The key to understanding Hebrews 4 is to have read Hebrews 3. The basic concept presented in chapter 3 is that Jesus is greater than Moses. The chapter ends with God’s people not entering the rest they were promised because of disobedience:
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. Hebrews 3:16-19
Now read Hebrews 4. The people of God still have Sabbath rest coming to them if we believe. The Hebrews that left Egypt heard the message but it did not benefit them because of disobedience and unbelief. Remain faithful, believe the promise, press toward the mark and the prize (as Paul might say) and we will someday yet enter into the joy of our Lord.
Jesus is greater than Moses; there remains for God’s people a rest, and we are about to begin a discourse on Jesus as our Great High Priest. But first there is a little nugget of great importance in Hebrews 4:12. For the word of God is living and active… The word of God is all at once the spoken word, the written word and the living incarnate Word. Any or all of these are dynamic. God’s Word is always relevant when it comes to speaking to and informing his people. Sometimes we change the names of our organizations, ad campaigns become dated, laws are updated to reflect changing times. But God’s Word remains and no matter how many times we have read it there is always something there for us because uses his Word to speak to us. The written Word that does not change is also living and dynamic and speaks to us in the present time, whatever time we live in. …sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow… We might say that it cuts to the quick. When trimming a dog’s nails, the quick is where the nerves are alive and sensitive one must stop before hitting them and causing injury. Bones may appear dry and dead but beneath the calcium and minerals are blood vessels and soft tissue. You skin, skull, rib cage, even your bones themselves are designed to protect sensitive tissues and organs from dirt, bacteria, UV exposure etc. but God’s Word cuts straight through to the heart of every matter. He can divide soul from spirit while we might be hard pressed to define the two without using terms of the other. …and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time nor God any time, at all, ever. Past the appearances we make and the things we say, to disguise our feelings or cover our sins, God sees through to the heart. He sees thoughts and intentions, beyond the things we actually say and do, before we even have a change to lie or pretend. Verse 13 finishes the idea that we are naked and exposed before him.
Beginning in verse 14, we are introduced to Jesus as our Great High Priest. He has passed through the heavens, is in fact God’s own Son, and while he has been tempted in like manner as we all have he endured without sin. This introduction will carry over well into chapter 5 so this will be the subject of next week’s study. I hope you will look forward to it.