Studies In Hebrews #5
by Alex D. Ogden

Our Promised Rest (4:1-13)

Chapter 3 dealt with how a generation of the Israelites were not able to enter into their promised rest, the land of Canaan, because of unbelief. This unbelief caused them to be disobedient to the will of God (3:18). The Hebrew writer used these facts to emphasize to his readers the importance of taking heed and exhorting one another day by day (3:12,13) so they would not become guilty of the same under a system far superior to that of old.

He continues the thought into chapter 4 of entering into a promised rest. The promise of rest for the Israelites was fulfilled when they took possession of the land of Canaan. But a promised rest yet remained (4:1). David referred to this rest long after Israel entered Canaan (4:7,8). The reader is encouraged to have fear lest they fall short of this promised rest.

What is the "rest" which is yet promised the people of God? We have seen before that the rest a generation of Jews were not able to enter was the promised land of Canaan. But it seems there is another rest they were not able to enter into because of their unbelief. Verse 6 points out that there remains a rest which some should enter into, which rest the Israelites failed to enter because of disobedience. But what was the "rest" they could not enter which is yet promised God's people? In verse 3 the writer quotes Psalms 95:11 where God refers to this rest as "my rest". In what sense does God speak of "my rest"? Does it simply mean "the rest which I bestow" or does it mean "the rest which I myself enjoy"? I believe it refers to the later. In verse 4 the author refers to Genesis 2:2,3 where God is said to have "rested on the seventh day from all his works". He entered into rest upon completion of the creation, which rest continues even unto now (cf.4:3). He then quotes again from Psalms 95:11: "They shall not enter into my rest". In other words, they not only were not able to enter into the promised land of Canaan because of their unbelief, but they were also not able to share in the rest which God enjoys. Had they believed and obeyed the Lord's will, they would have entered the promised land as well as entered His rest upon their deaths. The "rest" which is yet being promised to the people of God is the same rest which He entered into upon completion of the creation. The fact we enter into this rest after death is seen from verse 10.

This message of "good tidings" had been preached unto them (4:2), as it has also been preached unto us and as it had been preached to the Jews of old. The Jews heard the message of the promised rests, yet they failed to have the message, heard and understood, mixed with a faith which would cause them to obey the Lord's will (cf.4:6). The message, then, did not profit them. For the message of a promised rest to be profitable to us we must hear and understand and believe to the point of obeying all the Lord wants us to do.

"The word of God", which a generation of Jews perished for not believing and which is preached to us today, is "living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (4:12,13). God's word has been revealed to tell us of His wonderful promise of rest. But we must believe AND obey to receive the promised rest. No one will be able to claim a right to the promised rest who does not have a genuine faith which caused them to want to obey all the Lord's desires. Stripped of the ability to appear to be something that we aren't, we are utterly at the mercy of God. Therefore, "let us...give diligence to enter into that rest" (4:11).

Jesus, A Great High Priest (4:14-5:10)

The high priesthood of Jesus was first mentioned in 2:17 where He was shown to be a merciful and faithful high priest. It was briefly mentioned again in 3:1. Our writer now brings us back to this subject.

In the earlier passages He was merely referred to as a high priest. In this passage He is referred to as "a great high priest". This greatness is demonstrated in several ways. First, His priesthood is great because He "hath passed through the heavens" (4:14). The high priest of the Mosaic system passed through the veil into the most holy place to offer the blood of an animal sacrifice. Jesus, however, passed through the heavens into God's very presence. Having made a sacrifice of Himself He offered His own blood to the Father (cf.9:11-14,24-26). Second, Jesus' priesthood is great because He "hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (4:15). Having been made a man like each of us (cf.2:9,14-18), He is able to understand our plight and help us accordingly. Third, Jesus' priesthood is great because He is fully qualified. The qualifications for a high priest are given for us in 5:1-4. A high priest must be (a) able to sympathize with those whom he represents. In being able to sympathize with those whom he represents it is necessary that he be a man (5:1). Aaron and his successors, who represented the nation of Israel in the presence of God, were themselves Israelites, exposed to the same pressures and trials. They were to have inward feelings which were in keeping with their sacred work (5:2). Feelings of mercy, compassion and gentleness. In the days of our Lord these personal qualities were lacking in the high priests. They were more concerned with themselves and other things rather than bearing "gently with the ignorant and erring". Our author has already made it quit clear Christ meets this qualification (cf.2:14-18). A high priest must also be (b) divinely appointed to his office. No man of his own accord could rightly set himself up as high priest. Aaron, the first of Israel's high priests, occupied his office by divine appointment (Ex.28:1ff; Lev.8:1ff; Num.16:1; 17:5; 18:1ff; Ps.105:26), and so did his heirs and successors (Num.20:23ff; 25:10ff). "So Christ also glorified not himself to be made a high priest, but He that spake unto Him, Thou art my Son, This day have I begotten thee" (5:5). He was divinely appointed to serve as our high priest.

A high priest is to "offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins". He is to make offerings for the sins of the people he represents. Our high priest, Jesus Christ, has offered Himself for our sins. But the salvation this sacrifice brings is only for those who will "obey Him" (5:8,9). We must obey the will of our high priest before the sacrifice He has made will benefit us. This is easy to understand since we must have a faith that will cause us to obey the Lord before we can enter into God's rest (4:1,2,6).

The Danger Of Immaturity (5:11-6:8)

In discussing the high priesthood of Jesus the writer touched on the idea of Jesus being a high priest "after the order of Melchizedek" (5:6,10). He has "many things to say" about Melchizedek but feels hindered in doing so because his readers have "become dull of hearing" (5:11). He thus takes the time to address the dangers of such a condition.

Their spiritual immaturity resulted from their laziness. "By reason of the time" they should have grown to be teachers of the word but were, rather, still in need for someone to teach them the basics of the faith (5:12). When we first obeyed the gospel we were not expected to be able to begin right away teaching others the gospel. We were expected to partake of the simple things of God's word (cf.1 Pet.2:1,2). By making constant use of these simple things we have our "senses exercised to discern good and evil" and we become full-grown children of God (5:13,14). Within a reasonable period of time each child of God should be able to teach the "good tidings" (4:2). A sad picture indeed is the person who has been a Christian for several years and is still unable to teach God's plan for salvation to a lost friend. But this is the picture of the original readers of Hebrews. Since they were yet immature, they are encouraged to leave the "doctrine of the first principles of Christ" and "press on unto perfection" (6:1).

To stress even more the dangers involved, the author points out the consequences of spiritual immaturity if it continues uncorrected (6:4-8). He pictures a person who has experienced what it means to be a Christian, realizing the spiritual blessings they had received (6:4,5). To reject the blessings realized as a Christian is on a par with crucifying Jesus Christ again and putting Him to an open shame (6:6). The writer states the ramifications of such rejection -- "it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance". The impossibility of the situation is with man, not with God. God does not wish for any to perish (11 Pet.3:9). But having known and enjoyed the life of a Christian and knowingly and willingly rejected that life, what else is there to motivate such a person to repentance? There is clear danger in prolonged immaturity.

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This page was last updated on Friday, May 29, 1998.