You mentioned the phrase “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” on several occasions. Could you tell us where it comes from?
The phrase is actually taken from Hebrew 4:9—“There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” The word rendered “rest” in this verse comes from the Greek sabbatismos. This word occurs only once in the New Testament, and is clearly a Hebraic word (i.e., a Greek word with Hebrew roots), which may be understood etymologically to mean “Sabbath-rest.”
The use of this word is especially significant since all the other eight occurrences of the noun “rest” in this epistle (Heb 3:11, 18; 4:1, 3 [x2], 5, 10, 11) come from the regular Greek word katapausis. Even the three occurrences of the verb “rest” (katapauô; Heb 4:4, 8, 10) are derived from this word.
Although sabbatismos does not occur in the LXX (Greek translation of the Old Testament), its verbal form, sabbatizô occurs nine times, and on each of these occasions, it refers to repeatable Sabbath keeping. In contrast, the words katapausis and katapauô occur a total of 80 times in the LXX, and in almost every occurrence of them, the rest is a one-time or unending rest (as compared with the repeatable periods of rest suggested by sabbatizô).
Therefore the use of the word sabbatismos, and the mention of God’s rest from His creative work in Hebrews 4:4 and 10 (cf. Gen 2:2–3), make it clear that the writer is referring to the Fourth Commandment, and its significance for the New Testament believer.
It suggests that believers in the New Testament must keep the Sabbath weekly as an emblem of the eternal rest which they will enjoy in heaven one day.
Robert Dabney’s explanation of this verse is most helpful:
[Hebrews 4:9] (with its context, which must be carefully read) teaches that, as there remains to believers under the Christian dispensation a hope of an eternal rest, so there remains to us an earthly Sabbath to foreshadow it. The points to be noticed in the explanation of the chapter are: That God has an eternal spiritual rest; that He invited Old Testament believers to share it; that it is something higher than Israel’s home in Canaan, because after Joshua had fully installed Israel in that rest, God’s rest is still held up as something future. The seventh day (verse 4) was the memorial of God’s rest, and was thus connected with it. It was under the old dispensation, as under the new, a spiritual faith which introduced into God’s rest, and it was unbelief which excluded it. But as God’s rest was something higher than a home in Canaan, and was still offered in the ninety-fifth Psalm long after Joshua settled Israel in that rest, it follows (verse 9) that there still remains a sabbatism, or Sabbath-keeping, for God’s people under the new dispensation…. Now, let it be noted that the word for God’s “rest” throughout the passage is a different one from “Sabbath.” But the apostle’s inference is that because God still offers us his “rest” under the new dispensation, there remaineth to us a Sabbath-keeping under this dispensation (Robert Lewis Dabney, Discussion: Evangelical and Theological [BOT, 1985], 1.535; italics his).
In other words, since the eternal rest offered by God remains future (v. 10) under the New Covenant, Sabbath-keeping remains as an emblem of that rest (v. 9).
This interpretation of Hebrew 4:9 agrees with the purpose of the letter. The recipients of the letter were Jewish converts who were being instructed on the abrogation of the ceremonial laws, and lest anyone be confused in regard to the status of the Sabbath, it is necessary for the author to tell them that Sabbath-keeping remains still to show that there is yet a future (perfect) rest. The Sabbath, however, must now be kept on a different day, now that Christ has completed His redemptive work and entered into rest: “For he [Christ] that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (Heb 4:10).
This interpretation also fits well with the doctrinal motif that the inspired writer is painting, namely, that of the church as a pilgrim body heading towards eternal rest. Although the “rest” of verse 9 is not future, the “rest” of verse 11 is clearly future; and the weekly Sabbath-rest of verse 9 serves as an emblem of the eternal rest of verse 11. The apparent incongruity between “that rest” of verse 11, and “his [Christ’s] rest” of verse 10, is easily solved by considering the fact that the writer constantly refers to the Lord Jesus as the forerunner and example of believers (e.g., Heb 2:10b; 6:20; etc.). Verse 11 must therefore be read in parallel with verse 14, “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.”
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