Hebrews Chapter 04

Hebrews 4:1 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.

Put anopther way, the verse says, “We have the promise of entering God’s rest, but we should be concerned that there are those among us that might not make it to heaven.” Paul1 is using the word fear (φοβηθωμεν—phobethomen, from phobeo) here in the sense of caring, caution, or concern, and not in the sense of abject, irrational fear.

In Chapter 3, Paul reminded us of the Israelites in the desert, and of the land of Promise into which they were to enter. That Promised Land, Canaan (promised to Abraham in the Abrahamic Covenant), was at the end of their excursion through the wilderness. They had left Egypt, had taken vast wealth from the Egyptians, and headed for the Promised Land. Their journey lead though the Desert of Sin (the Sinai desert not the English word sin, which means doing wrong). God had promised them that the land they were seeking was a “land flowing with milk and honey”, and that it was a good and spacious land where God would deliver them from their slavery in Egypt and their time in the wilderness. Later, in Psalm 95:11, God called this land of milk and honey His rest.

Slavery in Egypt, the wanderings in the desert, and entry into the land flowing with milk and honey are a metaphor for our slavery to sin, our wandering in the world, and our entry into heaven. Since the children of Israel refused to trust that God could and would deliver them from the inhabitants of Canaan, God refused to allow them to enter the land. They died in the desert and never saw the Land of Promise. They did not believe God and died in the wilderness. Those who do not believe God will die in this world and never see Heaven. The metaphor is complete. Those who die and do not enter heaven are symbolically the same as the Israelites in the wilderness.

Though we have the promise of our rest remaining to us we must still always have the fear that, and be careful that, some among us should fall short of our rest. In other words, there may be among us those who are not saved and who will not go into their rest, that is, into Heaven after death. We should always fear that some may not be saved even though they are a part of our church. In truth, it is not that there may be, but there are those who are included in our Christian fellowship that are not saved.

Let us take a moment to think about these who are possibly unsaved. There are those who have been churchgoers for their entire life and hope that their regularity in church attendance will get them into Heaven. There are those who are religiously correct and are very diligent in practicing their religion yet they have not Christ as their Savior. Their hope for Heaven is in their religiosity. There are those who have heard the Gospel and accepted its validity, yet wish to put it off until they are “ready”. I have personally witnessed to those who agree with the Gospel yet they said something to this effect: “I just cannot do that right now,” or “maybe later.” They are reminiscent of Agrippa, who said, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” (Acts 26:28). How many of these folks ever come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? I would guess it is a small percentage.

We may also learn about those who may fall short of Heaven from the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:5-10) . Let us look at Jesus’ explanation of the parable (Luke 8:11-14): “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. {12} Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. {13} They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. {14} And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.” Some hear the Gospel but Satan is quick to take it away. Others hear the Gospel and fall away afterward. Others hear the Gospel but allow the joys and/or cares of the world keep them from it. Of course the seed that fell on good ground is that which fell on ears that heard and hearts that believed and they will enter into His rest.

Paul says we should be caring and concerned about those in this situation—those who believe they are going to enter into His rest, but are not.

 Hebrews 4:2 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.

The Gospel is to us a promise of Heaven if we believe. To them the Gospel was the promise that they would go “unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey”. The word Gospel means good tidings or good news. In the Old Testament it meant any kind of good news; in the New it means the good news of Christ. So to say the Gospel was preached to the Israelites in the wilderness is to say that the tidings of the Land of Promise were told to them, and that such were good news indeed. (The Septuagint renders basar, which is Hebrew for “good news, tidings, preaching”, etc., euanggelos, which is Greek for the Gospel. So the Old Testament concept of the Gospel is proven by the Septuagint.)

The problem with those in the wilderness was that they did not have the faith in God to trust Him to follow through with His promise. They did not enter into His rest. The same applies to us today. The good news is that Christ came to save us. But those who do not believe are not going to enter into His rest, that is, into Heaven. Those who are not believers among us have heard the Gospel (over and over and over, etc.) but because they did not combine the Gospel with faith, they did not gain anything from the Gospel.

 Hebrews 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.

As believers, we have received Heaven and eternal life, our rest, because of the Grace of God. Paul quotes Psalm 95:11 (LXX), “So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.” The English is different, but the Greek is exactly the same as the Septuagint (LXX). Literally the verse says, “As I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter into My rest“. So, the phrase, “if they shall enter into My rest” in the KJV, should actually read, “they shall not enter into My rest.” That is the essence of what Paul in saying (see Heb 3:11). God said this even though His works were finished from the foundation of the world…

 Hebrews 4:4 For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.

…even though He did rest on the seventh day from all of His works. Consequently, even though God created the heavens and the Earth, and even though He rested on the Seventh day, even though He provides rest, those who do not believe will not enter into that rest. The certain place where he spoke to this issue was Genesis 2:2, “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.

 Hebrews 4:5 And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest.

This place was Psalm Psalm 95:11 , which the Apostle quoted in Hebrews 3:11 . Again, phrase this actually reads (in the Greek) “they shall not enter into My rest.”

 Hebrews 4:6 Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:

This verse can be applied two ways. They to whom it was first preached applies to the Israelites in the wilderness and it also refers to those Jews who first heard the Gospel of Christ preached. They heard it from Christ Himself, and they heard it preached on and after Pentecost. Yet they did not believe.

A third way to view it is to understand what Christ meant when he said in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: (14) Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” And, in Matthew 22:14, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Some will enter in, but most will not. In the wilderness, only Joshua, Caleb, and those under the age of 20 at the time of unbelief were allowed to enter into the land. In the world (for which the wilderness is a metaphor and an example), many will hear the Gospel, but only a few will believe and be saved.

 Hebrews 4:7-9 Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. (8) For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. (9) There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.

 Right up front we need to understand that Paul is speaking of Joshua when he said “For if Jesus had given them rest”. He is speaking of the time of the wanderings in the wilderness. The word Joshua means savior. The Greek translation of the Hebrew word Joshua (yehoshua) is Iesous, which is transliterated “Jesus” in English. Our proof of this is the Septuagint, which renders Yehoshua (Joshua) into Iesous wherever the word is used. Let us look at Joshua 1:10, where Joshua commands the people to move into Canaan, in the Septuagint: “Και ενετειλατο Ιησους τοις γραμματευσιν του λαου λεγων” (I have underlined Iesous). Clearly the English translation of this verse in the LXX says Joshua: “And Joshua commanded the scribes of the people, saying,” (Brenton’s English Translation of The Septuagint). And the Hebrew says Yehoshua: “ויצו יהושׁע את־שׁטרי העם לאמר” (I have underlined Yehoshua). Hebrew Yehoshua, Greek Iesous, and English Joshua. That settles it.

Paul said that since David talked about the rest of God and called it “today” then he considered that there was still a rest of God 500 years after the entry into the Promised Land. David said there was still a Rest of God in his day and that rest could be lost because of unbelief. Since the rest was available in David’s time, then there is a further Rest of God still available even today. Since the Promised Land was already taken, then that further rest must be Heaven.

Paul makes the point that if the rest given the Israelites of Joshua was all that there was, then David would not have spoken of the rest in his day. So there is still a rest of God available even today, in AD 2003, when this piece is being written and that rest is promised to God’s people. Who are God’s people? Those who believe in Christ (Romans 11:7).

 Hebrews 4:11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.

The actual Greek word for labor (work or toil) is ergon, which means work, labor, toil, action, deed, or occupation. The word rendered “labour” here is not ergon, but spoudasomen, from spoudazo. It means to hasten or be diligent. So the KJV rendering may be a bit misleading in our modern syntax. Young’s literal translation captures it: “May we be diligent, then, to enter into that rest, that no one in the same example of the unbelief may fall…” You will find this rendering in most modern translations.

I believe that the labor or diligence Paul is speaking of is the diligence to make sure that as few as possible remain in unbelief after the example of the Israelites in the wilderness. That is the overall mission of the called out assembly (the church). The mission is to spread the Gospel. Without getting into too much detail, the church is to accomplish this mission by using all the spiritual gifts given variously to all Christians,. This does not mean that we are all evangelists. But we are all witnesses. Our lives bear witness of Christ. Each of us together, as fellow laborers, each accomplishing the tasks we are gifted to accomplish, are corporately responsible for the main mission of the church. That is to spread the Gospel and be diligent that as few as possible will remain in unbelief.

 Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

This is one of the more memorized of all verses in the Bible. Since it is so well known, let us only briefly examine its truths. The Word (the Bible) is living (quick), powerful, and sharp. The sword analogy helps us to understand the power of the Word. A double edged sword cuts both ways, both up and down, or left and right. The Word cuts both ways. It speaks to the soul, that is our living, breathing entity and our thought processes, and the spirit, which is our connection to God through His Spirit. The Word of God cuts through all of our joints and marrow which surround the heart. It gets right down through our joints until it reaches the heart. When that happens we must do something with it. We must either accept or reject it. Every situation under the sun is covered by the Word. Every thought and intent of our hearts are considered and dealt with by the Bible.

Jesus Christ and His Gospel are the overriding concern of the Bible. Because it is living, powerful, divides joints and marrow, and discerns our hearts, it is the way in which we accomplish the mission of the church. We spread the Gospel, the Word of God through teaching, preaching, and witnessing for the ministry of Christ. The Holy Spirit takes the Word and uses it to get into the heart of the unbeliever. Then the unbeliever must make a decision to accept or reject the Gospel.

Verse 11 is bound together with verse 12. In verse eleven, we are to be diligent to prevent unbelief. In verse twelve, we are given the tool with which to accomplish that mission. That tool is the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.

 Hebrews 4:13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

There is nothing anyone can do that is hidden from God. Everything we do is known to God. ‘Him with whom we have to do‘ is God. We all must stand before God and give an account of ourselves, both sinner and saint. Those who reject Him on Earth and put Him from their minds, will stand before ‘Him with whom we have to do‘ at judgment. Having nothing to do with Him in the flesh is just putting off the inevitable. He knows all and sees all and will judge all. That is why we need an Advocate.

 Hebrews 4:14 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

Jesus is our High Priest and our Advocate. He is in Heaven making intercession for us at the Right Hand of the Father. Hence let us continually confess or profess Him. “Hold fast” is the present active volitive subjunctive with genitive. That means we are to take hold of our  profession and keep hold of it. We are to tenaciously keep holding on to it. What is our profession? It is the Gospel and our witness thereof. We are continually confessing or professing Christ.

An aside. This is the beginning of the writer’s consideration of Jesus as our High Priest. He offers five points as proof of the superiority of Jesus as our High Priest over a fleshly high priest. These points are made in the next chapter.

 Hebrews 4:15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

He was tempted with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. With these three are all temptations made. Like the fleshly high priest, Jesus became a man and experienced everything that all men and women experience. He was tempted just like all of us but He did not succumb to temptation and sin. How did He handle the temptations of the Devil? He quoted scripture (Mat 4:3-11, Luk 4:3-13), which is quick and powerful and sharper than any two edged sword.

 Hebrews 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

A throne is the seat of a king. Yet kings are not always merciful. However, Christ is always merciful unto His own. He is also merciful to a sinner seeking mercy and grace. He will be unmerciful at the judgment. Until that day, we can depend upon His mercy if we are His.

We would come before the throne of an unmerciful king with fear and trembling. We would be humble, and perhaps would be required to enter the king’s presence bowed, stooped, or crawling. We would be timid and afraid to speak out. But a merciful king would not cause such fear. We could go to his court more boldly than to the court of a merciless king.

The high priest, on the Day of Atonement (once per year) may come into the Most Holy Place and approach the mercy seat, which represents God’s throne. Only he was allowed there and only if he was properly adorned, properly cleansed, and only if he went about his duties properly. A false move would have meant death. So the high priest had to go timidly into the Most Holy Place with fear and trembling. Because of Christ’s shed blood, we may put aside all the fear and trembling and approach the throne on an individual basis. That was the significance of the tearing in two of the curtain hanging before the Most Holy Place. We may boldly approach God independently and lay our requests before Him without fear and trembling.


  1. The reason I use “Paul” instead of “the writer of Hebrews” is explained in the preface to Chapter 1. If you disagree that Paul is the writer, please continue to read for I have no argument with you. As a scholar once said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, diversity; in all things, love” (attributed to Augustine).
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