For far too long, in “Christian” circles, the word “rest” has evoked one of two images, neither of which has any New Testament derivation. It is presented either as a “do-nothing” accessory to the artificial “faith-works” discussion (W.S. #1 and #39), or as an image of lolling around on a cloud enjoying (?!?) one’s wings, halo, and harp! Of the 15 different Greek words that have been translated “rest” at some point, not a single one carries that imagery.
Two of those words, loipos and epiloipos, refer simply to a remainder or remnant, to “leftovers”, or to other individuals not previously mentioned – “the rest of the people…” These are not relevant to the concept at hand.
Seven words appear only once or twice with this translation: eirene (Ac.9:31), usually translated “peace” (W.S.#70); hesuchazo (Lk.23:56), “to be calm, quiet, or tranquil”; kataskenao (Ac.2:26), “to settle down in a dwelling; episkenao (II Cor.12:9), “to have one’s dwelling”; koimesis (Jn.11:13), “sleeping”; epanapauomai (Lk.10:6, Rom.2:17), “to rest in or upon”; and sabbatismos (Heb.4:9), “the rest required on the Sabbath.” The first three of these occur in other contexts, with other translations, which are more attuned to their definitions. The others appear nowhere else.
Katapausis, and its verb form, katapauomai, occurring primarily in the Hebrews 3 and 4 discussion (10 times) comparing God’s “rest” after finishing his work of creation, the entry of the Jews into Canaan, and the greater “rest” secured by Jesus, was classically defined as “putting down or deposing from power, a place of calm or rest, to cause to cease or to hinder” (as in Ac.14:18, where Paul and Barnabas had trouble restraining the people of Lystra from sacrificing to them as gods), or “to rest while one is well-off.” It appears also in Stephen’s sermon (Ac.7:49), highlighting God’s rejection of the idea that he could be contained in or confined to “a house”.
Anesis, classically applied to the loosening of the strings of an instrument, the relaxation of stress (the opposite of thlipsis, “hassles, tribulations”), recreation or relaxation (the opposite of spoude, “strenuous effort”), or the solution to a problem, is used only five times in the New Testament: three times translated “rest” (II Cor.2:13 and 7:5, II Thes.1:7), once as the “liberty” granted to Paul by the centurion guarding him (Ac.24:23), and once (II Cor.8:13) reassuring his readers that they were not being asked to support the laziness of others, but to serve a genuine need by the relief offering.
The most common word, anapausis (n.), with its verb forms, anapauo (active) and anapauomai middle and passive), was classically the most versatile. It included “rest from wandering” (Homer), “recreation” (Plato), “cadence” (in poetry or rhetoric), “to bring to a close” (Hermogenes), “to halt or rest troops, or to regain strength” (Xenophon), “to relieve someone, or to allow land to lie fallow.”
In the New Testament, Jesus used it of a cast-out evil spirit “seeking rest” (Mt.12:43, Lk.11:24). Rev.14:11 and 4:8 describe the thoroughly delightful scenes around the throne where no one rests, day or night, from the praises of God / the Lamb! After their missionary journey, Jesus invites his disciples to “rest a while” (Mk.6:31), and gently rebukes them – “Go ahead and take your rest” – in the garden (Mt.26:45, Mk.14:41). Paul frequently uses it of “refreshment” (I Cor.16:18, II Cor.7:13, Philemon 7,20), and Peter (I Pet.4:14) speaks of the spirit of God’s glory “resting on” his people who are under duress. The faithful “under the altar” (Rev.6:11), who impatiently ask, in effect, “How long, Lord, till you clean up this mess??!” (Don’t we all?!!) are told to “rest a little longer”, and the Spirit (Rev.14:13) speaks a blessing on “those who die in the Lord”, that “they can rest from their labors, for their deeds [works] follow after them.”
But maybe that doesn’t mean, as is frequently assumed, that there is no more work to be done! I have deliberately left for last, Jesus’ gracious words recorded in Mt.11:28-30, to which this study owes its impetus. It began in a conversation with my brother-in-law (Thanks, Bob!) after we had sat through a less-than-inspiring, “feel-good” type of sermon. One of the fragments of poorly-used “verses” that had been quoted was Mt.11:28, “I will give you rest.” Following along in my Greek text, as I usually do, I had been startled to see that “rest”, in that quote, is not a noun, but a future active verb! And there is no word in that passage that one could properly translate “give”, nor is there any dative case that could designate a recipient of a gift. The plural “you” is in the accusative case, a direct object. Literally, although it sounds awkward to us, he is saying, “I will rest you all.”
It had always seemed odd to me that this phrase, oft-quoted as an “invitation”, was in a paragraph about the “yoke” with which Jesus offers us his “training”. The connection had seemed fuzzy, until our conversation turned to our fascination with watching neighbors, who farmed with horses, in their field work. This would have been familiar to the rural folks who first listened to Jesus’ message. The meaning is only lost on our mechanized generation!
A young animal is trained for work by being yoked together with a stronger, more experienced one. The “teaching” member of the pair needs to be gentle and patient, and to lead without abusing the “student”. The harness assembly has to be carefully fitted to the size and strength of each animal, in order to enable them to do very strenuous work without injury. And after a row or two of plowing, the farmer would always “rest” his team in a shady spot, both to recover from the heavy work, and to “re-charge” for the completion of the task!
The Lord Jesus represents himself as both the lead animal in the yoke (v.29), carefully and patiently teaching his disciple, bearing that part of the load which the “new recruit” cannot, but gradually enabling him to assume his rightful share; and as the master, who considerately “rests” his team, to enable their endurance, and the successful completion of their work. When the yoke is perfectly fitted, the load, or the task, seems much lighter!
Might that image also inform the blessing in Rev.14? Met’ auton is as likely to intend “with them” as it is “after them.”
Frankly, I think I find the image of a refreshing rest under the Tree of Life, as a prelude to even more delightful work in tandem with the Lord of Glory, a far more attractive prospect than sitting around on a cloud!
How about you?