No, quite the contrary. Looking at Hebrews 4:1-11, here’s why…
In verse 1, the Author’s point is simple—don’t fail to reach the rest that remains (Hebrews 4:1).
If you look at the last words of Hebrews chapter 3, he quoted Psalm 95:11 in Hebrews 3:11 saying, “I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” and then he said in verse 19, “They were unable to enter” (Hebrews 3:19)—which begs the question—enter what? The rest. And it was “because of unbelief” that this happened. Which keys us in on the vehicle by which this rest that is in focus can be entered.
The picture in view is the children of Israel in the wilderness, redeemed by God through divine providence out of the land of Egypt, brought across the Red Sea, brought through the wilderness through mighty miracles, ready to enter the Promised Land, but then multitudes of them end up dying in the wilderness.
Why? Because they did not enter the rest. With that on his mind his exhortation to the reader is that he doesn’t want us to fail to enter the rest of God the way that they failed to enter the rest of God. He is using Israel as an illustration and example of what not to do.
Then in verse 2 he gives a sharp warning—a sobering one—and that is that the Gospel didn’t benefit those in the wilderness who didn’t believe (Hebrews 4:2). He says “the good news came to them”—that’s the gospel. The Gospel was preached to them just like it’s been preached to us. The Gospel is not unique to only the New Testament. When the apostle Paul wants to explain the Gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, for example, what does he use to support it in Romans 4? He takes us to Genesis 15:6 where Abraham believed and the Lord credited it to him as righteousness. He uses the Old Testament to preach justification by grace to us. It’s the same Gospel that’s been proclaimed since Genesis 3:15 (the proto euangelion). So Israel had the pure Gospel preached to them—by God himself—but they didn’t believe it.
The good news came to them, God redeems them out of Egypt, He has made various promises to them, yet His promises and redemption did not actually benefit them. They saw the mighty deeds of God right before their eyes—heard God’s own voice—yet they did not benefit from these promises.
So the rest that is in focus is one that has to do with believing God and failure to believe God will keep one from entering.
Which is why then in verses 3-7, he goes on to say, “It still remains for some to enter into this rest” (Hebrews 4:3-7). He will tell us what that rest is in a moment, but first the Author wants us to understand that this is not just something for Israel back there somewhere in the ancient past—as if it doesn’t have to do anything with us today. He makes it clear this is a very pressing issue presently. And the fundamental question is are we going to enter into that rest? They didn’t because they didn’t believe, and hundreds of thousands of them died in the wilderness and never entered the Promised Land. So he says here in verses 3 to 7, “It remains for some to enter this rest.”
Specifically in verses 6 and 7 notice what he says…
“Therefore it remains for some to enter it and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, so again he appoints a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David, so long afterward in the words already quoted, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’”
He’s applying Psalm 95:11 to us. He isn’t simply giving us a history lesson about the children of Israel, he’s giving us an exhortation for today. Don’t disobey in the wilderness of life like they did and fail to believe the Gospel.
Then in verses 8 to 10 he’s going to begin to explain to us what the rest is.
He says, “If Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.”
This is being said in contrast to the seventh day. Joshua and the Israelites were observing the seventh-day sabbath memorial. He mentions the seventh-day memorial back in verse 4 and contrasts it here. The Author tells us God wouldn’t have—through the Psalmist—spoken of another day if there wasn’t one.
Many commentators will associate the “another day” with “today” that’s been mentioned throughout chapters 3 and 4. And that’s absolutely correct—today is the day to enter the rest of God by believing. Today is the day of salvation, today if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts, and so on. But there’s also something else going on as we will see.
The rest he is talking about is not the land of Canaan—which the reader might be tempted to think, “the children of Israel didn’t believe God in the wilderness and died, therefore they didn’t enter into the rest of the land of Canaan.”
Which, that is true, and he tells us that the land of Canaan is a picture of the ultimate rest, but it’s not the ultimate rest which he explains to us in the next verses. When he says “If Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.” He’s saying, “if Joshua, who brought the children of Israel into the Promised Land 40 years later was giving them the ultimate rest, God wouldn’t still be speaking about another rest that is still to come.”
Then verse 9, “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9).
The Greek word sabbath here is sabbatismos which includes more than just a rest. It literally means a sabbath rest, or sabbath keeping. There remains a sabbath keeping for the people of God.
To this point the author has referred to the rest of God as katapausis. Now he uses sabbatismos. Grammatically, they are not identical. He says that not only does a rest remain, but a sabbath rest as well. Not only is there a new rest of God (entering into Christ), but another day also. There is an eternal rest we all have yet to enter, and there is also another day that memorializes this eternal rest.
Adventist’s love to cite verse 4 (Hebrews 4:4)—which talks about the seventh-day in the original creation—and then jump to here and say that because a sabbath rest remains, it must be the seventh-day sabbath. But this cannot be the case because the sabbatismos that remains is “another day.” It’s important to not skip over the in-between verses to see why that was mentioned.
There’s actually an order of something bigger being presented here. The previous rest of God in both the original creation (Exodus 20:8) and redemption from Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:12-15) had three elements that parallel one another.
- Mighty acts of God working
- God’s completion of this work where He ceases, or rests from that miraculous work, and switches to the work of upholding what He has done
- And finally, both of the previous rests of God have a memorial day attached to them as a sign and pledge of the rest of God
Verse 10 then becomes a pivotal one.
“He that is entered into His rest has also ceased from His works as God did from His” (Hebrews 4:10)
The million dollar question becomes who is the “he” that is mentioned?
A common interpretation is that this is talking about believers in general entering God’s rest. The issue with that interpretation, though, is the “he” in the Greek is singularly personal. Meaning, it is a specific individual in reference. The NASBs translation is spot on. Instead of “he” it reads…
“For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.”
A single individual is being talked about who entered his own rest, just as God rested from His works and entered His. It is a parallel to what God in creation did (which is why it was mentioned in Hebrews 4:4). The “he” that enters his rest, must be doing so in a parallel way to God in creation. God finished His works, saw that they were very good, and so He ceased and rested the seventh day.
If we apply this text to believers, it’s necessary that we ask what works do believers cease from that parallel God ceasing his at creation? We can’t compare our works to God’s works. Our attempts at working for salvation do not compare to God’s works in creation (which was a mighty act). The Bible describes the works that we rest from when we are in Christ as dead works. Clearly we don’t take delight in and enjoy our previous works as God did in being pleased with His work of creation (which is what Him resting means). He was taking delight in His accomplishment. He wasn’t tired. We don’t rest from our works of sin and then look over that previous work with delight. So that isn’t a consistent parallel.
The “he” in verse 10 has to be someone who did a work comparable to God’s work in creation—a mighty act of 1. work that was 2. completed and followed by a 3. rest. A work that is good that He can take delight in. Then when those works are finished, he ceases from them—just as God did in creation—and enters His rest, just as God did in creation.
This is talking about Jesus.
Jesus did a mighty work of redeeming the creation—ushering in the New Creation. He completed that work successfully and, upon doing so, entered into His mediatorial rest for His people. The text fits much better when applied to Christ rather than believers. The only thing left to establish is when Christ entered His rest after His works of redemption were finished.
God in creation did so on the seventh day, but Christ in redemption enters on the first day, with His resurrection from the dead which demonstrated the work of redemption was complete.
1 Corinthians 15:1-4 clearly states that the resurrection was a part of Christ’s Gospel work. Remember, Paul said if Christ was not raised from the dead then our faith is useless. Death on the cross as a sacrifice was not enough if He wasn’t raised.
The resurrection is the transition point where Jesus went from His humiliation (ie: incarnating as a man, humbling himself under the law, Galatians 4:4, etc.) to His exaltation—the period from His resurrection through to the second coming. He humiliated all the way down from heaven to the depths of the grave, but then that all reverses with His resurrection where He is highly exalted as Savior, King of kings and Lord of lords and returns back to His rightful status.
Some will argue that the “he” in verse 10 doesn’t specify Christ—He isn’t referred to by name. We have to remember that Hebrews 4 is a continuation from chapter 3. In Hebrews 3:6-14, Christ is mentioned by name. It isn’t necessary for the author to mention him by name again when this chapter is an outflowing of that same focus.
Jesus did a mighty act of working for our redemption. He completed it perfectly and entered his mediatorial rest—seated in Heaven (Hebrews 10:12)—where He rules and reigns and is reaping the fruit of His labors as a conqueror making all things new (Acts 2:34–35; Hebrews 1:13; Psalm 110:1; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Revelation 21:5). This is how Jesus can be the true fulfillment of the sabbath yet a sabbatismos—a sabbath rest—can remain, but it is another day. The day when Jesus accomplished redemption and entered His rest—the first day.
We enter into Christ, by faith, who has already entered into “God’s rest” ahead of us. That is the true Promised Land believers look forward to—our eternal rest with God. Until then, a weekly sabbatismos remains where we gather as the Body of Christ to have a little foretaste of that future we long for as we worship together (alongside heaven) and remember the mighty work that the King of kings, Jesus Christ, accomplished for His people. We have rest for our souls in the Gospel and a weekly rest for our bodies until we enter into the eternal rest of heaven.
Hebrews 4:8 really is the deathblow to the seventh-day sabbath position, vindicating the Church’s universal practice of worshiping on the new creation memorial day. Don’t fail to believe the pure, unadulterated Gospel and enter the true rest.