Hebrews 4:1-11 teaches us about entering God’s rest. Two questions are significant: what is the rest, and how do we enter it? The second question is answered easily: we enter it by faith, by receiving forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, and by becoming part of God’s people. Where Israel failed in its own efforts, we succeed through Christ’s.
The first question-- what is the rest? -- requires more explanation, and to answer it we must go back to the garden. Our mistaken concept is that rest equates to inactivity, to leisure, to doing nothing because God has done everything. But even as that is a misunderstanding of grace, so also is it a misunderstanding of rest. Rest is what God did when he finished his work of creation. Did God retire once his creative work was finished? By no means. That was the very point he began to exercise authority over what he had just created. That gives us an initial clue of what God’s rest is. Not only that, the verb used to describe how God “put” Adam into the garden (Genesis 2:15) is the word usually translated as “rest,” so that the best translation would be “God put Adam into the Garden to rest”. Yet Genesis clearly also says that God put Adam into the garden to work it and keep it (Genesis 2:15). That brings us to this unexpected conclusion: Adam exercised the government of God over the garden, yet this activity of ruling and reigning, of working and keeping, is described as rest! Then of course came the sad end to the story. Adam lost this place of government and authority when he disobeyed God, and he was ejected from his place of rest.
Here is another interesting fact. There are some astounding links between the garden, the tabernacle and the temple. When we examine Scripture, we find that the building of the tabernacle under Moses, and later the building of the temple under Solomon, were both patterned on God’s creation of the universe. Seven times from Genesis 1:3 through 1:26, the phrase “And God said” occurs, each of which marks a stage of the creation process. At the end of the sixth day, it says that “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). After this, God rested (Genesis 2:1).
The building of the tabernacle was likewise fashioned around seven creative words of God, “And the Lord said” (Exodus 25:1, 30:11, 17, 22, 34; 31:1, 12). At the end of the tabernacle creation process, it says, “Moses saw all the work” the people had done according to the command of the Lord, and he blessed them for it. Then when the tabernacle was finished, God’s presence entered into it and his glory filled it so that Moses was not able to enter (Exodus 40:34-35). What was happening in this process? God was taking up his rest.
The same parallel is present when we look to the building of the temple. Here we find -- and it cannot be a coincidence -- that Solomon took seven years to build it (1 Kings 6:38), he dedicated it on the seventh month during the feast of booths, which lasted seven days (1 Kings 8), and his speech of dedication was built around seven prayers (1 Kings 8:31-55)? And then -- and this is the critical point -- just as God rested on the seventh day from his work of creation, so when the temple was finished, God took up a resting place. How do we know this? The psalmist tells us: “Arise, O Lord, to your resting place, you and the ark of your strength... For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his habitation. This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it” (Psalm 132:8, 13-14).
So now we understand that the resting place of God is the very place where God begins his rule. In each case -- creation, tabernacle and temple -- God first subdued disorder, then began to rule over what he had created. At the beginning of creation, the earth was “without form and void” (Genesis 1:2). Once he had brought order from chaos and nothingness, and thus finished his creative work, he began to rule over what he had created. Not only that, he shared his place of rulership and rest with Adam, who then tragically lost it.
Now look how the pattern repeats itself. God subdued the chaos the Egyptians had created by bringing Israel out of Egypt and destroying the armies of Pharaoh. Then he established his presence in the tabernacle, took up his place of rest and began to rule over the people he had brought out of chaos into freedom. And again much later, after he subdued Israel’s enemies through King David and had the temple built by Solomon, he took up his place of rest in the temple and began to rule over the people he had once again restored. In each case, first God acts in power to establish order out of chaos,then he takes up his rest and begins to rule over what he has brought order to. But each time -- whether with Adam, Moses or Solomon -- he shares his authority with the people he has given rest to.
The bottom line in all this? We are to enter his rest and begin to reign with him!