"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work...For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." (Exodus 20:8-11, NIV)
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews made very plain that there was a deep spiritual significance to the concept of God's Sabbath. In other words, the notion of resting on one day in seven was not an arbitrary ritual; and it was never intended to be just another part of the mechanics of worshiping God.
The writer demonstrated this by referring to Israel's story as they journeyed out of Egypt. This was accomplished by quoting from one of the psalms. We read: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers (ancestors) tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, 'They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.' So I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest." (Psalm 95:7-11 and Hebrews 3:7-11)
The author then proceeded to warn his Christian audience not to follow the example of the Israelites. (Hebrews 3:12-15) Continuing, we read: "Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief." (verses 16-19) The children of Israel had failed to trust God and march in to take possession of the Promised Land (here referred to as God's rest).
As we have noted before, there were no chapter and verse designations in the original manuscripts of the sacred writings. Hence, the thought in the third chapter of Hebrews continues into the following chapter. We read: "Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it." (Hebrews 4:1) The author of the epistle then proceeded to tell his audience that the message that had been preached to the Israelites was fundamentally the same message that had been preached to them, but that the children of Israel had failed to respond to that message - had failed to believe in God's rest. (verses2-3)
This promise is then firmly tied to God's Sabbath. We read: "For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: 'And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.' And again in the passage above (verse 3 quoting again the passage in the psalm) he says, 'They shall never enter my rest.'" (verses 4-5) Thus, he concluded that those who believe in that rest still have an opportunity to enter into it. (verses 6-7)
Then he repeats that the promise of this rest is still valid for God's people. Continuing: "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience." (verses 9-11) To enter the Promised Land of God's rest, the Christian must stop doing his own work(s) and accept and believe in what God has done!
This is consistent with what Jesus Christ taught about the Sabbath. Like many Sabbath-keeping Christians of today, the religious leaders of Christ's day emphasized the proper observance of the day - the legalistic requirements of the Law. Jesus made clear that the Sabbath was intended to be a blessing for mankind - not something to be ritually observed in a rigid and burdensome fashion. (Mark 2:27) The Sabbath represents the ultimate Promised Land for God's people - it's not a special hoop for people to jump through to demonstrate their sainthood! Hence, it should be the goal of every Christian to enter God's rest.