In v11 the writer to the Hebrews urges us to “strive to enter rest”. So the concept of entering the rest that this passage is about cannot be about gaining salvation.
We know we are not saved by works, but by the free gift of grace through faith. We don’t have to strive to be saved. It’s a free gift. Entering into rest here is gaining the inheritance, the reward that Christ has for us that He will declare by oath.
In chapter 3 we saw that God declared an oath that a generation of Israelites wouldn’t enter the promised land. They had already believed in Ex 4:31 and been saved by the blood of the Passover lamb but now they lost their inheritance – they didn’t get “the rest” of entering the promised land
God entered rest on the seventh day – to enjoy all that he had made. If you look at Genesis 2 it is the only day that doesn’t have “and there was evening and there was morning…” Day 7 rest never ends! The intention was that humans would rest with God forever, but sin broke that. When we first believe we are saved. Then we must keep on believing to receive all our glorious inheritance – the rest! Who wants to be only just saved by fire? (1 Cor 3).
Although entering rest is fully in eternity, there is a sense of entering rest in what we are serving God here on earth too…
Abraham entered the rest of the promises over him, as did David. Michael Eaton wrote about the joy of inheriting promises:
It is experiencing the oath of God, not the oath of wrath but the oath of mercy. It is when after years, maybe, of persistent faith, we come to have an assurance that we have obtained that which we have been looking for and which God has promised us. It is what happened to Abraham when, after years of diligent faith and testing, God said to him, ‘Now I see…’. At that point on God’s side an oath was taken. At that point on Abraham’s side, he entered into rest. At that point the promise was ‘obtained’. Before that point it could have been aborted. ‘Entering into rest’ is what happened to David when after years of trials and tribulations he finally came to the point where God took an oath, and without the possibility of any reversal said to David, ‘Your seed will continue forever. I swear it!’ (if I may summarize 2 Samuel 7 and Psalm 89 in this way). On God’s side an oath was taken. On David’s side after many struggles against many enemies, ‘The Lord had given him rest on every side’ but also gave him rest within by giving an unshakeable oath that his seed would last for ever.
The missionary J.O.Fraser laboured for years in prayer and unfruitfulness among the Lisu people of China. One day, he remembers, God spoke an oath of rest – that his prayers had been answered and thousands would come in. He had entered rest and it came to pass.
We are saved by grace – a free gift. But we can miss entering into the rest of God’s inheritance, God’s blessing, through unbelief and through hardening our hearts. Paul wrote ‘press on towards the goal’ (Philippians 3:14). We must press on with what God wants us to do in His power and blessing.
Verses 12-13 give us a final warning – God knows the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. He knows what’s going on inside and one day it will be laid bare for reward or loss. Do you want the blessing of a glorious inheritance or just a ticket to heaven?
There’s a pattern in Hebrews – a strong warning followed by a promise of great security. Here, after the warnings of missing God’s best for us, we are told we have a great high priest – a mediator in heaven – working for us. He sympathises with us and speaks on our behalf so we can have confidence, mercy and grace to dust off and keep pressing on.
Come on, let’s go for it!