THE PROMISED REST
Hebrews 4:1-3 Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. 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.
The previous chapter confirms that God's promises are conditional. Although the land of Canaan was promised to the children of Israel, most that began their journey from Egyptian bondage were disinherited by God and not allowed to enter Canaan. Why? Because they failed to hear the voice of God, accept, believe, and obey it. Because of hearts hardened by sin, they erred, failed to know God's ways, and, because of unbelief, were refused entry into that haven of rest - "The Promised Land." They failed to fear God's retribution for unfaithfulness - they failed to understand that the reward of God's promise required faith.
Being made completely aware of God's stern, but righteous, dealings with these unfaithful Israelites, the author of Hebrews gives this same warning to all Christians. He introduces the lesson text with these words: Let us therefore fear. With the same meaning as this introduction, Paul told the Christians at Philippi to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). The promise of eternal salvation is not assured; it is conditional. God grants everyone the hope of salvation, but, with fear of retribution for unfaithfulness, each Christian must work our their own salvation by obedience to the will of God.
What a wonderful haven if rest is promised by our Savior, Jesus Christ. In His own words He tells us, Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls (Matt. 11:28-29). Although eternal rest of the soul is promised, Jesus tells us the conditions. We must come to Him, which implies that we must do so on His terms, which must culminate in being baptized for the remission of sins. Then we must bear His yoke by serving His cause, living a righteous life, and continuing to study and learn His will, in order to fully carry it out in our conduct of life.
Failure to accept and obey these conditions will result in coming short of it, and missing out on the wonderful promised rest. Many that came out of Egypt with the promise of inheriting the land of Canaan, their haven of rest, came short of it. They died in the wilderness and failed to reach the land promised, described as a "Land of Milk and Honey," due to sinfully rejecting the commandments of God. The Hebrew nation was God's chosen people - they were His chosen nation. And yet, through disobedience, they failed to inherit the "Promised Land." This example is used by the writer of the Hebrew letter as a warning to all Christians. The inheritance of heaven is not assured even though we are His children. It is necessary that we become and, in an on-going manner, remain His children. It is necessary that we obey, not some, but all of His commandments, in order to have the hope of salvation. Faith alone won't bring salvation; neither will works alone. It takes both; faith and works. We must know and practice God's will. Like the marathon runner, starting the race does not assure victory; the reward comes to those that complete the race. So it is with the Christian race.
The gospel message, the good news, which told all the Jewish nation of a rest that awaited them in the land of promise, was preached to all of the children of Israel. Yet they broke the covenant with God on which the promise was based, and through unfaithfulness, they failed to receive the promised rest.
And like God's promise to Israel,the gospel message of the New Covenant, the good news of eternal rest in heaven, has been preached to the world since the Day of Pentecost, following the death of our Savior, Jesus Christ. On that day, those that believed, repented of their erring ways, and were baptized for the remission of their sins, were added to the church daily such as should be saved (See Acts 2:37-47). These initial acts of obedience gave all believers the hope of salvation.
This was true of the Israelites that, through belief, began their journey to the promised land of rest. For forty years God grieved with the erring Israelites, Unto whom I sware in My wrath that they should not enter into My rest (See Psalm 95:10-11). No better conclusion to this lesson can be made than that by the author of this letter as he wrote, Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief (Heb. 4:11).