Study Notes

Hebrews 4:1-13


As we have spent several weeks studying the first three chapters of the book of Hebrews, we have seen that Jesus is to be our focus. To focus in on anything else, no matter how religious it may seem, is to have the wrong focus. Chapter three made statements that struck fear in our hearts. Verse six said that we are God's house...

Hebr. 3:6 ...if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.

Then, we read that sin could harden our hearts into unbelief. The writer reminded us that unbelief brought about the death of those who were delivered from Egypt, but never made it into the promised land.

Now maybe you're thinking, "Hey, that kind of teaching makes me nervous! This isn't the way the Bible is supposed to be taught! I'm supposed to feel secure and safe in my Christianity, no matter how poorly I may be maintaining it." But I would disagree. After all, read the first verse of chapter four...

4:1 Let Us Fear

Let us fear. Literally, "let us be afraid."

Now, I've got to say that the NIV has really milktoasted this down by saying, "let us be careful." That is not the intent here. The Greek word says it all: it is Fob-EH-o, from which we get our word "phobia." The definition means, "to put to flight by terrifying, to be afraid, to be struck with fear, to be seized with alarm." What is it that we are to be afraid of? Falling short of entering God's rest.

His Rest

Now, the key to understanding this chapter is to understand what "His rest" is. There are two schools of thought - the first is that when a person realizes that he doesn't have to work for his salvation, to earn favor with God, he enters God's rest. The second idea is that the rest spoken of is death, when the Christian enters into the presence of the Lord, to rest for eternity.

I have studied this for many years, and have read many of the commentaries on both sides. But I cannot agree with those who say that this rest is simply a happy salvation. Reading it in context, I believe it is clear that it is talking about the rest that we enter into when we die as Christians.

This is, I believe, what we are told to be afraid of - falling short of entering into that eternal rest with Christ.

Come Short

So many people are so casual about their relationship with God. They pray when they think of it, read the Bible every so often, come to church when they feel like it, but mostly just live in a worldly way. They do this because they've been taught by example that discipleship isn't necessary, that sacrifice and self-denial are unimportant. That laying down your life is not what you really have to do.

But Jesus said TO HIS DISCIPLES,

Luke 12:5 "But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who after He has killed has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!"

And Paul told the Christians in Philippi...

Phil. 2:12-13 out your salvation with fear and trembling...

God has given us a promise:

Eph. 3:6 ...the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel

Remember, the gospel is good news, and that promise remains. But we must be afraid of the possibility of coming up short of it. Of hearing the promise of good news, but never being changed by it.

4:2 The Word Must Be United By Faith

The Israelites heard a gospel of good news: "God is saving us! Freeing us from bondage! Leading us out of Egypt and then into the Promised Land!" But many of them never made it. Why not? Because hearing the good news was not enough - they had to have a living faith in it. They had to be changed by it, but their actions demonstrated that they did not really have faith in God. They held onto their idols. As God said to them in Amos,

Amos 5:25-26 " the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel? You also carried along Sik-KOOTH your king and Kee-YOON, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves."

Although they claimed to be following God, their lives were not affected by it.

The same principle applies to us. We have heard the good news - freedom from bondage and passage into the Promised Land. But are we affected by it? James showed us that true faith is alive and active. It is demonstrable in our lives. It's not enough just to hear it, we've got to live it, have complete faith in it.

When you gave your life to Jesus Christ, did you really give your life to Him? Or were the words not united by active faith? What patterns and practices changed? What thoughts and ways of thinking were affected?

2Cor. 5:15 and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.

2Cor. 5:17 Therefore if any man is in Christ, {he is} a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

4:3-11 The Sabbath Rest

We who have truly believed enter that rest - literally, "have an entrance into that rest." We have an open door into heaven. Jesus told the church in the city of Philadelphia,

Rev. 3:8 ‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.

They weren't "super-saints," but they were faithful. They walked with God. They maintained their relationship with Him. And because of that, they had an entrance into heaven.

Have you given much thought to heaven? To entering true rest? Now, it's not a rest of being tired, but one of freedom. There is a difference between saying, "I'm wiped out. I've worked for 16 hours straight, and I need some rest," and saying, "I've accomplished everything I needed to do, and now I'm just going to take a rest." It is this second one that we experience. It is compared to God's creation. For six days, He was creating the universe and everything in it. On the seventh day, He rested. Was He tired? Not at all - He was just done.

When we enter heaven, we will be done. In Revelation, John wrote,

Rev. 14:13 And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, "Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!'" "Yes," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them."

Our deeds follow with us into the next life. That is why we must be diligent while we are in this life. Jesus told His disciples,

John 9:4-5 "We must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day; night is coming, when no man can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

We're not talking about doing good works to be saved and get to heaven. We're talking about the fact that since we are saved, our good works follow us to heaven.

Sin, on the other hand, will harden our hearts. We will not be practicing diligence and righteousness. We'll be practicing worldliness and disobedience. These are the things we are warned to fearfully avoid.

4:12-13 The Word Of God

How can we be sure of where we're at with the Lord? How can I know if I'm being diligent or disobedient? How can I be sure that I'm not just hearing, but also having faith? Here's our answer: the Word of God.

The Word of God, the Bible, cuts right to the center of our hearts. When we read it, when we hear it, it shows us where we're at. What are my motives? They are laid bare before the Lord when held up to the mirror of the Word. How is my spiritual life? It's shown with crystal clarity when I'm reading the Bible.

God has offered us a promise of eternal rest. But He won't allow us to simply put it on a shelf and say, "Thanks, I'm looking forward to seeing that someday." No, He expects us to live as if we have a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1), to be diligent to enter that rest. And the Bible is our living heart monitor, giving us our spiritual EKG. Let's be diligent and stay in the Word.

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