Q: You teach that Hebrews 4:9 enjoins the Christian to keep the weekly Sabbath. However, the context of the passage seems to indicate that the author is talking about the coming Millennium, and not the weekly Sabbath. Could you please explain?
A: The entire passage in Hebrews 3 and 4 speaks about the failure of ancient Israel to enter the Promised Land of Canaan, and the fact that Christians must be careful to avoid making the same mistakes, so that they can enter the future Millennial rest — the spiritual Promised Land, so to speak. At the same time, Paul draws an additional analogy between the weekly Sabbath and the Millennial rest at the end of man’s rule, comparing the coming Millennial rest with a Millennial “Sabbath” of 1000 years. Several Scriptures indicate a 7000-year plan of God — comprising a “week” of seven 1000-years “days.” God gave man 6000 years (or 6000 “days” of 1000-years each) to prove that man, under Satan’s influence, cannot rule himself. These first six “days” of 1000-years each will be followed by the seventh “day” of 1000 years, called the Millennium, during which Christ and His elect will rule this earth (compare Revelation 20:4-6; 2 Peter 3:8; Psalm 90:4).
In Hebrews 3, Paul addresses ancient Israel’s disobedience in the wilderness, under Moses. Moses “was faithful in all His house” (Hebrews 3:2) — but the Israelites hardened their hearts (v. 8), and did not enter God’s physical rest of the Promised Land of Canaan at that time (v. 11). Rather, their corpses fell in the wilderness (v. 17) because of their “evil heart of unbelief” (v. 12) and because of their disobedience (vv. 18-19). Paul warns us that we could fall, if we are not careful (v. 12), although we are today led by Jesus Christ who is Head over His house — “whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end” (v. 6).
Using this analogy, Paul goes on to tell us in Hebrews 4:1 that “a promise remains of entering His rest.” Although Joshua did lead ancient Israel into the Promised Land of Canaan (Hebrews 4:8), this entrance was only a forerunner, foreshadowing the final Millennial rest still ahead of us. Paul points out that even after ancient Israel had entered the Promised Land of Canaan under Joshua, David still speaks of a future rest (v. 7) — the rest of the Millennium, when God rules here on earth through His Son, Jesus Christ, and through the Church of God, then made immortal.
This is the true and most meaningful rest that we are looking forward to. We also have a rest on a weekly basis, when we keep the weekly Sabbath. Paul states that as God rested from His work on the seventh day (Hebrews 4:4), so man is to rest from his work during the weekly Sabbath, and during the Millennial Sabbath at the end of man’s worldly rule — when the first 6000 years of God’s plan for creation have expired. As the weekly seventh day of God’s re-creation ended God’s work, so the weekly Sabbath lets us rest from our work, and the Millennial Sabbath of 1000 years will end the rule of man, under Satan’s influence, to be replaced by God’s rule.
In this context, Paul states that we must continue to keep the weekly Sabbath (Hebrews 4:9), since it foreshadows the Millennial rest to come. Hebrews 4:9 reads, correctly translated, “It is therefore the duty of the people of God to keep the Sabbath” (Lamsa). While he says that we need to rest on the weekly Sabbath, Paul continues in verse 11: “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that [final] rest.” He is still speaking of a future rest (“katapausis” in Greek), but he tells us at the same time that we can experience a foretaste of this future rest on a weekly basis, when we keep the Sabbath (“sabbatismos” in Greek, in Hebrews 4:9). This weekly Sabbath rest foreshadows the Millennial rest still to come, and it points back to God’s rest during the re-creation week. We can already cease today from our work on a weekly basis, when we keep the Sabbath, looking forward to the time when the whole world will be able to enjoy a life of peace and “rest” from hate, strife and war.
Paul’s point is this: When we don’t keep the weekly Sabbath, we are not diligent to enter the real rest to come (vv. 9, 11). We’ll make the same mistake as ancient Israel did. We are then in danger to “fall according to the same example of disobedience” (v. 11).
On the other hand, if we rest from our work on a weekly basis, by keeping the Sabbath, as God did rest from His work during the week of re-creation, we will ultimately enter God’s final rest. When we have entered that final rest (“katapausis” in Greek), we will have been made immortal, and we will have completely ceased from “our” human works, as God did cease from His works on the first weekly Sabbath — at the end of the re-creation week (v. 10).