Vol.XVI No.X Pg.7
December 1979

? You Know What?

Robert F. Turner

Is the "sabbath rest" of Heb. 4:9 the extension into the Christian age of the Mosaic Sabbath, or the perfect eternal and final rest to be enjoyed by all people of God-- is it Heaven?

The general context of Hebrews is that of Superiority of Christ and the New Covenant, to Judaistic messengers, Lawgiver, and Priesthood; by which Jewish Christians are exhorted to be faithful — don't give up the complete and perfect for the types and shadows of the first covenant. Heb. 3: warns that their ancestors could not enter "rest" because of disobedience, and uses this to urge them to be faithful.

David (Psalms 95) is cited to show that Joshua did not lead Israel into the true "rest" of God (4:4-9), and identifies TODAY as the time for so entering. "Today" refers to the Christian age, Paul's "Now" or "the accepted time," in which believers are saved. God's rest can be entered only after labor (4:4, 10-11).

"There remaineth" defines a conclusion from previous words (Westcott); "is used as a technical term in wills" (Vine); Vincent says, "it still remains." The idea is not that which we had remains, but that which remains to be had. Sabbatismos appears in no other place, and may have been coined by the author (M&M). It is taken from the verb — differing from the noun form that would indicate the day or time. It refers to rest, or Sabbath-like rest; and both Westcott and Delitzsch say Jews recognized eternity as a "rest." Reread above, carefully! The rest which remains for the people of God is a promise left to us, Heb. 4:1; not an ordinance leftover on us. It is to be entered, 4:1, 10; not observed. It is a retirement, 4:10; not a coffee break. It is a rest that can be denied us if we are not found pleasing to God, 3:19; 4:1. It is entered by believers, 4:3, who are to fear, 4:1, and give diligence to possess it, 4:11. It is erroneous to suppose that the writer, whose purpose in writing the epistle was to illustrate the superiority of the perfect over the temporal, would throw in an out-of-context binding of the Old Testament Sabbath, which was an imperfect type of the real thing.

Recall Colossians 2:16-17, "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a sabbath day: which are a shadow of the things to come." Hebrews argues the end of the Mosaic law in the same words, 10:1, "For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things can never ... make perfect them that draw nigh." The rest of Hebrews 4:9 is clearly that good thing to come, or Heaven.

We summarize with the words of Vincent: "Man's portion in the divine rest inaugurated at creation has never been really appropriated: but it still remaineth. This statement is justified by the new word for rest... The sabbath rest points back to God's original rest, and marks the ideal... This falls in with the ground thought of the epistle, the restoration of all things to God's archetype."

—Digest of article by Scott Smelser.