I regularly speak about rest. I encourage others, missionaries in particular, to take sabbath days, get enough sleep, pull back routinely from work, and engage in life-giving activities.
I am not arbitrarily espousing good ideas. Both science and Scripture back me up. I find justification in familiar passages like Matthew 11:28–30 where Jesus says, “Come to me and I will give you rest.” Or his invitation to his disciples to “Come away with me to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31).1
The author of the New Testament letter of Hebrews also writes about rest. But a thorough study reveals that this is a different kind of rest than I typically speak of. Since Hebrews is all about presenting Jesus as superior to all else2, I wonder if this rest is also better?
If Joshua had given them [the Israelites] rest, God would not have spoken about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.Hebrews 4:8–10 NIV
The Greek word for rest in this passage—katapausis—is found only here and in one other verse referring to God’s dwelling place (Acts 7:48–49). It speaks first to the rest God offered the Israelites in the promised land of Canaan. This gift of a homeland was included in the covenant he made with Abraham (Genesis 15:18–21).
Next the author describes a second kind of rest—also katapausis—offered to his readers. But since we are not promised a physical land “from the Wadi of Egypt to the Euphrates River,” what does this rest entail?
The Israelites’ rest was only promised to them at that time. Jesus’s offer of rest still stands today and is available to everyone (Hebrews 4:1).
They had to fight for their rest (Number 13:30). Jesus’s rest is made possible by his victory over sin when he died and resurrected (Hebrews 1:3).
Their rest was a homeland safe from servitude and enemy attack. Jesus’s rest is protection from the enemy of sin and death (Hebrews 2:14–15).
Their rest included a burdensome system of laws and sacrifices (Matthew 23:2–4). Jesus’s rest is a cessation of our efforts to appease God in order to obtain our own “rest” (Hebrews 4:10).
They failed to enter their rest because of unbelief, hard-heartedness, and disobedience (Hebrews 3:16–19). Jesus’s rest is for those who believe (Hebrews 4:3).
True rest, then, is peace with God, freedom from rules as well as the need to earn God’s favor, and victory over sin. It is also an eternal inheritance of spiritual blessings, and a future heavenly home. It starts from the moment we put our faith in Jesus and extends into eternity when we’re in his presence.
This rest isn’t about sitting around, taking naps, or playing harps with angels. Neither is it the popular concept of “Rest in Peace.” In fact, the author tells us we have to “make every effort to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11). He’s not contradicting himself, but rather describing the discipline and diligence it takes to remain in the faith, not our efforts to obtain it.3
By all means get enough sleep, take breaks, go on vacation, and practice life-giving activities. But in and of themselves, they will not provide true, lasting, sustainable soul rest. That rest is found in Jesus and it is indeed better.
Where do you go to find rest for your soul? Are you striving to work hard so that God will accept you? Love you? Save you?
Jesus offers better rest.
Jesus, my Savior, thank you for the indescribable gift of better rest that you offer from now into eternity. Show me if I am imitating the Israelites in any way. Thank you for the rest in you I enjoy now, and help me to persevere and hold on diligently until I enter fully into your rest.
1 In these verses, the translators used the word anapauō which means “to cease from labor in order to refresh.”
2 For more ways that Jesus is better from the book of Hebrews, follow along on Instagram @evaburkholder.
3 One way to “make every effort” is by letting the Word of God penetrate our hearts and expose its desires (Hebrews 4:12–13).
4 thoughts on “In Search of Better Rest”
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