Question:

I read in your web site that we no longer follow the Sabbath, but in Hebrews 4:9 it saids, "There remains, then a sabbath rest for the people of God" and then it continues "let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience." I'm not sure if that's a law or commandment, but it seems that it says resting on the Sabbath would still be required (which is kind of contrary to what Paul said "Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day."

Answer:

Good observation! When you find something that appears at first glance to be contradictory, then you can be sure that you missed something or don't understand some point. So let's look at Hebrews 4:9 more closely, first by reading it in context.

Therefore, even as the Holy Spirit says, "Today if you will hear his voice, don't harden your hearts, as in the provocation, like as in the day of the trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested me by proving me, and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was displeased with that generation, and said, 'They always err in their heart, but they didn't know my ways;' as I swore in my wrath, 'They will not enter into my rest.'"

Beware, brothers, lest perhaps there be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God; but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called "today;" lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm to the end: while it is said, "Today if you will hear his voice, don't harden your hearts, as in the rebellion."

For who, when they heard, rebelled? No, didn't all those who came out of Egypt by Moses? With whom was he displeased forty years? Wasn't it with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? To whom did he swear that they wouldn't enter into his rest, but to those who were disobedient? We see that they were not able to enter in because of unbelief.

Let us fear therefore, lest perhaps anyone of you should seem to have come short of a promise of entering into his rest. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, even as they also did, but the word they heard didn't profit them, because it wasn't mixed with faith by those who heard. For we who have believed do enter into that rest, even as he has said, "As I swore in my wrath, they will not enter into my rest;" although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has said this somewhere about the seventh day, "God rested on the seventh day from all his works;" and in this place again, "They will not enter into my rest." Seeing therefore it remains that some should enter therein, and they to whom the good news was before preached failed to enter in because of disobedience, he again defines a certain day, today, saying through David so long a time afterward (just as has been said), "Today if you will hear his voice, don't harden your hearts." For if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterward of another day. There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For he who has entered into his rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from his. Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, lest anyone fall after the same example of disobedience.
(Hebrews 3:7-4:11)

The word "sabbath" in Hebrew means "rest." The seventh day of the week was called Sabbath because it was the day God rested from His creation. It became a day of required rest under the Old Law.

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it" (Exodus 20:8-11).

It was also a special day for the Israelites because they came out of 400 years of slavery to become God's people. As slaves they could not rest, but now they were given a day where they had to rest and could use that day to remember where they came from.

"Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day" (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).

But the Hebrew writer obviously has a different rest in mind. He starts out quoting Psalm 95:7-11. God said they would not enter His rest when He sent them wandering for forty years in the wilderness. But during that time the Israelites did observe the Sabbath days. This obviously is not what God was referring to.

Greek is a very precise language and we can learn a lot by paying attention to the many forms it uses for words. All the way through this section "rest" and "Sabbath" are in the singular form. There is one particular rest or Sabbath that the writer of Hebrews has in mind. A weekly observance would be multiple rests and would appear in the plural.

In one sense, the rest that the Israelites were unable to enter was the promise land. They died in the wilderness because of their unbelief and so they could not rest from their travels. The Hebrews writer uses this event as an allegory for Christians. We, too, must be careful lest we are unable to enter our promise rest -- our land of promise. The writer points out that it can't be something in this world because God rested from His creation on the seventh day of the world. In a sense, we are living in that rest. But since God speaks of not entering His rest, He must, therefore, have something else in mind. He also points out that Psalms 95 was written after Joshua led Israel into the promised land, so that land wasn't the rest God had in mind either. David wrote Psalm 95 and used the word "Today" so the rest must be after David. This again indicates that the weekly Sabbath observances were not being discussed.

Notice, too, that the Christians the Hebrews writer is address have not yet gained that rest either. "There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God" (Hebrews 4:9). Christians don't have it yet. It remains in their future. That is why he is warning them to be diligent, lest they fail to enter the rest like the Israelites failed to enter their rest. "Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, lest anyone fall after the same example of disobedience" (Hebrews 4:11). In the Greek, "enter" is something in the future. There is a single rest that is in each Christian's future which he must work diligently to enter. I would hope it is clear that the Hebrew writer is not talking about next Saturday.

The writer of Hebrews puts emphasis that God has promised a rest. There is a promise that gives each Christian hope. "For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come" (I Timothy 4:8). There is a promise of a life to come -- eternal life. It for this reason Jesus came and died. "And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance" (Hebrews 9:15). "Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (II Peter 3:13). That is the rest we are longing for. "Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, "Write: 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.'" "Yes," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them."" (Revelation 14:13).