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How Does the Book of Ecclesiastes Point Us to Christ?

Borrowed Light
How Does the Book of Ecclesiastes Point Us to Christ?

If you listen to classic rock, even if you’ve never picked up a Bible, you’ve heard at least a little of the Old Testament. Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds comes straight from the book of Ecclesiastes. 

Ecclesiastes is known as Wisdom Literature. The Preacher (many believe it is King Solomon) goes on a quest for the meaning of life. His conclusion doesn’t seem very gospel. At first glance it seems as if his conclusion is the same as Paul’s tongue in cheek quote of 1 Corinthians 15:32. “Let us eat and drink (and be merry) for tomorrow we will die.” 

But on closer inspection we can actually see some threads here that will connect us to the gospel. How might we proclaim the gospel from Ecclesiastes? 

How Do You Find the Gospel in the Old Testament? 

I suppose before understanding how to find the gospel in the OT, it’d be helpful for us to define the gospel. The simplest definition is one given by JI Packer: God saves sinners. If you’d like to put a bit more meat on your gospel presentation, I use two different frameworks with four points each. The first is God—Man—Christ—Response. The second is more of a story: Creation—Fall—Redemption—Glory. 

The first presentation centers upon God’s character and how humanity fails to meet God’s holy standard, as such the judgment of God is upon us. But the good news is that Jesus Christ fixes this by fulfilling what is required through his life, death and resurrection. Our only fitting response, then, is to respond to Him in repentance and faith. When this happens, we are united to Christ and his record becomes our record. 

The second presentation centers upon the overarching story of the Bible. God lovingly created us to love Him and enjoy Him forever. We were made for rest, rule, and relationship. But we made shipwreck of this, and so rather than having the blessings of obedience we are under the curse of disobedience. Rather than having peace (rest), purpose (ruling), and healthy relationship we often experience the opposite. Ultimately, we are alienated from God. But thankfully God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to bear our curse and to fulfill what God intended for humanity. As such we now experience the blessings of Jesus’ obedience in our place. He restores the rest, rule, and relationship we were created to enjoy. Someday everything will be ultimately restored and we will live in a new heaven and a new earth. 

We could write entire books focusing on these various themes of the gospel. But every gospel story follows this basic skeleton. No matter where you find yourself in the Old Testament (or the New Testament) you can find one of these various threads. Every place in Scripture is either telling you something about God, something about our rebellion, something about His rescue, or something about our future restoration. If you can spot this, then you can fill out the rest of the story. 

How Do We Find the Gospel in Ecclesiastes? 

When trying to answer this question I can’t help but think about C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. There he wrote: 

“The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality…”

Lewis then commented on two wrong ways of dealing with this truth. You can blame the things themselves for disappointing you or you can become cynical and jaded and call the very desire itself foolish. But the Christian has a third way. This is how Lewis presents the Christian way of wrestling with these unfulfilled desires:  

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”

What Lewis is saying here is similar to the message of Ecclesiastes. The “Preacher” attempts to search everything “under the sun” to find meaning. It all turns up empty. Vanity of vanities, he concludes. And that is really the sad message of Ecclesiastes — nothing under the sun is ever going to supply you with ultimate meaning. 

How, then, do we proclaim the gospel from Ecclesiastes? We certainly will not find easy connections like we might in Isaiah 53. But really what we have here is pre-gospel work. The quest of the “Preacher” is the same quest which most humans find themselves on, whether they acknowledge this or not. He was able to try it all and tell us that every single thing you can try has a bottom to it. 

All creation groans for redemption. Nothing will ever satisfy, because all that is “under the sun” isn’t meant to satisfy. It’s meant to point us to another world. God has placed eternity on the hearts of men. 

But this futility wasn’t always the experience of humanity. The world of Genesis 1 and 2 is not the same world of Ecclesiastes. Everything there was good. Humanity lived in fulfillment. Fellowship was unbroken. But there was a promise that death and emptiness and futility would enter into the world upon rebellion from God’s good purpose. And that is what we see. Ecclesiastes is a wide-angle view of the effect of the fall. It all comes up empty outside of Eden. 

As the book of Ecclesiastes closes, we are left longing to get “over the sun.” Surely, it is here, not in the fallen world outside Eden but in the new heaven and new earth, that we might find life and meaning. Ecclesiastes creates in us a longing for redemption, but it doesn’t point us to the Savior. There is no mention of one mightier than we who can break through all of the futility. But Ecclesiastes sure is effective at highlighting the human ache for Jesus. 

The gospel is not explicit in Ecclesiastes. But to use the words of Flannery O’Connor, it is certainly Christ-haunted. 

Where Is Jesus in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8?

These verses are perhaps the most famous of Ecclesiastes because they were (as noted earlier) popularized by The Byrds. If given this passage to preach, how would I use it to point to the gospel? 

This poem both points to God’s grace and his love for order and structure and it highlights the futility of our existence under the sun. We see the beauty in Ecc. 3:11, that “God has made everything beautiful in its time.” There are moments “under the sun” which are truly joyous. There is a time to enjoy a sunset. Time is a gift. It’s far better than the alternative. God has graciously infused meaning even into our existence outside of Eden. 

But these verses are also tainted. They should be read with the question of Ecc. 3:9. “To what end…”? It’s as if the Preacher is saying, “you’re going to be born and you’re going to die, is there really much that matters between the two?” 

One day it’ll be time to mow the grass, then you’ll get to rest, but it’ll grow back again. Is there really anything that separates one day from the next? Do not all alike lead to the same sad conclusion? What is that sad conclusion? It’s that none of these things — even the perfect moment in the perfect time, is able to last. None of these will get us back to Eden. 

Enjoying life and seeing eternity through the futility of things is a gift from God. That seems to be the most that this poet can settle for. But we know far more from the gospel. Jesus is able to take us “over the sun.” He has not only “set eternity on the hearts of men,” he has fulfilled that longing. 

Jesus breaks through the boarded-up gates to Eden. He gives us unfettered access to eternity. Where we aren’t bound by time, where futility isn’t woven into our clocks. He leads us into a land of is. There isn’t merely a time for sunsets and rainbows — sunsets and rainbows just are. This is where Christ is taking us.

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 135-137. Published by HarperCollins.

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Mike Leake is husband to Nikki and father to Isaiah and Hannah. He is also the lead pastor at Calvary of Neosho, MO. Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and Jesus Is All You Need. His writing home is http://mikeleake.net and you can connect with him on Twitter @mikeleake. Mike has a new writing project at Proverbs4Today.