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Hebrews chapter 4

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What does Hebrews chapter 4 mean?

Hebrews chapter 4 echoes a theme common to other portions of the New Testament. In other epistles, Paul counters various false teachers who claim that Christians have permanently missed out on some aspect of their Christian experience. Often, this was a claim that Jesus' second coming had already occurred (2 Thessalonians 2:1–3; 2 Timothy 2:17–18). In Chapter 3, the writer of Hebrews warned the reader not to miss out on the "rest" offered by God, due to disobedience (Hebrews 3:12–13). Here, he seems to be reassuring those same readers that the opportunity to obtain this rest has not passed them by (Hebrews 4:1).

Chapter 3 focused on Israel's failure to trust God at the borders of Canaan. This disobedience was inspired by a lack of faith in God—fear over the task at hand caused Israel to stumble. As a result, an entire generation was condemned to wander the desert rather than enter the Promised Land (Numbers 13—14). The point made in chapter 3 is that disobedience led to a loss of inheritance. This is not about loss of salvation—Israel was not sent back to Egypt. Rather, they missed out on the greater rewards. This difference is also found elsewhere in the New Testament, where peace with God leading to salvation (Romans 5:1) is not the same as peace of God which comes by obedience (Philippians 4:6–8). It is also seen in the promise of Christ to save all who come to Him in faith (John 6:39–40), even as He offers greater rewards to those who "hold fast" to their faith (Revelation 2:26–27).

In this chapter, the writer points out once again that it was disobedience, not a deadline, which caused Israel's suffering. Long after Moses and Joshua approached Canaan, writers such as David encouraged the people of Israel to enter the "rest" offered by God (Psalm 95). Logically, this means that the "rest" provided when Joshua took Canaan was not a one-time opportunity, or something no longer available (Hebrews 4:8).

The real problem for Israel at Canaan was a failure to obey God, due to fear. According to the writer of Hebrews, God only rested when He had completed His creative work (Hebrews 4:3–4). Israel only forfeited their rest in Canaan when they failed to complete the tasks given them by God (Hebrews 4:6). So, in a very literal sense, the "rest" offered by God is not about relaxation or leisure. It is about the rewards which come once we have "rested from", or "completed" the works we are assigned (Hebrews 4:9–10). This means saved Christians ought to make every effort to obey God while we still can (Hebrews 4:11).

Key to our ability to complete our work is the Word of God, specifically the written Scriptures (Hebrews 4:12). Human nature makes it easy to confuse selfish piety with true godliness (Matthew 7:21–23). We can fool others (1 Samuel 16:7), and even ourselves (Jeremiah 17:9), but not God (Hebrews 4:13). Like a razor-sharp knife, the "living and active" Bible can distinguish even those things we think are inseparable. This is important, since all of our thoughts and actions will be judged by God (Matthew 12:36).

Unique to the Christian faith, however, is our relationship with God. According to the Bible, the One who judges us has a powerful sympathy for our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). Not only has Christ experienced our suffering, temptation, and struggle (Philippians 2:8), He has done so without falling to sin (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:5; 1 Peter 1:19). This makes Him our perfect example (Hebrews 2:10), and our perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 2:14). It also gives us confidence to approach Him in prayer. Since He knows, first-hand, what it means to be human, He understands our flaws (Hebrews 2:18). We don't have to be afraid to bring Him our fears, failures, and needs (Hebrews 4:16).

This chapter refers to Joshua, who eventually led Israel into Canaan. According to Hebrews chapter 4, God gives those who obey Him everything needed to accomplish their assigned tasks. Joshua obeyed God and found Christ was on his side—literally (Joshua 5:13–15). Unlike those who fell into disbelief, Joshua exemplified the ultimate results of confident faith.
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