IV. The Promised Rest and the Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:1–5:10)


IV. The Promised Rest and the Great High Priest (4:1–5:10)

4:1 Therefore, the author says, in light of this Old Testament example, beware that you don’t fall short of God’s rest like they did. The unfaithful Israelites didn’t miss out on heaven, but they missed out on the promised land. The “rest” God promises is participation in and enjoyment of the blessings he has planned.

Don’t run the risk of falling short of your inheritance. If you’re seriously living the Christian life, you will run into challenges and trials. In fact, the godlier you become, the more difficulties you’re likely to face. The temptation is to acquiesce to your environment to ease the pressure. But if you follow the route of least resistance, you will fail to be Christ’s companion or partner (1:9; 3:1, 14). And while you won’t lose your salvation, you will lose the opportunity to experience his plans for you in his kingdom. Don’t squander your inheritance.

4:2 The Israelites received good news—not good news about heaven but about Canaan. But the message didn’t benefit them, since they were not united with those who heard it in faith. Who were “those who heard it in faith”? Well, when God brought Israel to the edge of the promised land, twelve spies entered on a reconnaissance mission. Afterward, ten of them said, “We can’t take Canaan. The job’s too big for us.” Only two—Joshua and Caleb—believed God and said, “Yes, we can do it with God’s help.” Unfortunately, the people of Israel believed the majority report. As a result, God refused to let anyone of that generation enter the land except Joshua and Caleb. Unbelief for the believer is the refusal to act like God is telling the truth.

It’s easy to side with the majority. But if the majority rejects the will of God, they’ll lead you to failure. Everyone knows the temptation to embellish personal problems. So get some Joshuas and Calebs in your life who will embellish the Lord when they hear you making much of your fears. When we embellish our problems, we make them bigger than they are. When we embellish the Lord, we remind ourselves that he’s bigger than we think.

4:3-6 The author does something interesting here. He continues the theme of “rest” by mentioning God’s rest on the seventh day when he rested after his work of creation (4:4). That doesn’t mean he took a nap. It means he enjoyed his work, for he saw that it “was very good” (Gen 1:31). But the people of Israel failed to enter God’s rest (i.e., the place of promised blessing) and find enjoyment because of disobedience (4:5-6).

In 3:19 they failed “because of unbelief.” In 4:6 they failed “because of disobedience.” He’s saying the same thing in both. There must be a union between the Word you hear and the faith you have (4:2). When you install motion-detector lighting, the sensors perceive movement and activate the lights. But no power flows unless motion is detected. Many Christians want to experience God’s power. But they aren’t making any spiritual motions that he can detect! Faith in God’s Word will result in movement—in obedience. When that happens, his power flows.

4:7 To harden your hearts is to tell God, “No” (4:7). When you do this, it’s like constructing a wall of bricks around your heart. Instead, you need to expose yourself to godly people and principles that help chip away at whatever keeps the truth from getting through.

4:8-11 Just as God rested and enjoyed the completion of his work on the seventh day, he established in the Ten Commandments a Sabbath for Israel—the day of rest on which they were to enjoy the fruits of their labor (4:9). Moreover, for the generation that departed Egypt, entering the land of Canaan was to be their rest—their inheritance—their “Sabbath.” The principle of Sabbath rest still operates today. Believers are called to enter the rest God has prepared for them (4:10) rather than following Israel’s example of disobedience (4:11).

4:12-13 Like the Israelites, you will regularly find that your circumstances tempt you to disobey God. Focus on circumstances too long, and his Word will fail to influence your life.

The author reminds his audience that the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword. And indeed, Scripture isn’t composed of dead words on a page; it’s alive. It cuts deep and can separate the spiritual from the earthly. The Word can judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (4:12). It lays us naked and exposed before God.

Have you ever had an experience with God’s Word that made you feel “exposed”? Have you ever heard it preached and felt like it was directed right at you? Have you ever felt your soul sliced open by the Word? Remember, we have no private lives. We don’t even get to have private thoughts. Everything is laid bare before the one to whom we must give an account (4:13).

4:14-16 After those terrifying comments, the author urges his readers to keep moving forward with Jesus (4:14) and offers sweet comfort: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. No, on the contrary, Jesus has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin (4:15). In one sense, he’s like all of us—he has endured incredible temptation, suffering, and hardship. Yet, in another, he’s like none of us—he has never sinned. Therefore, he is the perfect high priest. He can sympathize with you in your weakness and suffering. Yet, since he resisted completely, he can also help you.

So, what should you do? Approach the throne of grace with boldness. Prayer is the divinely authorized method of accessing heavenly authority for intervention on earth. It’s the believer’s passport into the spiritual realm. So, when you’re tempted to give up, that temptation is actually an invitation to draw near to the King’s throne so you may receive mercy and find grace (4:16). Mercy is not getting what you deserve; grace is getting what you don’t deserve. But to lay claim to these wonderful gifts, you have to approach him. The King extends his invitation to you: “Don’t stay away! Come get what you need.”

5:1-3 The reference to Jesus as high priest in Hebrews 4:14-15 (see also 2:17; 3:1) opens the door to the author’s discussion that will follow in much of the letter (7:1–10:18). Israel’s high priest stood between God and the people. He entered the tabernacle / temple to offer gifts and sacrifices on their behalf to make atonement for sins (5:1). He was a go-between, a mediator. But, given that the high priest was also clothed with weakness, he could deal gently with those who were going astray (5:2). Since he was himself a sinner, the sin offering he made was for his own sins as well as theirs (5:3).

5:4-6 But a person didn’t apply for the job. You didn’t jump into the office of high priest and say, “Here I am!” Rather, a person had to be called by God, just as Aaron was (5:4). In the same way, Christ did not exalt himself, but the Father appointed the Son to his role as high priest (5:5). The author verifies this by quoting God’s words from Psalm 110:4: You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek (5:6). Jesus Christ, then, wasn’t appointed to the priesthood of Aaron but to the priesthood of Melchizedek. The author will return to discuss Melchizedek in chapter 7. It’s a significant part of what he wants readers to understand.

5:7-10 We know that every high priest was appointed “from among men” (5:1). So, what kind of man was Jesus? The author focuses on the fact that he offered prayers and appeals to God who was able to save him from death (5:7) Jesus Christ is the great God-man, fully divine and fully human. In his humanity, he went through intense suffering and struggles—though without ever sinning (4:15). Although he was the Son, he learned obedience and was perfected (5:8-9). As the Son of God, he was perfectly obedient; but as the Son of Man, he had to learn obedience.

To be humanity’s high priest, Jesus had to experience what we do. He had to learn to obey God when it hurts. Jesus did what the author tells us to do in 4:14-16—he drew near to God when he was struggling (5:7-8). As a result, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was declared by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek (5:9-10).

The Greek verb and noun that we translate “saved” and “salvation” don’t always refer to salvation from the penalty of sin and eternal judgment. Depending on the context, the words can be rendered “delivered” or “deliverance”—implying rescue from challenges or dangers in life, and from divine wrath in history (see, e.g., Matt 14:30; Acts 27:20; Rom 5:9-10). This is the meaning of the use of the word “saved” here, since the author’s readers are already believers (3:1, 12; 10:19; 13:22). Having become our great high priest who endured suffering and remained faithful to God, Jesus Christ is the source of deliverance for all believers who obey him. How do you receive deliverance? The same way Jesus did: by crying out to God and obeying him.