Resting requires us to let go of our control. The Bible takes rest seriously as it is important for all of creation, even the earth itself (Leviticus 25:4, 26:34).
Ultimate rest, peace from striving, is found only in Christ and will be experienced in the New Heavens and the New Earth. Jesus tells us that he will give us eternal rest. He has done all the work for believers to be able to rest knowing their salvation is secure in him by the power of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13).
Although God is omnipotent and never grows weak or weary, he chose to rest (or “cease, sabbath,” Heb. šāḇaṯ) after creating the world. God’s model of Sabbath rest becomes paradigmatic for his people throughout all generations and the sign of his covenant relationship with them at Mount Sinai (Exodus 31:12-14).
God’s people were instructed to remember something that was initiated from creation: rest. They are to remember God’s resting on the seventh day and to imitate Him.
The rest that the Old Testament prophets foresaw is the rest that the people of Israel were hoping for in the promised land but could not attain (Psalm 95:10-11), but that New Testament believers receive in Christ (Hebrews 4:8).
In the Bible, rest is incredibly important. Remembering the Sabbath (resting on the seventh day) is one of the 10 Commandments. Resting was part of God’s law for His people. He knew it was important for their health, their minds, and their hearts for them to rest, remember, and celebrate him.
More than that, God had established the importance of rest from the very beginning when he himself rested. His instruction to his people to rest, cease, sabbath was a designation of belonging to God, a demonstration of looking back to see what God had already done, and a declaration that God would continue to provide for his people and bring them into his rest.
God establishes the Sabbath as the sign of the Mosaic covenant between him and the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. In keeping the Sabbath, both God and the people rehearse the terms of the covenant: he will be their God, and they will be his people (Exodus 19:4-6). Sabbath was a constant reality of the covenant relationship. God gave Israel the Sabbath to teach them to trust him.
Lastly, God had designated the Sabbath in such a way that to disregard the Sabbath was to disregard God himself (Ezekiel 22:26) and the covenant relationship he had established.
Spiritual rest is to the soul what self-care is to the body. Rest, then, is soul-care. When we embrace the promises of God through faith, trusting in the person and work of Jesus on our behalf, we enter into God’s rest. We can feel secure, despite the circumstances, that he will meet our needs and unburden our hearts. We can feel the peace and comfort of his spirit as well as hope for our future with him.
Although “rest” in this context may look forward to the Promised Land, it also likely carries with it an element of the eternal rest that comes through sitting under the Lordship of the triune God. Believers anticipate the day of eternal rest when God will make all things new (Rev 21:5), but they also recognize that rest, in part, can be experienced through having peace with God today. Spiritual rest is peace with God, by the Spirit, under the Lordship of Christ.
Jesus invites those who are discouraged and burdened to enter into a special relationship with him characterized by “rest for [our] souls.” He does this because he is humble and cares for us. Ultimate spiritual rest is found in Christ.
Physical rest in the Bible is closely tied with taking time to physically rest and relax from the labors of work and achievement. Physical relaxation can be a reminder of the vanity of self-achievement and the need to rely upon God for all things, even that which we strive for.
However, the Bible also warns against extended relaxation (one characterized more so by an antipathy toward work) that leads to slothfulness and the consequences thereof (Proverbs 6:10-11; Luke 12:19).
Elijah was running for his life to the point of complete exhaustion. He was afraid and tired of running. When he laid down, God sent an angel to remind him to eat. The angel provided cake and water and reminded him to eat a second time.
Jesus encourages his disciples to rest from their work. God designed our bodies, so he knows exactly what they need. It is important to him that we rest and take the time to care for our bodies so that they are strong and refreshed, able to do the work he has called us to do.
The Bible teaches that God has designed and blessed both work and rest. To use the language of the teacher in Ecclesiastes, God himself demonstrates that there is a time for work and a time for rest. Likewise, when God gives the Sabbath rest to his people, he commands them to rest from their work (Exodus 23:12, 31:15). Work is good and blessed by God from the beginning of creation before sin entered the picture (Genesis 2:15).
Rest from work, rest from our daily strivings to make more and do more, teaches us to rely instead upon God. Although working seven days a week might generate more income, God teaches us through Sabbath rest that there is something greater than money: remembering that all good things come from God himself, and he will provide for our every need (Deuteronomy 6:11; James 1:17; Philippians 4:19).