Fulfilled in Jesus

Our pilgrimage with our Beloved in Japan -- Yoko & Ramone on the journey with Jesus!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christ, the Substance of the Two Shadows

When I was a missionary for the Seventh-day Adventist church ten years ago, I read through the New Testament twice and became very familiar with it. Teaching as I did that Christians were obligated to keep the Sabbath commandment (a once-a-week day of commanded rest—done out of love, of course!), I ran into a problem whenever I read Hebrews 3 and 4 because the talk of "Sabbath-rest" there just didn't make sense with what we taught & believed as Adventists. The writer of the book of Hebrews talked about entering God's rest today... and that didn't mesh with me and my former church's non-negotiable teaching that Sabbath was strictly the seventh day of the week.

However, as a missionary I wasn't yet ready to face up to Hebrews 3-4, nor was I ready to allow the Scriptures to have final say over my beliefs. I wasn't ready to allow for the possibility that the Bible said something different than what I believed and taught. Unconsciously I made the Bible submit to my beliefs instead of forming my beliefs from what the Bible actually said. Still, I was vaguely conscious that Hebrews 3-4 didn't quite fit the way I wished it would.

Not long after returning from my year of missions, I was led by the Holy Spirit out of that church and its set of beliefs and into a deeper rest in Christ instead. Years later a friend (who is also a former Adventist) posted a forum question asking about the "rest" in Hebrews 3-4 and what it meant. So I wrote up this short study below for my friend. It was posted last year, and I've just updated it (ever so slightly) tonight...

Christ, the Substance of the Two Shadows (in Hebrews 3-4)

Firstly, Hebrews was likely written to Greek-speaking Jews. It has amazing Greek grammar and structure, but its subject matter and approach is extremely Jewish. Because of this it's easy for us "Gentilian" folks (or anyone else who is not a 1st-century Jew) to overlook things which the author took for granted his 1st-century Jewish readers would understand.

For example, as Adventists we didn't understand how Acts 15 cancels out Sabbath-observance, because we didn't realize that for Jews "Sabbath" was nothing if one was not circumcised and thus part of that covenant community. In the same way Hebrews 3 and 4 juxtapose & weave a lot of threads together quickly and without ceremonious trumpet announcements. And so just like Acts 15, it's easy for us to sometimes miss the significance of what the author of Hebrews wrote so easily—he assumed his readers were Jewish, so he didn't need to go into detail on certain things—like Sabbath.

So to finish setting the stage, we must note that the clear, resounding message of the book of Hebrews is a simple two-fold cry: First, In Jesus we have arrived! He is the Messiah and the fulfillment of all the promises. And second, So don't shrink back! But rather hold onto your faith in Jesus as everything. That covers Hebrews 3:1-6

Enter Hebrews chapter 3, from verse 7. The author quotes from Psalm 95, which directly references the generation of Israelites who had seen God's mighty wonders as He brought them out of Egypt, yet died during the 40 years in the desert because they rebelled. When they rebelled (Numbers 14), God swore this oath, that they would never enter the land He had promised them.

Now God does an interesting thing through David the Psalmist here. He changes the word of the original oath just a little. Instead of swearing that the rebellious would never enter the "promised land", He says that they would never enter into "My rest". In God's sight He not only barred the rebellious from "the promised land", but He also barred them from "His rest". If we stopped reading here, we could conclude that the "land" was "His rest", that they're the same thing. However, the author is going to build on this in a minute.

The author then repeats his theme again: in Jesus we have arrived, so don't shrink back! And at the end of that in chapter 3, he talks about who the rebellious were and makes this incredible summary of why they rebelled and were barred from entering the land & His rest:

"So we see that they were not able to enter because of their unbelief." (3:19)

This is not a New Testament invention, by the way. The crux of things was and still is belief, as can be seen God's original "swearing" passage in Numbers 14:

The Lord said to Moses, "How long will these people treat Me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in Me, in spite of all the miraculous things I have performed among them?" (14:11)

What a lesson! They saw miracle after miracle of His love and deliverance, His provision and care, His guidance and strength... and they did not believe.

"Believe" carries a lot of weight here. More than mere "mental assent"! God is saying that they did not trust Him, they did not obey Him. They did not believe Him. They did not believe in Him. They did not believe His heart. And because of of this, they "did not enter His rest" (or "they did not enter the promised land").

The author then restates his recurring warning again, not to give up hope in Jesus. Why?

Because the promise of entering His rest still stands!

The Old Testament scripture comes alive for the author of Hebrews, and he applies it to NOW and TODAY. What was refused to the Exodus generation is offered to us today! What they did not enter into, we are offered entry into today!

(Again, looking at the reward --the "rest/land"-- if we stopped reading here we might conclude that the literal land of Israel was the "rest" that God gives us in Jesus Christ. But again, the author is not finished with the rest/land just yet.)

Amazingly, in re-stating his recurring warning, the author then says, "We have also had the gospel preached to us, just as they did..." (4:2). Whoa! The Exodus generation had the gospel preached to them? How incredible! This statement threw me for a loop when I began to understand the New Covenant, because with the Adventist "arguments" still in my head, it seemed to say that the "gospel" was something else than "Jesus", something from the Old Testament, something "bigger" or more over-arching than the gospel story. But NO! In just a minute this will make more sense...

The author then says (still in 4:2) that the message (the gospel) was of no value to them because it was not combined with faith. There's that "believing" again! That "believing" was the whole crux of things. With that faith, they were saved. Without it, they were lost. Believing, they "entered". Not believing, they rebelled and were barred from entering. And so it is for us:

"Now we who believed enter that rest." (4:3)

Now the author of Hebrews is going to explore that subtle change from "promised land" to "rest" in the wording of Psalm 95. Up to this point we could assume that God (through the Psalmist) had just used another word ("rest") to refer to "the promised land". But now, now, no! The author of Hebrews says it was no accident that God said "rest" in Psalm 95!

And yet His work has been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere He has spoken about the seventh day in these words: "And on the seventh day God rested from all His work." And again in the passage above [Psalm 95] He says, "They shall never enter My rest."

It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. (4:3-6)

By singling out the word "rest", the author of Hebrews declares that the goal of believing is not merely land.

(Parenthetically I'll note that we could conclude that it was something else and not the "land" at all, however, I don't think that does justice to the original context of both Numbers 14, Psalm 95, and Hebrews 3-4. More on this in a minute.)

The author says that the "rest" they could have entered is the same "rest" as on the original 7th day. It is GOD's REST. And more than that, these children of the Exodus who failed to enter that rest, God was not merely offering them "land", He was offering them HIS REST. They did not go into the land, but more deeply understood, they did not go into His rest.

Now, the author says that they did not go in because of "disobedience". Earlier he had said unbelief, and that is still the root that caused the disobedience. But it is worth looking at what they did obey while they were out in the desert. In Numbers 14, God swore that they would not enter the promised land. But then in the next chapter, Numbers 15, we find this written:

While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day... the Lord said to Moses, "The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp." So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses. (15:32-36)

In a nutshell, this proves to us that Israel kept the Sabbath while they were in the desert. On that point (the Sabbath) they did not rebel. This one guy that did rebel received the punishment that the Law commanded for Sabbath-breaking.

Therefore, the "rest" --God's rest-- that is spoken of in Hebrews 3 and 4 is not merely the Sabbath day's rest. Because as Numbers 15 proves, they kept the Sabbath day, just as God directed. And yet they "did not enter His rest."

Some of you can probably hear the Adventist voices already chiming in here, "Yes, because they didn't keep the Sabbath with faith!"


We're looking at more than that here. Why? Because first, the earlier references show that God was referring primarily to "the promised land". And second, a "weekly rest" is not what was promised here. Instead, the author said that the promised rest is that very rest from the 7th day of creation. Not a "weekly" rest, but the very rest from that very first 7th day. Whoa!

Now, isn't that what the Sabbath day pointed to as it was spelled out in Exodus 20? Wasn't it a reminder of God's resting on that first 7th day? But Exodus called Israel to "remember" the weekly seventh day, in memory of God's "rest" after creation was finished. Here, in bold, blessedly surpassing contrast, the author of Hebrews says that we don't merely remember the first 7th day's rest, instead we actually enter it! Whoa.

Exodus 20 said:
"Rest yourselves and remember the first 7th day's rest."

But Hebrews 4 says:
"Believe, and you actually enter the very 7th day's rest!"

As a side note, in ancient Hebrew thought, the word "remember" carried a sort of "re-living" and "participating-in" connotation. Hence when Jesus said to "remember" His last supper, they didn't just reminisce about it after that, but they actually enacted it again. This has a special significance when we consider the 7th day of creation and what "resting" would have ironically meant to Adam & Eve's toil-free existence. (This year I wrote a little about the two "remember" commands in a separate article.) All this said, however, the "rest" of Hebrews 3-4 is not a command to remember or re-enact, but rather is an invitation to actually enter into. This is a deep shift in understanding the ultimate "rest" here in Hebrews 4, as is shown by the next statement:

Therefore God again set aside a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later He spoke through David, as was said before... (4:7)

This "setting aside" is equivalent to "consecrating" or "sanctifying" -- "setting apart", or "setting apart as holy". The choice of words here is no accident. The author of Hebrews is calling to mind several threads of the Law and Jewish thought and weaving them all together here. He is using deliberate words so that they will understand the totality and fullness of what they have in Jesus Christ.

When he says that God "set aside a certain day", he is clearly invoking his readers to recall the Sabbath commandment. This is crystal clear because he had just spoken of God's resting on the 7th day (which the Sabbath was observed to remember). But then he doesn't say "Keep the Sabbath", but instead he says "TODAY is that day." The day to "enter God's rest" is TODAY!

This is the same thing that Paul said in 2nd Corinthians 6:1-2,

As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain, for He says,

"In the time of My favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you."

I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.

Now, remember that the crux of everything is "believe!", and that the message of the author of Hebrews is "Jesus Christ". In saying therefore that God "set aside" the day---"TODAY"---in which we may enter His very first 7th day rest, the author of Hebrews is effectively setting aside the Sabbath-day commandment.

By saying, "Today" so bodly, he is declaring that one need not wait for the weekly "seventh day". And moreover, that weekly seventh day only invoked a memory of the original 7th day's rest---but in contrast, when we believe in Jesus Christ, we enter the actual rest itself!

Paul would say just as much in Colossians 2, that the Sabbath day was a "shadow" of the real rest and not the substance itself; the substance itself is Jesus Christ and we needn't observe shadows anymore. And later in Hebrews 8, the author would say that the New Covenant made "obsolete" the Old Covenant (including the Sabbath command). And still later in chatper 10, the author would say that when Christ came and fulfilled the Law, He "set aside" the shadows (the sacrifices and ceremonies such as Sabbath), and we are made holy through His body---through Him who Himself is the substance, the REAL, the real rest.

Now let's take another look again at those threads that the author of Hebrews so quickly wove together:

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. (4:8-10)

The author of Hebrews takes God's swearing that the Exodus generation would not enter the promised land, and zeroes in on the word "rest" and "today" in Psalm 95. Thus the author demonstrates two things at once:

1) The "promised land" was not God's ultimate rest
2) The Sabbath-day wasn't God's ultimate rest, either

Both of these were shadows of God's real rest: Jesus Christ. The "promised land" is seen to be just as much of a "shadow" as the Sabbath because it is said that Joshua had "given them rest". Joshua is the one that God used to lead Israel into and possess the promised land. And as that was accomplished, it was said that God had "given them rest" (see Joshua 22:4 for example).

(Even though the Greek can be read "Joshua" or "Jesus", it is clear that Joshua is being referenced here because in the same sentence it is said that God spoke "later about another day"---that is, God spoke through David in Psalm 95. Thus, the "Joshua" in 4:8 refers to someone who had "given them [Israel] rest" prior to David's writing of Psalm 95.)

Both the "promised land" and the "Sabbath day" were shadows of the real "rest", the real "land": Jesus Christ!

And this is why the author said that the Exodus generation "had the gospel preached to them". God had given them the good news in divine shadows. The "good news" was contained in the promise of entering the promised land and in the remembering of God's 7th day rest. These things pointed to Jesus Christ. The Sabbath day reminded them of a time when everything was "finished" and "holy", undefiled by sin, curse, and toil; and the land of Canaan spoke of a coming to that rest -- coming to a land "flowing with milk and honey, where new wine drips from the hills". The promised land spoke of the restoration of that original 7th day's rest!

In simpler terms, the Sabbath day reminded them of Eden,
and the promised land told them that God was taking them back to Eden.

(This is also seen in the two readings of the Ten Commandments, the first one looking back to Eden, and the second looking at the deliverance from Egypt -- being brought out of slavery to go to the promised land).

That is why when we look at Hebrews 4 (and 3), we don't get the whole picture if we are merely looking at "the Sabbath"... because there are two shadows being referenced here, not just the Sabbath. The Sabbath is only half of the picture; the "promised land" is the other half. They go together. This would not have been lost on the original readers of the book of Hebrews, because the wording of Psalm 95, the allusion to Numbers 14, the mention of the Exodus generation, and the name "Joshua" itself and the "rest" that was given with him --- all of these things refer to the promised land. (The author of Hebrews will speak of this again --how the land was a shadow and not the reality-- when he talks about Abraham in chapter 11.)

I dwell so long on this point not only because it is so often overlooked among evangelical Christians, but also because it is the major point of Chapter 3. Chapter 4 can be said to focus on explaining the substance which the Sabbath "day" pointed to, but Chapter 3 is wholly spent on pointing to Jesus Christ as the substance of the "promised land".

Now, consider again who the author was writing to! Greek-speaking Jews. Most likely these Greek-speaking Jews were not living in Judea... or else he wouldn't have written the whole thing in incredibly eloquent Greek language and style. (He also makes significant quotations from the Greek Septuagint that differ widely from the readings that the Masoretes would later choose to prefer.)

Think of how these Jews must have been feeling! Firstly, they had begun to believe in Christ, but were being attracted to the "certainty" of their old traditions. Moreover, they were living away from home. They were Jews "of the dispersion". Greek was their mother-tongue, not Hebrew. Judaism therefore offered an apparently more sure "certainty", particularly when they were far away from the land of Israel! (Consider how poignant this message would have been to these expatriate Jews after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70!) --

Jesus is your promised land;
Jesus is your Sabbath-rest.

Israel had been "given rest" with Joshua, but it was not THE rest. Moses and the Exodus generation had kept the Sabbath day's rest, but it was not THE rest. People in David's day were already living in the promised land and keeping Sabbath days, but they too were not necessarily "in God's rest" -- or else David would not have urged them to listen to God's voice and unharden their hearts.

The REAL, REAL rest,
the REAL, REAL land,
is Jesus Christ!

The way into "that rest" is by belief.

The "day" on which you may enter is "today".

The "place" where you may enter is in your spirit,
not a physical location (see John 4).

The Israelites in the past kept the Sabbath day,
but did not enter "His rest".

They entered the promised land,
but did not enter "His land".

But we who have believed -- we DO enter.

The shadows are set aside. The reality is before us. Don't shrink back! Enter in! Hold on! Don't harden your hearts! Don't let go! This is it! HE is it! Make every effort to enter that rest -- in other words, BELIEVE!

The example of their disobedience is there for us to learn from:

Now these things occurred as examples
to keep us from setting our hearts
on evil things as they did. (1 Corinthians 10:6)

For everything that was written in the past
was written to teach us,
so that through endurance
and the encouragement of the Scriptures
we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)

As God said, all of their disobedience and rebellion was rooted in this one thing: they did not believe in Him.

The author of Hebrews urges us to rest from our works. In context, this does not mean to abstain from physical work on the "Sabbath day". Rather, in context this means BELIEVE.

And here is where I stumble in my study! Because I have read that "rest from works" in other ways before, but now having gone through this exegetically and contextually so deeply, I cannot see this as meaning anything else, and more personally for me, I am being overwhelmed by the Spirit with tears. BELIEVE. That is "resting from our works!"

This "believe" is more than mental assent. It means to throw yourself onto Him, to rest on Him, to trust Him -- in all the ways that the Exodus generation did not trust Him as He lovingly led them through the wilderness. BELIEVE.

BELIEVE. Hear God. Talk to Him. REST in Him. Enter HIM. Entering Jesus Christ, you have entered His rest. Stay there! Don't shrink back! HE IS THE REAL REST. And whatever He leads you to do, do it. Wherever He leads you to go, go there. Because HE IS EDEN. And when you are walking in Him, you are walking in Eden. When you are in Eden, you are in God's rest, in the completed 7th-day rest. Whatever you are doing, when you are BELIEVING in Him as you do it, you are doing it in Eden, you are doing it "at rest".

NOT BELIEVING is doing anything OUTSIDE OF HIM. Outside of the Garden of Eden is "the curse" -- toil and works. ANYTHING outside of Him is "works". Lay down all "works". The author of Hebrews' message is to lay down everything that is not Jesus Christ, and enter into Jesus Christ! Lay down everything that is not Jesus, because that is all accursed "works"! Enter into Jesus Christ, and you have entered into the finished rest of the 7th day in Eden.

Lay down anything that is not of faith. Because whatever is not of faith is SIN. Whether good or bad works, any kind of works, lay them down and enter in. BELIEVE. Believe in Jesus Christ, enter Him, and walk in Him. Walk in Eden again!

Bless you in Jesus Christ!


See also: "Hebrews 3-4 Summary (short)"



Post a Comment

<< Home