Setting

The previous passage began the second warning section in Hebrews. It called believers to guard against an evil heart of unbelief leading to rejection of God. We learned from the example of the Israelites that the outcome of unbelief is failure to enter God’s rest. The passage of this lesson expands the thought of entering God’s rest and applies this teaching to present-day believers.

Key Verse

(4:11)

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Outline

  • Warning against Falling Short
    (4:1-2)
  • Designation of Another Day and Exhortation to Enter the Rest
    (4:3-11)
  • The Penetrating Effect of God’s Word
    (4:12-13)

General Analysis

  • 1.

    Record what this passage has to say about “rest.”

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    The promise of entering God’s rest remains (1). We ought to be careful lest we fall short of it (1). We who have believed do enter that rest (3). God swore in His wrath that the Israelites would not enter His rest (3,5). God rested on the seventh day from all His works (4). Some must enter this rest, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience (6). Joshua did not give the Israelites rest, but there remains a rest for the people of God (8-9). He who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His (10). We need to be diligent to enter that rest lest we fall (11).

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Segment Analysis

  • 4:1-2

    1.

    Why does the author tell us to fear in verse 1? Explain the consequence that we should be careful to avoid.

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    Verse 1 reads, “let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.” The example of the Israelites teaches us that believers today may also fall short of God’s promise if they are not careful. This is a real danger, not a hypothetical one. If we become hard-hearted like the Israelites, then we would also miss the grace of God and not be able to enter His rest.

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  • 2a.

    What is “the gospel” that was preached to us as well as to the Israelites?

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    The word “gospel” can be understood in its broader meaning, which is “good news.” The good news to the Israelites was that they would enter God’s rest if they believed in Him and His promise. The good news to us today is that we would enter God’s rest if we believe in the Lord and the promise of salvation.

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  • 2b.

    Why did the word they heard not profit them?

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    The word they heard was not “mixed with faith in those who heard it” (2). In other words, they did not soften the soil of their heart with faith to allow the seed of God’s word to grow and bear fruit (cf. Lk 8:15). Although they knew what God had promised, they still rebelled against God. In the same way, if we only know God’s word but do not respond with faith, both in our hearts and in our actions, then God’s word would not profit us. In fact, His word will judge us on the last day (Jn 12:47-48).

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  • 3.

    Did God’s promise of rest to the Israelites fail? From the tragic end of the Israelites who fell in the wilderness, what lessons can you learn about receiving God’s promised rest?

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    The Israelites fell in the desert, not because God’s word failed, but because they did not believe in God and rejected God. Although they were the chosen people, their lack of faith kept them from entering God’s rest. Hence, we must not feel complacent, thinking that we have already obtained God’s promise. We ought to be careful and continually mix the word we hear with faith, and we must also put the word into practice in our lives.

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  • 4:3-11

    4.

    When did God’s rest begin?

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    After the creation, when God rested from His works (3-4)

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  • 5.

    How does the author show that the promise of rest still remains?

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    Although God’s rest first took place at the foundation of the world, this rest continued on in history because God spoke of Israel’s failure to enter His rest in the Psalms (5). Since it was God’s will that some must enter His rest, and Israelites did not enter God’s rest because of disobedience, God appointed another day of rest—today (6-8). The fact that God spoke of another day shows that the promise was not claimed by the Israelites but still stands today.

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  • 6.

    What is the meaning of “rest”? What does it mean to enter God’s rest and cease from our works?

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    The rest here is God’s rest, the rest that God had after the completion of creation, when He saw that everything He had made was very good. It carries a sense of perfection and satisfaction. This divine rest is something we can experience in our souls and be part of through Jesus Christ (Mt 11:28-30). When we submit to Christ and learn from Him, we no longer labor and are no longer heavy laden. Having been reconciled with God, we are at peace with God. We are no longer burdened by sin and sorrow, but have inner peace. Instead of relying on our efforts, we can trust the Lord in everything.
    God’s rest will be ours eternally when we die in the Lord. “…Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.’” (Rev 14:13). When we leave this world, we will lay down the toils and pains of this life to be with the Lord forever.

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  • 7.

    Who is able to enter God’s rest? Have you entered that rest?

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    Those who believe and are obedient to God enter God’s rest (3,6).

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  • 8a.

    “Be diligent to enter that rest” (11) and “ceased from his works” (10) seem contradictory. How do we rest from our work but still be diligent? What does it mean to make every effort to enter that rest?

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    Ceasing from our works does not mean being idle or stagnant in our spiritual growth. Rather, it means being freed from sin and sorrow as well as setting aside attempts to reach God through our own works of righteousness. As such, ceasing from our works does not contradict being diligent in Christ.
    When Paul spoke of being found to have the righteousness that is through faith, he went on to say, “I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus lay hold of me…I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Php 3:12-13). Our diligence in Christ is possible only because Christ has laid hold of us. All our efforts are based on Christ’s saving grace, not apart from it. Peter also spoke of such diligence in Christ, which is based on the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus (2Pet 1:5-8; 3:17-18). We aim to hold fast to Christ lest we fall away from Him. This is what it means to be diligent to enter that rest, and this is consistent with the exhortations and warnings we have seen thus far in Hebrews.

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  • 8b.

    What does such diligence teach us about the nature of faith?

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    Faith is dynamic. True faith is one that moves us closer and closer to Christ. A Christian with true faith is diligent in making spiritual progress according to the word of God.

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  • 4:12-13

    9.

    How is God’s word living and powerful? Explain the effects of God’s word.

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    God’s word is not just a book of history. It accomplishes God’s purpose (Isa 55:11). According to this passage, it has a penetrating effect. It discerns the thoughts and intentions of our hearts and lays them bare before God. It cuts to our hearts and leads us to repentance. Like a mirror, the word of God compels us to come face to face with our sins and inadequacies and to stand bare in God’s presence (cf. Jas 1:23 24). Because God’s word makes us aware of our deepest feelings and thoughts, it is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” (2Tim 3:16-17).

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  • 10.

    How does God’s word relate to His judgment?

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    Because God’s word can discern the thoughts and intents of our hearts, it will be the basis of God’s judgment, at which time we will all have to give an account to God (13).

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  • 11.

    Why does the author talk about the word of God in this context? What does it have to do with entering God’s rest (To answer this question, look at the entire passage of this lesson)? What role does God’s word play in our salvation?

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    How we respond to God’s word will determine whether we are true believers. God’s word, which penetrates our hearts, judges whether we have faith.
    The Israelites heard the word, but the word did not profit them because they did not mix it with faith in their hearts (2). Consequently, they did not enter the rest because they did not keep God’s word. On the other hand, those who believe in God’s word and obey it are able to enter God’s rest.
    The word of God plays a vital part in our salvation because it leads us to Christ, for “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17). God’s word makes us “wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2Tim 3:15). If we believe the word of God, which centers on Christ, we will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. On the other hand, rejection of God’s word is rejection of Jesus Christ. Thus, we ought to always believe and obey God’s word. We ought to let it lay bare our hearts before God and drive us to the grace of Christ. If we are diligent to submit to God’s word, we will enter the promised rest.

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