A Question I Was Asked:

I Have Read Hebrews 4: 1-11 Time After Time But I Still Don't Understand it. Please Can You Help Me ?

I have read Hebrews 4: 1-11 time after time but I don't still understand it. Please can you help me ?

UK Apologetics Reply:

How a Few Misunderstand Acts 7:38-39

A few misuse or misunderstand Acts 7:38-39. Whilst this Scripture indeed speaks of "the congregation in the wilderness," or, "the church in the wilderness" it is simply stating that old covenant Israel were effectively 'a gathering,' or 'a congregation' in the wilderness. It is not suggesting that the Church of Jesus Christ was already a reality back in Old Testament days, in the days before our Lord went to the cross, and subsequently, before the Holy Spirit was given. Acts 7 is further stating that the Israelites rejected Moses, just as many of them would reject the Lord Jesus, despite both being raised up and appointed by God:

35 'This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, "Who made you ruler and judge?" He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36. He led them out of Egypt and performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness. 37. 'This is the Moses who told the Israelites, "God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people." [quoted from Deuteronomy 18:15] 38. He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us. 39. 'But our ancestors refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt.' (Acts 7:35-39).

Of course, the Second Person of the Godhead, the Lord Jesus, Who would later be physically and humanly born in the First Century AD, was indeed with the Israelites in the wilderness, but Moses operated in His full authority anyway despite certain rebellious ones asking, "Who made you ruler and judge?" (Acts 7:35).

It might be worth pointing out that a few, mainly reformed people, and some legalists do not adequately recognise the coming of the New Covenant in the full revelation of Christ and even believe we remain under the legal code of Old Testament law; they mistakenly seize upon the concept of 'the church in the wilderness' in their confused belief that nothing very much changed in the coming and revelation of Christ. That is a very serious error to avoid. In a sense, the Israelites may indeed be called 'the congregation in the wilderness,' yet not yet the Church which would be established upon the first Christian Pentecost (Acts 2).

The reason you struggle with this could be because you are not picking up the thread from the previous chapter. This is all about faith and obedience. We need to pick it up from Hebrews 3. Let's do that:

7. So, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you hear his voice, 8. do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, 9. where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. 10. That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, 'Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.' 11. So I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.'" 12. See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called "Today," so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. 14. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15. As has just been said: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion." 16. Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17. And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18. And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19. So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. (Hebrews 3:7-19).

So here the writer of Hebrews is reminding Jewish Christians (this letter is clearly addressed to them) that they had a poor record for staying faithful. It is all about faith, obedience and staying faithful to the calling one has received (which many thousands of the Israelites in the wilderness did not). Those Israelites were barred from entering their promised land (verse 11) because they did not sufficiently believe in it, now we - as Christian believers - should ensure that this does not apply to us (verses 12-19).

With this context established, we may now consider Hebrews 4:1-11:

1. Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. 3. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, "So I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.'" And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. 4. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: On the seventh day God rested from all his works." 5. And again in the passage above he says, "They shall never enter my rest." 6. Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, 7. God again set a certain day, calling it "Today." This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts." 8. For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10. for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. 11. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:1-11).


Christians are called to enter the 'rest' of our God, that "rest" is typified by the old seventh day Sabbath in which believers were, in a sense, to withdraw for this society, entering into God's rest, 'living in God' for a number of hours every week. Then, the 'Promised Land' was a fuller type of our rest in God in the kingdom of God, a separate land, God's land. Those who were strong in faith understood this but the rebellious Israelites did not. Israel itself were a type of the Church of God, 'the congregation in the wilderness.' (Acts 7:38-39). So withdrawing from a sinful society and entering God's very kingdom was typified by a. the Sabbath, and b. the Promised Land, but now - in our day - the much, much fuller truth is before Christians. 'Rest' points to salvation in Christ and the New Heavens and New Earth:
This is Eternal life in God's New Heavens and New Earth! The writer of Hebrews is saying: ensure that you do not slip up on this great opportunity! Do not copy the unfaithfulness and lack of understanding of those who rebelled against Moses, Aaron and Joshua.

This, by the way, is nothing to do with any need to 'keep the Sabbath' in our own day, the entire meaning of the Sabbath is now fulfilled in Christ:

28. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30).

So we now understand that we have to 'enter into Christ' to keep the eternal 'sabbatism,' this is what Christianity is all about, it is about spiritually entering God's kingdom right now, ceasing from the 'work' and 'labour' of sin, and finally entering the New Heavens and New Earth in the restoration of all things. The writer of Hebrews (it might have been Paul, but we cannot be sure who the writer was), was reminding Jewish Christians of the unfaithfulness of their ancestors and warning them of the need to 'stay on course' in the Christian life, to be avoiding backsliding phases and following after various strange teachings.

Robin A. Brace. January 1st, 2018.