CANAAN, AND THE REST OF GOD
Copyright © 2013 Robert B. Thompson. All Rights Reserved
(“Canaan, and the Rest of God” is taken from The Theology of Robert B. Thompson, copyright © 2012 Robert B. Thompson)
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Some passages of Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Table of Contents
The Rest of God
Sometimes people are tempted to create their own Heaven and earth. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth the way He wants them. The design was completed, all the way through to the coming down of the new earth from the new sky. The life of each one of his elect was written on the pages of a book. Then God rested. All He asks of us is to enter his rest.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalms 139:15,16)
It is not true that every individual lives according to what is written in the book of his or her life. Some are disobedient, preferring their own way to God’s way. In this case, God makes an adjustment so his eternal plan will be fulfilled. But when this happens, and it may happen more often than we could wish, there is an eternal loss for God, for the individual, and for mankind.
The subject of the Book of Hebrews is the “rest of God.” The fourth chapter of Hebrews exhorts us to “make every effort to enter that rest,” to cease from our own works. We can perceive that by the phrase “make every effort” we are not speaking of relaxing into a state of passivity but of fighting forward against every obstacle that would attempt to keep us from doing God’s perfect will for our life.
As far as God’s elect are concerned, those chosen to be conformed to the image of Christ that they may become his brothers, their destiny and role in the Kingdom of God was planned from the beginning of the world. Then God rested. Now the Spirit of God shall bring all this to pass.
Each member of the elect, of the Royal Priesthood, is to endeavor to cooperate with the Spirit of God until he is living every moment in that perfect will of God, the will that is leading him to his foreordained destiny. This is to live by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.
The work of conforming us to the image of Christ and bringing us into the role in the Kingdom we are to perform for eternity is already established in God’s mind. But God has given us a will of our own whereby we can choose to live our own life apart from the Spirit of God, following our own desires and ambitions and the numerous ideas and suggestions that seek to entice us away from abiding in Christ.
Or we can employ our time and strength in striving to find and press into the Spirit of God each moment of each day and night.
It is of the utmost importance that we strive always to do God’s will, to seek in this manner to enter God’s rest. All things in the creation are working for good for God’s elect. When the firstfruits of the elect have been brought to maturity they will be revealed with Christ to the created world. It will be their task, as Christ guides and empowers them, to set the creation free from the bondage of corruption.
During six days, God created all things through to the coming down from the new sky of the heavenly Jerusalem. The destiny and role in the Kingdom of God of each member of the elect was finished during the six days. Then God rested, having completed his work.
The eternal decree was pronounced in the beginning:
- Man is to be a son of God.
- Man is to be in the image and likeness of God.
- Man is to be male and female. It requires male and female to complete the image of God.
- Man is to be fruitful and multiply.
- Man is to have dominion over all the works of God’s hands.
Each part of the eternal decree has an animal fulfillment. Each part of the eternal decree shall have an enormously superior fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
Our task in life is to enter that rest, that finished work of God, that we might attain fully to the destiny and role in God’s Kingdom that at the time of the creation has been spoken concerning us as an individual.
In fact, if we are to be able to stand throughout the age of moral horrors that is approaching the United States of America, and to help others to stand, we will have to be dead-living saints. In the dark hour that is ahead, only Christ can work; and He will work through us.
We must be able to testify as the Apostle Paul did, “I am crucified with Christ. I am living, but actually it is Christ who is living in me.” This must be our testimony if we are to be among the Lord’s firstfruits who will appear with Him and install the Kingdom of God upon the earth.
Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. (Hebrews 4:1—NASB)
Entering God’s Rest
God worked for six days. Then He rested. During those six days He created not only the physical creation but also the Kingdom of God, all the way through to the coming down of the new Jerusalem to rest upon the new earth—and beyond. At that time the names of his elect were written in his book. Since this is true, our task in life is to press into that to which we have been predestined. As Paul said, we are to grasp that for which we have been grasped.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalms 139:15,16—NIV)
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30—NIV)
It seems to me that the passage above implies that mankind is divided into those who have a special calling, an election assigned to them, and those who do not.
There have been many arguments in time past about the possibility of an elect who are predestined to be saved. These arguments are vain, for the following reasons:
First, the elect are not called to be saved but to be brothers of Christ, being conformed to his image.
Second, the Scriptures teach with utmost clarity that there is the Church, the new Jerusalem, the elect, and then nations of saved people who walk in the light of the new Jerusalem. Whoever chooses to do so may receive Jesus Christ as the Lord of his or her life, and be saved.
Third, being predestined and called does not mean we are going to attain to our high calling no matter how we live. It is entirely possible for us to lose our crown of life and righteousness. The Scriptures teach this fact also with utmost clarity.
Since any believer can validate the above three facts by searching the Scriptures, I would like to pass on to the present burden: entering the rest of God.
Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. (Hebrews 4:1—NASB)
Entering the rest of God is the subject of the Book of Hebrews, although not all of the topics in Hebrews appear to be directly related to this primary thesis. It is evident, however, that Hebrews has largely to do with pressing on past the initial works of redemption.
As far as the elect are concerned, the goal of their life is to enter the rest of God. This means we must believe that God has called us to be a member of the Royal Priesthood. Therefore we are not to scheme how we may arrive at some other goal of our own choosing. Our task in life is to seek Christ constantly, to lay aside all else, as did the Apostle Paul, and grasp that for which we have been grasped.
To enter our assigned role in the Kingdom of God necessitates our patiently enduring numerous tribulations. Our most intense desires remain unfulfilled while we wait as cheerfully as we can in God’s prison. As the Prophet mentioned, “We are shut up and cannot come forth.”
Every one of those who are called to be the brothers of Christ must experience the sufferings of Christ, the sufferings of the cross. Our personal cross is not a delight. It is painful at times. If we fasten on it, it will grind us to powder. We must continue to think of our blessings, what we do have and can do, and not what we do not have and cannot do.
There are those who have been called to the Royal Priesthood, the governing body of the Kingdom of God, who come quite a ways toward their goal. Then the stress becomes too much for them and they fall back into the ways of the flesh. How disappointing this is to the Lord who had such high hopes for them.
We can come out from the bondage of the world spirit and put to death the sins of our flesh as the Spirit points them out to us. But it is that third area at which some believers draw the line. They are not willing to give up their personal desires and obey Christ as He leads them toward the goal God has set before them.
What often happens is that the believer is placed in a situation in which people do not meet his or her standards. The believer becomes so enraged at the seeming injustice he is suffering that he no longer can hear the quiet voice of the Spirit.
When we find ourselves becoming angry with people, that often is a sign God is using them to perfect us. Why should we be angry with the tools God uses? That does not make sense. Let us rather look to Jesus to see what He wants us to do. Anger prevents us from hearing clearly the gentle voice of the Spirit.
We must accept the fact that we are not going to be treated fairly in this present world. The Lord Jesus was not treated fairly. Pilate handed Christ over to be crucified when Pilate could find no reason for doing this. Christ was entirely innocent and Pilate knew it.
This sort of injustice may cause us to fret until we, like Christ, give ourselves over to the will of God. Only then will we be able to hear that still, small voice of the Spirit and know what the next step on our journey is to be.
We always are to pray, and keep on praying, that God will give us the desires of our heart. And He will in his time. But we must not give in to our fleshly impulses and take matters into our own hands, as Satan counseled Eve to do. The minute we do this we no longer can hear what Christ is saying to us through the Spirit.
I do not doubt there have been many ministers of the Gospel who have explained clearly the rest of God and how we are to press into it. However, I have not heard this subject preached. This suggests to me that it is in our day that the Lord Jesus is explaining to his disciples this all-important subject.
Well then, what exactly is our goal, our rest and God’s rest in us.
Perhaps the strongest of the Old Testament types, concerning the goal of the Christian discipleship, is Canaan, the land of promise. The Israelites were saved out of Egypt in order to have their own home in Canaan, the land of milk and honey.
But what does Canaan stand for? I would say it stands for the rest of God, that is, the condition in which our life is focused on doing Christ’s will at every moment. It stands for pressing past our natural life and entering the resurrection Life of our Lord. It is God’s intention that we find perfect righteousness, love, joy, and peace in the very center of his Person and will.
So many Israelites died in the wilderness and never attained to their goal! The writer of Hebrews warns us about this and urges us not to stop moving forward until we have entered God’s rest.
Beyond all doubt, one of the greatest hindrances to a clear understanding of the Kingdom of God is the traditional belief that the spirit Heaven is the land of promise, the fulfillment of the symbolism of Canaan. It assuredly is not! While there certainly is a spirit Heaven, where Christ, his saints, and the holy angels may be found, residence in Heaven is not the rest of God, the goal of the Christian redemption.
First of all, there is no passage of Scripture that points toward residence in the spirit world as the goal of redemption. Second, we would have to wait until we die in order to enter God’s rest.
When we die, we are not faced with walls of Jericho, so to speak. The land is not divided up among us. We do not have to drive out the enemy. The entrance of Israel into Canaan is nowhere near being a type of the rest spoken of in the fourth chapter of the Book of Hebrews.
To go to Heaven is a change of place. To enter God’s rest is a change of personality, a change of what we are, how we conduct ourselves. Contrary to popular belief, dying and going to Heaven does not change what we are. The only way we can be changed is by interacting with Jesus on a daily basis.
I don’t believe the term “Heaven” is found in the writings of Paul. Paul expressed his goal. Paul’s goal is to attain to the resurrection that is out from among the dead, the first resurrection. This is the resurrection of the members of the Royal Priesthood. They will be raised when the Lord next appears.
This first resurrection must be attained to, as Paul pointed out so clearly in the third chapter of the Book of Philippians. To maintain that Paul was laying aside all else so he would be qualified to go to Heaven when he died is so unrealistic as to be not worthy of discussion.
Truly, the venerable tradition that our goal is to go to Heaven prevents any logical thinking concerning the salvation we are to work out with fear and trembling.
There is a multitude of Christian people who look to the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. There is a smaller number who have learned to walk in the Spirit of God to a lesser or greater extent.
Now Jesus is looking to see how many will press forward until they find rest in God’s Person and will. Doing so requires that we abandon our own plans for our life in favor of resting in that plan written in God’s book during the original creation. The plan is to make man in God’s image. The number of those who have enough faith to trust God to this extent may be quite small.
But to him who overcomes the desire to preserve his own life in order that he may enter God’s Person will be given all things of the new creation. God will be his God and he will be God’s son.
Let each of us then pray that for eternity we will be found abiding in the very center of God’s Person and will. There we always shall have righteousness, love, joy, and peace.
Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. (Hebrews 4:1—NASB)
Canaan, and the Rest of God
Traditionally, Heaven has been viewed as that which is symbolized by Canaan, the land of milk and honey. Thus, going to Heaven when we die is considered to be the goal of our salvation. This concept well may be the most destructive of all the man-made interpretations of the Scriptures.
The major doctrinal errors of today, such as the ideas that “grace” is an alternative to righteous behavior, “eternal security,” and the unscriptural “pre-tribulation rapture,” are all based on the idea that the goal of our salvation is to go to Heaven when we die and live there forever in a mansion.
I have walked with the Lord Jesus for more than sixty-five years. During the last four or five years, I have become more aware of the spirit world. The spirit world is much like our own world, which is not surprising since our world was made from the spirit world. In fact, if the curse were lifted, and the Spirit of God filled the earth, and God removed Satan and all his works (and that actually is going to happen), I think we would be pleased to stay right here after we died.
Something to think about, isn’t it?
But let us consider for a moment the true goal of salvation, the inheritance of the righteous. It has nothing to do with moving from earth to Heaven. Our primary inheritance is to be changed into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ, both internally, and then, at his coming, in outward form.
Equally important is that we be at rest in the center of God’s Person and will. When these two objectives have been fulfilled, then the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit will make us Their eternal dwelling place.
Canaan, the land of promise, is akin in meaning to the spiritual fulfillment of the Jewish feast of Tabernacles. Canaan speaks of the coming of the Father and the Son to make us Their home. Once we have been saved and filled with God’s Spirit, we then are to press forward into the spiritual fulfillment of the feast of Tabernacles.
Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” (John 14:23—NASB)
Included in our inheritance are those whom God has given us to care for, and then the farthest reaches of the earth.
You easily can verify these aspects of our goal, our inheritance, by examining the Scriptures.
Is there a Heaven where God, Christ, the saints, and holy angels are? Of course. But it is not our home, except during the period before Christ sets up his Kingdom on the earth. Eventually the spirit and physical worlds shall become one new world of righteous behavior.
I stress “behavior” because for so long we have been accustomed to believe that the only righteousness we ever can know is that which is ascribed to us by “grace.” We always will be miserable sinners, it is supposed. The truth is, Christ desires to make us a new creation of righteous behavior.
The Kingdom of God does not consist of miserable sinners who are righteous only by ascribed righteousness but victorious saints who are in the image of the Lord.
Now let us think for a moment about the practical outworking of what I am teaching. The practical aspect is that we do not enter our land of promise by dying and entering the spirit world. We enter our land of promise now, today, by following the Lord Jesus as He guides us through his Spirit.
The Book of Hebrews refers to our Canaan, our land of promise, as God’s “rest.”
God’s rest is our state of being when we are abiding in the center of God’s Person and will. Obviously, there is a great difference between waiting to die so we can go to Heaven, and pressing each day into God and his will.
Can you see why I said at the beginning that the concept of our goal being to go to Heaven when we die is not only unscriptural, it is a major hindrance to most believers? It puts them in a waiting mode rather than pressing forward, as did the Apostle Paul, into that which God has appointed for them.
All I wish to say in this briefest of essays may be found in the third and fourth chapters of the Book of Hebrews.
The Jewish believers being addressed in the Book of Hebrews were seasoned Christians, having been saved through faith in the blood atonement, filled with the Spirit of God, and had survived persecution and also tasted the powers of the coming age. They were more spiritually advanced in the things of Christ than is true of most of today’s Christians, it appears.
We would expect the writer of Hebrews to congratulate them on their religious accomplishments, comfort them with the assurance of salvation, and point them toward their mansions in Heaven as their reward when they died.
Instead the Book of Hebrews is largely a rebuke, an exhortation to them to enter further into God, that is, into God’s Person and will for them.
Notice in the third chapter of Hebrews how the writer compares our salvation with the journey of Israel from Egypt to Canaan. I would suppose most of us recognize that Israel coming out of Egypt is a type of our being saved by repenting of our life in the world, and being baptized to show we now are dead to the world and alive in the resurrection of Christ.
Perhaps a smaller number of us view the time spent in the wilderness of wandering as symbolic of the rigors of our discipleship. I think some reject this symbolism because it does not fit their understanding of Divine grace. However, it is clear that the writer of Hebrews accepts the wilderness wandering as a portrayal of the many dangers and sufferings of our pilgrimage.
But then the writer warns his audience that they were in danger of not inheriting the land of promise, just as the Israelites, except for two people, did not enter the land of milk and honey. It is obvious the writer believes that it is possible for a Christian to “die in the wilderness” and not attain to the goal set before him.
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. (Hebrews 3:18,19—NIV)
The “believers” often do not seek to lay hold on that for which God has grasped them!
Then the writer exhorts us to “make every effort to enter that rest,” that is, into the state of being where we are resting in God’s Person and will.
In some instances, the Israelites did not “make every effort” to enter their inheritance. God told them to show no mercy but to destroy utterly the enemy that was living in their land of promise.
You shall consume all the peoples whom the LORD your God will deliver to you; your eye shall not pity them, nor shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you. (Deuteronomy 7:16—NASB)
When we seek to enter into the state of being where we are resting in God’s Person and will, we are resisted by the forces of Satan, whether dwelling in our flesh or in the atmosphere around us. It is up to us to show these spirits no mercy but to ruthlessly drive them out by the authority and power of Christ.
Moreover, the LORD your God will send the hornet against them, until those who are left and hide themselves from you perish. (Deuteronomy 7:20—NASB)
The unclean spirits may go into hiding, or attempt to persuade you that they are harmless, or “everyone is doing it,” or “God wants you to be happy,” or they are not dwelling in you any longer. This is why in order to enter the rest of God you have to meditate in the Scriptures, pray continually, and gather together on a regular basis with fervent believers.
If some of these efforts are not possible, you might ask God to make them possible. You have to be diligent if you are to be successful in driving the enemy from your “land.”
In many instances the Israelites settled down and did not make the supreme effort to obey God by utterly destroying the enemy. They are suffering to the present hour for this lack of diligence.
But the sons of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem; so the Jebusites have lived with the sons of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day. (Judges 1:21—NASB)
But Manasseh did not take possession of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages; so the Canaanites persisted in living in that land. (Judges 1:27—NASB)
It came about when Israel became strong, that they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but they did not drive them out completely. (Judges 1:28—NASB)
“And you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? And I have also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.’” (Judges 2:2,3—NIV)
God in His Word has given his Church numerous promises, including total victory over the enemy—more than conquerors. But we have chosen instead to flee to Heaven. We also have created a doctrine of “grace” that permits the enemy to live with us in peace.
As God has declared, these spirits and gods we have accepted have become snares to us. The result is, our country, America, is overrun with sexual lust. It is in danger of being weakened until it no longer is a leading nation of the world.
So the issue is, what does Canaan represent? If we think of Canaan as representing going to Heaven when we die, then the idea of making every effort to enter God’s rest does not make sense. Either we, as Paul, are pressing with all diligence that we may grasp that for which we have been grasped, or we are waiting to die until we go to Heaven.
It easily can be seen that we are facing a major problem in Christian thinking. Either we are to be “saved,” filled with the Spirit, and then wait to die to enter our land of promise; or we are to be entering it today as we follow the Spirit of God in all of our thinking, speaking, and doing.
How often the Christian salvation is viewed as being a waiting to go to Heaven where (we think) our problems will be solved! Our dangers and afflictions are thought of as being random attacks of Satan.
Thus when we die we are unprepared for what we will face in the spirit world.
Would we be more able to march in victory, ready to walk with Jesus when we die, if we perceived our daily battles as part of the process in which we move toward our goal, the rest of God?
There are different ways of coping with our tribulations. We can become angry with God, or feel sorry for ourselves, or blame people. God is not pleased with these responses. The correct manner in which to respond to problems is to keep seeking Jesus for understanding and deliverance. In this manner we grow in God’s Person and will, entering our land of promise.
One primary characteristic of Canaan is that it was filled with enemies who had lived there for hundreds of years. God told Abraham he could not possess the land until the sin of the Amorites had matured. So it is today, isn’t it, that sin is coming to maturity? Consequently God is ready to give us the land; but we have to take it by fighting the enemy that dwells in us and with us.
There are three major enemies that prevent our dwelling contentedly in the Person of Christ and his will for us. The first enemy is our looking to the world for our survival and security. The second enemy is the sinful forces that dwell in our flesh. The third enemy is our self-will, our determination to live our life the way we want instead of looking to Jesus for every decision we make.
If we are to enter God’s rest, our Canaan, we have to be ruthless. There is to be no compromise with the spiritual darkness that has lived in and around us throughout our lifetime.
First, we must refuse to be involved in the world spirit any more than is necessary. This world is not our home. The earth is our home, but the spirit of the world is Antichrist, and we can never find peace in it except as we follow Jesus carefully.
Second, as the Spirit of God points out to us the sins we are committing, we are to confess them specifically; denounce them as evil; renounce them with all our might, and turn to Christ for forgiveness and cleansing.
Third, we must remain in the prison in which Christ permits Satan to place us. We cannot have what we intensely desire. We are forced to remain in situations that are unpleasant. This crucifixion may persist for many years. Thus we have to place our treasures in Heaven.
It is in God’s prisons that the self-will is burned out of us. We have to suffer just as the Apostle Paul had to suffer; just as Christ Himself had to suffer. We have to be made weak until we are living by the wisdom and strength of Christ rather than by our own wisdom and strength.
Until these three areas of spiritual darkness are overcome, we cannot possibly find eternal rest in God’s Person and will.
So today we have been brought to the Jordan. The Jordan River symbolizes death to our self-determination. We have left Egypt, the world. We have received the Law of the Spirit, symbolized by Mount Sinai. And now we are at the Jordan. We must be circumcised in our heart. The daily manna is about to cease and we will be given to eat of the grain grown in the land of Canaan, that is, of Christ who is being formed in us.
Who among us is willing to take up his or her cross and follow the Master into Canaan, into the rest of God? It will cost us everything. But not to do so will result in eternal loss that may be irreparable. We may never again have the chance to follow our heavenly Joshua into the fullness of our assigned inheritance.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9—NASB)
(“Canaan, and the Rest of God”, 3634-1)