Relevant Verses: Hebrews 2,4
Leading Question: Does Hebrews 4 support the Sabbath or undermine it?
Hebrews 4 is a compact, closely argued chapter that focuses on Sabbath rest. But before we look at the text of chapter 4, let’s do a quick overview of the chapter in light of the chapter title, “Jesus, Our Faithful Brother.”
The emphasis on Jesus as our “Faithful Brother” is based on Hebrews 2:11-12, 17. In 2:11-12 we read that Jesus was “not ashamed” to call us his brothers and sisters. Here is God incarnate, declaring that he is not “not ashamed” to call this race of rebels his brothers and sisters.
Question: Does it diminish the greatness of God to say that this great God is also our brother? What kind of conflicting emotions might that set up in our own hearts when we realize that our Creator and Redeemer did not hesitate to call this basket case of sordid humanity his brothers and sisters?
Hebrews 4 and the Sabbath
The Vocabulary of Rest. Hebrews 3 and 4 place a heavy emphasis on the idea of “rest.” The primary noun in Greek is katapausis, which both in the NT and in the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint (= LXX) refers both to human rest and to divine rest.
Question: To what extent is the idea of “divine” rest not just a command, but an example for us?
Comment: In Genesis 2:1-3, where God establishes the Sabbath and blesses it, there is no command to keep the Sabbath holy. The divine example is given, which is what the author of Hebrews alludes to. God “rested” on the Sabbath (Gen. 2:3)
Question: Is the “rest” of Hebrews 4 something from the past or for the future or both?
Comment: Often in the New Testament, one hears an “already, but not yet,” reverberating in both background and foreground. “The kingdom of God is among you,” Jesus told the Pharisees when they asked him when the kingdom God would come (Luke 17:20-21). Yet in the Lord’s prayer we are invited to pray that the kingdom of God will come, clearly a future event.
Similarly, the idea of a rest is not only past and present, but also a future expectation. One does not have to choose. It is an already-but-not-yet reality.
Another word for rest: sabbatismos. In 4:9 Hebrews states: “a sabbath rest (sabbatismos) still remains for the people of God. That word is a brand new word, not found anywhere else in the New Testament or the literature of the first century (Johnsson, 95). Johnsson suggests “Sabbath-like rest” or “Sabbath-ish rest.” there is no command, no argument. There is simply the presence of a “Sabbath-ish” rest. In light of the word usage, Johnsson includes this fascinating quote:
“In my judgment, Hebrews 4:1-11 gives us the strongest evidence in favor of the seventh-day Sabbath in the entire New Testament. Yet it does so without a direct appeal or invitation to keep the Sabbath. A direct appeal might suggest that the Hebrew Christians were debating which day to observe. But Hebrews introduces the Sabbath indirectly, in a non-defensive but highly positive manner. Our rest in Christ, says the author, has the quality of the Sabbath. It is like the Sabbath” – Johnsson, 96.
Question: What is the overall thrust of Hebrews 4?
Comment: However much we may focus on the Sabbath in Hebrews 4, the real focus is on the everlasting “today,” the opportunity to start again “today.” Israel failed to enter into rest. Can we likewise fail?