Good News in Ecclesiastes
Where is the gospel in Ecclesiastes? I think this is a good question with regard to Ecclesiastes being an Old Testament book but also the tone of the book which is some interpret as negative.
We can find the gospel in two themes in Ecclesiastes.
1. “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Ecclesiastes 3:11a This is a statement that follows the declaration of God’s order in creation. Ecclesiastes 3:1 states that “For everything there is a season, and time for every matter under heaven.” Then follows a list of seven pairs of life occurrences in verses 2-8. These seven pairs represent the totality of life making these verses, which are the most popular in Ecclesiastes thanks to the Bryds, a statement of God’s providence. We have 7 pairs listed or twice the number 7 which represents perfection in the Scripture.
God organizes all the events of our lives and he does so without being the author of evil. How is this the case? It is a mystery which is alluded to in Ecclesiastes 3:11b, “so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”
All of God’s providential activity, all of his organizing the events of our lives, how the list of activities in verses 2-8 fit together in our life, will end in God making everything beautiful. This is the gospel message in Ecclesiastes.
All things being made beautiful. Sounds like Romans 8:28 doesn’t it? “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The Bible from Genesis to Revelation is a book about God redeeming a people to himself. It is about him restoring what was lost in the fall. That redemptive program is seen in the promise of Genesis 3:15 and the fulfillment of that promise in Revelation 21:1 and 5. It is as if in the messiness and seeming chaos of life (depicted well in Ecclesiastes 9:11), Solomon reminds us where this is all headed through the proto-gospel statement in 3:11.
2. The fear of God (Ecclesiastes 3:14, 5:7, 8:13, 12:13) is the second gospel declaration seen in Ecclesiastes. The fear of God is the motivation for holy living. Since God occupies the supreme place in the universe, our reverence and respect for him drives us to live in ways that are in accord with his character and desire. To fear God is to obey him, not for our salvation, but because of it.
The rescue God has affect through Christ transforms our lives so that God’s commands are not “have to” but “want to.” The fear of God is the animating principle which energized the Old Testament saints to love God and follow his commandments. We stand on the other side of the cross from Solomon. The deliverance he looked forward to is the deliverance we look back on. Whether you are looking forward or backward faith is still the operating principle (Romans 4:1).
Paul declares the gospel in Romans 1:16 as “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” This power that changes us at our deepest core is a power that comes to those who fear God. Where God is feared he is followed not out of servile pressure but delight because of the knowledge of who God is (Galatians 4:1-7).
So there you have it. The gospel in Ecclesiastes seen in the redemptive power of God to make all things beautiful in their time (3:11)—a theme central to the whole message of the Bible—and the fear of God which so impacts the hearts of God’s followers that it empowers them to live for him.