The writer the Hebrews described the moment a person exchanges confidence in his own works for faith in Jesus Christ as “entering into God’s rest”. He urged, “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it” (Heb.4:1).
Entering into God’s rest equates to believing the gospel of grace. This is made clear in the two verses which follow, “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. For we who have believed do enter that rest” (Heb.4:2&3).
The word ‘rest’, as used here, does not mean refreshment from weariness but ceasing to work because the job is done, as when God rested at the completion of His creation works. It is only when a work is completed that this kind of rest can be enjoyed. When Jesus died upon the cross the work of redemption was perfected; nothing more is required of us. God is totally satisfied in the redeeming sacrifice of His Son, and those who believe in Him enter into God’s rest and cease from all striving. “For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His” (Heb.4:10).
CHRIST OUR SABBATH
Some teach that Christians are obligated to keep the seventh day of the week as a Sabbath rest, as God rested on the seventh day at the completion of creation. We need to understand, however, that God rested in a perfect creation, and that rest was interrupted by the Fall. God cannot find rest in a fallen world, and neither can we.
When Jesus was on earth He offended the Pharisees many times because He healed on the Sabbath. On one occasion when they challenged Him, asking why He violated the Sabbath by working in it, He shocked them even more by stating that not only was He working but His Father worked too! “But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father has been working until now, and I have been working’” (John 5:17). The Father was working with the Son for the purpose of bringing in the new creation.
God no longer rejoices in that for which He originally instituted the Sabbath. He cannot take pleasure in a world filled with violence, hatred, murder, rape, abuse, immorality, deceit, etc. Instead, He has ushered in a new creation through the salvation He has provided in His Son. This new creation, of which Christ is the firstfruits, is faultless in God’s sight; and both God and His new covenant people enjoy true rest in the new creation. God refers to this rest as “My rest” (Heb.3:11; 4:5). It is “His rest” (Heb.4:10), because not only is it the rest He gives to us but also the rest in which He Himself delights.
The term “Sabbath” is mentioned only once in the New Testament epistles. In this sole reference believers are warned against coming under any sense of pressure to observe a Sabbath day. Paul says, “…let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col.2:16&17). The context of this admonition is that through their union with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection believers have been removed from the realm of the law. The Sabbath was just a shadow of the true rest which is to be found in Christ. To forsake the substance and return to the shadow would be foolish.
A new day has been appointed for those in the new covenant. It is called “the Lord’s Day” (Rev.1:10) and it commemorates the resurrection of Christ which took place on the first day of the week. The forgiveness of our sins was purchased through the death of Christ; but His death would have been void without the resurrection. Had He not risen we would still be in our sins and our faith would be in vain (1 Cor.15:17). The resurrection signalled the birth of Christianity.
The old Sabbath signified God’s rest in Adam before the Fall; but the Lord’s Day, i.e. the first day of the week when Jesus rose from the dead, speaks of God’s rest in the Second Man and the last Adam, Jesus Christ. The resurrection marked the end of the old and the beginning of the new. It is the end of sin, death, the law and the old covenant. Just as Judaism had a beginning, so does Christianity – not the Cross, but the resurrection. As Christians, we stand on resurrection ground; we belong to the new creation.
We are not compelled to keep the first day of the week; only to understand its significance in relation to our spiritual rest. Paul makes the following point: “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it” (Rom.14:5&6). The rest which God has given to us in Christ is not confined to one day a week; it is a continuous, uninterrupted blessing of peace and assurance.
“There remains therefore a rest for the people of God” (Heb.4:9). Have you entered into that rest?