What is God’s Rest?

By Dr. Jeff Marx – Head of School

Question: Have you ever wondered why God rested after creation (Gen. 2:2-3)?
I think of “rest” as a necessary respite for recovery and restoration, but I don’t believe God rested because He was weary; perhaps God rested to enjoy His creation?

Question: Of the Ten Commandments, did you know that the fourth commandment, requiring Israel to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy (Ex. 20:8, Deut. 5:12), is the only one that is not repeated in the New Testament? (The English word “sabbath” derives from the Hebrew word for “rest”.)
Pondering these questions, as I have prayed regularly for our faculty and staff to have adequate rest during a pandemic year, led me to study the biblical concept of “God’s rest” in Hebrews 3:7-4:11. I’d like to briefly share my thoughts.

The book of Hebrews is a letter written to believers with a Jewish background. The author does not self-identify. The letter was probably written in the late first or early second century. The theme of Hebrews is “Jesus is better” – better than the angels, better than Moses, a better High Priest who offers a better covenant established upon better promises. Interspersed are several sections exhorting readers to remain faithful, and Hebrews 3:7 begins one such section with a quotation from Psalm 95.

Psalm 95 is a worship Psalm that ends with a warning (Ps. 95:7b-11, Heb. 3:7-11) to listen to God, believe, and obey. Believers are not to “harden their hearts”, as Israel did by refusing to enter the Promised Land after the Exodus from Egypt (Num. 14). God’s consequence for Israel’s unbelief and disobedience was, “They shall never enter my rest” (Heb. 3:11b), which equated to a 40-year delay after which only two (Joshua and Caleb) were permitted to enter the land God promised to Israel (Heb. 3:16-19).

The conclusion of Hebrews 3:7-4:11 reads, “There remains a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience” (Heb. 4:10-11; NIV, 1984).

Question: So, what is God’s rest?
God’s rest is not a “vacation”.
For several reasons, I do not understand God’s rest to refer to eternal salvation:

  1. I don’t think it likely that all the Israelites who rebelled in Numbers 14 were unregenerate.
  2. The book of Hebrews is written to believers.
  3. The use of the word “gospel” in Heb. 4:2 and 4:6 probably means “good news” in the general sense, rather than specifically referring to the good news of salvation.

For Israel, the idea of entering God’s rest was synonymous with entering the Promised Land (Ps. 95:11; Heb. 3:11, 18-19).

I believe God’s rest refers to entering God’s earthly blessings and promises as a result of living a life of faithful obedience. It’s a contented (1 Thes. 2:2), abundant life (John 10:10) serving God in response to His call, knowing the eternal outcome is determined.

Perhaps God’s rest allows us full enjoyment of His creation.

In Christ,
Dr. Jeff MarxHead of School