As we walk through Hebrews in our reading plan, below are a few additional thoughts, questions, commentary, and quotes. These aren’t designed to substitute your personal study and reflectionon God’s Word, but they’re small supplements to your study. It’s always helpful to begin your study by reading the passage and making some basic observations. See the post “Making Observations” for basic questions to help you understand and apply what you’re reading.
Fear is not entirely bad. There’s a healthy fear expressing itself in caution, concern, and wisdom. This fear seeks to be responsible while still living in dependence on God and trusting him. For instance, I don’t want to die or be severely injured through a car accident so I wear a seatbelt. Yes, I could still die or be severely injured, but wearing a seat-belt is a wise and simple precaution. I also lock the doors of my house at night. Fear of someone breaking into my home, endangering my family and robbing me of my goods causes me to take simple actions. Healthy fear leads to appropriate actions.
This is different from an unhealthy fear rooted in not trusting God and being ruled by fear. I lock my doors at night, but I don’t give up sleep and sit in a chair in front of my front door because I can’t go to bed out of fear. And though I wear a seatbelt, I still drive. An unhealthy fear of death from a car accident would leave me frozen in fear, which might look like never driving anywhere. So while fear can be ungodly and unhealthy, fear can also be wise and proper.
Hebrews 4 urges us to change our response to God and his living Word (4:12-13) because of a healthy fear of God, eternity, and the state of our heart. Our hearts easily deceive us, so we should be on guard against drifting away or become calloused to God. Temptations and idols allure us in and steal our heart’s affections from God, so we should fear small temptations and sins growing bigger and bigger until it’s too late. Once we start become comfortable with hearing truth but not obeying or responding to it, it becomes easier and easier to ignore apply God’s Word. A healthy fear of growing cold to God should cause us to draw near to him.
Hebrews urges us to respond, act, listen, and obey “today.” We all think we have tomorrow, but we might not. If a worldwide pandemic can remind us of one thing, it’s that life is short. We are vapors, and none of us are promised tomorrow. Therefore, while we have today, while God speaks to us today, we should act while we can. We should hear and heed his Word. We should prioritize seeking God and resting in God. We should not let unbelief or sin linger, but quickly cut it off, repent (turn around), and seek forgiveness that Jesus alone can provide.
Entering God’s Rest
Hebrews 3-4 talk a lot about entering God’s rest. In the Old Testament, the land promised to Israel was a picture of where Israel would find rest. It was the place where God’s people could dwell with God, enjoying his protection, promises, presence, and salvation. But because of Israel’s unbelief and rejection of God and his Word, they did not enter and receive rest (3:7-11; 4:2). What the OT reveals to us is this picture of rest with God via the land promises was ultimately a picture of a bigger and deeper rest. Even when Israel would at times occupy the land, they still did not enjoy the rest God offered.
Hebrews seems to understand the rest we can have, and that the audience is being told to enter into by faith, in a couple of ways. First, we can already experience a degree of rest here-and-now in Christ. Since Jesus forgives our sins, reconciles back to the Father, makes us new by the Spirit, and is the ruler of our life, there is rest in him. We have eternal salvation in our possession now and are made right with God, and so we can rest in him.
But beyond this, the more ultimate fulfillment and what’s at the forefront of the appeal in Hebrews 4 is a future rest for those in Christ. The land of Israel is not the solution the Bible looks to, but it’s a shadow pointing to a greater reality. The reality we long for, the place of rest, is a fully renewed earth where God dwells with his people forever (Rev. 21:1-4). Only then, when sin, death and evil are removed, when our bodies and spirits are remade, when the earth and the universe is made new, and when God’s heaven comes down to earth to be with us, only then will we fully experience the promised rest. But, though we might not experience that until the future, we can now it’s ours today if we believe God’s Word and enter through Jesus. We can have rest in part and await the fullness of rest if today we hear and heed God’s voice, and by the obedience of faith we enter through Jesus.
We should fear missing out on this rest, both now and forever. A healthy fear should prod us to listen to God’s voice today, given to us in the Bible, and respond by faith rather than unbelief. We should heed his voice by obeying it and trusting in it rather than ignoring it or failing to respond to it.
Study, Reflection, and Discussion Questions
- What are ways we experience peace and rest through Christ now?
- What are aspects of the fullness of peace and rest still awaiting us in the future as Christians?
- Why should setting our mind on what awaits us, and how the promises we will enjoy forever, help us to view temporary suffering and trials with a biblical perspective?
- How might a healthy fear motivate responding to God today rather than delaying?
- How should the power of God’s Word in 4:11-13 affect the way we read, relate to, and respond to it? Is there anything you need to do this week to better hear and heed God’s Word on a daily basis?
- If God’s Word is powerful and effective, living and active, how does that shape the content of what we encourage and exhort one another with? What might it look like for you to grow in building up with truths and promises of the Bible?
For Further Study
- Eschatological Rest: Deut. 12:9-12; Gen. 2:2 (cf. Heb. 4:4); 17:1-8; 1 Kings 8:56; Ps. 95:11; Is. 14:7; Rev. 14:13; Heb. 11:9-10 13-16; Matt. 11:28; 2 Cor. 1:20; Gal. 3:29.
- Sermon, “Be Diligent to Enter God’s Rest” by John Piper at desiringgod.org.
Ideas for Response
- Take a few moments to consider what it might look like to intentionally apply, obey, and respond to God’s Word. As you read your Bible, listen to sermons, read Christian literature full of Scripture, or have others speak the Bible into your life, do you just listen and move on or do you listen and seek to apply it? What are ways you can be intentional to respond immediately? What sharing with someone how you want or need to obey, or writing down your personal application help you?
- Find a friend to encourage you and keep you accountable when it comes to drawing near to God as you respond to his Word in faith. None of us are strong enough to live the Christian life alone, and our hearts are deceptive enough to convince us we’re okay when we’re not. Find others who will walk with you to help you apply God’s Word.