Hebrews - Lesson 9
The author of Hebrews emphasizes the promise of rest for the people of God. He cites the example of God resting in Genesis 2:2 in contrast to Psalm 95.
I. Purpose and Process
A. Hebrews 4:1-2
B. Hebrews 4:3-11
C. Sabbath rest
Hebrews was written to give strong encouragement for those who were struggling in the Christian life, not primarily for the purpose of being a theological treatise for future generations. The main message of the author of Hebrews is, "God speaks effectively to us through Jesus."
The purpose of Hebrews is to encourage those who are faltering spiritually to endure in the faith. The author does this by exhorting people to put into practice his Christological teaching. Your endurance in the Christian life is going to be in direct proportion to the clarity with which you see Jesus and what he has accomplished on your behalf. The image you have of who Jesus was and why he came have radical implications for how you live and preach.
The Son is superior to the angels by virtue of his unique relationship to the father, by virtue of the inferior status of the angels, and by his exalted position as the Lord and creator of the universe.
The writer includes a section on exhortation in Hebrews 2:1-4 in the middle of a section in which he is emphasizing the position of the Son in relation to the angels. Jesus is superior to angels, those who rejected the law given through the angels were punished under the old covenant, those who reject the word of salvation given through the son deserve greater punishment.
The purpose of Hebrews 2:5-9 is a transition between the superiority of Jesus and the incarnation. The process the author uses is the quotation of Psalm 8.
The author of Hebrews focuses on the incarnation because he plans to show that Jesus is a high priest. When it says that Jesus was “perfected through suffering,” it was a path that Jesus had to travel all the way through to get to the point where he was all that the Father designed for him to be in terms of the author of our salvation. We have hope because Jesus has liberated us from the fear of death.
The first extended block of exhortation in Hebrews. The purpose is to focus on the faithfulness of Jesus. The process is comparing Jesus to Moses.
Having a hard heart means to set your will against the Lord’s will. An unbelieving heart means that you are refusing to think that God’s ways are the right ways. The result is that you turn away from the living God. It comes from a pattern of life that turns a deaf ear to God’s word.
The author of Hebrews emphasizes the promise of rest for the people of God. He cites the example of God resting in Genesis 2:2 in contrast to Psalm 95.
The concept of the word of God in the first century is a force or dynamic power, not just a word printed on a page. The word convicts of sin which means it moves us in life to different perspectives and ways of living. It reaches inside of us and sorts us out. Hebrews 4:14-16 is a warning passage.
The center point of the exhortation. In chapter 5, the author identifies the hearers’ problem as a lack of spiritual maturity. They are spiritually sluggish and have lost perspective on basic Christian teaching.
The Hebrews 6:4-8 is a warning about the consequences of rejecting Jesus.
The middle section of Hebrews focuses on Jesus as high priest. Hebrews 6:13-20 is both exhortation to persevere in the faith looking to Abraham as an example, and a transition back to a discussion of Christology focusing on Melchizedek.
Jesus is a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. The author of Hebrews continues where he left off in 5:10 by first arguing for the superiority of Melchizedek by reflecting on Old Testament passages that mention him.
This is a transitional passage linking the ideas of appointment of Jesus as high priest and the superior offering of Jesus.
The new covenant is superior to the old covenant.
The structure of the tabernacle shows that we could not get into God's presence on our own.
Christ’s offering superior to the offerings of the old covenant. It is the day of atonement offering made once for all time so all our sins are dealt with and we may enter the presence of God.
It is encouraging to realize how decisively your sins have been dealt with by the sacrifice of Christ. When you sin, you need to agree with God that it is sin and it has already been dealt with by Christ. If I am in covenant with Christ, I am not guilty before God. Jesus’ work as high priest is what allows me to come into God’s presence.
“Let us draw near,” “Let us hold fast,” “Let us consider.” We should live in community in such a way that we are stirring up so that the end result is that we are doing good works in the context of love. We should not forsake assembling. We should stir each other up to love and good works. These should both happen “in light of” the return of Jesus. It is important to learn theology in community.
If we deliberately go on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there is no longer a sacrifice for sin. It’s referring someone who continues to reject the gospel. Contrasts the righteous who live by faith and the wicked who reject God by quoting Isaiah 26:20-21 and Habbakkuk 2:3-4.
Two literary devices used in Hebrews chapter 11 are the author’s use of “by faith” repeatedly for emphasis and the “example list” used for exhortation, not exposition. It encourages people to action by using overwhelming evidence. They were successful in spite of the difficulties they faced as marginalized people. Faith is not leaping out against the evidence. It is standing confidently based on what God has revealed to be true.
We look at Jesus in his exaltation to see his position as the superior high priest and thereby gives us stability, and in his incarnation because we follow his example of endurance. In a normal father-son relationship, the father disciplines the son. As children, we respected our earthly fathers. The goal of discipline is to produce holiness.
The author draws theological strands together to give a theological exhortation in a unique form to emphasize the power and blessings of the new covenant. A new covenant community is characterized by the active presence of God, joy and grace. The chapter finishes with a warning passage.
The essence of the community won’t change over time because Christ doesn’t change. As we are building bridges of communication to people in the culture, we are called to be distinct from the culture. The distinctness should not come from cultural trappings, but from identifying with Jesus and the gospel over and against the world system.
As Dr. Guthrie interacts with each verse, he explores not only the meaning of the text, but how we apply the theology of the text in our daily lives and ministries.
Lecture: Hebrews 4:1-11
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.” Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 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.
I. Purpose and Process
He is changing from this negative example of the people in the wilderness to the positive promise of rest for the people of God. The logic of this passage in terms of process he uses verbal analogy and pulling in Genesis 2:2. He is playing off of Psalm 95 also. Genesis 2:2 has the concept of rest in it. There are some interesting things in terms of the text here. There are some places in reference to the textual tradition in which the emphasis is not on the seventh day, but instead on the sixth day because they didn’t want to give the impression that God finished his work on the seventh day. The author is focusing on this concept of rest. He is going to use this in order to define what they failed to enter as in Psalm 95. We need to follow the logic in the passage because it has a very detailed development.
A. Hebrews 4:1-2
1 φοβηθώμεν (We should fear) ούν (then,) μήποτε (lest at any time,) καταλειπομένης (being left behind) επαγγελίας (of the promise) εισελθείν (to enter) εις (into) την κατάπαυσιν αυτού (his rest,) δοκή (should seem) τις (any) εξ (of) υμών (you) υστερηκέναι (to fail.)
2 και γαρ (For even) εσμεν (we are) ευηγγελισμένοι (being announced good news,) καθάπερ (just as) κακείνοι (those also;) αλλ (but) ουκ (did not) ωφέλησεν (benefit) ο (the) λόγος (word) της (of the) ακοής (report) εκείνους (those,) μη (not) συγκεκραμένους (being mixed together) τη (in the) πίστει (belief) τοις (to the ones) ακούσασιν (having heard.)
These two verses are transitional; they contain elements of negative examples that we saw in the previous passage and elements of the promise of rest that still remain for the people of God. The concept of fear in this passage concerns a healthy spiritual attitude in which we are intensely concerned not to miss what God has for us. It seems that some of you have fallen short of it. The construction in this sentence is a genitive absolute; it is a sort of temporal idea in while the promise remains we will enter into his rest. It seems that some of you have fallen short. There is a textual question in verse 2; for we are the ones having had the good news preached to us, even as they did. However, it didn’t benefit them. It could read in not being joined with the ones hearing by faith. This is one way to read it. Who would this be talking about? Who are those who heard in faith? It didn’t benefit those who fell in the wilderness because they were not joined with those who heard the Word of God in faith. This would be Caleb and Joshua. There are a lot of variations within this text. The other possibility; you take it as the Word of hearing, not being joined with faith in those who heard. For those who heard the Word preached that in them they didn’t combine the Word of hearing with faith. They didn’t add faith to the hearing of God. Implication wise, you have a very similar point being made. Either I am joining those who are standing in faith of God or I am not responding in faith to the Word of God. Note that the author’s concern has something to do with those who are hearing the Word of God but not responding in faith. He is still using the wilderness generation as an example of how you don’t want to be. So part of his concern is, there are those who are hearing the Word of God in their own community but they haven’t joined faith to the hearing.
B. Hebrews 4:3-11
3 εισερχόμεθα γαρ (For we entering) εις (into) την (the) κατάπαυσιν (rest,) οι (the ones) πιστεύσαντες (having believed,) καθώς (as) είρηκεν (he has said,) ως (As) ώμοσα (I swore by an oath) εν (in) τη οργή μου (my wrath,) ει (Shall they) εισελεύσονται (enter) εις (into) την κατάπαυσίν μου (my rest, no;) καίτοι (and yet)
των (G the) έργων (works) από (from) καταβολής (the founding) κόσμου (of the world) γενηθέντων (were taking place.)
4 είρηκε γαρ (For he has said) που (somewhere) περί (concerning) της (the) εβδόμης (seventh day,) ούτως (thus,) και (And) κατέπαυσεν ο θεος (God rested) εν (in) τη (the) ημέρα (day) τη εβδόμη (seventh) από (from) πάντων (all) των έργων αυτού (his works.)
He says, for we enter into the rest, the ones believing. Just as he says that I swore in my wrath they will not enter my rest. So, those of us who believe are the ones who enter into God’s rest. We are in the process of entering into God’s rest and then he quotes the part of the passage from Psalm 95. Although, the works from the foundation of the world were accomplished; he goes on then and quotes the passage from Genesis 2:2. Concerning the seventh day, God rested the seventh day from all his works. So, those of us believing are the ones who now enter into the rest of God because the rest was not just limited to entering into the promise land. In fact, the rest was something you can go back and find at the foundation of creation because it said that God rested. God’s rest started back then. He is intended here to suddenly take the semantic range of the concept of rest where some interpreting this passage would identify with the Land of Promise. But the author says no, that isn’t what the rest has to do with. Instead, the rest has to do with the rest of God. We find this rest back in Genesis 2:2; so the rest has been here since the foundation of the world.
7 πάλιν (again) τινά (a certain) ορίζει (he confirms) ημέραν (day,) σήμερον (Today,) εν (in) Δαβίδ (David) λέγων (saying,) μετά (after) τοσούτον (so great) χρόνον (a time,) καθώς (as) είρηται (it has been said,) σήμερον (Today,) εάν (if)της (to) φωνής αυτού (his voice) ακούσητε (you should hearken,) μη (you should not) σκληρύνητε (harden) τας καρδίας υμών (your hearts.)
I want to talk you through the logic of this. His first point in verse 7; this psalm was written by David. Psalm 95 was written by David. David is speaking about the rest years after entering into the Land of Canaan. When David says after so long a time, long after the wilderness generation David says today if
you hear his voice. So what the Psalm has in mind is an opportunity that exists long after Joshua has taken the people into the land. Notice how the author of Hebrews is interested in the historical context of the text. Secondly, God, through David issued an implied promise through Psalm 95 saying that the
people of God may enter his rest by not following the pattern of disobedience found in the desert story. So, the opportunity is still open as God proclaimed it through this psalm.
8 ει γαρ (For if) αυτούς (them) Ιησούς (Joshua) κατέπαυσεν (gave rest,) ουκ αν (then he would not) περί (concerning) άλλης (another) ελάλει (speak) μετά (after) ταύτα (these things) ημέρας (day.)
For if Joshua had given them rest. The author may be doing a play on words here, since Jesus in Hebrew is in fact Joshua. Joshua would not have spoken of another day after those days. So God gave the promise of rest through the Psalmist because the physical entrance into the land under the leadership of Joshua would not fulfill the original promise. So when God was promising rest to his people, he had much more in mind than just the land. David is reinterpreting the original promise in Psalm 95. The Psalm makes it an ongoing promise because it says today if you hear his voice. Any reader is going to be confronted with the promise of today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. The universally relevant Word of God issued in the form of Psalm 95 shows that a Sabbath rest still exists for the people of God who are under obligation to hear his voice in the time frame of today.
10 ο γαρ (For the one) εισελθών (entering) εις (into) την κατάπαυσιν αυτού (his rest,) και αυτός (himself also) κατέπαυσεν (rested) από (from) των έργων αυτού (his works,) ώσπερ (as) από (from) των ιδίων (his own) ο θεός (God.)
Verse 10 concludes this portion of the exposition by reflecting on the interpretive relevance of Genesis 2:2 for Psalm 95. The essence of entering into God’s rest means to cease from one’s work even as God did on the seventh day. Here, the author interprets the rest as ceasing from one’s own work even as God did from his on the seventh day. This is a beautiful example of interpretation by verbal analogy. The Psalm is talking about the rest that they did not enter into and in Genesis 2:2, this rest was God’s rest. This is the ultimate picture of rest that the Psalm has in mind. In verse 11, the author of Hebrews says therefore let us strive to enter into that rest. Since resting means to cease from your work; do your best to enter into that rest so no one will fail through disobedience. We need to take seriously the nature of the rest and understand it so that we will not follow the pattern of those who fell in the wilderness.
C. Sabbath Rest
So, what is this rest that the author is talking about? People have given different thoughts about what this Sabbath rest is. The Greek word, tismoss is the first time this word has been used in Greek literature. Bill Lane suggests that this rest has to do with the author coining a term relating to celebrating the Sabbath. It is a celebration of the Sabbath in some way. There are two main positions on this in the history of interpretation. First Adto Hofius published a work in German. He did a lot of study relating to the wondering people of God by the author Cazerman who interpreted Hebrews out of pastoral concern thinking that Hebrews was using the language and framework of Gnosticism to proclaim the Gospel to the people of that day. He felt that people of that Mediterranean world was affected by Gnosticism. So Cazerman thought that the author of Hebrews was using the language of Gnosticism to proclaim the Gospel. That was in the book, the Wandering People of God. Hofius responded to Cazerman’s work by looking at a lot of extra-biblical Jewish literature, especial the Septuagint and showing that actually this concept of rest was very prominent in apocalyptic Judaism. He said that in apocalyptic Jewish thought, you have this idea of the rest, not as a Gnostic idea but as getting into the presence of God at death or the end of the age. Hofius thought that the rest was entering into the presence of God in the holiest place. He identified it with the city of Jerusalem and especially with the heavenly temple, entering into the holiest place. You enter into that rest at death or at the end of the age. This idea of rest was a state of being becoming one with the heavenly realm; this kind of idea. In Gnosticism you had this system of eons and you worked your way through until you got to that heavenly state.
To a certain degree, this thought was picked up by Gerd Theissen. In his work in which he responded to Hofius’ work. Theissen moves beyond Cazerman and talks some about Philo and with this Gnostic idea. He says that Hofius was too simplistic. There was must more to be said for some of this development of the concept of rest. Theissen says that the rest is a state of existence. God came to a point of rest. If Hofius is right, then what about the author’s use of Genesis 2:2; this state of rest that God entered into at the end of creation. There is a concept within the Rabbis where they said that the seventh day is unending. It is open ended where God is continually resting from his work. If you look at Philo, you see some interesting passages where he says that God is so powerful and awesome that he doesn’t really have to try to keep the world going. So, it has to do with the state of existence in which you are at rest from striving, according to your own works. Think about these points in context of what we have seen in chapter 4 of Hebrews. There is something to be said for both positions. From the standpoint of Hofius’ idea, you do have this idea of movement in the Book of Hebrews, that we are going somewhere. If it is at the end of the age like Hofius says, what is the point with the author saying that some of you have fallen short of it? All of them have fallen short of it, if that is what the rest is. Nobody has entered into the presence of God in the heavenly holly of hollies at death or at the end of the age. So if you just take Hofius’ perspective, it isn’t enough. So, Theissen’s point that it has to do with some kind of state of existence now. So, you have a kind of a both/and. That is why, people like Lincoln Hurst with his book, Hebrews, the Background of Thought; and especially Harold Aldridge in his commentary on Hebrews makes such statements that it is both/and. It is the whole package of salvation. Aldridge would say that this is a now and not yet type of reality. We enter in by faith now but it is also something that comes at the end of the age.
There have been a couple of recent works like John Laainsma on his study of this passage and also from Matthew where Jesus talks about resting from your work. Another book, a good study but doesn’t really get the point; a book by Judas Wray who does a comparison of this passage on some Gnostic text. Her conclusion is also that Hebrews is coming from a more Jewish apocalyptic viewpoint. She doesn’t pull all of this together very well when she moves toward the conclusion of her book from my standpoint. Two points here; I suggested in the commentary itself, it may be that the Sabbath the author has in mind is the Day of Atonement Sabbath. Leviticus 23:26-28 and Leviticus 16:29-31, you will see that the Day of Atonement which is also called a Sabbath of Sabbath Rest. In the Greek, it is a Sabbatta Sabbattone. With the author moving almost immediately to focus on Jesus entering into the Holy of Holies on our behalf as high priest, that is where he is getting ready to move, then it is at least possible that this is the Sabbath’s rest that he is talking about. We are entering into the presence of God with our high priest, Jesus. The Leviticus passage 16:29-31; this is to be a lasting ordinance for you; on the 10th of the seven month, you must deny yourself and not do any work. On this day, atonement will be made in order to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. It is a Sabbath rest and you must deny yourselves as it is a lasting ordinance. In chapter 23, the Lord said to Moses, the 10th day of the 7th month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves and present an offering made to the Lord by fire. Do no work on this day because it is the Day of Atonement. It is when atonement is made for you to the Lord your God; it is a Sabbath of rest for you and you must deny yourselves.
The structure of Hebrews that I wrote was reviewed by a number of different people. One such person, Van Wah read through it. When you looked at Hebrews 4:14-16 and 10:19-25; you have an important inclusio consisting of eight different elements in these two brief passages that parallel each other exactly. The basic structure of both passages: since we have a great high priest, let us hold fast; let us draw near. One of the points I make in this structure about Van Wah’s work; he says that the inclusio is one of the five most important literary dynamics you have in the Book of Hebrews and yet, he doesn’t give any attention to these two very important passages in terms of their relationship as building a grand inclusio bracketing the center section of the book. Needless to say Van Wah didn’t agree with my assessment of his work. He actually pointed out that it was true that you had these parallels but you have parallels with 10:19-25 that go back to 3:1-4:13. He’s right and he listed a few of those. He didn’t know how right he was. I started doing a detailed analysis of this and found twenty-five parallels in this.
But this doesn’t make the striking nature of the parallels any less unique for 4:14-16 and 10:19-25. This passage is full of these parallels. There are phrases that are only found in the two passages such as encouragement to one another and you have another twenty-one terms and concepts. It is obvious that the author crafted what we have been seeing here in 3:1-14 on failing to enter the rest and the promise of entering the rest. He was crafting this and was already moving toward this passage. So, what does 10:19-25 say? Since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus through the veil of his flesh by a new and living way and since we have a high priest, let us hold fast with a strong ear. This passage is about the significance of Jesus Day of Atonement sacrifice that takes us into the heavenly Holy of Holies. In 4:14-16, you have a development showing that Jesus has passed through the heavens in 6:19-20; Jesus has gone in before us behind the curtain. He says since we have confidence to enter in and so now we enter into the Holy of Hollies because of what Jesus has accomplished as our High Priest. So, the author was beginning to build toward 10:19-25. You have a literary basis for saying that the author has in mind the high priest offering of Jesus on the Day of Atonement that takes us into the heavenly Holy of Holies.
What was the passage in 2:17-18 about? It was about the high priesthood. We have a high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses. So this passage is also bracketed by passages on the high priestly ministry of Jesus. The significance of this in about the author talking about the rest that remains for the people of God. He is talking about us entering into the New Covenant by the sacrifice of our high priest. He is talking about entering into the very presence of God and now the Holy of Holies. It is a state of existence which I now enter into the New Covenant with God. It is entering into the holiest place by the sacrifice of the blood of Jesus based on his high priestly work. This is both now and not yet. I enter into the presence of God now in the holiest place as I enter into New Covenant. At the end of the age, I will enter into the very presence of God. Entering into the New Covenant is entering into salvation. In ceasing from one’s own works, the Day of Atonement is a backdrop of that. I think the author is saying: cease from doing your own thing and enter into covenant with God. This parallels Paul’s concept of ceasing from works, turning away from your own religious works in order to enter into covenant with God. I don’t think the author has in mind any concept of the Sabbath observance. The concept of rest is more of a spiritual state or reality. He has identified with the covenant itself and I think this is both individual and communal. We enter into covenant as a people and as individuals. I don’t think at this point that he is talking about something that encompasses all of creation. However, I think that is where God is going in the renewal of the heavens and the earth. Creation does long for its own redemption, but I don’t think that is what the author of Hebrews has in mind here. Entering into covenant is entering into eternal life. From the perspective of the author of Hebrews, the promise of the land has been superseded and realized in spiritual realities. This would be contrary to dispensationism on the one hand or even progressive dispensationism. In progressive dispensationism, as I understand it, Jewish people can only be saved in Christ. They are not saved apart from the New Covenant, but the promise of land will still be fulfilled through those New Covenant Jewish believers. I think the author of Hebrews is moving a step beyond this to say that this promise of entering the Land is ultimately realized by us entering the covenant as new covenant believers in Christ. So, the concept of rest was not referring to the land.
In regards to Abraham, there are qualifications that God built into the promise of the land in the Old Testament. In terms of the physical land itself, you have passages that say that the land would spew them out if they were not faithful to the covenant. You have the old covenant itself being spoken of as
something that would be lasting but yet, Jeramiah comes around and reinterprets it saying that God is going to move to a different form of covenant because the House of Israel and the House of Judah failed. They didn’t keep up their side of the covenant. The New Covenant is going to be very different than the Old Covenant. You have to read Hebrews 7 and 8 as super-secessionists. The New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant. This is a short answer to a difficult theological issue. There are places in the New Testament that seems to me saying that the church is the fulfillment of God’s hope for Israel and
Israelites who respond to the New Covenant and are part of the church are at the forefront of the fulfillment in terms of a New Covenant sense. But there is no fulfillment apart from Christ. I think this is really clear. Those Old Covenant believers are fulfilled in Christ by their faith. All of the other approaches are built on conceptional background, but my approach takes the literary dynamics within the book itself and says that if you have twenty-five conceptional parallels between these seven verses and these two chapters on rest, there has to be a reason for that. This wasn’t accidental. It gives a literary basis for saying that this is what the rest is. I can’t get inside the mind of the author of Hebrews; I have to take the evidence that is there from the way he interacts in the text. Basically, I have to look at the way he does exegesis.
I think his approach is very similar to what we do when we are trying to do exegesis of a passage. We look and come to a part of the passage like Psalm 95:11 and ask what God means in regards to my rest. You find in many cases, the whole point of the rest was related to the temple and the holy of hollies. You narrow it down further to the passages that specifically speak of God’s rest and then you come up with passages like Genesis 2:2. So, like the author, we look at the parallels of this concept in Scripture and how do those parallels help me understand what is going on in terms of the rest. In terms of dealing with Israel, the driving hermeneutics has got to be the way the New Testament authors have dealt with the whole concept of Israel. I am driven very much by Paul here, a true Jew is the one who has been circumcised in the heart. It is a person who has accepted Christ; there is no salvation apart from Christ. All the promises of God are in Christ. I am driven by that hermeneutics; so in terms of typology, I want to stay tied to the interpretation that I see in the New Testament authors themselves. We have to be cautious with people that begin to make all these parallels with the Tabernacle and spiritual realities. Then you get into allegorical types of approaches that can lead a person away from the truth. My president and others argue for a very limited sense of sensuous plenary; a deeper meaning in the text; but this is cautionary approach to that kind of conceptional dynamics.