Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Covenants: Part XII - Hebrews 3 & 4

Hebrews 3:1 – 4:16

In Part XI we saw that the written code and its regulations were taken out of the way and nailed to the cross.  We saw that those things which were nailed to the cross included dietary laws, annual festival Sabbaths, monthly new moon Sabbaths, and the weekly Sabbath day (sabbaton).  We saw that both animal sacrifices and the Sabbath were mere shadows, but the reality is found in Jesus Christ.

In Part XII I would like to continue to explore the biblical concept of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the Sabbath shadow.  We will examine two key chapters in Hebrews that present Jesus as our true Sabbath rest.

The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were being persecuted by their fellow Jews because of their belief in Jesus as the Messiah.  These Hebrew Believers were sorely tempted to turn back to their Jewish roots and practices.   The author of Hebrews writes to warn them against turning back and to remind them of how much better Jesus is than all the Old Covenant shadows.  The writer methodically goes through nearly all the major shadows in the Old Covenant and explains how Jesus fulfills them and surpasses them.  In chapters 3 and 4 the writer tackles the Sabbath shadow and shows how Christ fulfilled it. 

Hebrews 3:1-6 (NASB)
1 Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession;
2 He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house.
3 For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house.
4 For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.
5 Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later;
6 but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.
Let’s not miss what the author of Hebrews is strongly implying here.  Moses is representative of the entire Old Covenant Mosaic Law.  The author is saying that Moses was just a servant, but Jesus is a Son.  Jesus is better than Moses.  Jesus is not on an equal plane with the Mosaic Law, but transcends the Old Covenant Mosaic Law.
Hebrews 3:7-11 (NASB)
7 Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, "TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE,
Even after God led the Children of Israel out of Egypt, they still did not enter His rest.  Even though they kept the Sabbaths for forty years while they wandered, they still did not enter God’s true rest. But God is calling His people into His true rest and He is calling them “TODAY”; not Saturday, not Sunday, not Monday, but TODAY!  We see the first use of “today” in verse 7, but we will see it several more times throughout the passage.
Hebrews 3:12-19 (NASB)  
12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.
13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end,
16 For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses?
17 And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?
18 And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient?
19 So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.
In verses 13 and 15 we again see the focus on entering God’s rest “today”.  It was not failure to keep a certain day that caused the Children of Israel to fail to enter God’s rest.  They were keeping the Sabbaths.  It was unbelief that kept them out of God’s true rest.
Hebrews 4:1-5 (NASB)
1 Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it.
2 For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.
3 For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, "AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST," although His works were finished from the foundation of the world.
4 For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: "AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS";
5 and again in this passage, "THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST."
So we see that there is still a promise of entering God’s rest, but we only enter it through faith.  That’s the Good News!  That’s the Gospel!  The Sabbath was only a physical shadow of the spiritual rest that we would be given through faith in Christ.  In Christ, the perfect spiritual rest that Adam and Eve lost when they sinned has now been restored. 
God’s creative works were finished in six days and on the seventh “day” (yom: an indefinite span of time in Hebrew) he rested from His creative work.  God is still in that rest today.  God has never ceased His rest.  Unlike the other six days, the seventh “day” (yom) of creation had no evening or morning, no end.  God is still in the seventh “day” (yom). 
Adam and Eve would have remained in the rest of God if they had not sinned.  The children of Israel could have entered that rest if they had believed.  The Israelites were given a ceremonial symbol of that rest, but they failed to comprehend who it pointed to.  You and I are being called into that rest today through faith in Jesus Christ.  We are not being called into a shadow, but into the reality.  We are being invited back into the spiritual rest that was lost at Eden.
Hebrews 4:6-7 (NASB)
6 Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience,
7 He again fixes a certain day, "Today," saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, "TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS."
Let’s note again that this rest is not a certain day of the week.  It’s not Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday.  It’s TODAY!  It’s right now, everyday!
Hebrews 4:8-11 (NASB)
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that.
9 So there remains a Sabbath
[sabbatismos] rest for the people of God.
10 For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.
11 Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.
Even after the Children of Israel entered the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua they still did not enter the true rest of God.  The Promised Land, like the Sabbath, was only a shadow of the rest that God wanted to restore to people.  There is still a rest for us to enter, but it’s not a certain piece of land or a certain day of the week.  It is the spiritual rest that was lost at Eden and only restored through faith in Christ. 
In verse 9 the writer coins a new Greek word to describe this rest, “sabbatismos”.   “Sabbatismos” is only used here in the New Testament and it means “a Sabbath-like rest”.  Notice that the writer does not use the Greek word for the weekly Sabbath day “sabbaton”.  Instead he refers to “a Sabbath-like rest”.  We are not being invited to enter the weekly Sabbath day (sabbaton), but the eternal rest of God (sabbatismos). We are not being asked to rest for one day out of the week, but to rest each and every day, today. We are being called to rest eternally in Christ and in His finished work.
We’re told in verse 10 that the only way we can enter God’s true rest is to first rest from our own works.  If we continue trying to enter God’s rest through our works, then we are being just as disobedient lacking in faith as the Israelites were.  Like the Hebrew believers this letter was written to, we cannot turn back to the Old Covenant which was a covenant of works.  We must rest, through faith, in the finished work of Jesus.
Hebrews 4:12-16 (NASB)
12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.
16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Jesus is our high priest.  He is the fulfillment of all the shadows in the Old Covenant.  He is better than the shadows and transcends them all.  In Him we can have confidence to approach the very throne of God and enter His presence even as the Old Covenant High priest approached the Ark with its mercy seat.  Everything in the Old Covenant pointed to Christ.  Everything in the Old Covenant was fulfilled in Him, even the Sabbath.  The reality of the Sabbath is not found in a day, but in a person, Jesus Christ.

So if the Sabbath was only a shadow that is now fulfilled in Christ, can it possibly be true that a day of the week is God’s seal on New Covenant Believers?  Most of us were taught this concept growing up and accepted it without question.  But what does scripture really say about on this topic?  We’ll explore this further in Part XIII.

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