The passage before us today comes from the Letter (Epistle) to the Hebrews (Hebrews 4:9), written clearly to Christian Jews who needed to deal with the old way of life, under the Law of Moses, and the new and living way of life under Christ (Hebrews 10:20). For a Christian today, looking back, it appears so obvious; however for the Jew on accepting Christ, some 2000 years of history needed to be dealt with – and this was not an easy task. One aspect the Jew needed to grapple with was the priesthood, and, in particular the role of the High Priest. The book of Hebrews sets forth the fact that Christ is superior in all ways to Aaron, as Great High Priest, and furthermore, Christ is not only a priest – the role he currently occupies – but is also a king. But if the priesthood of Christ is superior to Aaron, what of the people of God, who were promised a rest in the land of promise (Hebrews 3) – but failed due to their unbelief (Hebrews 3:19). The conclusion – the wrath of God will be greater for those that fail in belief in the Son of God, who is greater than Moses (or Aaron). If the writer stopped here, misery would ensue; but the writer continues in Chapter 4 with God’s promise, which will be fully realized by the one, not in obeying the law, or in what Aaron could do, but through Christ through faith (a term used in 34 verses in Hebrews).
We first see rest in Genesis 2:2 with God resting from His work. God created the world and all that it is in it, and it was good – and then He rested. Note here for future reference – His rest was from work that produced perfection – everything he did was good. Also note rest did not end on the seventh day, but it commenced on the seventh. Here we need to described rest – it is not idleness, although it includes enjoyment, for God could not be idol, nor is it rest due to fatigue – God’s work was not toil in the sense He had to work to survive as did all the decedents of the fallen Adam. Indeed man cannot understand what the rest of God entailed and accomplished, because of Adam’s fall – humans have never experienced such rest – but there is a time when believers will; the subject of the verse that headed this message (Hebrews 4:9).
In the fallen world rest is a rest from weariness – just as the ark that carried Noah and 7 other souls was tossed on the waves of the flood until it it rested on Ararat (Gen 8:4). It is rest because we have nowhere safe to reside as the dove that Noah sent forth (Gen 8:8, 9). We cannot hide from our sin-nature and sin-ravaged bodies. Indeed the word the writer to the Hebrews uses is equivalent to the words Moses uses in narrating the experience of Noah.
I will not dwell on all the passages that describe the inadequacy of rest or the inability to achieve rest in the experience of men and woman as compared with that of our Father in Genesis 2. However, as has been pre-empted, that rest was mightily disrupted when Adam sinned, as was the life of Adam and Eve.
Prior to the fall Adam worked – for this is the lot of all living organisms – but this was not toil which is a work that is fatiguing, troubling, never ending and cannot save us; it merely delays the inevitable - death. Don’t believe the movies that indicate that humans were made for pleasure – and portraying heaven as a time of idleness and pleasure, for I have my doubts that this could possibly be the case – but rather we will be in the state that Adam was in chapter 2 of Genesis. Adam’s work was ordered by God; as is ours – his charge was to rule the earth; not rape it for all its worth, destroying all that God has given, but rather tending it as a farmer tends his crops with loving care. Thus, Adam and Eve were placed into the Garden of Eden to dress and keep it (Genesis 2:15) – and the Garden provided the necessities of life. In essence Adam and Eve’s job was to exercise care over the garden; “to keep it”. They were not battling drought or disease or weeds, or seeking salvation from the wrath of God but rather, serving God in tending His creation. However after the fall, where Eve was deceived and Adam sinned (Rom 5:12), all changed so that man and God (John 5:17) could not possibly rest. Jehovah tells all of humanity through Adam:
Then to Adam He said, "Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it': "Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:17-19)
In this passage we can see:
Thus rest became something that Adam could aspire to but never reach – without work he would starve and his work would he hard and never ending. Women were no longer free, but under the rule of man and bearers of pain in childbirth. Sin befell man, and every aspect of his life – affecting all generations thence forth. Death, both physical and spiritual became a reality. Adam could not rest from being under the punishment of God; nor could he rest from producing food, because the Garden of Eden, which provided his food, was no more his domain (Gen 3:24)– he had to strive with the earth in order to survive.
Don’t get caught up with just the physical aspects of the punishment of Adam – although we cannot miss the extraordinary effect of sin which went far beyond just the realm of Adam and Eve, affecting all of creation (Rom 8:22). Note clearly the spiritual consequences. Adam and Eve could no longer seek Jehovah’s company because they were no longer holy, but rather soiled by sin; and indeed physically covered up to hide their shame. They had no place to rest!
And the covering Jehovah (Yahweh) provided, we see a glimpse of the grace and mercy of our God – the coverings came by the slaughter of animals, and thus there was shedding of blood (Gen 3:21). Thus we see the miserable Adam and Eve driven out of the Garden of Eden and forced to work in order to say alive – there was no rest. They were covered with animal’s skins after the cursed earth was saturated with the animal’s blood (Deut 15:23) for the first time. But we also see a way for salvation where faith in God, who would deal once for all with Satan, would be the way a way of salvation (Gen 3:15) – it would be by working.
Thus from the very earliest we have a picture, seen in the covering of Adam and Eve with skins of animals, of the way to salvation – through the shedding of blood, and in this a way forward to an everlasting rest (Heb 9:22). And this is the message of the Letter to the Hebrews – there is a way of salvation; accomplished by a perfect, and once-for-ever sacrifice, of the Son of God who bore our sin for our sakes(Heb 9:28; seen in the Lord’s supper Luke 22:20). In this, salvation acts upon us now – we are saved - but the rest is to come – we will be taken into his glory;
But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.
(1 Peter 5:10)
Just one more thing; where is this rest going to take place? Unlike the Children of Israel, who looked forward to an earthly rest in the Land of Canaan, for the one who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, our rest is heavenly. As Paul points out to the Corinthian Church, we have been saved into the spiritual realm (1 Cor 15:42-49; Phil 3:21). On death we will bear a heavenly character – the image of the heavenly Man – which is Christ Jesus. Thus we come the full circle – Adam is created in the image of God, which is corrupted by sin – the risen believer will have the character of the image of God as did Adam – perfected Christ.
Currently we are pilgrims – a word that Peter uses (1 Peter 1:1) – on this earth. The ravages of sin are still evident in our flesh (Romans 7) – we thus must toil all of our life; but we CAN rest from being troubled about our salvation (Matt 11:28 - 30) – because believers are saved, and cannot be lost (John 17:12; Romans 10:13; Eph 2:8; 1 Tim 2:4 and many more).
Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, (Titus 2:11-13)