Hebrews 3 and 4:
Does “today” replace the seventh day?


One of the most beautiful chapters in all the bible are these two found in the book of Hebrews, chapters 3 and 4. Showing clearly, among other things, the supremacy of Jesus Christ as high priest and prince, and the hope of one day meeting him and reigning with him in the heavenly Canaan, the New Jerusalem which is from above. Many have shared with me on how these chapters show how the Seventh day Sabbath has been replaced by every day, called “Today.” Others have different interpretations. So I decided to take another look at these two amazing chapters, and share with you what the Lord has shown me. We begin in chapter 3, verse 1:

Hebrews 3:1-6
(1) Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;
(2) Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house.
(3) For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house.
(4) For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God.
(5) And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after;
(6) But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.

Immediately our minds are made to focus upon heavenly things. From the very beginning of this chapter, Paul shares with his audience the fact that there are two things able to be seen, the things of this world and the things of the heavens. Moses, a faithful follower of the Lord, certainty built his house upon the earth. The eyes of many in those days were upon the life of Moses. The Pharisees, while rebuking a man who claimed to have been healed by Christ, with one voice said, “Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses' disciples” –John 9:28. But we are to keep our eyes upon the savior, Jesus Christ, who was, “counted worthy of more glory then Moses,” for God is the one who built all things, and through Christ he built us, his people; we are his house now and we will remain his house, “if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” In other words, we must focus now on the heavenly things, wherebu Christ is now our high priest (Hebrews 3:1).

Our calling is to meet with him “today;” to daily learn of him, daily fellowship with him, as can be seen by the following few verses:

Hebrews 3:7-12
(7) Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, Today if ye will hear his voice,
(8) Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
(9) When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.
(10) Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.
(11) So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)
(12) Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.

According to verse 11, “they,” says the Holy Spirit, “shall not enter into my rest.” But what rest? Verse 8 hints as to what rest he is speaking about when he says, “as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness.” We find this story of the provocation in Numbers 14.

Among the 12 spies sent secretly into the land of Canaan to see what it contains, were Joshua and Caleb. When the 12 of them returned, 10 of them gave an evil report. Although the land they saw truly was flowing with “milk and honey,” they were frightened at the sight of the giants that lived there. God has specifically said that he will fulfill his promise and give this wonderful land to the seed of Abraham, but amidst the many wonderful signs the Lord performed in front of them, they still did not believe. Yet, that was the day of salvation. “Today” was the day that they were to enter into the land. Finally, after so long a trip and after so long an ordeal in Egypt, they made it to the borders of the land, and their time came for them to possess it. Said faithful Caleb:

Numbers 13:30
(30) And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.

God spoke through Caleb to assure the people that he was with them, and that “at once,” or, today, they were to hear his voice and harden not their hearts, for the time has come for them to enter into that rest, that land of rest called Canaan.

But they did harden their hearts, for the following verse says:

Numbers 13:31
(31) But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.

How is it that, after so many miracles and wonders, they still did not believe? They did the same thing the Pharaoh of Egypt did. God showed him, through twelve wonderful plagues, not only that he was serious about taking his people out of his bondage, but also that he was perfectly capable of doing it. But Pharaoh hardened his heart. Could it be that the Israelites inherited this evil trait from their former king? God described with these words... "ye are a stiffnecked people."

Notice:

Numbers 14:11
(11) And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?

As in the provocation, says the spirit, “harden not your hearts.” That was the day they were to finally enter into the Promised Land. To them, that day was called “today.” Yet because they hardened their hearts and did not believe, they fell to the sword that self same day (Numbers 14:45). They never got to enter into that rest, just like the author of Hebrews explained (Hebrews 4:8)

We are urged today, “while it is called today,” to exhort one another daily, “lest any of you be hardened though the deceitfulness of sin” –Hebrews 4:13. In other words, today is the day to meet your God, and see the reward of your redemption. Today, if you would only come to Jesus, and believe in him, not hardening your hearts, you will find rest in him, and you will live with the hope that one day you yourself will enter into that true Canaan rest, that land above, called New Jerusalem in the heavens. If only they would have believed his voice, God would have given them restful assurance that they would indeed enter, and conquer every obstacle that would stand in their way. This invitation is not extented for us. Jesus said:

Matthew 11:28
(28) Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

We have therefore gathered two types of rests:

- Rest #1: A rest found in the great High Priest, Jesus Christ, that we receive when we accept his invitation “today” to believe in his promises.
- Rest #2: A Rest we long to enter into one day when the Lord Jesus comes to take us home, the heavens above, the New Jerusalem (John 14:2-3, Rev. 21:10), simbolized by the earthly land of Canaan.

Now let's enter into chapter 4 some more:

Hebrews 4:1
(1) 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.

We are reminded once more of entering into “his rest.” We learned in the previous chapter that the rest is found in Jesus Christ, and that if we continue believing in him we will one day, unlike those who didn’t believe, enter into that promised rest above. Being “partakers of Christ” on a daily bases (verse 13) we will keep our eyes focused upon him and the example he left for us tof ollow. We are to “walk, even as he walked” – 1 John 2:6. He obeyed his father’s commandments; he was obedient unto “death.” He said that if we truly love him, we will follow him, and do as he says (John 14:15). Our assurance is found in him, for Christ, being the creator of “the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that in them is,” tells us through Paul that, “we which have believed do enter into rest” – Hebrews 4:3. Note carefully, it does not say "will enter into rest," but rather "do enter into rest." In other words, we who believe now, or today... we "do enter" into "rest." This rest is spiritual, and as we have seen, it is found in Jesus Christ. It can be experienced right now by simply believing.

Now that we have Jesus in our hearts, and heaven’s rest to look forward to, Paul now tells us:

Hebrews 4:4
(4) 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.

Suddenly we are taken back to creation week, when on the seventh day God ended all his work and “rested.” While focusing upon Christ, and daily abiding in his rest, we see also his example of this very thing. He honored the Seventh Day Sabbath, and taught proper Sabbath keeping (Matthew 12:12). The teachers of his days were very mistaken on how to observe it. Jesus taught that the Sabbath was to be, as the prophet says, “a delight” – Isaiah 58:13. But they perverted it, making it burdensome, and the significance of the day was for some time lost. Paul now tries to bring back this significance, and reminds his readers that the meaning of the Seventh Day goes far beyond just going to church and congregating all day. It serves as a reminder of the fact that one day we will enter into that heavenly rest. For the time we spend our lives upon this earth, these six thousand years, we humans are to prepare through the grace of Christ to meet our God at the expiration of the seventh thousand year. “Today” we are to daily sanctify ourselves through Christ’s power and strength, to be ready to see him in the heavenly Canaan who “gave his only begotten Son” for us. For this very reason Paul then tell us that the Seventh day Sabbath remains. Notice his exact words:

Hebrews 4:9
(9) There remaineth therefore a rest (greek: sabbatismos) to the people of God.

The greek word translated “rest” here is “sabbatismos” meaning “sabbath-keeping.” It is used no where else in the New Testament. We will dissect this word some more in a bit, but notice what this Sabbath-keeping is to remind us of. Let's read a few verses just before this one:

Hebrews 4:6
(6) Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:

To who was it first preached? To the Israelites in Numbers 13, 14. This was the gospel preached to them (Hebrews 4:2). It was told them, that redemption was only a decision away. They were to choose that day, “while it is called Today” to believe in their Redeemer and enter into that land of rest which he promised their fathers. Today, we have not entered into that land of rest which the Lord promised us in John 14:2-3 (see also Hebrews 11:16), but we can enter into the spiritual rest of Jesus now, and through his strength, as with faithful Caleb and Joshua, we will march towards the land of promise and see the rest of the Lord. This spiritual rest of "today" is that day which he "limiteth... saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is written, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts." -verse 7. Those unfaithful Israelites did not experience this spiritual rest, nor did they experience the rest of Canaan, which is why verse 8 says that Joshua did not give them rest, for is he did... "then would he not afterwards have spoken of another day?"

The apostle continues:

Hebrews 4:9-10
(9) There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.
(10) For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.

Here the critics grab themselves to say that the rest of “Today” found in Jesus has been replaced by the seventh day Sabbath. But a closer examination of this verse reveals otherwise. Note carefully that at the end of verse 10 we read, “as God did from his.” The verse plainly says we are to enter into a rest, the rest of Sabbath-Keeping according to the previous verse. But is this rest spoken of here the rest found in Jesus? Well, when we come to Jesus, we find rest from Sin, and from guilt of Sin, because he cleanses us “of all unrighteousness” – 1 John 1:9. If this rest being spoken of here is the rest from Sin found in Jesus, does God also rest from sin and from the guilt of sin? Of course not, he is a Holy God, and doesn't need to rest from sin. So the rest that we are to enter according to verse 10 is to be the same rest that God entered into... “as God did from his.” The second rest we have gathered in this study is the rest we will one day experience, the rest of heaven. Is this the rest Paul is now speaking of in verse 10? Remember, it specifically says, “as God did from his.” Therefore, whatever rest this is, it will be the same rest God experienced as well. Does God need to be given the rest of Heaven as we do? The answer is obvious:

Psalm 33:13-14
(13) The LORD looketh from heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men.
(14) From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth.

Why then does Paul now seem to shift the focus? Well, he doesn't really, he introduced the seventh day since verse 4, and verses 5 and 10 explains why he did this. Notice how verse 10 reads one more time:

"For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his."

See, the person who has entered into the rest of Jesus Christ, that same person also rests from his works on the seventh day "as God did from his." Why? Well because the rest of the seventh day represents both the rest of today and the rest of heaven. This is what Paul tried to teach us with verses 4 and 5. In verse 4 he says that God spake "in a certian place..." about the seventh day, then he tell us in verse 5 that "in this place again, if they will enter into my rest..." He is comparing the two, the seventh day rest (verse 4) with the rest we are to enter into (verse 5).

Now the he word "rest" in verse 9 is translated from the word “sabbatismos” and it comes from but one greek word: sabbaton. This is the same word translated “sabbath” elsewhere in the New Testament. The difference with this word however, is in the suffix “ismos” which gives this word the meaning of “keeping” or “sabbath keeping.” It is true that this word is not used anywhere else in the New Testament, but the concept is certainty found in the bible. Sabbath keeping if first found in the life of Jesus (Luke 4:16). We then find Sabbath keeping among the followers of Jesus in Luke 23:54-56. The apostles constantly gathered together upon the Sabbath day, not merely in the synagogues (Acts 13:14) but also out doors by a river side (Acts 16:13-15). Sabbath keeping will be found in the New Heavens and the New Earth according to Isaiah 66:23, and God himself kept his own Sabbath in Genesis 2:1-3! So while sabbatismos is not used elsewhere in the New Testament, its meaning is all over the bible, and it was used here to show that this “sabbatismos” or “sabbath keeping” still “remains” as a reminder of that blessed hope... holy Jerusalem.

There are three rests, therefore, mentioned in all of Hebrews 3 and 4:

- Rest #1: A rest found in the great High Priest, Jesus Christ, that we receive when we invite him “Today” to enter into our hearts.
- Rest #2: A Rest we long to enter into one day when the Lord Jesus comes to take us home, the heavens above, the New Jerusalem (John 14:2-3, Rev. 21:10).
- Rest #3: The rest of the Seventh day Sabbath, upon which every week we are reminded again of the fact that, if we continue “daily” in him, we will enter into the true Canaan; Heaven itself.

These are the three rests that these two chapters teach us about. The rest spoken of in verses 9-10 must be the same rest upon which God also rested from his works.


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The lesson is very simple. We are to enter into the rest "today" of believeing that our march to the Heavenly Canaan will be a success if we remain in Christ, like Caleb and Joshua. Those who truly enter into this rest, will "also" cease from their own works upon the seventh day "as God did from his," because the rest of the seventh day remains as a reminder for every believer that he will one day see God and live with him in heaven above. The Christian who is truly abiding in the rest of the Lord will manifest this experience through his obediance to God's commandment to rest on the seventh day. He will not be found disobediant to this command, as the next verse warns us:

"Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief (greek: disobediance)." Hebrews 4:11

The word "that" points us to the thing just mentioned; the rest of verse 10, which is the rest of the seventh day Sabbath. Verse 11 says the Israelites were disobediant of this same rest. Can we confirm this? Sure!

Ezekiel 20:21
(21) Notwithstanding the children rebelled against me: they walked not in my statutes, neither kept my judgments to do them, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; they polluted my sabbaths: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness.

Brethren, let us not be as those unbelieving ones, who through their disobediance were prevented from entering into the rest of the Lord. Let us truly labor, as believers in abiding in Christ's spiritual rest, to enter into that rest, the rest which keeps our minds focused upon God our deliverer.



Your Thought Questions Answered


Question #1: Verse 8 of Hebrews 4 speaks about a rest Joshua did not give the Israelites, but the seventh day Sabbath was given to them by him in Joshua chapter 1. Doesn't this mean that the Seventh Day Sabbath is not whats in view here?

Answer: We touched on this a bit above. Joshua did not really "give" them the sabbath rest as verse 8 says, for they were given the Sabbath rest way before, in Exodus 20:8-11. The rest the Israelites did not get was the rest of entering into the land of Canaan, which represents our not entering into the rest of the Heaven. Paul brings in the seventh day (verse 4) to further illustrate this heavenly rest, for on the Sabbath we have a small taste of what it will be like in heaven. The seventh day remains, according to verse 10, as a reminder of this heavenly rest we will one day enter, which the Isaelites neglected to enter into when they disobeyed in their unbelief.


Question #2: Isn't it true that Paul is teaching that the Sabbath is now replaced with today in order for us to enter the heavenly Canaan? I thought that it was only their unbelief that prevented them from entering the rest of Canaan, and not their disobedience to the Sabbath.

Answer: No. Their unbelief consisted of their disobedience to God's law, which also prevented them from entering Canaan. Notice the verse we shared above:

Ezekiel 20:21
(21) Notwithstanding the children rebelled against me: they walked not in my statutes, neither kept my judgments to do them, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; they polluted my sabbaths: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness.

God through Ezekiel is speaking about the events which transpired in Numbers 13-14. Note carefully that Sabbath breaking was one of the reasons why God was so angry with them. Will you now suggest that Paul back in Hebrews 3 and 4 is suggesting that we continue in Sabbath breaking by replacing it, or abolishing it, when that is exactly one of the errors that prevented the Israelites from entering into that rest? Absolutely not! In fact, that is why he then says in verse 9 that “sabbath-keeping” remains for the believer. He is trying to introduce the seventh day to illustrate further the spiritual rest of heaven, and is careful to tell us in verses 9 and 10 that the Sabbath still “remains” as a reminder that one day the believer, if he first responds to the call of “today” and abides in that calling (chapter 3 verse 14), will enter heaven, the true Canaan!


Question #3: Dousn't Hebrews 3:17 say that God was grieved with them because they sinned through unbelief?

Answer: Yes, they sinned through unbelief. It's always because of unbelief that we sin. If we consider Ezekiel 20:21 we get more information as to what their unbelief consisted of. The words used in verse 17 help us see this even more. Note it says that they "sinned." The bible definition for sin is "breaking God's law" (see 1 John 3:4). Therefore, in their unbelief, they broke God's law which we know includes the Sabbath law.



For further study, see:

- Online Debate with a Former Adventist
(this study gets deeper into these chapters. It is highly recommended!)
- The Sabbath in Genesis
- Who Kept the Sabbath?