Strive/Rest [Read: Hebrews 3-4:11]
What appears to be a contradiction, viz. “striving” to enter the promised “rest” of God, is not at all contradictory when we consider that our Lord used the same terminology in Luke 13:24, where He tells us: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and not be able.” The Lord Jesus is not speaking here of works, but of the object of saving faith. Judgment would come to Israel for their unbelief in Messiah, the Christ, and Christ was warning them of this coming judgment by urging them to place their faith in Him now, before the door was closed. This is a call to faith and repentance, but it does not mean that all who are being outwardly called will be effectually called. This passage in Luke runs exactly parallel, I think, to Hebrews 4:11 in that (i.)both address Jews, (ii.)both groups of Jews have seen Christ personally and have had personal interactions with Him that proved His supernatural power and confirmed that He was indeed a Man sent from God, (iii.)both groups are told to strive, and (iv.)the striving mentioned, in both passages, is an entering into something else – in Luke it is the narrow door, while in Hebrews it is the rest that God has provided for sinners.
Is this a merely accidental parallel? Or do we have here evidence of the apostle’s intimate knowledge of our Lord Jesus’ teaching? On His way to Jerusalem, our Lord teaches men that He is the Way into the kingdom, the only Way to the Father, and by so doing shows us that the Jews were shown great mercy by God who gave them time after time to repent of their sin and believe on the Messiah, and yet did not. There are some valuable things to glean from this parallel.
i. Those who artificially create a distinction between “the Jesus of history” and “the Christ of faith” would be hard pressed to reconcile the fact that the writer of Hebrews is arguing much in the same manner as our Lord Jesus does in Luke 13:22-35.
ii. Although the Greek terms translated as “strive”/”striving” (ESV) are different, what is being conveyed in both instances is the same: Taking heed to the Gospel before the time is over. While the Greek word our Lord uses in Luke 13:24 is agōnizomai (ἀγωνίζομαι), and signifies a battle, fight, endeavor, and is different than spoudazō (σπουδάζω), which signifies promptness and diligence to perform a certain task, they do not present entirely different teachings, but harmonize with one another quite beautifully. Adding to the above similarities, we should take note that in both instances the nationality of the persons who are to be saved is not limited to just the Jews. Rather, salvation is limited to those who will call upon the name of Christ and rest in Him, ceasing from their own labors.
The Lord Jesus’ admonition to the Jews of His day, as He traveled to the cross was the same as the apostle’s message to the Jews after Christ had already ascended, and that was simply:
Apart from Christ there is no salvation. Believe on the name of Lord Jesus Christ before it is too late and judgment takes away the opportunity of anyone who professes to be a believer to actually begin believing in Christ. One must strive to enter through the narrow door, i.e. one must strive to enter into the rest given freely in His Son Jesus.
There may be something else that is implied here, viz. self-examination in light of the Gospel promises. Peter speaks this way in 2 Pet 3:14, where he uses the same Greek word as Hebrews 4:11, and the context is very similar. Peter, writing to Jews, is speaking of the return of our Lord Jesus Christ and is urging his hearers to continue in the faith and to be “diligent” (Gr. Spoudazō) to make sure their calling and election sure. The apostle is writing in a similar fashion to those who think they are Christians but may not be, and he is doing so in light of the Lord’s soon return.