Study of the Book of Hebrews
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

Christ, The True Sabbath Rest

(Hebrews 4:1-13, Part 1)

We will focus on the first fourteen verses of Hebrews four in this chapter. I cannot stress strongly enough the tremendous importance of this passage to us as Seventh-day Adventists.  Here are four reasons why this passage is important to us:

  1. In this passage the gospel and, especially, the ultimate salvation that the gospel brings to us, is identified with the term “God’s rest.”
  2. Entering into that rest is linked with faith.
  3. Faith is equated with the keeping of the Sabbath.
  4. The Sabbath is our major contribution to Christendom.

So you can see that it is a very important passage.

We must admit that the Christian church as a whole, as a body has rejected our claims.  Some time ago a group of about seven scholars got together and wrote a book to rebuttle Bacchiocchi’s book, From Sabbath to Sunday. The title of their book is From Sabbath to the Lord’s Day: A Physical, Historical, and Theological Investigation. The thesis of this book says, “Sunday is a new day of worship that was chosen to commemorate the unique salvation history, the historical event of the death and resurrection of Christ.”

This book makes some wonderful statements that we can use.  It admits that the Sabbath cannot apply to any other day than the seventh day.  It admits that the Sabbath has a redemptive significance.  It admits that the early Christians in the New Testament kept the Sabbath, including the Gentiles. Then why do they not accept our teaching of the Sabbath.  Is it our fault or is it theirs? That is what we need to look at honestly.

I plan to spend four studies on this one passage.

  1. This is the first, and it is an exegetical study.  We will try to discover what the passage meant to the original listeners, the Jewish Christians to which Paul wrote the book.
  2. In our next study, we will look at the Sabbath truth in the light of the gospel, because that’s where the issue is.
  3. The third study, we will have to look at the true meaning of Biblical faith because here the word faith is identified with keeping the Sabbath. What does the New Testament mean by faith? We need to have that study as part of our investigation.
  4. In the fourth study, we will discuss the keeping of the Sabbath in relationship to the law.  What will be the central issue in the Sabbath-Sunday controversy at the end of time? What will be the issue? Will it be a day or what will be the issue? That we need to cover.

These are the four studies but today we will look at this passage in terms of exegesis.  What did the first listeners of this book understand when they read this passage? What was Paul trying to get across when He wrote to the Jewish Christians?

Then let’s look at the passage.  The first thing I would like to do is to remind you what we covered last study when we dealt with Heb.  3:7-19. We saw that in this passage the exodus was used as a type of the plan of salvation.  The Israelites failed to enter into Canaan as God intended, because of unbelief.  Remember we said that only two who were above the age of twenty years, Joshua and Caleb, came out of Egypt and entered into the promised rest.  The rest of them died in the wilderness.  With this as a background chapter four begins with a warning.

Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.

What is he saying here? He is saying that just as the majority of the Israelites who left Egypt never entered Canaan — which, by the way, is a type of heaven — this same danger faced the Jewish Christians (and to us today also) who had accepted Christ but had not yet reached heaven.

It is possible for you to accept Christ today and be lost because you have turned your back to Him through unbelief.  There is a danger and he’s warning us.  In other words, the ultimate salvation is linked here with Canaan and God’s rest.  You cannot fully enter into God’s rest until you reach heaven.

I don’t have to convince you of that.  Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that if life on this earth is all that Christians have, we of all people are most miserable.  Do you know why? When you become a Christian you are like a person who is living in enemy territory, because the world is still under Satan.  And he will make life hell for you.  If he hasn’t, you better question your Christianity.  Our ultimate goal is heaven and he says, “We need to hold onto Christ” and he is using the exodus experience as a warning.  Now look at verse two:

For unto us [that is, the Jews of Paul’s day] was the gospel preached, as well as unto them [the “them” refers to the Jews of the exodus].

Did the Jews of the exodus hear the gospel?  Yes.  How?  Through the sanctuary service primarily, through the sacrificial system.  Of course, the Jews of Christ’s day and Paul’s day heard the gospel through the proclamation of Christ.  So both groups heard the gospel.

But [he says in the second half of verse two] the word preached did not profit them,...

The Jews of the exodus did not benefit from the message and from the promises of God and from the leading of God.  Why?  Was it because they were so bad?  Did God say, “I will not take you to heaven because you have done this or that”?  No, he said:

...Because it was not mixed with faith in them that heard it.

[Now verse three:] For we which have believed do enter into rest, [then you’ll notice he links this rest with the Sabbath] as he said, “As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.”

What is he saying here?  He is saying that our salvation is guaranteed because it is not based on human works.  It is based on God’s promise which He had already planned (and when God plans something, it is an act) before the foundation of the world.  Go to Eph.  1:3,4

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all [not 80%, but 100%] spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ...

In other words, in Christ, Canaan is already ours.  That’s what he’s saying.  Now look at verse four:

...According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.

We are holy and without blame in Christ since the foundation of the world.  And this is what Paul is saying now in Hebrews.  He is saying that our salvation was not something that God invented later on, but something that was already God’s purpose before the foundation of the world. Since it was before you and I were created, we made no contribution to it because we weren’t existing.  In verse four of Hebrews four, he brings in the Sabbath:

For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.

I have a question for you, “Why did God rest?” I will answer that in our next study.  Was He tired?  Did He need a coffee break?  Why did He rest the seventh day?  That is a question I want you to wrestle with because it is important.  God wants us to enter into whose rest?  His rest! If we don’t know why He rested....  Did He rest because He wanted to go skiing? No.  Why did He rest on the Sabbath day?  That’s the question I want you to wrestle with and we’ll cover it in the next chapter.  Let’s go on and look at verses five, six, and seven as a unit:

And in this place again, if they shall enter into my rest...

Please notice that all along in this passage the rest belongs to God. Keep this in mind because you will discover that the Sabbath doesn’t belong to man.

When I was chaplain at Nairobi University there were five of us who were chaplains.  I was the only Adventist.  There was a Baptist and a Lutheran, a Roman Catholic, and two interdenominationals — Youth for Christ and World Vision.  One of them accused me of keeping the Jewish Sabbath.  This is a common problem that we face.  I said, “You are a Protestant?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “You stand on the platform of Scripture alone?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Show me one text, that’s all, where the Bible says that the Sabbath belongs to the Jews.”

He said, “I will.”

I said, “O.K.”

He said, “Give me time.”

I said, “I’ll give you all the time you want.”

He came three months later and said, “Well, I’m still looking for it.”

I said, “You won’t find it.”

Well, one day he did find one.  But it was in the Living Bible.  I said, “Brother, if you were a layman, I would excuse you.  You know very well that the text in the original doesn’t say that.  That’s the Living Bible’s paraphrase.”

He said, “You are right, but that’s the only one I could find.”

I said, “Don’t you ever accuse me of keeping the Jewish Sabbath. I am not keeping the Jewish Sabbath.  I am not keeping the Adventist Sabbath. I am keeping God’s Sabbath.”  We must always defend it on that basis.  Let’s go on in verses six and seven:

...seeing, therefore, it remaineth that some must enter therein...

What is he saying here?  He is saying that there are Jews who still need to enter into God’s rest.  They claim to be God’s people but they have not entered God’s rest.

...they to whom it was first preached entered not because of unbelief.

The Jews of the exodus did not enter God’s rest because of unbelief. The Jews of Paul’s day had not entered into God’s rest for the same reason.  In verse seven:

Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, Today, after so long a time; as it is said, Today if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

The expression, “hardening of the heart,” is synonymous with the word “unbelief.”  Unbelief is a deliberate, willful rejection of the truth.  Keep that in mind when you witness the Sabbath and people reject it; please don’t say, “I told you the truth, now you’re lost.”

The rejection of the truth has to do with the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  Our job is not to convict.  Our job is to witness to the truth.  The work of conviction is that of the Holy Spirit.  That is why that we should never, never take the credit for soul winning.  That is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Our job is witnessing.  Let God do His job.  He doesn’t have a problem.  We have the problems.

I say this because I’m going to review a quotation from one of the greatest Reformers this world has ever known, Martin Luther.  Listen to what he has to say about the Sabbath.  This is a statement he made to the Saxon radicals in February of 1525.  He was mainly addressing Carlstad, who was an Anabaptist: “Only that portion of the Ten Commandments is not binding which enshrines the natural law.”

So what Luther did is basically what we did also, in a different way. We took the law of Moses and we divided that into ceremonial and moral. By the way, the Jews didn’t do that.  Luther took the Ten Commandments and divided it into natural and ceremonial.  This is what he said, “The natural law is: Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not commit adultery, etc.”

In other words, the natural law to him meant those laws of the Ten Commandments which men knows by nature that it is wrong to do.  People know by nature it is wrong to steal and kill and commit adultery.  Even pagan religions believe that.  He called that natural law.  “But,” he said, “not the injunction as to the Sabbath because the Sabbath does not belong to the natural law.  It is ceremonial.”  And this, by the way, is the position of modern Evangelicals.  That’s why I’m exposing you to what Luther said.  “If Carlstad,” he says, “keeps on, he will have us observing Sunday on Saturday.”  He was against the idea of keeping Saturday as the Sabbath.  This was Luther, a man Ellen G.  White says will be in heaven. She gives him tremendous credit as a Reformer.

That’s why we need to wrestle with this passage.  We need to ask ourselves what really will be the issue in the last days?  Have we presented the Sabbath sufficiently to convince the Christian world that they are wrong? We have to wrestle with that.

In verse seven, what Paul is saying here is that if you deliberately reject the truth as it is in Christ, if you harden your heart, there is no salvation.  You cannot enjoy salvation.  Here is another question that you may want to think about.  If a person breaks the Sabbath commandment, is there hope for him?  Is there forgiveness for breaking the Sabbath commandment? Yes, just like there is forgiveness for breaking the other nine commandments. If a person commits the sin of unbelief, is there forgiveness?  No.  That’s the sin that God cannot forgive.  Why?  Because unbelief is the deliberate rejection of the gift of God.  God can’t say, “I’ll take you to heaven even though you rejected Jesus Christ.”  The gospel then becomes meaningless.

I would like to present to you that the issue in the last days is not so much the law but the truth of the gospel.  The law is linked and we will speak about that.  The reason why the Sabbath is a big issue is because it is linked with salvation in Christ.  In the last days, breaking the Sabbath will be synonymous with deliberately rejecting Jesus Christ.  That will be the issue.  But that is for our next study.  Now turn to Heb.  11:6:

But without faith it is impossible to please God.  For he that cometh to God must believe that He is and is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.

God cannot give you the blessings of salvation if you say, “I don’t believe in Christ,” or “I reject His gift.”  What Paul is saying is, “Don’t turn your backs to the gospel.  Don’t harden your hearts like the Jews of the exodus.  They came out of Egypt.  They followed God, but they did not enter Canaan because of unbelief.”  Look now at verse eight of Hebrews four:

For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.

What is the “another day”?  “If Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.”  I heard an evangelist use this text to prove Sunday is not God’s Sabbath.  Please don’t use this text to fight against the Sunday keepers.  We must never project to a text something that is a 20th Century problem.  The Jews did not have a problem over Sabbath and Sunday.  So why should Paul be writing about a problem that did not exist?  So we must be honest with the passage.

The problem is the word “Jesus.”  You see the word “Jesus” in Greek is the same word for “Joshua” in Hebrew.  So the word “Jesus” is not referring to Jesus Christ but to Joshua.  If you understand that the word “Jesus” refers to Joshua, who brought the Jews into Canaan?  Joshua.  Now was Canaan the ultimate rest or was it only a type of the ultimate rest?  When did the true rest come?  When Jesus Christ came.

So “another day” refers to the gospel, to the coming of Christ. In other words, what Paul is saying here is that Joshua did not give the real rest.  Let me put it this way: will all the Jews who entered Canaan and are living in Canaan, which is today Israel, will they go to heaven? No.  “Therefore, the fact that you Jews are living in Israel does not mean that heaven is yours.”  That’s what he is saying here.  Joshua did not give them the real rest.  Canaan was only a type of the real rest. So if they had moved into Canaan but reject Christ, do they go to heaven? No.  Even though they had entered the type which is Canaan.  With this in mind look now at verse nine:

There remaineth, therefore, a rest for the people of God.

The people of God here are the Jews, who are living in Jerusalem, which is Canaan.  There still remains for them to enter into God’s rest.  Now look at the Greek word for the word “rest” in verse nine.  The Greek word is “Sabbatismos.”  Translated literally, it is “a keeping of the Sabbath.”

There remains, therefore, a keeping of the Sabbath for God’s people.

That’s what the text is actually saying.  Were the Jews keeping the Sabbath to whom Paul wrote?  Were they keeping the day?  Will they go to heaven? If they will go to heaven, then verse nine becomes meaningless.  He says, “There remaineth, therefore, a rest for the people of God.”  In other words, if you keep the day and reject the Lord of that day, who is Christ, heaven is not yours.  It is possible for you to keep the Sabbath and be lost.  I am talking to Seventh-day Adventists.  It is possible for you to keep that day and be lost.  That is why we need to understand the connection of the Sabbath with the gospel.

When I was in Ethiopia, I was approached by the pastor of our Addis Abba Church, which is the church for the headquarters of the Union.  The biggest theological seminary there is interdenominational.  The professor called our pastor and told him that he was teaching a class which they called Comparative Religions.  One of the assignments he gave the students was to visit the services of four different denominations and write a term paper.  To do that, the students were required after visiting the service to ask the pastor questions.  One of the churches they chose was our church.  And so this professor said to the pastor of our church, “My students have chosen to visit your church on your Sabbath and they would like to come next Saturday.  And they would like to ask you some questions after the service.  Would you please be willing?”

The pastor was scared.  So he asked, “Can I call you back?” So he went to the president of our union, who was a Swede, and asked him, “What do I do?”

The president said, “Go ahead and invite them.”

The pastor said, “Fine, who’s going to preach?”

“Invite Pastor Sequeira,” suggested the president.  I was the Ministerial Secretary at that time.

He came and asked, “Will you preach?”

I said, “I’ll be very happy to.”

He called the professor and said, “Yes.”  He then asked me, “What are you going to preach about?”

I said, “I’m going to preach about the Sabbath.”

He advised, “I wouldn’t do it if I were you.  Why don’t you speak on something that we agree on?”

I said, “Why, are you scared?”

He said, “They will ask you questions.”

I replied, “That is exactly what I want.”  I told the congregation that is one sermon that I will speak above their heads in.  I’m going to use some Greek.”  I knew these fellows were coming not to listen but to bombard.

After the service, the first question came from a Baptist student.  He said to me, “What you preached was wonderful.  Here’s my question: is this what your church teaches?”

A Lutheran student said, “I would like to answer that question.”

I said, “I didn’t know you were an Adventist.”

He said “No, but my answer is that this is not true.  What you preached is not the teaching of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”

I said, “Look, I’m not here to defend the church.  I’m here to defend the truth as it is in Christ.  Can I ask you a question?  What are you going to do about the truth?”

When I preached that Sabbath, I did not touch the law at all, only the gospel.  And they had no way to refute what I said.  I did not approach it from the law but from the gospel viewpoint.  That’s what I will do in our next study.

What Paul is saying in verse nine is there remains a true Sabbath rest for whom?  You see, to the Jews, the Sabbath was “do’s and don’ts.” There are 69 rules, if you look at the Mishna, on how to keep the Sabbath. Some of them are ridiculous.  For example, the houses there are flat-roofed and in the evening they liked to put a ladder against the wall so they could climb up.  You could never carry a ladder to climb up on Sabbath.  But if you dragged it you were not breaking the Sabbath, but if you lifted it up you were working.  Things like that.  Well, we have similar rules sometimes. They were full of rules.  That’s what it meant to keep the Sabbath.

I was coming home from a program in England and a woman put her head out of a high window.  All I could see [of her] was from her neck up.  She said, “Excuse me, will you come and do me a favor?”

I said, “What would you like?”

“Can you switch my light on?”

It was a strange request.  I thought she was a cripple, so I said, “Sure.”

When I went to the door, she opened it, and I saw that she was not handicapped. I looked rather amazed and she noticed it.  She said, “You see, I’m a Jew, and it is a sin for us to switch the light because it is kindling a fire.”

She didn’t know who I was, so I thought, “Here I will have some fun.”  So I said to her, “But the law says even the stranger within your gates should not work.”  She was shocked that I knew the fourth commandment.

“How did you know it?”

“Well,” I said, “I read my Bible.”

Her response was, “Yes, but you are a Gentile.”  In other words, she was implying, “You are lost in any case.  It doesn’t matter if you break the Sabbath.”

I asked, “Do you have your Old Testament?”

She replied, “Yes.”

“Can you turn to 1 Sam.  16:7?”

She said, “Yes.”  Do you know what the text says?

Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.

I said, “Sister, I would be more than happy to switch your light on, but here is the problem.  While my hand does the act, I’m doing your will and, as far as God is concerned, you turned the light on and if that’s sin, you are finished.”

“You are making it very hard.”

I said, “No, I’ll go one step further.  It is not hard, but impossible.  There’s only one way for you to be saved and that is to accept the Messiah, Jesus Christ.”

She said, “I was born a Jew and I will die a Jew.”

I said, “Sister, you don’t have to become a Gentile.  Christ was a Jew Himself.  But accept Him as your Saviour, your Messiah, your Anointed One.”

She said, “No.”

“That is your problem,” I said.  “But if you’re trying to go to heaven by your works, you are trying the impossible.  I hope you will discover that some day.”  I switched the light on and left her.

I gave you this illustration because of verse ten:

For he that is entered into his rest [God’s rest], he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His.

Why?  Because the rest that God gives you is complete and perfect.  You can’t add to it.  You can’t improve on it.  It’s complete and perfect! That’s what the text is saying.  And the moment you try to improve on it you are rejecting it.  Go now to Gal.  5:4:

He that is trying to be justified by the law is fallen from grace. Christ has become of no effect.

Now please don’t say I’m against the law.  I am dealing with the law here as a means of salvation, not as a standard of Christian living. That’s a different matter.  But we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and nothing else.  The rest that Christ gave us is complete.  It is perfect, just like His creation was perfect and complete.

How much did Adam add to creation?  Nothing.  All God required of Adam was to enter into God’s provision, which is His rest.  Here’s the problem.  To enter into God’s rest is labour.  Verse 10 says:

Cease from works.

Verse 11 says:

Let us labor, therefore, to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.

I’ll tell you what he means by labor: in order to enter into God’s rest, you have to admit that you are spiritually bankrupt.  That is hard on human pride.  For you to admit, “Not I, but Christ,” is hard on the human ego.  That’s why faith in the New Testament is a fight. It’s a fight against your self-glory.  That’s why Sister [Ellen G.] White says that the work of justification by faith is to take the glory of man and put it in the dust.  That, my dear people, is painful, very painful because of our ego.  But, he says, that is what God’s word does.  In verse twelve:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit.

Soul represents “I” and “Spirit” represents God because the center of the self life is in the soul of our Adamic life.  So what does the word do?  It separates “I” from Christ.  What does it do with “I”?  It crucifies “I.”

I am crucified with Christ, yet I am living.  Yet not I, but Christ lives in me.  And the life I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. Gal.  2:20.

Please remember the Word of God doesn’t join the flesh and the spirit. No.  The Word of God crucifies the flesh and that is painful! But it is the only way.  So we end with verse thirteen:

Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

In other words, don’t try to deceive God.  You can deceive your pastor. You can deceive your neighbour.  You can deceive your family.  What do I mean by “deceive”?  You can pretend to be truly converted.  You can pretend to be holy but you cannot deceive God.  God looks at your heart.  He knows whether your faith is genuine or a sham.  He knows whether you have died to self or not.  He knows.  Please don’t try to deceive God.

As I told that Jewish lady, God is not looking at your acts.  He is concerned about your heart.  For example, if I go Ingathering because I want to be number one in this church, what I’m doing may be good, but in God’s eyes it is terrible.  Not because of what I’m doing but why I’m doing it.  Therefore, Paul says, “Whatever you do, whatever you eat, do it to God’s glory” (1 Cor.  10:31).  May God help us to understand that only those who enter into God’s rest have hope.  How do we enter into God’s rest?  How is the Sabbath linked with that rest?  That will be dealt with in our next study.

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