Questions From Readers
What is the “rest” referred to at Hebrews 4:9-11, and how does one “enter into that rest”?
To the first-century Hebrew Christians, the apostle Paul wrote: “There remains a sabbath resting for the people of God. For the man that has entered into God’s rest has also himself rested from his own works, just as God did from his own. Let us therefore do our utmost to enter into that rest.”—Hebrews 4:9-11.
When Paul spoke of God’s resting from His work, he was apparently referring to what is stated at Genesis 2:2, where we read: “By the seventh day God came to the completion of his work that he had made, and he proceeded to rest on the seventh day from all his work that he had made.” Why did Jehovah proceed “to rest on the seventh day”? Surely it was not because he needed to recuperate “from all his work that he had made.” The next verse provides a clue: “God proceeded to bless the seventh day and make it sacred, because on it he has been resting from all his work that God has created for the purpose of making.”—Genesis 2:3; Isaiah 40:26, 28.
The “seventh day” was different from any of the preceding six days in that it was a day that God blessed and made sacred, that is, a day set aside for, or dedicated to, a special purpose. What was that purpose? Earlier, God had revealed his purpose regarding mankind and the earth. To the first man and his wife, God said: “Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it, and have in subjection the fish of the sea and the flying creatures of the heavens and every living creature that is moving upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) Although God had given mankind and the earth a perfect start, it would take time for the whole earth to be subdued and transformed into a paradise filled with a perfect human family, as God had purposed. Thus, on “the seventh day,” God rested, or desisted, from further earthly creative works in order to allow what he had already created to develop in accord with his will. By the end of that “day,” all that God had purposed will have become a reality. How long will that rest be?
Getting back to Paul’s statement in Hebrews, we note that he pointed out that “there remains a sabbath resting for the people of God,” and he urged his fellow Christians to do their utmost “to enter into that rest.” This shows that when Paul wrote those words, “the seventh day” of God’s rest, which had started some 4,000 years earlier, was still in progress. It will not end until God’s purpose regarding mankind and the earth is completely fulfilled at the end of the Thousand Year Reign of Jesus Christ, who is the “Lord of the sabbath.”—Matthew 12:8; Revelation 20:1-6; 21:1-4.
With that wonderful prospect in view, Paul explained how one might enter into God’s rest. He wrote: “The man that has entered into God’s rest has also himself rested from his own works.” This tells us that although having a perfect start, mankind as a whole had not entered into God’s rest. This was because Adam and Eve did not long observe God’s rest on “the seventh day” by accepting his arrangement for them. Instead, they rebelled and wanted to become independent of God. In fact, they went along with Satan’s scheme of things rather than accept God’s loving direction. (Genesis 2:15-17) As a result, they lost the prospect of living forever on a paradise earth. From then on, all mankind became enslaved to sin and death.—Romans 5:12, 14.
Mankind’s rebellion did not thwart God’s purpose. His rest day continues. However, Jehovah made a loving provision—the ransom—through his Son, Jesus Christ, so that all who accept it on the basis of faith may look forward to release and rest from the burden of sin and death. (Romans 6:23) That is why Paul urged his fellow Christians to ‘rest from their own works.’ They needed to accept God’s provision for salvation and not try to work out their own future in their own way, as Adam and Eve had. They also needed to avoid pursuing their own works of self-justification.
Putting aside one’s selfish or mundane pursuits in order to do God’s will is indeed refreshing and restful. Jesus sounded this invitation: “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls. For my yoke is kindly and my load is light.”—Matthew 11:28-30.
Paul’s discussion of God’s rest and how one might enter into it surely was a source of encouragement to the Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem, who had endured much persecution and ridicule for their faith. (Acts 8:1; 12:1-5) Similarly, Paul’s words can be a source of encouragement to Christians today. Realizing that the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring about a paradise earth under his righteous Kingdom is near at hand, we too should rest from our own works and do our utmost to enter into that rest.—Matthew 6:10, 33; 2 Peter 3:13.
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God’s promise of an earthly paradise will be realized at the end of his rest day