Rest is a theme that runs from Genesis to Revelation. In Genesis, God “rested on the seventh day” of creation (Gen. 2:2). In Revelation, we are promised an eternal rest: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord … they will rest from their labors” (Rev. 14:13). But what about the time in-between the beginning and the end? I need rest now!
There’s good news for the tired and weary: God is rest-giving God, and we do not have to wait till we get to heaven to find rest. In Scripture, rest is a promise and provision of God for this life and beyond. But what is this rest we are promised and how can we enter into it?
1. THE PLAN
By resting on the seventh day, God built rest into the natural rhythm of life, and He sanctified it (Gen. 2:3). In the law, God established a Sabbath day of rest: “the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work ” (Ex. 20:10-11; 31:15-17).
The Sabbath rest was not just a wise saying or a kindly suggestion; it was a commandment of God—and an expression of His mercy.
God established the Sabbath rest with our good in mind—our bodies need rest and our hearts need refocusing. Sabbath rest reminds us we are needy. Sabbath worship reminds us God is the One who gives us rest. A day of rest is a reminder to trust in God and find our rest in Him. It is a weekly reminder that it is God who sustains us—not the work of our hands. How much unrest in our lives is the result of wrongly believing everything depends on us, and failing to rest in God?
Consider Jesus’ example. Despite the demands of the multitudes, He took time for rest (Mark 6:45-47; Luke 6:12; 9:28) and told His disciples to do the same: “Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while” (Mark 6:31). Following the Lord sometimes means taking a resting for a while.
2. THE PLACE
The promise of rest in the Old Testament is tied to a place. Canaan, the promised land, was called “the resting place” (Deut. 12:9). Possessing the land was synonymous with receiving rest: “The Lord your God will give you rest, and he will give you this land.” (Josh. 1:1).
God command Moses at Sinai: “go to the land I promised” (Ex. 33:1). Then He added this promise: “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (v. 14). This two-fold promise could be taken to mean that Moses’ task of leadership would be made easier because God would be with him. Just as likely, the intended audience for this promise was all of Israel. The “rest” envisioned was that which had already been promised—Canaan, the land of rest. Obtaining the rest would require more than being in a particular location. Even in the land of promise, the obtainment of rest would require living daily in the presence of God.
Rest is found in being in the place God wants you to be—both literally and spiritually.
But we know the wilderness generation did not enter the land because of their unbelief (Num. 14:23). In the psalms, God spoke of that generation in this way: “I swore in my anger, ‘They will not enter my rest’” (Ps. 95:8-11). Because that generation did not trust and obey God, they never enjoyed the full blessings of the life—and rest—that God had offered to them.
3. THE PERSON
This week’s Explore the Bible passage week includes this promise from God to David: “I will give you rest from all your enemies” (2 Sam. 7:11). Not all of God’s promises to David were fulfilled in David’s lifetime; they would be fulfilled completely in Jesus (Luke 1:32). “For every one of God’s promises is ‘Yes’ in him [Jesus]” (2 Cor. 1:20). In Jesus, every promise of God in Scripture—including the promise of rest—finds its perfect fulfillment.
Echoing the promise God made to Moses and the people at Sinai (Ex. 33:14), Jesus said: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29).
Vance Havner noted that entering into God’s rest “is both an obtainment and an attainment. [Jesus] says, ‘I will give you rest.’ Then He says, ‘Learn of me and ye shall find rest.’ It is ours in Him when we believe Him. It is ours in experience when we follow Him.”
We can experience rest not merely through the cessation of work but through the strength of Christ in us.
Mike Livingstone works at Lifeway Christian Resources as content editor for Explore the Bible materials. He also blogs occasionally at mikelivingstone.com.