Hebrews Bible Study Week 5: Chapter 4

By | January 21, 2021
This entry is part 5 of 16 in the series Hebrews Bible Study

{Updated to add: This post and many of the following posts were part of an online Bible study over the book of Hebrews that I hosted in the past on my previous blog. I am reposting here to make the resource available to anyone interested.}

I hope your study is going well. Remember, if you need to slow down, feel free to take the study at your own pace. There is no rush to keep up with me. Hebrews is a challenging book to study, but it’s worth it!

Before I begin I wanted to encourage you. I remember reading in a really great book, Show Them Jesus, about how the author prepared his Sunday School lessons for children. He set a designated amount of time—about an hour, if I remember correctly—to read a passage. He read and wrote down every thought he had in connection with the passage. If his time was not up, he just read and thought some more. The more he read, the more connections he made and understanding he had. When you are forcing yourself to try to understand a passage for yourself without (initial) use of an outside source, I have found this concept to be truly helpful. Don’t just stop when your brain “cramps us” and you feel like you have no idea what a passage says. Read it over and over. Work your brain hard to try to see what the author is trying to communicate.  The Word of God is living and powerful! It was written by God for you! He created most minds (I know some people have actual mental disability and are unable to) with the capacity to understand to at least some degree. And a believer’s mind has further been made able to understand the significance of the truth he reads and works to understand. You may not understand fully what a passage is communicating, but I bet you’ll understand better than you did to begin with. Don’t give up!!

Here’s the questions for this week. And here’s a pdf: Hebrews Chapter 4 Questions

1. Hebrews 4:1-13 continues the thoughts of chapter 3. Notice the connecting word “therefore.” What promise still stands?

 2. Rest is mentioned a lot in this section. I boxed every reference to it. Notice that the author seems to refer to rest in three different ways. By the end of v13, try to differentiate between the three rests and note how the author connects them.

3. What should the response of the readers be to this promise still standing? {I boxed all of the “let us” commands in the  chapter and book as well.}

4. Why should the readers fear? What could they potentially fail to reach?

5. V2 connects the author’s example of the Israelites with his readers. What did they both have in common?

6. There is also (what the author is hoping) a contrast between Israel and his readers; what is it?

7. Who enter “that rest”?

8. In vv 3b-4, the author refers to a rest that God took from his works. To what rest is this referring? What works did God rest from?

9. The author keeps referring back to parts of the Psalm 95 quotation he quoted in chapter 3. Immediately after talking about God’s rest, he references the quote about some not entering his rest. He seems to make logical statements in V6 followed by a conclusion in v7. Vv 8-10 help give a time reference to the various rests. See if you can figure out the different rests and time reference (past/present/future).

6a It remains for some to enter it [my rest].

6b Some [the disobedient] failed to enter it.

7  God appoints “today” for listeners to hear his voice.

10. Going back to v6, what remains?

11. Who were those who formerly received the good news?

12. What did they fail to enter? Why?

13. “Since” [all of verse 6] what did God appoint? In your own words, what did God do in verse 7?

14. In Deuteronomy 12:9-10, God did promise to give Israel rest from their enemies when they came to the promised land. Joshua was the one who led them in their conquest of Canaan. Verse 8 contrasts this rest with what?

15. V9 goes on to describe this “later” day. How is this day described?

16. Those who enter God’s rest are described how? What do you think these works are?

17. What exhortation did the author give in response (“therefore”!) to everything he has just said?

18. How is the word of God described in v 12?

19. How does God’s creation appear before God?

20. What must all humans do before God?

21. What do you think is the connection (note the “for” in v12 and the “and” in v13) between the exhortation in v11 and the truths about God’s word and human accountability to God?

22. Verse 14 seems to switch gears a little bit, but it seems that there is still a connection.  Read through vv14-16. Note the “let us” exhortations and the descriptions of God. Why do you think these verses follow the section above?

23. In v14 what do “we have”? Describe Jesus.

24. Since we have Jesus, with all he has done, what should be the response of the readers?

25. Why should readers hold fast, according to v15? Describe our high priest.

26. “Then” (in response to who Jesus is and what he has done), what exhortation does the author give his readers?

27. How should we draw near?

28. What do those who draw near to the throne of grace receive and find?


Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession (Hebrews 4:14 ESV).

2.20.20. Updated to add: Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t completed your own study this week yet, I recommend waiting to read my observations so you can benefit from making your own first.

Remember that the first part of chapter 4 continues the section begun in chapter 3. First we have an example of faithfulness in Christ (and Moses as a lesser example compared to Christ). Then we have a call to faithfulness in response, beginning in 3:7.

In calling his readers to faithfulness, he uses a negative example of the Exodus-generation Israelites. They saw God’s faithfulness to them repeatedly in very tangible ways. They heard God’s Words, yet they refused to believe. What they heard was not united with faith in their hearts, so they were unable to go into the Promised Land, the “rest” that had been promised them.

The author calls on his readers to not be like Israel, but instead to believe and hold on to their original confidence in God. He tells them that they can do this by exhorting one another daily to persevere.

And this is where chapter 4 continues on with his exhortation and warning to be faithful.

In 4:1-2 The author again warns his brothers. Israel of old lost their opportunity to enter God’s rest, but his readers still have opportunity as the promise is still open to them. He urges them to fear so none would fail to reach it.

Similarity between Israel and current readers: They both received the good news. This is the good news of “great salvation” declared by the Lord, attested by those who heard, and borne witness to by God’s signs and wonders (cf. 2:3-4).

The promise of entering his rest has been conveyed to us in the gospel. Our situation is so like that of the Israelites in the wilderness that the writer can say we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did. They received the promise of entering the promised land (e.g. Ex. 3:7–10; 34:10–14) and were called to live by faith in that word of God. In that sense they had the gospel preached to them or were ‘evangelized’ (2; cf. Gal. 3:8–9).”[1]

Difference between Israel and current believing readers: the good news of salvation believers hear is united with faith in the heart of the believer.

4:3-5 The author declares that those who believe the good news enter that rest, then quotes Psa 95, again referencing Israel’s failure to enter the rest. He then goes on to reference another rest, this time God’s resting from his creation works on the seventh day, quoting Gen 2:2.

It seems like there are 3 “rests” in view here:

    1. God’s rest on the Sabbath day after he created everything (cf. Gen 2:2)
    2. The Israelites’ rest when they reached Canaan (Deut 12:9-10; although their failure to reach it and the emphasize on their unbelief allows the author to add a spiritual aspect to the term)
    3. A rest still available for those who believe to enter “Today.” It seems like this is primarily a future rest in full (believers are to strive  to enter it), yet also present (v3-we who have believed enter it). Perhaps it has the idea that initial belief in the gospel secures one’s “spot” in the rest and persevering until the end with believing obedience fully opens the entrance to the rest; thus not persevering means the “reservation” was not authentic and no rest will be entered.

It also seems that the basis for the author’s term “rest” is the creation week with God resting from his creation. He then uses the term in the way the psalmist used it, citing Deut 12:9-10—Israel’s rest from enemies in Canaan. The author now applies the term to a (mostly) future event, which seems to necessitate the explanation in vv 3-4. God already had his rest (after creation), so when he says some may enter his rest and some failed to do so, he is referring to another kind of rest, although there are some points of comparison to these two rests of God as we will see.

4:6-8 God calls on people “today” to connect believing obedience to the good news they have heard. Joshua led Israel to a land of rest, but that was not the ultimate rest, thus God spoke of “another day,” an eternal, future rest.

“A long time after the conquest of Canaan, Ps. 95 designated another day as the day (Today) to hear his voice and enter God’s rest. This proves that David had in mind a rest beyond the enjoyment of life in the land of Israel. If Joshua had given the people their ultimate rest at the time of the conquest, God would not have spoken later about another day. The hope of God’s people is a heavenly rest, not the re-establishment of the Jews in the land of Israel.”[2]

4:9-11 Those who finally enter God’s Sabbath rest, rest from their works as God did from his at his creation. It seems that this ultimate entrance into the rest is at death. Revelation 14:13 says that those who die in the Lord are blessed and rest from their labors. Our works/labors seem to be the striving (v11) to enter the rest—a faith-motivated obedience to God in response to what was heard concerning our great salvation (not a works-based salvation). Thus, the repeated warning to strive, so that we don’t fall from entering by faithless disobedience.

4:12-13 In connection with a believer’s striving and not falling like Israel, the author gives motivation by mentioning the effectiveness of God’s Word. It is living, active, and sharp—it can cut through the outward “show” of obedience to reveal if hearers are truly believing/have faith. God’s Word discerns the heart’s thoughts and intents; no creature is hidden from God; all must give account to God as we really are.

“Most obviously, the expression [word of God] refers to the gospel, which is described in v 2 as ‘the message they heard’ (Gk. ho logos tēs akouēs). The gospel brings the promise of salvation as well as the warning of judgment (cf. 2:1–4). However, it is also clear that Ps. 95 can function as the voice of God, calling us to faith and warning us about hardening our hearts. This scripture is the particular word of God that the writer of Hebrews wants his readers to hear in chs. 3–4. So what is said in vs 12–13 can apply as much to the preached word as to the word of God written in Scripture. In language recalling Is. 55:11, the word of God is said to be living and active, implying that it achieves the purpose for which it is uttered by God. However, Hebrews does not suggest that everyone who hears the message will automatically believe and enter God’s rest. The metaphor of the double-edged sword is used to paint what initially appears to be a rather frightening picture. God’s word penetrates to the deepest recesses of our being, opening us up and judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. It is the ‘critic’ (Gk. kritikos) by which all are judged. Indeed, confronted by the word of God, we are confronted by God himself, and nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. When the writer says Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of God, the image is that of an animal with its head thrown back and neck bare, ready to be sacrificed! Put simply, we cannot hide our faces from the one to whom we must give account. If the word of God has its dissecting and exposing effect in our lives now, we will not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and come utterly unprepared to face him on the day of reckoning. In the final analysis, then, this passage suggests that the negative or judging function of the word of God can be a help to us in pursuing the journey of faith.”[3]

Thus the author gives repeated warnings to “take care” (3:12), “let us fear” (4:1), and “let us therefore strive” (4:11).

Yet our fearful striving because we know we will stand exposed before God our judge to whom we must give account is balanced in the next section with Jesus, the Son of God, who stands before God as our representative, with whom we find sympathy, grace, and mercy.

There is a transition now to the other part of the hook phrase in 2:17, “merciful and faithful high priest.” Now, in 4:14-5:10, the focus is on Jesus as a merciful high priest. It seems like an abrupt transition, but I think it was very intentional. God is the judge, and his words cut through to who we really are. Believers, though, have Jesus as our priestly representative, who stands before God as his Son on our account. We can thus hold fast our confession, knowing we will receive grace and mercy.

“Readers need to keep in mind that the doctrinal segment ([5:]1–10) is included to support and give strength to the exhortations that precede it (4:14–16). Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the large central section of Hebrews (7:1–10:18) concludes with similar exhortations (10:19–23). This proves that the writer’s teaching on Jesus’ high-priesthood is fundamentally designed to encourage endurance in the struggle against sin and unbelief. We are urged by these passages to take hold of all the spiritual resources available to us in Christ.”[4]

V14 Christ’s position and work: Jesus, the Son of God is our Great High Priest who has passed through the heavens. With reference to passing through the heavens as high priest (cf. 9:23-26; heaven is the original pattern after which the holy places of the tabernacle/temple were built. The Most Holy Place was where the high priest entered once a year to make atonement for sin—cf. Lev 16), 9:24 says he enters heaven to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. He is our intercessor. Jesus’ resurrection, ascension, and intercession before God on our behalf should motivate us to hold fast.

V15 Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses, because he has been tempted as we are in every respect (though sinless).  V15 emphasizes his heavenly work—something far above us; v16 emphasizes his relatability and sympathy.

“The Greek perfect tense (pepeirasmenon, ‘has been tempted’) implies that the exalted Christ carries with him his earthly experiences of resisting sin: he continues to know what it was like to be tested just as we are.[5]

His being tempted “in every respect” is part of how he was “made like his brothers in every respect” (2:17).

V16 In response to Jesus’ sympathetic intercession, we can be confident in drawing near to the throne of grace, a place where we find mercy and help in time of need.

“Continually drawing near (the literal meaning of the present tense of proserchōmetha here and in 10:22), will mean expressing that new covenant relationship with God directly in prayer, seeking mercy for past failures and grace to help us in our time of need. This approach to God for help in running the Christian race is to be with confidence (Gk. meta parrēsiacf. 3:6; 10:19), in spite of the frankest recognition of our sins.”[6]

I am once again awed at God’s mercy and grace shown to me in Jesus. Jesus is God, the one to whom we give account, yet Jesus is also the tempted, sympathetic human to whom we can run to for mercy and grace. As we will see in the weeks ahead, our drawing near to God with confidence is not what the Jews of old were able to do. One of the Levites’ jobs was to guard the tabernacle so that no one would draw near; they were to kill that individual in order to protect all of Israel from God’s wrath if that happened. But now–BECAUSE OF JESUS–we can CONFIDENTLY draw near! What a Savior!

I also had a very practical thought in response to this passage, one that occurred to me after I hollered at my 5- and 3-year olds for making a huge mess with play-dough. . . If the perfect Jesus, having been tempted without sinning, can have sympathy with me and show me grace and mercy, I, having been tempted and failing, can have sympathy and mercy with my young children’s failing (though still teaching and correcting them).

[1] Peterson, D. G. (1994). Hebrews. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1330). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[2] Ibid, 1331.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 1332.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

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