Benefiting from God’s Message
“Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.”- Hebrews 4:1–2
The exodus serves in the New Testament as a paradigm for salvation. God’s freeing of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and bringing them to the promised land provides a type of the greater salvation we find in Christ, who redeems His people from slavery to sin unto eternal blessedness. This is how the author of Hebrews, for example, views the exodus in Hebrews 3:7–4:13. His warnings to persevere depend on our being like the Israelites who left Egypt and were not yet in the promised land. Many of those Israelites lacked authentic trust in the promises of God and did not believe He could defeat the Canaanites. Consequently, God let them die in the wilderness. Only those who believed that the Lord would bring them into the blessed promised land made it there (Num. 13:1–14:38).
If it were not clear already, the author of Hebrews in today’s passage makes it plain that our situation is analogous to the situation of the Israelites between their leaving Egypt and arriving in the promised land. As Hebrews 4:1 explains, “The promise of entering [God’s] rest still stands.” Christ has not yet consummated His kingdom, and we are, as it were, in the wilderness on our way to the final promised land of the new heaven and earth (Rev. 21). Because of this, we must continue to believe the promise of God. We must fear the Lord lest we fail to reach our heavenly home just as that wilderness generation apostatized and did not enter Canaan (Heb. 3:7–19).
The same good news that God will bring His people into blessing has come to us, and like the wilderness generation, we must listen to that good news to benefit from it (4:1–2). We must heed this good news—we must believe it—or we will fall short of the greater promised land. In fact, we are more responsible to believe the gospel, for we have a clear revelation of the One greater than the old covenant, Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1–3:6). The author of Hebrews speaks in such stark terms, warning us of the possibility of falling away like the wilderness generation, because he is inspired but not omniscient. He does not know who in his audience has true faith and who does not. He issues a blanket warning to all, not because he believes some of those who have true faith in Christ will lose it but because he cannot see into his readers’ hearts. But he does know that at least some in his audience have true saving faith—there are true “brothers” among them (Heb. 3:12). These true believers will heed his warnings and persevere.
Matthew Henry comments, “When we have heard the word, assenting to the truth of it, approving of it, accepting the mercy offered, applying the word to ourselves with suitable affections, then we shall find great profit and gain by the word preached.” Benefiting from the gospel depends on our believing and obeying. We must seek to be diligent listeners to the gospel, those who believe it with our whole hearts.
Passages for Further Study