Beyond Today

Help for Today, Hope for Tomorrow | Learn more...

You are here

"There Remains a Sabbath-Rest for the People of God"

Login or Create an Account

With a UCG.org account you will be able to save items to read and study later!

Sign In | Sign Up

×

The book of Hebrews uses creative comparisons to emphasize to its largely Jewish audience that the weekly Sabbath is a reminder of more than the fact that God was the Israelites’ Creator and the One who had delivered them from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 20:8-11 Exodus 20:8-11 8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates: 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: why the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
American King James Version×
; Deuteronomy 5:12-15 Deuteronomy 5:12-15 12 Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work: 14 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your ox, nor your ass, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates; that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you. 15 And remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD your God brought you out there through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
American King James Version×
).

The faithfulness of Moses and Jesus Christ is spoken of in the first six verses of the third chapter of Hebrews. Beginning in Hebrews 3:7 Hebrews 3:7Why (as the Holy Ghost said, To day if you will hear his voice,
American King James Version×
, Psalm 95 is quoted to document the failure of the first generation of Israel as a lesson to God’s people today. Disobedience because of unbelief was the main cause of their failure to enter the rest promised to them (Hebrews 3:18-19 Hebrews 3:18-19 18 And to whom swore he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? 19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
American King James Version×
).

The fourth chapter begins with an admonition to faith and obedience as a prerequisite for receiving the rest that is still available to God’s people. No one has yet entered that rest, and not because God hadn’t prepared it—for in fact, it was finished from the foundation of the world (Hebrews 4:3 Hebrews 4:3For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
American King James Version×
). That God rested on the seventh day from all His works indicates as much (Hebrews 4:4 Hebrews 4:4For he spoke in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.
American King James Version×
).

David (in Psalm 95) spoke of a promise of rest long after Joshua led the second generation of Israel to rest in the Promised Land. This demonstrates that the rest fulfilled at the time of Joshua was only a type of a greater rest to come (Hebrews 4:6-8 Hebrews 4:6-8 6 Seeing therefore it remains that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: 7 Again, he limits a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. 8 For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.
American King James Version×
).

Rest for the people of God

Now we come to a controversial statement: “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9 Hebrews 4:9There remains therefore a rest to the people of God.
American King James Version×
).

The Greek word translated “rest” in every other verse throughout Hebrews 3 and 4 is katapausis. But the word translated “rest” in Hebrews 4:9 Hebrews 4:9There remains therefore a rest to the people of God.
American King James Version×
is sabbatismos. This is the only New Testament occurrence of this word, and its meaning is fundamental to understanding this pivotal verse, which is the conclusion of everything previously said about “rest” beginning in Hebrews 3:7 Hebrews 3:7Why (as the Holy Ghost said, To day if you will hear his voice,
American King James Version×
.

The Anchor Bible Dictionary states regarding the meaning of  sabbatismos:

“The words ‘sabbath rest’ translate the [Greek] noun sabbatismos, a unique word in the NT. This term appears also in Plutarch … for sabbath observance, and in four post-canonical Christian writings … for seventh day ‘sabbath celebration’ ” (p. 855, emphasis added).

The same resource continues with an explanation of the context:

“The author of Hebrews affirms in Heb[rews] 4:3-11, through the joining of quotations from Gen[esis] 2:2 and Ps[alm] 95:7, that the promised ‘sabbath rest’ still anticipates a complete realization ‘for the people of God’ in the … end-time which had been inaugurated with the appearance of Jesus [Hebrews] 1:1-3 …

“The experience of ‘sabbath rest’ points to a present ‘rest’ ( katapausis ) reality in which those ‘who have believed are entering’ (4:3) and it points to a future ‘rest’ reality (4:11). Physical sabbath-keeping on the part of the new covenant believer as affirmed by ‘sabbath rest’ epitomizes cessation from ‘works’ (4:10) in commemoration of God’s rest at creation (4:4 = Gen[esis] 2:2) and manifests faith in the salvation provided by Christ.

“Heb[rews] 4:3-11 affirms that physical ‘sabbath rest’ ( sabbatismos ) is the weekly outward manifestation of the inner experience of spiritual rest ( katapausis ) in which the final … rest is … experienced already ‘today’ (4:7). Thus ‘sabbath rest’ combines in itself creation-commemoration, salvation-experience, and eschaton [end-time]-anticipation as the community of faith moves forward toward the final consummation of total restoration and rest” (pp. 855-856).

In summary, The Anchor Bible Dictionary decisively and correctly concludes that sabbatismos means keeping the seventh-day Sabbath. Therefore, Hebrews 4:9 Hebrews 4:9There remains therefore a rest to the people of God.
American King James Version×
stresses the need to continue to keep the Sabbath in a New Covenant context, even though the day also embodies all it meant under the Old Covenant.

Added meaning for the Sabbath

The book of Hebrews is addressed to Jewish Christians to explain the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. The Sabbath and circumcision have long been considered two of the cardinal tenets of Judaism, identifying the Jews as “the people of God.” However, by the time of Christ, the meaning of the Sabbath had become buried under a mountain of dos and don’ts.

The Sabbath had become a heavy burden as Sabbath-keeping degenerated into the bondage of legalism, perpetuated by the narrow-minded scribes and Pharisees. Jesus Christ condemned these human traditions and set the example of how to keep the Sabbath as God’s gift to mankind (Mark 2:27-28 Mark 2:27-28 27 And he said to them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: 28 Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
American King James Version×
).

Elevation of the Sabbath

What could be more appropriate to the book of Hebrews than the elevation of the Sabbath to its full meaning and intent in the plan of God?

So the Sabbath retains its Old Covenant meanings that identify God’s specially sanctified people (“the people of God”) and point them back to God as Creator. Added to that is the New Covenant meaning of entering into another rest through Jesus Christ, fulfilled in type by the rest given to Israel during Joshua’s time (Hebrews 4:8 Hebrews 4:8For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.
American King James Version×
).

This spiritual rest begins now in this life and reaches its consummation in the resurrection to eternal life at the return of Christ (Revelation 20:6 Revelation 20:6Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
American King James Version×
). His return also signals the beginning of the millennial rest prophesied in the Old Testament.

The book of Hebrews cleverly weaves together three themes of rest—the rest promised to Israel from enemies, the physical rest of the weekly Sabbath, and the spiritual rest through Christ. The conclusion is that Sabbath-keeping is still necessary for the people of God, the New Testament Church.

As Hebrews 4:10 Hebrews 4:10For he that is entered into his rest, he also has ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
American King James Version×
affirms, we must all labor to enter the spiritual rest and continue to keep the weekly Sabbath out of obedience to God and because of what it portrays in His great master plan.

You might also be interested in...

Let's take a look at the Sabbath commandment a little more carefully and...

Learn about a group of people who found - just by reading the Bible - that...