Help me with Hebrews 3: “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”
Comment: Hi Peter, I was reading Hebrews 3 this morning and came upon some troubling verses that I wanted to get your opinion on. Hebrews 3: 7-19, especially verses 11, 14, and 18-19.
11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’
14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. [that seems like a big, scary “if”]
18-19 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
Over the past year or so I’ve had trouble reading the Bible because I seem to come upon verses like that every couple days, and they freak me out and I start doubting what I believe to be true (that God is GOOD, and that he is in the business of saving everyone). I really want to get to a place where I can read the Bible again without the old baggage. Help! 🙂
Response: Glad you asked and I hear ya!
I was kind of forced to deal with all of this because of the task of preaching through books of the Bible and because of some crazy wild encounters I’ve had with demons, the devil and “ghosts.”
This is the way I see the verses above,
- They really are a warning. Belief matters and “belief” is obedience. It appears that Hebrews was written to people tempted with renouncing their faith under persecution. I think the author is warning them that their trust is under assault and that they should do all they can to preserve and nurture it. I think he’s warning them: You’re actions affect belief…
- Salvation is belief (faith or trust). It’s not like salvation is simply a reward for belief, but belief is salvation. In the same way, unbelief is its own punishment. I was just reading this last night: “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.” (1 John 2:28)
This is what we witnessed preaching to the spirits (ghosts) in the old church building that we used to rent [Editorial comment: I know this is weird! If you’d like to learn more, please read, watch or listen to these three messages—Jesus in the Land of Ghosts I, II, III ]. The “ghosts” would cower in shame when Christ appeared. They wouldn’t look at him. Those that would look at him would stand up and follow him through a door—the other side was light and beauty.
I think the Love and Glory of God are so intense that unless we trust his Mercy we are crushed by his Mercy (“the weight of Glory” – 2nd Cor. 4:17). We feel it as shame. So the Lord’s warnings about the outer darkness are real. And yet, this is very different than “torture.” Jesus descends into the outer darkness with the “lost.” These are souls that cannot “rest.” They cannot rest until they surrender to the Prince of Peace. They cannot be saved until they trust “God is Salvation” (Jesus).
- “If indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end,” then, we know that, “we have come to share in Christ.” But what if we don’t? Well, then it shows that we haven’t “come to share in Christ” . . . maybe we liked the t-shirts, pageantry, and small groups, but we didn’t really commune with Jesus. Does this mean that we’ll never share in Christ? ABSOLUTELY NOT.A good thing to do while reading Scripture is to constantly ask yourself, “Did the verse I just read contradict a bunch of other verses that I’ve read?” If it does, that’s a good sign that your paradigm is wrong. I asked this for years with verses like Rev. 21:5, 1 Cor. 15:22, Col. 1:20, Eph. 1:10 etc., bouncing around in my head. I began to realize that so many problem verses really didn’t contradict the inclusive verses, but contradicted my “American Evangelical Paradigm.” Part of that paradigm is the idea that a person is simply “saved” or not “saved,” or the idea that the “saved” and “unsaved” are two different species, which is an absurd notion when you think about it; we must all be “unsaved” at some point, in order to be “saved” at another point. Another part of that false paradigm is that once a person dies, they can never be redeemed.”They shall not enter my rest.” Does that mean they can never ever enter His rest? Wouldn’t that then imply that there will be people who are endlessly restless, which also implies that Jesus won’t seek and save some that are lost, He won’t destroy the work of the devil, God will not fill all things, all things will not be good etc. etc. … and God will not bring the nation of Israel into the Promised Land?I used to think that maybe these people were simply annihilated, and never re-created, but that’s also hard to square with the rest of Scripture.
- Fortunately, Hebrews is making a historical comparison that we can refer to. Hebrews is saying, “Don’t be like those rebellious Israelites in the wilderness.” Read the Old Testament story carefully and ask, “Who were those rebellious Israelites?” It turns out to be all the Israelites that left Egypt, including Moses and excepting Joshua and Caleb. (Joshua is Hebrew for “Jesus” and Caleb means Dog, but may also be a reference to the house of Joseph).
Anyway, Moses was one of the rebellious that wasn’t allowed to enter the land, but did he ever enter the land? YEAH! And in a big way—He shows up with a burning hot Jesus on top of the Mount of Transfiguration!
But it’s not just Moses. Over and over, God just promises to get Israel into the land. Well, that’s a really lame promise if the thing He was referring to is the modern day Israel. But, that’s not what he was referring to. Check out Ezekiel 37:11-14. These are the people that Hebrews 3 is talking about. God promises to put meat on all of their bones and lead them into the Promised Land. And it’s not an isolated promise. The prophets testify to this stuff over and over; I honestly don’t know how people read the Old Testament with the current Evangelical paradigm. It makes all these incredible promises just seem ridiculous. Well, the Old Testament testifies in a multitude of places that God will bring Israel into the land (in a new heaven and earth) and even that, “every knee will bow” in worship. And so does the New Testament.
Check out Romans 11:25-29. Paul is talking about disobedient Israel (which would include the folks in Hebrew 3). He claims that “all Israel” will be saved… and then he claims that all people will be saved in 11:32 for “from Him, to Him and through Him are all things.” This is the conclusion of the long theological discussion that includes vessels of wrath, predestination, etc. etc.
5. So what’s the point of Hebrews 3? Your faith matters. Well, how do we get more faith? We pray, “I believe, help my unbelief.” We look at Jesus and sing some songs. We listen to the Word preached. We exercise the faith that we have. We say to ourselves, “No I don’t want to lie because the more I lie the less I trust the Truth and Jesus is ‘The Truth.'”
But, if we don’t trust the Truth, if we are faithless, does God remain faithful? YES. He still “seeks and saves the lost.” We’ll just have to remain lost, which sucks—until God works faith in us and we surrender faith in ourselves to faith in Him. I think true faith is “sharing in Christ (Hebrews 3:14),” a communion with Christ or Christ in us.
The “if” is still scary, but it is not bigger than the Word of God. There are a lot of “ifs” in this world—but none of them are bigger than the Decision of God, they all exist within the confines of his sovereign will. And he has willed, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.” And he is Love.
PS: All of God’s “wrath” is the wrath of Love. He cares that we would love as he loves; he cares that we would be made in the image of Love. With whom do you get most angry? Isn’t it the people that you most love? If you’re a mom or dad, isn’t it your kids? That is, the people that you are actively trying to make in your image? You will spank them, ground them, send them to bed without supper, but you have no interest in endless torture.
We assume “endless torture” because of our cultural paradigm. I think the concept is unknown to the Old Testament. However, severe discipline is not. We must all die and some must spend some time in outer darkness, but the Father loves all his children, and will not rest until all are safe and happy at home.
Hope that helps!