Five Fatal Flaws: The Warning Passages in Hebrews (2)

This is the part 2 of a 5-part series. Previous: 1

2. A Warning About God’s Rest (Heb 3:7-4:13)

There was a second missing component in Judaism. The writer to the Hebrews takes us to Psalm 95:7-11 and reminds us about three Old Testament scenes: first, in Eden; second, in the Sinai desert; and third, in Canaan.

God rested in the perfection of the completed work of creation. He paced His creatorial acts so they would establish a seven-day pattern, allowing His creatures to enter into His rest. Rest is that condition where all things are as they were designed to be. But sin came in, and, as the Lord Jesus said, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” (Jn 5:17). When and why did He say that? At that moment the Jewish leaders were persecuting Jesus “and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath” (v 16). It’s your fault, not Ours, explained the Savior, that My Father and I had to break our Sabbath rest.

But there was not only a lapse of Creation rest in the Old Testament; there was also unfulfilled Canaan rest. It was not six days of God’s wonderful works that were rejected, as Adam and Eve had done. “In the wilderness…your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works forty years” (Heb 3:8-9). And notice well, it was not only Moses the Lawgiver who did not bring them into rest; their Joshua did not give them rest either (4:8).

What was it that the wilderness wanderers rejected? “For indeed the gospel was preached…to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it” (4:2). They rejected far more than Canaan rest; it was the word of the gospel they refused to believe. And that message, both to them and to us, was a promise to bring us out, and through, and in—into God’s rest.

Thus a return to Judaism would be a return to a religion with no rest. As would be later emphasized in this epistle, the priests could not sit down because the sacrifices required endless labor. Only one High Priest ever sat down (1:3; 10:12; 12:2). By the blood of the Lamb we also overcome and also will sit down with Him (see Rev 3:21). Only He can fulfill the blessed promise, “Come to Me…and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).

Must we hold fast to keep our salvation?

Some have been troubled by two statements in Chapter 3 that appear to infer it is the believer’s responsibility to “hold fast” to his own confidence and hope: “…if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end” (Heb 3:6); and “… if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (v 14). If we do not, some suggest, then the first half of these verses becomes untrue: “But Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if…” (v 6); and “For we have become partakers of Christ if…” (v 14). Is the author saying that it is possible to initially be part of Christ’s house (which He Himself has built, v 3) and to be a partaker of Christ, but through our not holding fast, to be removed from His house and no longer be a partaker of Christ?

Looking again at the context, we notice how the section is bookended. In 3:1-6 and 4:14-16 we are reminded of our Great High Priest. In Chapter 3, the writer emphasizes the supreme ability of Christ in building a habitation for God, and His faithfulness to God in accomplishing what He set out to do (v. 2). At the end of Chapter 4, the emphasis is on our weakness and need, and the sympathy and ready help Christ provides for His people. Could one then assume that, in between these two portraits, the author is suggesting that those who put their trust in Christ are in danger of becoming “unbuilt” or “unpartakers” through their own weakness and need?

Distinguishing two kinds of people

It might help to look at the contrast drawn between two distinct groups of people in the passage. Using some in the Exodus, the Lord Himself describes them in these words: “They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known My ways” (3:10). Again it is stated: “And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (vv 18-19). Finally the writer concludes: “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it” (4:2).

There are two issues here that must be kept distinct in our minds. There are those who never believed, who rejected the gospel, and who could not enter into rest because of their unbelief. However “we who have believed do enter that rest” (4:3). There is no doubt about that. The danger, a theme throughout the book of Hebrews, is the possibility that our faith will waver, not that we who have believed will somehow cease believing entirely. This wavering is the sin of Hebrews 12:1 “which always so clings to us” or “so easily ensnares us” which we must consciously lay aside as we run the race with endurance by “looking to Jesus.”

Who feeds our faith?

The true believer looks to our Great High Priest for His untiring ministry above. “He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (7:25). As with Peter in his time of great weakness and need, the Lord Jesus says: “I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when (not if) you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Lk 22:32).

Once we put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, He sustains that faith with His intercession, feeds it through the promises in His Word, grows it as the fruit of the Spirit, and confirms it through our answered prayers. How precious to the anxious believer that Jesus is not only the Author of our faith but the Finisher of our faith as well (Heb 12:2). His finished work as Redeemer at the cross secures our salvation when we trust in Him. Now His unfinished work as Intercessor on the throne secures our faith once we have placed it in Him alone.

My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device nor creed;
I trust the Ever-living One,
His wounds for me shall plead.

I need no other argument,
I need no other plea;
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me.

Enough for me that Jesus saves,
This ends my fear and doubt;
A sinful soul I come to Him,
He’ll never cast me out.

My heart is leaning on the Word,
The written Word of God,
Salvation by my Savior’s name,
Salvation through His blood. (Eliza Hewitt)

Part 3 continues here.