dithering at the boundary of faith-salvation in Christ, were being encouraged to ‘push through’ and accept their eternal rest, rather than give up and reject God’s ultimate Land of Promise! They must put aside forever their reliance upon works to provide them with righteousness and put on the faith in the Only One who was able to do just that!
“The Word of God is living and active… It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart… Nothing is hidden…We must give an account” (vv12-13). Jesus is, of course, the Living Word (John 1:1, 14), but the gospel preached, and the scriptures written, are both witnesses of our obedience or our rebellion. They will be testifying in court at the Final Judgment!
At the end of this chapter begins a huge section in Hebrews (4:14 – 7:28) that shows Christ’s superiority over Aaron’s priesthood. We have a High Priest who truly understands our situation, because he has been with us and suffered in every way that we do. However, he was sinless too. By contrast the Aaronic priesthood was both aloof and corrupt by the time that Hebrews was written. We today can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence that mercy (absence of deserved punishment) and grace (undeserved gifts) will be given us in abundance! So let’s honour God with the greatness of our requests, rather than insult him with their littleness (although we can and should ask him for anything and everything).