Helping others learn about, and serve, Jesus.

                             Welcome to ...


(O.k., the title is a little hokey,
but it got you here and you don't want to miss
what the Lord has for you on this page.)


You may want to have your Bible handy for this one so you can check the references and context for yourself.
(always a good idea, by the way)


Although the title may not seem to have any bearing on biblical studies, it is meant to point you to Hebrews where Paul* discusses the "Believers Rest". If we start there, however, we will be getting much to far ahead of ourselves to be of any good. So, let's start where we should to understand this teaching to it's fullest. Genesis 2 verses 2 & 3.

The heavens, stars, earth, plants and animals were all created in six days according to this chapter. (I personally believe them to be six literal days, but that is another lesson altogether.) Our interest is what happened next, on the seventh day. We are told that "God rested". Of course when you or I rest, it is usually because we are tired. Nothing feels much better than sitting down after working all day on that "project" in the yard, or having spent all day entertaining your children in their favorite outdoor activity. Rest for us is necessary so that we can take the time to revitalize ourselves. This type of rest, however, is not what is referred to as it is applied to God after creation.

God needs no rest in the same sense as we do. Fatigue and weariness are not something he is subject to. When God says he "rested" on the seventh day, he simply means that he ended the process of creating because he was finished. If you were building a house, after you had laid the foundation, set the framing, the plumbing and electrical, put up drywall, installed windows and vents, had doors hung in place, installed heating and air conditioning, laid the flooring, put on the roof, finished the trim, landscaped the garden and filled it with furniture, you would put down your tools and rest from building. To continue hammering nails at that point would be senseless because the house is already complete. In the same way, there was nothing left for God to create because he created all that he had purposed. Being done with the work he had set out to do, he "rested" from his creative work. It is the natural response to finishing a project.

It is with this understanding of "rest" (being finished) that we can now move on. It is important that we lay the ground work through the Old testament so that we can fully grasp what Paul says later in Hebrews. It took the children of Israel almost 2000 years to get this teaching, so bear with it as we move to Exodus, chapter 20.

Exodus 20, verse 8, says "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." (NIV). This is the fourth commandment given to Moses by God. It is a day to be set aside to remind us of God's grace.

The Israelites in that time would go to the temple to repent and make sacrifices to God for forgiveness of sin. God had given them the law, which made them conscious of sin, and the way to satisfy the law through the sacrifice of animals (shedding of blood) to forgive their sin. It was not by their own efforts that they gained forgiveness in the sight of God because he provided both the law and the remedy. The Sabbath was given to show us that the work of reconciliation was already finished and the method of acquiring it provided. All that was left was to kill the animal and accept on faith the finished work of God. This was indeed a day to remember God's grace and to teach us to cease from our labor in trying to find favor with God. He had provided the method and the means to approach His throne through obedience by faith. The alter was approached by faith, with the sacrifice offered in faith to God who is the author and perfector of our faith. Nothing was of our own works, lest any man should boast.

It has certainly been taught that the Old Testament faithful were governed by law and that beginning in the New Testament we are governed by grace. The bible teaches, though, that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. How can we be so blind as to not see his grace throughout the history of his dealings with us as a people? Do we not yet understand that we can do nothing to merit God's favor? That each of us has transgressed the law and is in need of a reconciliation to God that can only be accomplished by his grace. That's the way it has always been. From before the foundations of the world, God knew that he would have to redeem us to himself because we were not capable of attaining his righteous standard. Yet, out of love for us, he moved forward with creation, knowing he would have to come here and  pay the price of our disobedience with his own blood. That's grace to an infinite magnitude, the depth of which can never be measured.

After 400 years living in Egypt as slaves, God brought his people into the wilderness to teach them about the very grace spoken of here. Their provision was the Lord. The food they ate, the water they drank, the shoes they wore and the enemies they conquered were all handed over to them by the Lord. Yet when they came to the river which separated them from the land promised to them, they did not enter. We know that they did not enter because of their unbelief in the promise of God to deliver it to them. But when God, through David in the Psalms, speaks of their not entering in he says, "For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said 'They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.' So I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.' (Psalms 95:10-11, NIV). It seems as though while not entering the promised land was an issue, there was a greater issue at stake here.

The land was a physical possession, something to be had for the taking. God did not take his people into the desert to teach them about land ownership, he took them into the wilderness to teach them about his nature and our relationship to him. He wanted to give them rest. Not a rest from physical labor, not a break from the societal structure, not a vacation to relax for a while, but a rest which comes from God alone. God was offering his people the opportunity to understand that the work of reconciliation was finished. That he had made possible the way to the throne, through the shedding of blood that was not their own, and rest from their vain attempts to reach him through works and rituals, idols and ceremonies conceived by them to make themselves worthy to stand in his presence. Their unbelief only caused them to be delayed in their possession of the land, but it caused God to say to them, "They shall never enter my rest".

The old covenant was between God and a specific group of people, the Jewish nation of Israel. They were given priests and a tabernacle and sacrifices to cause them to be justified in the eyes of God. Again, he provided the method and the means of bridging the gulf between himself and his people. It was his grace that provided them to be reconciled to him. They were described as a stiff necked people, hard of heart, who rebelled against God in the wilderness. The relationship between God and his creation, while remaining the same, would now turn from a specific people (the Jews), to all people (Jew and Gentile) alike. A new covenant would be made. Not radically different in process, but immeasurably greater in scope from the old covenant. No longer would God deal through only one nation, and one people. Now that same rest his chosen people would not enter into would be available to every individual.

It may seem to some, possibly to many, that God somehow changed his mind about how to deal effectively with the people of his creation. It might look as if God said, "Well, that didn't work. I had better try something else, a new covenant". Nothing could be farther from the truth. God's perspective is very much different from ours. He sees our history from the moment of creation into eternity. He knew from before the foundations of the world that he (the Father) would have to send Jesus (the Son) to offer himself as a sacrifice for mankind and, in so doing, redeem us to himself. This was always the plan. We, however, are a people slow to learn and even slower to act. It is much easier to teach using a smaller "sample group" than to try to apply everything immediately to the whole. God has shown us his great patience and endurance by taking the time to teach these lessons to us, first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.  In his kindness, he chose to reveal his nature and character in a way that would be easiest for us to understand. This is why the Old Testament has such relevant value to us today. It allows us to see God working through a group of people, in the midst of a world of "non-believers", to establish his purpose (right relationship to him) through them here on earth. He was teaching them repentance, forgiveness and obedience toward a loving God full of grace. Sounds pretty much like what every Christian has to face in the world today. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Much has been said to bring us to this point, and it needed to be said, so that you would be able to see with greater understanding what Paul writes about in his letter to the Hebrews. If what has been  said above hasn't yet settled in your heart, go back and read it again. (I know, you just want to get to the point. But, it is so important that you not miss the consistency with which God works with us). Paul writes from the perspective of a Jew having been faithful to the law of God. He was "circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless." (Phl 3:5-6, NIV). He was given the mission to take the gospel (good news) of Jesus (the messiah) to the gentile nations. Why God chose Paul, with his knowledge of the Jewish people, to go to the gentiles is no mystery. It was he (Paul) who would have the understanding of the old testament necessary to explain the complete picture of God's grace to those who did not yet have the background information they would need to see the one true God working consistently throughout history with his people. Paul could speak in the fullness of the gospel message to teach them of God, as seen in the scriptures, and introduce them to the God-Man, Jesus. Knowing the "Jewishness" of Christianity brings a depth and understanding to the new covenant that is sorely lacking without it.

Paul begins chapter 3 of the book of Hebrews by comparing and contrasting Jesus with Moses. This is not at all unimportant since Moses was seen as the deliverer of God's people from the bondage of Egypt, and Jesus is the final deliverer of God's people from sin and death. Through one was given the law and sacrifices to appease the law. Through the other was found the fulfillment of the law and the last sacrifice of atonement. Jesus was worthy of greater honor "as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself". (Heb 3:3, NIV). We are then given the true picture of the order of things from past to present in verses 5 and 6. Moses was a faithful servant in God's house, Christ is faithful as a son over God's house, and we are his house. We are the completed work the builder intended to produce from the beginning. The house is built, stop hammering nails.

In the next nine verses Paul reminds us to not "harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion". The rebellion in the wilderness had such profound impact upon the relationship between God and his people that we are warned here twice not to repeat it. The rebellion took the form of unbelief in the hearts of those who Moses led out of Egypt. They refused to accept God at his word and receive what was theirs by his promise. They would not enter into his rest believing that the work was finished. There must be something left to do, some preparation necessary, some training of some kind, to complete the work. This rebellion continues today, in many people, many churches, many denominations. We have a difficult time believing God when Jesus spoke from the cross "it is finished".

The promise of entering his rest still stands for us, just as it did for those in the wilderness. They did not enter into his rest, we are told, because they did not combine the promise with faith. It was because of their lack of faith (unbelief) that God declared "They shall never enter my rest". That they never entered his rest in the old covenant seems to explain why the work of reconciliation always appeared unfinished in some sense. The day of atonement was repeated each year, with many sacrifices in-between, never quite completing the task at hand once and for all. Remember, faith is the "assurance of things hoped for, and the evidence (or substance) of things not seen". It is not an abstract feeling or baseless hope. It is what allows us to jump into our daddy's waiting arms when he says "I'll catch you", knowing so strongly that he is able to do it, that his promise overcomes our fear. His "rest" was waiting for the people of Israel, just as it waits for us today, and all we must do to obtain it is to leap into our Heavenly Fathers arms.

The writer of Hebrews also warns us that disobedience kept them from entering into his rest. Traditionally, disobedience is thought of as doing something you have been told not to do. In this instance, however, their disobedience is not doing what they had been told to do. It is a subtle difference, but rather noteworthy. They were told to enter the land, that it had been given to them. All they needed to do was walk into it, pitch their tent, and call it home. God was saying, "Trust me in this, I have brought you out of bondage in Egypt, I provided food and water for you, your shoes never wore out, and now I'm telling you to cross this river and pitch your tents because I have given the land to you". By not going into the land, regardless of giants or armies or wild beasts or plague or famine or any other real, or imagined, problem ahead of them, they were in essence telling God, "We don't trust you anymore". If someone tells you they can't trust you, someone that you love, you know how devastating it is to your heart. Not to be trusted puts into question your very character and nature. It questions the very motive you have for doing something. Trust is a covenanted agreement. A child trusts a parent to do things and make decisions for them that are in his, or her, best interest. We want to trust that the government is looking out for our safety and welfare as they intact laws. You want to be able to trust that your employer will have the money they owe you on pay day. But people have let us down in the past, and we have let others down. Trust is so precious that it often takes a long time to build up. Yet, after all God had done for Israel, they said, "We don't trust you in this". Because of this, they never entered his rest.

The work of God to reconcile man to himself has been finished since the creation of the world because we are told, "And on the seventh day God rested from all his work". God never starts something without knowing every detail of how and when he will bring it to completion. In God's case, the evidence that he has finished a work is that he began it. What has been left us is a Sabbath rest for the people of God, the promise still stands. To enter  in we must not only accept the finished work of God on our behalf through Jesus Christ our Lord, but rest from our own work as well.

This new covenant is so much superior to the old in every way. The Israelites had priests, selected from among men and called of God, to represent them before the Lord. He was to offer sacrifice for the sins of the people, and also, for himself since he was subject to weakness. But now we have a great high priest, also called of God, who petitions on our behalf. Jesus, God become flesh, who led a perfect, sinless life offered himself as our sacrifice and took his blood not into a tabernacle made by men, but to the tabernacle in heaven of which the Israelites temple was only a shadow. His was the perfect offering that settled the matter of sin and forgiveness once, for all. And, when he had finished his work by offering himself, dying, and rising again from the dead, he did exactly what we should expect. He sat down at the right hand of his father in heaven and rested from his work. All that remains is for us to enter into his rest by believing (knowing) in our heart that the way to reconciliation with God is finished, and being obedient to the law as Jesus summed it up; love God with all your heart, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. To this we can add nothing.

* I realize that the authorship of the book of Hebrews is in question. However, most scholars agree that Paul is the most likely writer of the epistle because of style and references to Timothy found therein.

go back                   All material herein © Copyright 2000 Terry R. Wilson

If you have comments or suggestions, email me at

This page created with Netscape Navigator Gold