"But now hath He obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also He is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises." Hebrews 8:6
Probably one of the greatest themes in the Book of Hebrews is that of the New Covenant. Jesus Christ is said here to be the "mediator" of this "better covenant." Mediator is mesitres and means, "one who stands in the middle between two people and who brings them together." The Lord Jesus is the one who has bridged the alienation gap between God and man. A.B. Bruce writes, "The new covenant is now a trite thought then, and it requires an effort of historical imagination to conceive that at one time it was a great, spiritual, poetic thought." "This better way," the New Covenant life with Jesus Christ, was a shocking concept to the Jew under the Sinaitic Covenant (Law Covenant), and is a powerful, life-giving force to the New Testament saint. Bruce later stated, "of the priestly service connected with the better covenant, based on better promises, too lofty ideas cannot be formed," or simply -- the potential is not limited for us, the New Covenant saint.
The first issue I'd like to bring out is that the first covenant had a clause in it, "If ye will obey My voice indeed and keep My covenant..." Now there is no "if" - just, "I will." "I will put My laws into their mind." This new covenant is unconditional; it can not or will not be ever altered or taken away. It is based on God's giving and not man's doing or deserving.
The second issue of this new covenant is that God's laws, instead of being on tablets of stone, are now written in our hearts and minds. This was a shocking statement for the Jew and a provision of victory, peace, joy and inner strength for the New Testament saint. The Lord, in John Chapter 14, promises us a comforter, which is the sealing of the Holy Spirit for the Christian (II Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30). The moment we are saved, all of God dwells in us with His eternal, pre-existent life. We have the unspeakable privilege of being the temple of the Holy Spirit. In I Corinthians 6:19, Jesus Christ, instead of being a God who you cannot approach, now dwells in our hearts; a thriving, intimate relationship with Him is within every Christians reach.
There is a third issue about this covenant that made the fact of the indwelling Spirit possible is found here, "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." Jesus Christ remembers our sins no more. The Sinaitic (Law) Covenant offered people a covering of sins, or forgiveness based upon the offering of certain sacrifices at certain stated times in accordance with certain prescribed forms. Now the New Testament saint has not a temporary or annual (i.e., Day of Atonement) forgiveness of sins of a minor and artificial nature, but forgiveness free, full, everlasting, of all sins, however heinous! The entire Levitical System of atoning for sin has been overhauled. There has been a "once for all" (10:10) sacrifice for the Christian. The great mistake of the modern believer is to neglect this new indwelling Spirit and to somehow continue to live under some kind of legal Christianity, at least mentally. This "Better Covenant" is God's way of restoring our Garden of Eden relationship with Jesus Christ. Sin, which separated us in the first place, has been paid for and can no longer keep us from a vital, fervent relationship with God. The same presence of God that dwelled above the mercy seat and communed with the Priest (Exodus 25:22), now is in our hearts and we can commune with Him any time we want as a believer priest. It is a better way because as Christians the veil to the Holy Place is rent (Matthew 27:51), and we can now enter boldly to God's presence and obtain help (Hebrews 4:16). What a privilege it is to be a New Testament Christian, as it gives us unlimited opportunity in our relationship with God, to go to new levels of God-consciousness in our daily lives.
Hebrews 4:1-11 KJV Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. (2) For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. (3) For we which have believed do enter into rest, as He said, As I have sworn in My wrath, if they shall enter into My rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. (4) For he spoke in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all His works. (5) And in this place again, If they shall enter into My rest. (6) Seeing therefore it remains that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: (7) Again, He limits a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts. (8) For if Jesus had given them rest, then would He not afterward have spoken of another day. (9) There remains therefore a rest to the people of God. (10) For he that is entered into His rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His. (11) Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
"Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it." Barclay has an interesting translation for this verse. He has it as "Beware lest you think that you have come too late to enter into the rest of God. Beware lest you get the idea that you have arrived too late in history ever to enjoy the rest and peace of God."
When you mentioned "rest" to the Hebrew, three things came to mind and are discussed in the first ten verses of Hebrews 4. The first type of restwas "creation rest" and is found in verse 4. "rest" here is katapauo and means 'to make to cease; to cause to rest.' God ceased all labor on the seventh day of creation, a fact well-known to the Jew. This was God's rest. Sin, however, came into existence shortly after and man has not been able to enjoy this rest as intended. The second type of rest we find in verses 4 and 5 refers to the rest in Psalm 95:7, 8 that reveals that this rest wasn't very successful either. "Unto whom I swear in My wrath that they should not enter into My rest." Thus the Promised Land rest, though somewhat beneficial to God's people, fell short of the "better rest" that is about to be introduced. Verse nine reads, "There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God." 'rest' here, the third type of rest is sabbatismo, or "Sabbath Rest." This is a rest for God's people and marks the ceasing from works done for oneself and giving attention to the work God has done for us. This was the rest God gave after He finished the work of creation. It's the perfect rest we have now because Christ finished the work of salvation. On this rest William Newell states, "This spiritual rest arises from accepting God's announcement of Christ's finished work on our behalf." Verse 10 of Hebrews 4 states, "For he that is entered into His rest, He also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His." When God ceased from His works, it established us in a place where we can cease from our works. Jesus Christ is settled in His relationship with us. "...He will rest in His love..." Zeph. 3:17 God is satisfied; Jesus Christ has stripped away all barriers between man and His throne. The writer of this epistle is trying to show his Jewish recipients that there is a "better rest." Spiritual anxiety can cease in view of the cross, the constant inner struggle for personal holiness can cease in light of the finished work. This is an ever deepening rest, that will grow as the believer grows in grace (II Peter 3:18). They were exhorted in verse 1 to "fear" coming short of this rest. 'Fear' is phobeisthai and it's a fear which makes him put out every ounce of strength he possesses in a great effort not to miss the one thing that is worth while. He says, "At all cost don't miss out on the great spiritual reality of this rest." While Israel's rest involved the conquest of Canaan, this is a rest that's imparted and received. The Word of God says we are "more than conquerors" (Romans 8:37), or hupernikeo - ones that have exceeding victory. We don't fight -- this battle is done! What about sin? Positionally it's purged (1:3); experientially I isolate it, confess it and go on (I John 1:9).
These poor Hebrews were striving around trying to please God through a faulty system. This "better rest" is now offered. No more striving, second guessing, guilt or condemnation. We can now rest in what's been accomplished on our behalf. Oh how Christians and orthodox religion need to understand this. Most pulpits today put people to work, not point them to a rest that will cause them to work. Reiterating Barkley's interpretation of verse 1, 'we haven't missed the rest of God; it's not too late in history.' God has rested from His works, we can rest from ours. The only time works will bear fruit is when they are performed from a state of rest. We serve out of a place of finished work rest, not some religious ideal or quota system. Therefore we agree with the author of this epistle as he states in verse 11, "Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest..." It's when we cease from our own labors and cast our cares, anxieties and religious strivings on Jesus Christ (I Peter 5:7) that we enter in to this life with the "better rest."