Messianic jews, Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern

chapter 4
1. Therefore, let us be terrified of the possibility that, even though the promise of entering his rest remains, any one of you might be judged to have fallen short of it;
2. for Good News has also been proclaimed to us, just as it was to them. But the message they heard didn’t do them any good, because those who heard it did not combine it with trust.
The Good News the Israelites heard was the promise of entering his rest in the Promised Land; the Good News which has been proclaimed to us is, of course, that we enter the rest that comes from knowing that our sins are forgiven. 

3. For it is we who have trusted who enter the rest. It is just as he said, "And in my anger, I swore that they would not enter my rest" (Psalm 95:11). He swore this even though his works have been in existence since the founding of the universe.
The rest we are to enter is nothing less than the rest which God has been enjoying since the founding of the universe, even though he continues working (Yn 5:17). 

4. For there is a place where it is said, concerning the seventh day, "And God rested on the seventh day from all his works" (Genesis 2:2).
5. And once more, our present text says, "They will not enter my rest" (Psalm 95:11).
6. Therefore, since it still remains for some to enter it, and those who received the Good News earlier did not enter,
7. he again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David, so long afterwards, in the text already given, "Today, if you hear God’s voice, don’t harden your hearts" (Psalm 95:7–8).
8. For if Y’hoshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later of another “day.”
Y'hoshua. Greek lesous, same as the Greek word for "Yeshua" (see Mt 1: IN); in fact, KJV renders the beginning of this verse, "If Jesus had given them rest." By leading God's people into the Promised Land, Y'hoshua bin-Nun (Joshua the son of Nun) prefigured the Messiah whose name he shares; and just as God's people Israel rested in Eretz-hrael, so God's Messianic Community rests in Yeshua.

The close reasoning and exact use of texts is typically rabbinic; compare Yeshua's logic at Mt 22:31-32&N. Verse 7 repeats the "Today" theme of 3:7,13,15. 

9. So there remains a Shabbat-keeping for God’s people.
10. For the one who has entered God’s rest has also rested from his own works, as God did from his.
A Shabbat-keeping, Greek sabbatismos, used only here in the New Testament. In the Septuagint, the related Greek word "sabbatizein" was coined to translate the Hebrew verb shabat when it means "to observe Shabbat." The usual translation, "There remains a Sabbath rest," minimizes the observance aspect and makes the role of God's people entirely passive.

Christians often assume that the New Testament does not require God's people to observe Shabbat and go on to claim that Sunday has replaced Saturday as the Church's day of worship (see 1С 16:2N). But this passage, and in particular v. 9, shows that SAdMwf-observance is expected of believers. From Co 2:16-17, which says that Shabbat was a shadow of the things that were to come, but the substance comes from the Messiah, we learn that the essence of S/ia?fta/-observance for believers is not following the detailed rules which halakhah sets forth concerning what may or may not be done on the seventh day of the week. Rather, as v. 10 explains, the Shabbat-keeping expected of God's people consists in resting from one's own works, as God did from his; it consists in trusting and being faithful to God (vv. 2-3). Although the specific "works" from which the readers of this letter were to rest were animal sacrifices (see 6:4-6N), by implication all self-struggle, in which one relies on one's own efforts instead of trusting God, is to be avoided; and in this the author is making the same point as Sha'ul does at Ro 3:19-4:25. 

11. Therefore, let us do our best to enter that rest; so that no one will fall short because of the same kind of disobedience.
The same kind of disobedience. With this the author links his discussion of Shabbat (vv. 3-11) to his earlier discussion of the Israelites' disobedience in the desert (3:2-4:3). He also ties the concept of obedience to that of trusting and being faithful; compare the "trust-grounded obedience" of Ro 1:5, 16:25; and see Section (1) of Ga 2:16cN.

The seventh day (v. 4). Psalm 95, quoted at 3:8-11 and explained in the subsequent verses, was sung on Shabbat in the Temple and remains part of the Shabbat liturgy in the synagogue. Therefore it is natural for the author to make his point about rest by introducing a quotation from another Shabbat-relaled passage (used today in the home service before the Friday night meal). Genesis 2:1-3, and speaking in v. 9 of a Shabbat-keeping (see vv. 9-10N). Although the author may be thinking of the rest that comes to believers after they die (Rv 14:13), it seems more likely to me that he has in mind Jewish traditions that equate a day with 1000 years and is therefore speaking of the rest that comes in the Messianic Age or Millennium. For example, in Sanhedrin 97a Rav Kattina teaches that six millennia of ordinary history will be followed by a millennium of Shabbat; the passage draws on Psalm 90:4 and is quoted in 2 Ke 3:3-9N, and see Rv 20:2-7&N. 

12. See, the Word of God is alive! It is at work and is sharper than any double-edged sword — it cuts right through to where soul meets spirit and joints meet marrow, and it is quick to judge the inner reflections and attitudes of the heart.
13. Before God, nothing created is hidden, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.
See, the Word of God is alive! The Bible does not merely speak in the dead tones of the past but applies living truth to the people of 'Today" (3:7&N). When we read the Word of God with an open heart, mind and spirit, we let God penetrate deeply into our lives. The inner reflections and attitudes of the heart quickly come under judgment against the standards of Scripture; and there is no hope for us apart from entering God's rest, trusting in the cohen hagadol whom God has provided to intercede for us (7:25&N), and holding firmly to what we acknowledge as true.

But the Word of God is also Yeshua the Messiah (Yn 1:1&N, 14&N). When he returns to conquer the wicked at the End of Days, "he is called the Word of God,... and out of his mouth comes a sharp sword"; while the eyes of him to whom we must render an account are described as "like a fiery flame" (Rv 19:11-15). Actually, our account is rendered to God, but God has committed all judgment to Yeshua (Yn 5:22, Ac 17:31, Ro 2:16). 

14. Therefore, since we have a great cohen gadol who has passed through to the highest heaven, Yeshua, the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we acknowledge as true.
15. For we do not have a cohen gadol unable to empathize with our weaknesses; since in every respect he was tempted just as we are, the only difference being that he did not sin.
16. Therefore, let us confidently approach the throne from which God gives grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in our time of need.
In the passage climaxing with vv. 12-13 the author has left his readers terrified of God's judgment. Now he reassures them that even though Yeshua will one day be our judge, now he is our intercessor and advocate (7:25, 1 Yn 2:1). Therefore — because he is our cohen gadol as well as our future judge — let us approach the throne to find grace in our time of need.

The subject of Yeshua as cohen gadol was introduced at 2:17. Here the author recapitulates what he said in 2:5-18, namely, that Yeshua had a human nature exactly like ours, enabling him to empathize with our weaknesses, the only difference between him and the rest of us being that he did not sin. In every respect he was tempted just as we are. Yochanan calls the basic three kinds of temptations "the desires of the old nature, the desires of the eyes, and the pretensions of life" (1 Yn 2:15—17&N). Adam and Eve succumbed to them in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-6), whereas Yeshua resisted them when the Adversary tempted him (Mt 4:1-1 l&NN). Compare 2:14, 17-18; Ro 8:3&N.

Because Yeshua did not sin, he passed through Sh'ol (Hades) and such other "places" as house the dead and demonic beings (e.g., "dungeons lower than Sh'ol," 2 Ke 2:4&N; "the Abyss," Rv 9: l&N; and see 1 Ke 4:19-22&N). He passed through to the highest heaven, God's "abode," where he had been before (Yn 1:1; 17:5, 24; Pp 2:6-11).

Because we are his, united with him. we can follow him; and with him we can confidently approach the throne from which God gives grace. There may be an implied contrast with the mercy seat of the Tabernacle and Temple here on earth, which only the Levitical high priest could approach (see 9:5&N). Many Jewish people feel distant from God and his throne; this is often due to an overemphasis in some forms of Judaism on God's transcendence. New believers are frequently amazed to experience God's warm and loving nearness. They find that they need not merely recite prayers from a prayerbook; they find that God's love is not merely an abstract phenomenon without relevance to their hearts' needs. Like Moses and Avraham, we can experience God's mercy and grace (Greek charis and eleos, which correspond to what the last prayer of the 'Amidah calls "chen v'chesed v'rachamim" ("grace, kindness and mercy"); see Ga 6:16N). The exhortation to hold firmly to the truth and to our hope and to approach God's throne boldly is alluded to again at 6:18-19 and expanded at 10:19-22, after Yeshua's work as cohen gadol has been thoroughly explained. 

next chapter...