I often see even irreligious people on social media, when reflecting on the death of some person perhaps well-known, will write the name of the deceased with the letters “RIP” – which we all understand to mean “rest in peace.”
So there is a definite concept of a final rest that is after this life, presumably of a good sort that is divinely given.
The original idea of rest that follows labor is of course that of God “resting” on the seventh day after the six days of creation.
And so God built this into the rhythm of life of the Jewish community, and there is even physiological evidence of life rhythms that speak to the health of such a construct.
Coming off the previous chapter and the discussion of the failure of the exodus generation under Moses to trust God and enter into the Promised Land, this inheritance of a good land – one that God promised to fully supply their needs in an abundance of blessing such as no people had ever experienced before – was also spoken of as entering into God’s rest.
It is not as if it was going to be heaven on earth for the Israelites, but the blessing would be a fractional blessing of an eternal rest God gives to his people. And so, believing and being faithful and trusting God in the Christian life – though far from perfect and even oft accompanied by persecution – can be a sufficient blessing for this life and promise for that which is so much greater to be inherited in eternity.
Our reading today in 4:1-11 is a bit difficult to grasp at first glance, but go into it remembering again the over-arching background of these readers – Jews who had become Christians, but now in the midst of suffering were contemplating going back to the old ways. The writer is arguing that such would be foolish and would be akin to denying association with the winning team for affiliation with a team that had lost in the past and was losing again.
The exodus generation missed out and wandered around for 40 years. Joshua led another generation into the land and its blessings, but that is not the ULTIMATE rest. Several times in our verses today are quotes from Psalm 95 of David. There, written 400+ years later, David is looking forward to a future rest. So these readers should not believe that the rest was past, nor that they had to return to Judaism to find it. No, Christ was the one who is the champion who will lead those who trust in him to that rest – he is the entry point and forerunner … follow him!
4:1 – Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2 For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. 3 Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,
“So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”
And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. 4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” 5 And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”
6 Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, 7 God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted:
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.
So again, when you put the Christ-follower jersey on, that is your team; that is who you are. You are associated, through faith in Christ, with the one who has defeated sin and death and opened the way into the ultimate rest – to be fractionally known through the peace that rules in our hearts and minds even in a terribly fallen world, and to be known fully when we go to the Ultimate Promised Land.