A Brief Theology of Rest

 Growing up as a kid I hated to go to bed. My brother and I would argue, complain, and whine to our parents hoping to stay up a few more minutes or watch one more TV program. I am not sure we were even consciously aware of why we did this, until later in our youth when one of us had to go to bed before the other. At this point the complaining and whining tripled.  We simply did not want to miss fun that someone else in the family might be having. We had an insatiable desire to be at the center of fun. Good thing no one told us that people are awake somewhere on the globe 24 hours a day. We would have never slept! God, however, created and modeled rest and so let’s turn to a brief study of this important subject.
God’s Rest in the Beginning
First we see that God worked, but he also created and modeled rest for mankind. “The heavens, the earth, and all their vast array were finished. On the seventh day God finished his work which he had done; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done” (Genesis 2:1-2 WEB). It is interesting that the pattern set by God is a seven day week with one day of rest. A few times in history men have attempted to change society to a longer work week such as ten days with one day of rest. However, the seven day week has proved to be the most effective and enduring for the human constitution.  I guess the Heavenly Father know best!
Man’s Rest in the Beginning
While searching the Scriptures for commandments to rest I could find none before the commands given through Moses at Mount Sinai. God himself set an example of resting on the seventh day for Adam and Eve. However, there is no explicit command recorded in Scripture for Adam to do likewise. I have read that some believe that the Ten Commandments were also given to Adam and Eve. For example Joseph knew that it would be a sin against God to sleep with Potiphar’s wife, Genesis 39:9. However, the more plain teaching is from Romans 5:12-14, which explains that no command was given after the fall until Moses. Perhaps one element of the curse given to Adam and Eve after the fall was no guidance to mankind about the need and value of rest. Jacob said to his son, Joseph, at the end of the book of Genesis, ”The time came near that Israel must die, and he called his son Joseph, and said to him, 'If now I have found favor in your sight, please put your hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me. Please don't bury me in Egypt, but when I sleep with my fathers, you shall carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burying place.'  Joseph said, 'I will do as you have said' " (Genesis 47:29-30 WEB). Life under the curse offers little rest and Jacob looked forward to the rest that death would give him.
Satan’s Restlessness for Destruction
The Scriptures portray Satan and his demons as restless and agitated creatures. In the very beginning in the garden we read of Satan, ”Now the serpent was more subtle than any animal of the field which Yahweh God had made" (Genesis 3:1a WEB). Satan is not a creature secure and at rest, but filled with striving toward malignant objectives. Quite quickly in the garden he possessed a snake with the evil goal of leading mankind into rebellion against God. Satan is driven by selfish ambition with no way to put it in neutral or reverse.
Jesus explains that the only rest demons experience is when they can be indwelling man to work evil. “When an unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places, seeking rest, and doesn't find it. Then he says, 'I will return into my house from which I came out,' and when he has come back, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes, and takes with himself seven other spirits more evil than he is, and they enter in and dwell there. The last state of that man becomes worse than the first. Even so will it be also to this evil generation" (Matthew 12:43-45 WEB). Demons are only at rest while working evil.
”Be sober and self-controlled. Be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8 WEB). Again Satan is pictured as an insatiable, sleepless lion hunting down his prey. I have been told that sharks never sleep and always need to swim to keep water flowing through their gills. Such would also be a good picture of Satan with his rows and rows of teeth constantly bared for his prey.
Man’s Rest Frustrated
Unfortunately our decision to follow Satan into rebellion has resulted in the frustration of our rest as well. After the disobedience in the garden, God not only punished Satan but us as well. The curse of restlessness had immediate effects in the first family. God said to Cain after he killed his brother Abel, “Now you are cursed because of the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand.  From now on, when you till the ground, it won't yield its strength to you. You will be a fugitive and a wanderer in the earth" (Genesis 4:11-12 WEB). Instead of peace, Cain was sentenced to be a fugitive with no place of rest.
Some friends of mine enjoy a little word game greeting. One will say, “God is good!” And the other will say, “All the time!” Yet is God good all the time? How can the sentence received by Cain be good? Later in the same chapter we read that after mankind was evicted from the restful garden, “At that time men began to call on Yahweh's name” (Genesis 4:26 WEB). God’s punishment had a purpose that men would learn to call on him for deliverance in the midst of even the deepest trial. So my friends’ greeting still stands. “God is good all the time!”
Though God is good all the time, we are not exempt from despairing at times. Job said, "Why didn't I die from the womb?  Why didn't I give up the spirit when my mother bore me? Why did the knees receive me?  Or why the breast, that I should nurse?  For now should I have lain down and been quiet.  I should have slept, then I would have been at rest” (Job 3:11-13 WEB). Job’s life was so difficult at points he wished he had never been born. David also said, “I said, 'Oh that I had wings like a dove!  Then I would fly away, and be at rest' ” (Psalm 55:6 WEB). David’s life was so difficult at points he wished he could fly away for rest.
Isaiah reminds us, however, that we have no one to blame but ourselves. “For thus said the Lord Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel, ‘You will be saved in returning and rest. Your strength will be in quietness and in confidence.’ You refused, but you said, ‘No, for we will flee on horses;’ therefore you will flee; and, ‘We will ride on the swift;’ therefore those who pursue you will be swift” (Isaiah 30:15-16 WEB). God offered us rest, but we have chosen to flee.
John teaches us in Revelation that the problem of man’s restlessness will continue to the world’s end. "The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. They have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name" (Revelation 14:11 WEB).
Moses’ Rest Not Adequate
God graciously provided the Old Covenant through Moses to mankind which provided instructions about rest. "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. You shall labor six days, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh your God. You shall not do any work in it, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your livestock, nor your stranger who is within your gates; for in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day, and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11 WEB).
The Old Covenant also demanded the death penalty for those that did not rest on the Sabbath. “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to Yahweh. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall surely be put to death,” (Exodus 31:15 WEB). So we see that God is serious that men would rest. However, there is something not restful about the death penalty looming for those that break the command to rest.  This is not restful because we know that we sin from time to time. Thankfully the New Testament gospel of John catches our eye immediately because the ministry of Christ proposes an improvement upon Moses. "For the law was given through Moses. Grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17 WEB).
Christ’s Rest is Glorious
Isaiah knew that the ministry of the Messiah would be resplendent in contrast to the Old Covenant. He says, ”It will happen in that day that the nations will seek the root of Jesse, who stands as a banner of the peoples; and his resting place will be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10 WEB). The Messiah will bring a glorious resting place for mankind. And where is this resting place? The writer of Hebrews says, "His Son is the radiance of his glory, the very image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, who, when he had by himself purified us of our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3 WEB). So we see that Jesus’ himself has sat down after his work on the cross and is resting in Heaven. Jesus also promises, "Don't let your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.  In my Father's house are many homes. If it weren't so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also” (John 14:1-3 WEB).
Man’s Rest Restored
Though man has been cursed with restlessness, Christ has purchased eternal rest for us, and invites us to rest in him. David says, ”It is vain for you to rise up early,
to stay up late, eating the bread of toil;for he gives sleep to his loved ones” (Psalm 127:2 WEB). Solomon reminds us that resting in the Lord does not mean slothfulness, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so your poverty will come as a robber, and your scarcity as an armed man” (Proverbs 6:10-11 WEB). Jesus invites us to the greatest rest, "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30 WEB).
The writer of Hebrews also explains, ”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's therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, lest anyone fall after the same example of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:9-11 WEB). In this important passage we learn that the Old Testament Sabbath is simply a shadow of the real Sabbath rest we have by faith in Christ. The passage is commonly misinterpreted to mean that Christians are still obligated to obey the Old Testament Sabbath commands. Many Christians will often refer to Sunday as the Sabbath to be treated with special care. This is a main plot of the movie Chariots of Fire where Eric Liddel refuses to complete in the Olympics on Sunday. It is fine for Eric to make Sunday a special day for himself, but this is not a Christian standard. Please find a Bible and read all of Hebrews chapter 4 for yourself. If you have more time search the whole of the New Testament and you not find Sunday referred to as the Sabbath even once. Instead you will find great encouragement to learn that the Sabbath rest offered by Christ is eternal rest in Heaven, given to all his chosen ones. Friends, do not miss this good news!  Receive Christ today!
Because the New Covenant offers the real Sabbath rest of Heaven it therefore no longer maintains the Old Covenant Sabbath commands which existed only as a shadow to point to Christ. Paul teaches, “One man esteems one day as more important. Another esteems every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind” (Romans 14:5 WEB).
But how are we to rest until our Sabbath rest in Heaven is realized. In heaven we will truly be at rest, because the fight with sin will be over. How can we find rest now while still in the fight with sin? Apostle John teaches, “My little children, let's not love in word only, or with the tongue only, but in deed and truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and persuade [rest] our hearts before him, because if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things” (1 John 3:18-20 WEB).
God’s Rest - Plan “A” Accomplished
One may be inclined to think that God modeled rest for mankind after creation, but needed to resort to plan “B” to redeem man from restlessness after the fall. David encourages us that since the fall God has been intently watching over our pitiful condition, ”Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4 WEB). However, God never needed to resort to plan “B”. Man’s fall into sin and the frustration from restlessness have always been Plan “A”.  ”Haven't you known? Haven't you heard? The everlasting God, Yahweh,The Creator of the ends of the earth, doesn't faint. He isn't weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak. He increases the strength of him who has no might. Even the youths faint and get weary, and the young men utterly fall; but those who wait for Yahweh will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run, and not be weary. They will walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:28-31 WEB).
God’s purpose is that we would learn to wait and depend upon him in the deepest way possible. That is God intends that we would trust him to make good in spite of the worst possible circumstance, our rebellion against even him. Can you restfully believe that Christ has completely forgiven even that?  How can this have been plan “A” all along?
Well how else could our praise for the riches of his grace be amplified to the highest as explained in Ephesians 2:6-7 and 1 Peter 1:6-7?
Praise God for the promise of eternal rest!