Faith and rest are the big ideas in Hebrews three and four. Chapter three is concerned with the rest God offered His people in the land He prepared for them. Deuteronomy describes the land as having “large and beautiful cities you did not build, houses full of every good thing that you did not fill them with, wells dug that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant” (Deut. 6:10-11).
In the land, the work was done. Israel just needed to believe this good news and enter the land that God gave them. But Hebrews tells us “they were unable to enter because of unbelief” (Heb. 3:19).
Chapter four adds that God’s works “have been finished since the foundation of the world” (Heb. 4:3). This alludes to the fact that God rested on the seventh day after working to create the world in six days. Like the land of Israel the garden was a land prepared for Adam and Eve by God: a world they didn’t create, a garden they did not plant that was full of food and fruit.
Adam and Eve didn’t believe the word God spoke to them either; they listened to the serpent and ate from the tree God told them not to eat from. This led to the fall and their ejection from the garden of Eden.
Layering the creation story over the history of the promised land shows that rest has been on God’s heart from the beginning. God has always wanted us to join Him in His creation, to enjoy it, and to rest with Him in it. Adam and Eve fell from this; Israel had opportunity to return to rest by entering the promised land but failed. Even when they later succeeded, other generations neglected God’s word, stopped believing Him, and went into captivity.
For the writer of Hebrews, creation and the land were pictures of rest in God’s Son. As we saw in chapter one, the Son is God’s exact image. The reason God could rest from creating was this: after creating sky, seas, land, plants, and all kinds of animals, He created man in His image. Sharing all He had done with one of His own kind was God’s ultimate goal. Once creation was crowned with His image, God could rest.
Christ is that true image of the loving God. He fully displayed God’s image after making purification for sins and sitting down at the right hand of God (Heb. 1:3). In Christ, God completed His ultimate work, a work crowned with His image—Jesus the Son. Through the gospel, the original audience of Hebrews was invited into God’s rest in His Son. The writer is urging them to believe the word, the gospel, and to remain in the new creation and promised land of Jesus.
For those originally reading Hebrews, returning to the law, the prophets, and to the Judaic system was hardening the heart and lapsing into unbelief. The writer is warning them not to repeat the pattern of their ancestors. He wants them to accept that Jesus did all the work required by their tradition. God is simply asking them to join Him in what Jesus did, to enjoy it, and to rest.