“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God”

The “Sabbath-rest” of Hebrews 4:9 has been interpreted by Christians in two ways – either as a Sabbath Day to be kept holy every week, or as the future rest promised to Christians at Christ’s return. “There remains a Sabbath-rest,” then, is interpreted as either a Sabbath-rest remains in force today – OR a Sabbath-rest remains in waiting for the time Christ returns.

The Greek word “Sabbatismos” (for Sabbath-rest) in that verse handily takes both interpretations into account. It’s a cleverly coined word, not used anywhere else in the New Testament, that brilliantly lumps ALL meanings of the Sabbath in Scripture together – the Sabbath-rest that God began on the 7th day of creation, the Sabbath-rest God commanded Israel to keep, the Sabbath-rest Israel experienced in the land of Canaan under Joshua, the Sabbath-rest Israel could have entered permanently, the Sabbath-rest available to Christians today, and the Sabbath-rest awaiting all creation at Christ’s return that continues for eternity, all of which are included or implied in the context of Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 as well.

And the reason the author of Hebrews includes all Sabbath-rests in Hebrews 3 and 4 (and in the word “sabbatismos”) is because entering God’s Sabbath-rest – no matter which Sabbath-rest Scripture is talking about – is what the gospel is all about, and all Sabbath-rests are entered by faith. All Sabbath rests – past, present and future, Old or New Covenant – are entered by the same means, by trust in the living God for all our needs, and that’s what the author wants to get across in these verses.

He shows how Israel didn’t trust God because of their “sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God,” Hebrews 3:12, the result being, “they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief,” verse 19. Israel could have entered God’s rest, but they didn’t trust God in their time of testing in the desert (verse 8). But “we who have believed enter that rest,” Hebrews 4:3. It’s a simple formula: God’s great Sabbath-rest, that began on the 7th day of creation, can be entered by anybody at any time for simply trusting God in their time of need (or testing) rather than turning away from him.

The author’s conclusion is very simple: “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God,” meaning the Sabbath-rest is still our goal as Christians, and so is how we enter it, by trust, or as Hebrews 4:16 says, by knowing and believing we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Any time we do that we enter God’s Sabbath-rest, and that remains true for everyone in any age.


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