Hebrews 4:3, “For we who have believed enter that rest, 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.”
The original audience of Hebrews found itself in the same position as the first generation of Israel that left Egypt. Both groups had the Good News preached to them. However, some of the first Israelites did not enter the promised rest of Canaan because they did not have faith in the Good News that they heard (Heb. 4:2). Today, just like the original audience of Hebrews, we find ourselves in the same position. Those who hear the Good News and do not receive it in faith will not enter the rest Christ promises us in the Gospel.
Hebrews 4:3 tells us what happens to those who receive the Gospel in faith. Those who believe the Good News “enter that rest.” John Owen says that this rest is the spiritual rest of God Himself that began when God ceased from His original creation of the universe.
This entry by faith is important for the author. His purpose in writing was to show that we enter into the kingdom, that is, we enter into God’s rest, by faith in Christ alone. The works of the law, though they are the fruit of true faith, are not in any way the basis for our entry into the kingdom. John Owen writes that “the entrance itself depends on faith alone. Negatively, this means that no entry can be made without faith, no matter what else people may plead. Positively, this means that faith alone, without the assistance of any other grace, makes entry possible. Works of the law and any other kind of works will not open this way for us. It is faith alone that opens the way to us.”
Some of Hebrews’ original audience may have complained that God’s people already entered God’s rest when they entered Canaan. Some may have thought that there was no need for belief in Jesus to enter God’s rest because they were already there. The author counters this objection by teaching that the rest of Canaan is but a type of the eternal rest to come. He quotes Psalm 95, which warned the people of David’s day that they would not enter God’s rest if they hardened their hearts. This warning proves that although in David’s day Israel enjoyed the rest of Canaan, she had not yet entered the rest that God has enjoyed since the beginning of the world (4:3b). Canaan’s rest was true rest, but it was not the full rest of God Himself. The believer’s full enjoyment of God’s rest was still future in David’s day and remains so for us until Christ returns (Rev. 21:1–4).
One thing that Christ accomplished in His work of salvation was the bringing of God’s rest to His people. This full rest, however, has not yet been applied to us completely. Remember that if you believe in Christ, you are secured in God’s rest now and will enjoy its fullness for all eternity.