“And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise,” Hebrews 11:39 (NKJV)
All of those mentioned in Hebrews11 obtained a good testimony because of their faith but they did NOT receive the promise. The people mentioned in Hebrews 11 span basically the entire breadth of the Old Testament. There were two big promises that they were looking for. The first was the promise of the Promised Land. The second was the promise of the Promised Messiah. While some on this list saw the promise of the Promised Land fulfilled, none of them saw the promise of the Promised Messiah fulfilled. They lived and died without receiving the promise.
The reason they didn’t receive the promise had nothing to do with God failing to keep His Word. Instead, the reason that they didn’t receive the promise was because it wasn’t time for the promises to be fulfilled. We have to remember that while God always keeps His Word, He always does it in the timeline that He knows is best. Let me show you this from Scripture.
“For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:8-11 (NKJV)
A part of what has gone on in the verses leading up to these is that the author has been telling the people that God promised rest to the people of Israel, but they failed to enter that rest because of disobedience stemming from unbelief. This is an obvious reference to those who didn’t enter the Promised Land when God told them to. Instead they allowed unbelief in God’s power to cause them to disobey Him. The result of this unbelieving disobedience was that they were not allowed to enter into the Promised Land or His place of rest.
Of course we know that a few years later Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land. Under Joshua’s leadership and through the power of God they were able to conquer the land and have a measure of rest from their labors and struggles. The Jews who were reading this letter would have known these stories as well as we do.
We are told that Joshua’s conquering of the Promised Land really didn’t give them the final rest that had been promised by God. In a lot of ways entering into the Promised Land was the real start to their labors. There were many battles they would have to fight before they could have any measure of rest. Even the rest they had after conquering the Promised Land wasn’t complete. It was a partial rest that was really only a foretaste of the final rest that was still to come.
The author goes on to say that this time of rest is still coming. This would have been very significant for them and is very important for us to understand. As we’ve seen, the Bible pretty clearly teaches that in this life we will have problems. At the same time there are places where we are promised that there will be no trials, sorrows, pain or problems. Are these two teachings contradictory to one another? Is the Bible in conflict with itself? No it’s not.
The problem isn’t with the Bible. The problem is with the interpretation of the Bible. Yes there is a promise that a time will come when there will be no trials, sorrows, pain or problems. However that time has not yet come. There is a day of rest for the people of God but as we see in this passage that day is still something we are waiting for.
We are told that we will know beyond a shadow of a doubt when we have entered into this time of rest because we will cease from our labors. This cannot be a reference to anytime before either the millennial reign of Jesus or eternity is ushered in when the new Jerusalem comes down (Revelation 21). Obviously there will be times in this life when we have moments of rest. There will be periods of time when there are no trials, sorrows, pain or problems. These times are not going to be permanent times of rest. Instead these are glimpses into the glories of the time to come. The last thing we see is that these times of rest are intended to whet our appetite for that day and cause us to cling tightly to Jesus so that we can endure until that day. The Apostle Paul was someone who understood this.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18 (NKJV)
Paul didn’t consider any of the sufferings in this life worth comparing to the glories of heaven. In this life we may struggle, toil and labor under some heavy burdens, but at the end of it all there is a rest. When this day of rest comes we will put down our burdens and toil no more.
We have to understand that this world is not our home. As such, it cannot deliver the ultimate peace, happiness, joy, health or pleasure. Looking for utopia in this life will always leave us disappointed. We must be careful what we expect from this life. Looking forward to the coming day of rest causes us to cling to Jesus and enables us to push through the pain to finish the race that is set before us.