What does Matthew 11:28 mean in terms of “I will give you rest”?
“At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” (Matthew 11:25–30, ESV)
This passage of Scripture is a promise from Jesus that when we come to him, he will give us rest. Rest is one of the key concepts of all of the Scripture. Beginning in the Old Testament, you will better recognize the word for rest as “Sabbath.”
God instituted and ordained one day of the week as a Sabbath rest for his people. This was a time when they followed God in his example after the six days of creation. Genesis 2:2-3 shows God as an example for rest. Although he did not need to rest because he is God, he set the example for all of his people.
Unlike God, we are not infinite. Human beings are designed to need rest. It is not just physical rest that we need. We need mental and emotional rest. And most importantly, we need spiritual rest. This is why God instituted the Sabbath day rest among his people.
When you look at the fourth commandment to keep the Sabbath day (Exodus 20:8-11) you will notice that it uses the account in Genesis 2 as the example of God resting first. So the Israelites on through the ages have remembered the Sabbath day.
Because it is part of the Ten Commandments, Christians also observe the Sabbath day. Most Christians celebrate the Sabbath day on Sunday rather than the Saturday the Jews celebrate it on. Part of the reason usually given for this by Christians is that Jesus, the Lord, was raised to life on Sunday.
I have said in other questions about the Sabbath that the concept of taking one day to rest and worship God is way more important than what day it is. If you’re part of a faith community, you should honor that community’s chosen day to celebrate the Sabbath.
But getting back to Matthew 11, Jesus tells everyone who will come after him that he will give them rest. Matthew 11:26 gives more clarification as to Jesus’ meaning. When he talks about rest, he then further says to take his yoke upon you.
A yoke is a piece of farm machinery, but often much simpler than machinery. It can be a piece of wood fitted for the necks of two oxen, or it can even be leather. It’s designed to make the oxen work together so that one of them doesn’t get ahead of the other.
What Jesus is saying is that if we yoke ourselves to him and his teaching, he will give us rest. When the Jewish rabbis would teach their disciples their view of the Bible, it was often called a yoke. So Jesus’ yoke is his teaching. It’s how we are to understand God and his Scriptures.
Many of the Pharisees and rabbis of his day had hard yokes. Their teaching was almost impossible to follow, and they couldn’t even do it themselves. Jesus chastises them throughout the Gospels because they make it impossible for people, even their disciples, to follow God.
But he is saying that his teaching is easy and light. He does not place a great burden upon his disciples. If you follow his teaching, you will find it easier than the teaching of all of the other rabbis you will ever read.
But even deeper than this understanding is that Jesus is also God. When he talks about his yoke as easy and his burden as light, he is also referring to the rest that he gives as God, not just as a Jewish rabbi. This brings in the meaning of the Sabbath rest.
The rest we find in Jesus is mostly a spiritual rest. He says we will find rest for our souls. This rest he gives is nothing like any of the rabbis could have given their disciples. This is a heavenly rest from God.
Another place you’ll find a lot of writing about the Sabbath rest for the people of God is in the book of Hebrews (Hebrews 3:7-4:15). The writer of Hebrews talks about how the Israelites in the wilderness refused to find their rest in God. So he rejected them.
But for the people of God who believe in Jesus today, there is a Sabbath rest for us. You cannot fully enter into Jesus’ rest until you believe in him.
We must understand that the Sabbath rest is not only for our physical, emotional, or mental rest. It is not even only for our spiritual rest. It is a holistic rest that God gives to us. We rest in his presence and in the truths and promises of his Word. We rest in worship to him. It is a rejuvenation of the whole person, not just one part, and it happens in his presence.