What Is God’s Rest?
“There remains a sabbath resting for the people of God.”—HEBREWS 4:9.
1, 2. What do we learn from Genesis 2:3? What questions will we answer?
FROM the first chapter of Genesis, we learn that during six days, God prepared the earth for people to live on. These were not days of 24 hours each but much longer periods of time. The Bible says about the end of each of these periods: “There came to be evening and there came to be morning.” (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31) But the seventh day was different. The Bible says about that day: “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.”—Genesis 2:3.
2 When the book of Genesis said that God has been resting, it meant that God was still resting at that time. So we can say that when Moses wrote the book of Genesis, in the year 1513 before Christ, God was still resting. Also, God said later in the Bible that people can enter into his rest, that is, have a part in his rest. Is God still resting today? If he is, how can we enter into his rest? It is very important for us to know the answers to these questions.
IS JEHOVAH STILL RESTING?
3. How do the words of Jesus at John 5:16, 17 show that it was still the seventh day during the time of Jesus?
3 There are two reasons why we can say that it was still the seventh day during the time of Jesus and the first Christians. We learn the first reason from what Jesus said to some of his enemies. They were angry at Jesus because he healed people on the Sabbath. They thought that it was wrong to heal on the Sabbath because the Law of Moses said that the Sabbath was a day of rest from work. To answer them, Jesus said: “My Father has kept working until now, and I keep working.” (John 5:16, 17) What did he mean? He meant: “My Father and I are doing the same kind of work. My Father has worked during his Sabbath of thousands of years, and he is still working, so I can work on the Sabbath.” The words of Jesus show that as regards the earth, it was still the seventh day, that is, God’s day of rest, in the time of Jesus.*—See footnote.
4. From what Paul said, how do we know that it was still the seventh day during the time of the first Christians?
4 There is a second reason why we know that it was still the seventh day during the time of Jesus and the first Christians. The apostle Paul wrote about God’s rest in his letter to the Hebrews. In chapter 4 of his letter, before he repeated the words from Genesis 2:2, Paul wrote: “We who have exercised faith do enter into the rest.” (Hebrews 4:3, 4, 6, 9) This shows that it was still the seventh day in the time of Paul. When does the seventh day end?
5. What did Jehovah choose to do on the seventh day? When will God complete his purpose?
5 To answer that question, we must remember that Jehovah chose the seventh day for something special. Genesis 2:3 tells us: “God proceeded to bless the seventh day and make it sacred.” Jehovah made that day sacred because he chose it to be the day that he completes his purpose for the earth. His purpose is for obedient men and women to live on the earth and take care of it and everything on it. (Genesis 1:28) The reason that Jehovah God and Jesus Christ, who is the “Lord of the sabbath,” “kept working until now” is to make God’s purpose for the earth come true. (Matthew 12:8) So God’s day of rest will continue until he completes his purpose. This will be at the end of the thousand years of Christ’s reign.
DO NOT “FALL IN THE SAME PATTERN OF DISOBEDIENCE”
6. What examples can be a warning to us? What lesson can we learn from these examples?
6 God clearly told Adam and Eve what his purpose was for the earth, but they acted against it. After Adam and Eve, millions of other people have also been disobedient. Even God’s people, the Israelites, disobeyed him again and again. And Paul warned Christians in his time that some of them could become disobedient like the 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.” (Hebrews 4:11) What Paul says shows that disobedient people cannot enter into God’s rest. What does that mean for us? Does it mean that if we act against God’s purpose in some way, we will not enter into God’s rest? It is very important for us to know the answer to this question, and we will talk more about it in this article. But first we will talk about the bad example of the Israelites and why they did not enter into God’s rest.
“THEY SHALL NOT ENTER INTO MY REST”
7. What was Jehovah’s purpose for the Israelites when he freed them from Egypt? What did the Israelites have to do?
7 In the year 1513 before Christ, Jehovah told his servant Moses what his purpose was for the Israelites. 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 to a land good and spacious, to a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 3:8) Jehovah freed the Israelites from Egypt to make them his people, just as he promised Abraham. (Genesis 22:17) God gave the Israelites laws that could help them to have peace with God and to be his friends. (Isaiah 48:17, 18) He told the Israelites: “If you will strictly obey my voice and will indeed keep my covenant, then you will certainly become my special property out of all other peoples, because the whole earth belongs to me.” (Exodus 19:5, 6) So the Israelites could be God’s people only if they obeyed his laws.
8. What opportunities did the Israelites have if they obeyed God?
8 Think of the opportunities the Israelites had! Jehovah promised that if they obeyed him, he would bless their fields, their vineyards, and their animals. He also promised to protect them from their enemies. (Read 1 Kings 10:23-27.) They had the opportunity to be free from the rule of other nations, even during the time of Jesus when the Romans ruled many nations. Jehovah wanted the nation of Israel to be a good example for other nations. He wanted everyone to understand clearly that those who obey him, the true God, will receive blessings from him.
9, 10. (a) Why was it wrong for the Israelites to want to return to Egypt? (b) Could the Israelites worship Jehovah the way he wanted them to if they returned to Egypt?
9 The Israelites had the special opportunity to allow Jehovah to use them to fulfill his purpose. They could receive Jehovah’s blessings and also bring blessings to all the families of the earth. (Genesis 22:18) But most of the Israelites did not consider important the opportunity to be God’s nation and to be an example for other nations. They even said that they wanted to return to Egypt! (Read Numbers 14:2-4.) But if they returned to Egypt, they could not worship Jehovah the way he wanted them to and be an example for other nations. If they became slaves in Egypt again, they could not be free to obey God’s Law and receive forgiveness of sins. When they said that they wanted to return to Egypt, they were thinking only of themselves. They were not thinking of God and his purpose. That is why Jehovah said about them: “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.’”—Hebrews 3:10, 11; Psalm 95:10, 11.
10 Their desire to return to Egypt showed that they did not value the blessings they received from Jehovah. Instead, those disobedient Israelites wanted the good food they had in Egypt. (Numbers 11:5) They were like Esau, who did not value his right as firstborn and sold it for a plate of food.—Genesis 25:30-32; Hebrews 12:16.
11. The Israelites who left Egypt did not show faith. Did that change Jehovah’s purpose?
11 Although those Israelites who left Egypt did not show faith in Jehovah, he did not change his purpose for Israel. Their children were more obedient than their parents. They obeyed Jehovah’s command to enter the Promised Land and conquer it. Joshua 24:31 says: “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 Christians today can enter into God’s rest?
12 But those obedient Israelites grew old and died. The Israelites who lived after them “did not know Jehovah or the work that he had done for Israel.” So they started to do “what was bad in the eyes of Jehovah” and to serve false gods. (Judges 2:10, 11) Because these Israelites were disobedient, they were not at peace with God anymore. So the Promised Land was not “a place of rest” for them. Paul wrote about these Israelites: “If Joshua had led them into a place of rest, God would not afterward have spoken of another day.” Then, he said: “So there remains a sabbath resting for the people of God.” (Hebrews 4:8, 9) “The people of God” whom Paul talked about were Christians. These included those who followed the Law of Moses before they became Christians and also those who never followed the Law of Moses. What Paul said means that Christians today can also enter into God’s rest.
SOME CHRISTIANS DID NOT ENTER INTO GOD’S REST
13, 14. (a) In the time of Moses, what did the Israelites have to do to enter into God’s rest? (b) In the time of Paul, what did Christians have to do to enter into God’s rest?
13 Paul wrote to the Hebrew Christians because some of them were acting against God’s purpose. (Read Hebrews 4:1.) What were they doing? They were still obeying some of the things in the Law of Moses. It is true that for about 1,500 years, God’s people had to obey the Law of Moses to please God. But after Jesus died, they did not need the Law of Moses anymore. Some Christians did not understand that, and this is why they believed that they still needed to obey some parts of the Law.*—See footnote.
14 Paul explained to these Hebrew Christians that Jesus was a better high priest than any imperfect high priest. He showed that the new covenant was better than the covenant with Israel. He also showed that Jehovah’s great temple was “greater and more perfect” than the temple “made with hands.” (Hebrews 7:26-28; 8:7-10; 9:11, 12) Paul used the example of the Sabbath in the Law of Moses to explain how Christians can enter into Jehovah’s day of rest. He 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.” (Hebrews 4:8-10) Those Hebrew Christians had to stop thinking that someone could have God’s approval because of “his own works,” that is, because he obeyed the Law of Moses. Since the day of Pentecost of the year 33, Jehovah’s approval is a gift that he generously gives to those who show faith in Jesus Christ.
15. How do we know that we need to obey Jehovah to enter into his rest?
15 Why did the Israelites in the time of Moses not enter the Promised Land? Because they did not obey Jehovah. Why did some Christians in the time of Paul not enter into God’s rest? Because of the same thing. They did not obey Jehovah. They did not believe that Jehovah now wanted his people to worship him in a different way and stop obeying the Law of Moses.
HOW WE CAN ENTER INTO GOD’S REST TODAY
16, 17. (a) How can Christians enter into God’s rest today? (b) What will we talk about in the next article?
16 None of us today believe that Christians have to obey the Law of Moses to receive salvation. Paul’s words to the Ephesians are very 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.” (Ephesians 2:8, 9) So today, how can Christians enter into God’s rest, that is, have a part in his rest? Remember that Jehovah chose his day of rest to be the day that he completes his purpose for the earth and obedient humans. Jehovah tells us through his organization about his purpose and what he wants from us. We can enter into Jehovah’s rest if we obey him and work with his organization.
17 But we are acting against Jehovah’s purpose if we do not obey the faithful and discreet slave or if we choose to obey only what we think is important. And if we act against Jehovah’s purpose, we cannot be his friends. In the next article, we will talk about some situations that give us the opportunity to show if we are obedient. The decisions we make in these situations will show if we have entered into God’s rest.
The priests and Levites worked at the temple on the Sabbath, and this was not against the Law of Moses. God chose Jesus to be our high priest. So it was not wrong for Jesus to do on the Sabbath the work that Jehovah gave him to do.—Matthew 12:5, 6.
We do not know if any of the Hebrew Christians offered sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, or the Day of Forgiving of Sins, even after Pentecost in the year 33. But if they did, they showed no respect for the sacrifice of Jesus. We do know that some Hebrew Christians were still following traditions that were part of the Law of Moses.—Galatians 4:9-11.
SOME WORDS EXPLAINED
▪ Sabbath: The seventh day of the week and a day of rest from regular work for the Israelites
▪ God’s day of rest: A period of thousands of years that Jehovah uses to complete his purpose for the earth and obedient humans
QUESTIONS TO THINK ABOUT
▪ What did Jehovah want to do on the seventh day?
▪ How do we know that it is still the seventh day today?
▪ Why did the Israelites in the time of Moses and some of the Christians in the time of Paul not enter into God’s rest?
▪ How can we enter into God’s rest today?
[Blurb on page 21]
We can enter into Jehovah’s rest if we obey him and work with his organization
[Pictures on pages 18, 19]
What continues to be necessary for God’s people to enter into his rest?