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Themes in Hebrews, Lesson 3 – Part 2


Themes in Hebrews – Lesson Three Part 2.


We begin by reading Exodus 6:6-8

Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’”

In this passage God makes a promise to Israel. Note carefully that it is ONE promise, but that there are several aspects of the promise. Please note what God will do for His People in fulfilment of His promise..

He will redeem them from slavery, He will adopt them, He will give them assurance, He will guide them and protect them, He will give them the promised land.

All of these blessings are the result of God’s grace. They didn’t deserve to be the inheritors of God’s promise, and they didn’t do anything to to earn it. God will do it for them out of His unmerited love and favour.

Now see the same promise applied to God’s people, the Church in Romans 8.29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Note what God’s promise means for the Christian: He chooses them, He calls them, He justifies them, He glorifies them.

Notice the same principle at work. God’s promise of redemption is entire and inclusive. Redemption involves our election, our salvation and our home-call to heaven.

Please grasp this truth. God chooses us and saves us to glorify us in heaven with Him. Those who he calls will ultimately be in heaven. This is not a series of separate truths or separate acts of God or separate promises. The God who brings us out of sin and shame brings us into his Kingdom and into His presence.

Stuart Olyott draws out an important distinction for us here. It is the distinction between the crude doctrine of ‘Once Saved Always Saved’ and the reformed doctrine of THE PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS. It’s on Page 36 & 37 of his book, ‘I Wish Someone Would Explain Hebrews To Me!’ Please read the section.

Now, having learned this important lesson, we can look at Hebrews chapter 3:7 to 4:13. There are three parts to this section:-

  1. A Warning from Israel’s Past. Hebrews 3:7-4:1.

Here the Hebrew author actually preaches a sermon on Psalm 95.

Here’s an aid to getting a quick grasp of this section. In your marking Bible, enter a parenthesis after the word THEREFORE in chapter 4 verse 1, then close the parenthesis after verse 11. I don’t recommend that you do that often… But it will give you a quick overview of what our author is trying to say. In the light of the author’s teaching on Moses, take care brethren and examine your hearts.

Now, what is now inside our parenthesis is the reference to psalm 95 which serves to remind the Hebrews of an incident from their history. The Children of Israel had been redeemed from Egypt, had been set free from bondage and slavery by a miraculous divine intervention, and had seen the preserving grace of God at the Red Sea. They had an amazing promise – THE PROMISED LAND would be theirs, but only if they followed the Lord and were obedient to Him. But they never entered the Promised Land. They died in the wilderness because of their rebellion and unbelief. They did not enter into God’s REST.

The passage in Ps95 and here in Hebrews harks back to passages in the Pentateuch. The words of the LXX in Hebrews are significant

do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,

on the day of testing in the wilderness,

Rebellion and testing translate the Hebrew Massah and Marebah. One place with two titles. Rebellion and testing God became the normal feature of the Canaanite wanderings of the Children of Israel. You can see the reference in the following passages…

Exodus 17:1-7

All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2Therefore the people quarrelled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” 3But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarrelling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

Numbers 14 – the story of Kadesh Barnea

Even Moses was not exempt from disobedience. In the incident in Numbers 20:1-13

He was told to speak to the rock, but notice that instead, he STRIKES it, presumably in anger. The water came forth as God had promised, but amuses was denied access to the Promised Land, to God’s Rest.

1And the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. And Miriam died there and was buried there. 2Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. 3And the people quarrelled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! 4Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? 5And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” 6Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them, 7and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 8“Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” 9And Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he commanded him. 10Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 13These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarrelled with the LORD, and through them he showed himself holy.

It’s important to note that God always wants his work done his way. Now, lets make a few observations:

This Passage is about APOSTASY. The Author is not writing to heathens here. he is writing to people who claim to belong to God, who outwardly worship Him, who appear to have a form of Godliness. They have experienced His grace and his miraculous redemptive intervention. Now, we know that people who have no form of Godliness, who are open and outright heathens, professed atheists, and who make no claim to know God at all, will never experience his Rest. But these people are His People! They claim his name and sing his praises.

But look at them! They started out for Him, but they constantly complained and whined about the conditions on the journey. They often looked back to Egypt and they longed to be back there. They saw the problems ahead in the Land, where they envisaged giants and labours and battles and suffering and cost and they were afraid and didn’t want to go in. They came part of the way and they stopped, and they never entered the land.

What was their problem? Hebrews tells us:

UNBELIEF. Heb 3:19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief

LACK OF FAITH. Hebrews 4:1-2. Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.

Olyott points out that the words translated GOOD NEWS here is actually ‘Gospelled’. We have been Gospelled and so had they, but the gospelling was of no benefit to them, for faith to receive the message and internalise it was not present.

Is it then, possible to start the Christian life, and not make it home? No, these people had unbelieving hearts, and faith (the gift of God with which we appropriate salvation) was not present. This is where our lesson from Exodus is relevant. God’s promise is indivisible. He promised the ancient Israelites that he would not only bring them out, but that he would bring them in. It was one single promise. The fact that these people in the wilderness didn’t persevere and enter the land is proof that while they had all the benefits and blessings of the gospel, they had never believed unto life.

So, to the Hebrews, the Author warns, “If you abandon your profession of faith you are simply showing that your belief in Christ was never real”. You are APOSTATE. He says, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God”.

2. The Promised Rest. Hebrews 4:1-10

A REST (katapausis) has been promised to God’s people. In order to appreciate this passage the question we must ask is, ‘What is that rest and when does it happen?’

There are several possible answers to that question:

  1. The rest could just be a metaphor for the peace of God that we experience as Christians. (One commentator refers to this as the FAITH-REST life). After all, didn’t Jesus invite sinners to come unto him, and that he would give them REST. Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
  2. The rest could be Canaan.
  3. The rest could indicate the Sabbath rest of God following the Creation. Genesis2:2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.
  4. Some dispensationalist preachers have projected this rest into the so-called Millennium Kingdom of Christ.
  5. Heaven. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them!”

Now, before we explore further the nature of the REST, pause to reflect that in academic, literate Greek society, where philosophy and semantics were part of cultured conversation it would be a normal procedure to take a word like Katapausis and extract every single ounce of meaning from that word. In a sense that is what the Author of Hebrews is doing here.

God rested after creation. Heb 4;3 For 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. 4For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.

That ‘certain place’ was in Genesis.

And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation

Now the Rabbis of Jesus day were making a great issue of the fact that after the six days of creation there was evening and there was morning – in other words, night fell, and the day ended. Note that on the seventh day, there is no mention of nightfall! So the Rabbis argued that God had not actually stopped resting, that in some sense, there was still a SABBATH REST and that it could be entered into. (The Hebrew author alludes to this in verse 4, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works)

Hebrews argues that that promise, of entering into God’s REST was still available to the believer in verse 1. Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.

It cannot be the past-tense REST of the promised land, Canaan, which had been promised to the Israelites, for they were unable to claim it through disobedience and unbelief. For the people of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished, because they did not obey the voice of the LORD; the LORD swore to them that he would not let them see the land that the LORD had sworn to their fathers to give to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. Joshua 5:6

Hebrews 4:2. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened

Even those Israelites who did enter the Promised Land didn’t experience the rest that had been promised. Verse 8. For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.

Neither was this rest obtained in David’s day, for the psalmist warns his own generation that they must not garden their hearts as their forefathers did and thus miss the rest. (Some commentators will stress that Canaan was just an earthly symbol of God’s rest, a downpayment, awaiting the full realisation, but not the full blessing – rather a pointer to a true heavenly rest. If so, is it ever right to equate God’s promises with a piece of real estate?).

Hebrews reaches a conclusion in the matter in in verse 9. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. But now he gives us an indication of the eternal nature of that rest. Like God’s Sabbath rest after creation, it is an unending rest, so verse 10: for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

So, obviously, when the Hebrew Author speaks about the rest into which we must enter, he is referring to our eternal rest in heaven. There, we rest from our labours, in a place where all our works and labours are laid aside for ever. Rev14:13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them!”

We must be careful not to miss it, because of unbelieving hearts and disobedient, non-submissive wills. Unbelief robs us of rest. Rev14:11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

3. The Word of God and Prayer.

Finally, in this lesson we notice two interesting secrets, that will help us, as we seek to persever in the Christian kife, and to be in heaven. Here they are:

* READ THE BIBLE. This is a terrifying verse. God sees right into our hearts. His word pierces us right to the very soul. He sees our thoughts, and he knows the real motives behind our words and our actions. You cannot hide anything from God. So, bearing in mind that God knows us inside out, how will we make sure that we do not miss entering into his rest? (After all. That is the point of this passage):

Believe. 3:12, 15.Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God… 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” Please bear in mind that these words are spoken to professing Christians.

Be Diligent. 4:1. Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. We are to FEAR lest we miss out on our heavenly rest. It must give us some concern. Take nothing for granted.

Be Aware of the Condition of your Heart. 4:15. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” Are they? Are our hearts hardened to God’s Word?

Act Today. In your marking Bible, mark or underline every time the text we have been studying uses the word TODAY. All we have is today. Yesterday is over and gone, and will never be regained. Tomorrow may never come. Right now, while we still have time, repent, return to the Lord, for we cannot fool God. His Word has penetrated into our hearts and shown us exactly what is in there.

* PRAY. The Hebrew author is at pains to inform us that there is one of us, someone who has been tempted just like we are being tempted, and who has already made it there, who is already in God’s promised REST and that One is Jesus. Everything that we are experiencing, he has already experienced, and he is comletely trustworthy. We can come to him with our troubles and problems.

Hebrews 4:14-16 14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

So there’s really no secret after all. To make sure that we are persevering, we must read the Bible and pray!

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