God’s Rest—What Is It?
“There remains a sabbath resting for the people of God.”—HEB. 4:9.
1, 2. What can we conclude from an accurate rendering of Genesis 2:3, and what questions arise?
FROM the first chapter of Genesis, we learn that God prepared the earth for human habitation during six figurative days. The end of each of these periods is marked by the words: “There came to be evening and there came to be morning.” (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31) However, with respect to the seventh day, the Bible states: “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.”—Gen. 2:3.
2 Notice the form of the verb “has been resting.” That suggests that the seventh day—God’s “day” of rest—was under way in 1513 B.C.E. when Moses wrote the book of Genesis. Is God’s rest day still ongoing? If so, can we enter into it today? The answers to these questions are of vital importance to us.
Is Jehovah Still “Resting”?
3. How do Jesus’ words recorded at John 5:16, 17 indicate that the seventh day was continuing in the first century?
3 Two lines of evidence lead us to the conclusion that the seventh day was still under way in the first century C.E. First, consider Jesus’ words to opposers who criticized him for healing on the Sabbath, which they construed as a form of work. The Lord said to them: “My Father has kept working until now, and I keep working.” (John 5:16, 17) What was the point? Jesus was being accused of working on the Sabbath. His reply: “My Father has kept working” answered that charge. In effect, Jesus was saying to his critics: ‘My Father and I are engaged in the same type of work. Since my Father has kept working during his millenniums-long Sabbath, it is quite permissible for me to keep working, even on the Sabbath.’ Thus, Jesus implied that as regards the earth, God’s great Sabbath day of rest, the seventh day, had not ended in his day.*
4. What further evidence does Paul furnish that the seventh day was ongoing in his day?
4 A second line of evidence is provided by the apostle Paul. When quoting Genesis 2:2 concerning God’s rest, Paul wrote under inspiration: “We who have exercised faith do enter into the rest.” (Heb. 4:3, 4, 6, 9) So the seventh day was ongoing in Paul’s day. How much longer was that day of rest to continue?
5. What was the purpose of the seventh day, and when will that purpose be fully realized?
5 In order to answer that question, we must remember the purpose of the seventh day. Genesis 2:3 explains what it is: “God proceeded to bless the seventh day and make it sacred.” That day was ‘made sacred’—sanctified, or set apart, by Jehovah—in order to bring his purpose to completion. That purpose is for the earth to be inhabited by obedient men and women who will take care of it and all life upon it. (Gen. 1:28) It is toward the realization of that purpose that both Jehovah God and Jesus Christ, the “Lord of the sabbath,” have “kept working until now.” (Matt. 12:8) God’s rest day will continue until his purpose in connection with it has been fully realized at the end of Christ’s Thousand Year Reign.
Do Not “Fall in the Same Pattern of Disobedience”
6. What examples serve as a warning to us, and what lesson can we learn from them?
6 God’s purpose was clearly explained to Adam and Eve, but they failed to cooperate with it. Of course, Adam and Eve were only the first humans to pursue a course of disobedience. There have been millions of others since then. Even God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel, fell into a pattern of disobedience. And significantly, Paul warned first-century Christians that even some of them could fall into the same trap as the ancient Israelites. He wrote: “Let us therefore do our utmost to enter into that rest, for fear anyone should fall in the same pattern of disobedience.” (Heb. 4:11) Notice that Paul links disobedience with failure to enter into God’s rest. What does that mean for us? If we were to rebel against God’s purpose in some way, might we run the risk of not entering into God’s rest? Clearly, the answer to that question is of great importance to us, and we will consider it further. At this point, however, let us see what more we can learn about entering into God’s rest by considering the bad example of the Israelites.
“They Shall Not Enter Into My Rest”
7. What did Jehovah have in mind when he delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and what was expected of them?
7 In 1513 B.C.E., Jehovah revealed his purpose concerning the Israelites to his servant Moses. God said: “I am proceeding to go down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land [Egypt] to a land good and spacious, to a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Ex. 3:8) Just as Jehovah had promised their forefather, Abraham, God’s purpose in delivering the Israelites “out of the hand of the Egyptians” was to raise them up as his people. (Gen. 22:17) God gave the Israelites a code of laws that would enable them to enjoy a peaceful relationship with him. (Isa. 48:17, 18) He told the Israelites: “If you will strictly obey my voice and will indeed keep my covenant [as outlined in the Law code], then you will certainly become my special property out of all other peoples, because the whole earth belongs to me.” (Ex. 19:5, 6) Thus, the Israelites’ enjoying a privileged relationship with God was contingent on their obeying his voice.
8. What lifestyle could the Israelites have enjoyed if they had been obedient to God?
8 Just think what life would have been like if the Israelites had only obeyed God’s voice! Jehovah would have blessed their fields, their vineyards, their flocks, and their herds. Their enemies would have had no permanent hold on them. (Read 1 Kings 10:23-27.) When the Messiah appeared, he would likely have found Israel functioning well as an independent nation, not cringing under the Roman whip. Israel would have been a model kingdom for its neighbors, providing concrete proof that obedience to the true God brings spiritual and material blessings.
9, 10. (a) Why was Israel’s desire to return to Egypt a serious matter? (b) How might a return to Egypt have affected the Israelites’ worship?
9 What a privilege Israel had—to work along with Jehovah’s purpose, resulting in blessings not only for themselves but, eventually, for all families of the earth! (Gen. 22:18) However, as a whole, that rebellious generation showed little interest in setting up a model kingdom under theocratic rule. Why, they even demanded to return to Egypt! (Read Numbers 14:2-4.) Now, how would their returning to Egypt advance God’s purpose to make Israel into a model kingdom? It would not do so. In fact, if the Israelites returned to the custody of their pagan captors, they would never be able to follow the Mosaic Law and benefit from Jehovah’s arrangement for forgiveness of their sins. How fleshly—how shortsighted—they were! No wonder Jehovah said of those rebels: “I became disgusted with this generation and said, ‘They always go astray in their hearts, and they themselves have not come to know my ways.’ So I swore in my anger, ‘They shall not enter into my rest.’”—Heb. 3:10, 11; Ps. 95:10, 11.
10 By seeking to return to Egypt, that wayward nation showed that it esteemed as of little value the spiritual blessings it had received, preferring instead the leeks, onions, and garlic that were available in Egypt. (Num. 11:5) Like ungrateful Esau, the rebels were ready to forfeit a precious spiritual heritage in exchange for a tasty meal.—Gen. 25:30-32; Heb. 12:16.
11. How did the unfaithfulness of the Israelites in Moses’ day affect God’s purpose?
11 Notwithstanding the faithlessness of the generation of Israelites that left Egypt, Jehovah “kept working” patiently toward the fulfillment of his purpose, now focusing his attention on the next generation. The members of that new generation were more obedient than their fathers had been. In harmony with Jehovah’s command, they entered the Promised Land and began to conquer it. At Joshua 24:31, we read: “Israel continued to serve Jehovah all the days of Joshua and all the days of the older men who extended their days after Joshua and who had known all the work of Jehovah that he did for Israel.”
12. How do we know that it is possible to enter into God’s rest today?
12 However, that obedient generation gradually died out and was replaced by a generation that “did not know Jehovah or the work that he had done for Israel.” Consequently, “the sons of Israel fell to doing what was bad in the eyes of Jehovah and serving the Baals.” (Judg. 2:10, 11) The Promised Land did not prove to be a real “place of rest” for them. Because of their disobedience, they did not enjoy lasting peace with God. In speaking of a later time, Paul wrote: “If Joshua had led [the Israelites] into a place of rest, God would not afterward have spoken of another day. So there remains a sabbath resting for the people of God.” (Heb. 4:8, 9) “The people of God” Paul was referring to were Christians. Does that mean that Christians could enter into God’s rest? Most assuredly—both Jewish and non-Jewish Christians!
Some Fail to Enter Into God’s Rest
13, 14. What connection was there between observing the Mosaic Law and entering into God’s rest (a) in Moses’ day? (b) in the first century?
13 When Paul wrote to Hebrew Christians, he was concerned that some among them were not cooperating with God’s advancing purpose. (Read Hebrews 4:1.) In what sense? Ironically, it had to do with the observance of the Mosaic Law. For some 1,500 years, any Israelite who wished to live in harmony with God’s purpose had to observe the Law. However, with Jesus’ death, the Law was taken out of the way. Certain Christians failed to recognize that, and they insisted on continuing to observe certain aspects of the Law.*
14 To Christians who were bent on observing the Law, Paul explained that the high priesthood of Jesus, the new covenant, and the spiritual temple were all superior to their pre-Christian counterparts. (Heb. 7:26-28; 8:7-10; 9:11, 12) Thus, likely with the observance of the weekly Sabbath under the Law in mind, Paul wrote of the privilege of entering into Jehovah’s rest day: “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.” (Heb. 4:8-10) Those Hebrew Christians had to stop thinking that they could earn Jehovah’s approval by performing works based on the Mosaic Law. Since Pentecost 33 C.E., God’s favor has graciously been bestowed on those who exercise faith in Jesus Christ.
15. Why is obedience essential if we are to enter into God’s rest?
15 What had prevented the Israelites in Moses’ day from entering the Promised Land? Disobedience. What was preventing some Christians in Paul’s day from entering into God’s rest? The same—disobedience. They failed to recognize that the Law had served its purpose and that Jehovah was leading his people in a different direction.
Entering Into God’s Rest Today
16, 17. (a) What does it mean to enter into God’s rest today? (b) What will be discussed in the next article?
16 Few Christians today would insist on observing some aspect of the Mosaic Law in order to obtain salvation. Paul’s inspired words to the Ephesians are perfectly clear: “By this undeserved kindness, indeed, you have been saved through faith; and this not owing to you, it is God’s gift. No, it is not owing to works, in order that no man should have ground for boasting.” (Eph. 2:8, 9) What, then, does it mean for Christians to enter into God’s rest? Jehovah set aside the seventh day—his rest day—in order to bring his purpose respecting the earth to a glorious fulfillment. We can enter into Jehovah’s rest—or join him in his rest—by obediently working in harmony with his advancing purpose as it is revealed to us through his organization.
17 On the other hand, if we minimized the Bible-based counsel that we receive through the faithful and discreet slave class, choosing to follow an independent course, we would be placing ourselves at odds with God’s unfolding purpose. This could endanger our peaceful relationship with Jehovah. In the next article, we will consider a few common situations that can affect God’s people and discuss how the decisions we make, whether to obey or to take an independent course, can determine if we have truly entered into God’s rest.
The priests and Levites performed work on the Sabbath in connection with the temple and ‘remained guiltless.’ As the high priest of God’s great spiritual temple, Jesus could also carry out his spiritual assignment without fear of violating the Sabbath.—Matt. 12:5, 6.
Whether any Jewish Christian would have gone so far as to support arrangements for the Day of Atonement after Pentecost 33 C.E. is not known. To do so would certainly show a lack of respect for Jesus’ sacrifice. However, some Jewish Christians were clinging to other traditions associated with the Law.—Gal. 4:9-11.
Questions for Meditation
• What was the purpose of God’s seventh day of rest?
• How do we know that the seventh day is still under way today?
• What prevented the Israelites in Moses’ day as well as some first-century Christians from entering into God’s rest?
• What does it mean to enter into God’s rest today?
[Blurb on page 27]
We can enter into Jehovah’s rest today by obediently working in harmony with his advancing purpose as it is revealed to us through his organization
[Pictures on pages 26, 27]
What continues to be necessary for God’s people to enter into his rest?