Notes on Hebrews 4:1-3

Let us therefore fear1, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it2. For unto us was the gospel preached3, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it4. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest5: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.

  • 1 Phil 2:12
  • 2 Heb 3:12
  • 3 Rom 10:17
  • 4 Eph 2:8-9
  • 5 Ps 95:11, Heb 3:11

This is a continuation of the argument begun in Hebrews 3:7, which is an exposition and application of Psalm 95. “Thus far we have had Christ’s superiority over the prophets, the angels, [and] Moses. Now it is the glory of Christ which excels that attaching to Joshua” (AW Pink).

Background on Joshua

  • Joshua was a great prophet like Moses (Joshua 1:5)
  • Joshua was to lead the people of God to their rest (Joshua 1:6)
    • “There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them. (Joshua 1:5-6)
  • See Josh 1:12-15, where possession of the Promised Land is called the ‘rest’ promised by God. See also Joshua 22:4, and 23:1
  • Although most of the original generation that left Egypt died in unbelief, their descendants did enter God’s earthly rest for the Hebrew people.
  • God fulfilled his promise land rest for the people of God. This rest is typical of the greater rest for the people of God that Jesus, of whom Joshua is a type, will lead His people into
    • “And the LORD gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein. And the LORD gave them rest round about, according to all that he sware unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hand. There failed not ought of any good thing which the LORD had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass. (Joshua 21:43-45)
    • For if Joshua had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God (Heb 4:8-9)
  • When Messiah comes, there will be a greater rest for the people of God: “And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.” (Is 11:10)

The “rest” of Hebrews 3:11-4:11 refers to Canaan, and though Joshua actually conducted Israel into this rest, yet the apostle proves by a reference to Psalm 95 that Israel never really (as a nation) entered into the [final] rest of God. Herein lies the superiority of the Apostle (Heb 3:1) of Christianity; Christ does lead His people into the true rest. Such, we believe, is the line of truth developed in our passage.

(adapted from AW Pink)

Let us therefore fear

  • therefore… Chapter 3 ends with the solemn warning that the Hebrews who left Egypt “could not enter in because of unbelief.” Chapter 4 begins with a warning: therefore, in light of that, let us fear…
  • us – The author applies this admonition to himself and all believers.
  • Fear
    • Phil 2:12 – “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
    • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs)
    • Fear the Lord (Mt 10:28)
    • Do not be high-minded, but fearful (Rom 11:20)
    • Pass your time in fear (1 Pet 1:17)
    • etc.
  • This fear is not a lack of confidence in God’s ability or willingness to save. Rather, let us fear our own frailty and unbelief. Our sinful nature deceives us and leads us to place our confidence in ourselves and makes us vulnerable to temptation and sin. This “evil heart of unbelief” leads one to apostatize from Christ (Heb 3:12). The fear of apostasy and unbelief should cause us to be on guard against being deceived by sin, because “we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.
  • “But the fear which is here recommended is not that which shakes the confidence of faith but such as fills us with such concern that we grow not torpid with indifference. (John Calvin)

lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.

  • What are we to fear? Not taking hold of the salvation which is freely offered us because of unbelief
  • The Hebrews left Egypt with great excitement and hope, but they did not have faith in God’s ability and willingness to keep his promise.
  • See Matthew 13:20-22. It is not our start, but our perseverance that witnesses our faith and salvation.

For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.

  • God’s method of dealing with men has always been through the preaching of the gospel
  • Rom 10:14 – how can a man believe without preaching?
  • Faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17) the gospel, but it is not the hearing alone that saves (Ja 1:22). The hearing must be mixed with faith
  • “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18)
  • “the Gospel is as food, and faith is the hand that receives it” (Gill)
  • For whom does the gospel work effectually? It is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth (Rom 1:16)
  • The gospel preached to the Hebrews: “The good news which was announced to the first-century readers of this epistle was that of a spiritual rest in Messiah. The good news given to the generation which came out of Egypt was that of a temporal, physical rest in a land flowing with milk and honey, offered to a people who had been reduced to abject slavery for 400 years… (Wuest)

For we which have believed do enter into rest…

  • The writer does NOT say that we HAVE entered into that rest, but rather that we DO enter that rest
    • vs 1 calls the rest for the people of God a promise (a future rest)
    • vs 9 states – “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God…” (a future rest)
    • vs 11 states – “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest” (a future rest)
  • Eph 1:13 – “After that ye believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise”. See also 2 Tim 1:12

“The absolute safety, the fixed and unchanging portion of the chosen people of God can never be doubted. From the eternal, heavenly, divine point of view, saints can never fall; they are seated in heavenly places with Christ; they are renewed by the Spirit, and sealed by Him unto everlasting glory. …. From our point of view, as we live in time, from day to day, our earnest desire must be to continue steadfast, to abide in Christ, to walk with God, to bring forth fruit that will manifest the presence of true and God-given life. Hence the apostle, who says to the Philippians, ‘Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ’ (Heb. 1:6), adds to a similar thought in another epistle, ‘If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel.’ … For it is by these very exhortations and warnings that the grace of God keeps us. It is in order that the elect may not fall, it is to bring out in fact and time the (ideal and eternal) impossibility of their apostasy, that God in His wisdom and mercy has sent to us such solemn messages and such fervent entreaties, to watch, to fight, to take heed unto ourselves, to resist the adversary”

(Adolph Saphir)

But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

(Matt 13:20-23)


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