Ecclesiastes 3 speaks about the vanity of all things. Life is an endless cycle, in which nothing is new. What is the point of our lives? This article speaks about how we have eternity set into our hearts, and this gives us a reason to rejoice.

2008. 9 pages. Transcribed by Diana Bouwman. Transcription started at .

Heaven: Does It Exist? Heaven Series: Part One

Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 and 1 Corinthians 15:12-19.

What does Scripture teach us about heaven? Tonight we want to think about [a] simple question: Does it even exist? We pray to God, “Our Father, who art in heaven”; we recite the words of the creed, that God is the “Maker of heaven and earth”; and we express our hope “in the life everlasting” and (as the Nicene Creed says) “the life of the world to come.” So there you are talking to your neighbour, and the question comes up about heaven and hell, salvation and sin. We speak about heaven and we speak about hell, and we speak about salvation and we speak about sin, but yet it begs the question: Does it even exist? Are we speaking in vain, as Paul would say from our text? What is the profit of all of our toil, as the writer of Ecclesiastes writes?

Think with me, just for a moment, about the world around us, the culture in which we live, and its views of heaven. You are going to be speaking to your friends and your neighbours, and it is important to know what they might think (at least the statistically speaking) about heaven, eternity, hell, salvation, Christ, etc. Recently there was a survey done (October 2003) by the Barna Research Group. He does all kinds of statistical analysis of our country and even of Christians. I will give you a list of stats, mostly just to give you a sense of what people out there think.

His study revealed a few years past that 81% of Americans believe in some kind of an afterlife. So this is not an irrelevant question. 9% though said that life after death might exist, but they just were not really certain. So roughly 90% of Americans believe, more or less, that there is something beyond the grave. Another survey revealed this: that 80% of Americans said that the statement was true that “Every person has a soul that will live forever, either in God's presence or absence.” 76% of Americans believe that heaven exists, and 71% say that a thing like hell exists (although just 0.5% say that they are going to go there). Other stats reveal various things such as coming back in various life forms (5% of Americans). Some say they will cease to exist; they believe in a doctrine of annihilationism (5%). Of those who say heaven exists, 46% describe it as a state of eternal existence in God's presence. 30% say it is an actual place of rest and reward where souls go after death.

The point is that your neighbours have some sense of something beyond this life. There is something more than just their work, as we will see from the writer of Ecclesiastes. They know that inherently they might rebel against it and they might (as Paul says) suppress that knowledge, but everyone knows that there is something else than this life. It might be heaven, it might be hell, it might be reincarnation, it might be nirvana, it might be annihilation, but there is something to happen to us after we live this life.

Our purpose is to answer the question: Does heaven exist? And our overall purpose for this series of sermons is that we might, as 1 Peter 3:15 says, “be equipped to have a reason for the hope that is within us.” That you might be confident in heaven, in your eternal state, that we might have the assurance of our own salvation, but that we might be equipped and enabled according to Scripture itself to speak with our friends, our neighbours, and our loved ones about the wonderful existence of heaven but also the very fearful reality of hell.


Turn with me to Ecclesiastes 3. Does Heaven exist? Just a word about Ecclesiastes. I realize that the text I read is probably not the first place you are going to go to talk about heaven. It might seem very pessimistic, it might seem very difficult and it might seem very strange. But there is a reason why I chose it. So what does Ecclesiastes have to say? What is his relevance to this question of whether or not heaven exists?


The title “Ecclesiastes” is a Greek term that comes from a Hebrew term; the Hebrew term is “Qohelet.” You read in verse one of Ecclesiastes, where he says, “The words of the preacher, the son of David, King in Jerusalem.” “The words of the preacher”—most of your Bibles have some kind of a note there. The Hebrew term is “Qohelet,” and it is not so much a preacher like the man before you, but the root of the term is of one who convenes the assembly of the people of God. He is a convener; he is a gatherer of the assembly of the people of God. It comes from the root “qahal,” which means simply “the assembly.” The congregation that existed of the people of God.

So when we read that word “preacher” if you read Ecclesiastes, just insert the term “assembler” or “convener.” Those terms do not really communicate much, so they picked the term “preacher.” When I talk about Ecclesiastes, I am going to refer to the one who is speaking as “Qohelet.” That is his title. We do not know his name, but we know that his title is Qohelet, so we will use that as his name.


Now, what is so fascinating about Ecclesiastes is that it is such a pessimistic book. After all, we just read a verse like Ecclesiastes 3:9: “What gain has the worker from his toil?” If everything is the way it is in verses 1-8, what is the point? That is what Qohelet is saying to us. As one writer says, “Ecclesiastes has a despairing, wrist-slashing air to it.” This is not a hopeful book. This is not a place to turn to talk to your neighbours about the joys of heaven. It is a place to go to talk about this life and there is something beyond this life, but there are other texts which speak about the joys and the bliss of heaven.

We might think, “Why would the Word of God have a “wrist-slashing” type of book?” It just does not seem to make much sense. God has said in the beginning all things were good, and He said at the very end of his creative work, “Very good.” But yet Ecclesiastes begins by saying:

“Vanity of vanities,” says [Qohelet]; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” What does man gain by the toil at which he toils under the sun? Ecclesiastes 1:1-3, ESV

How can Scripture say on the one hand all things are good, on the other hand all things are vain and futile and worthless? The term as is related to the term “breath.” There is not much substance to it. You cannot really grasp it. It is just here a moment and it is gone the next.

Some have said the reason why the book is written like this is because it is Solomon writing. Solomon is raised up as the son of David, the great king, but yet we see his sins in Scripture and he falls, and this book is written at the end of his life. Here is old, wise Solomon, who reflects upon his life, and he is trying to communicate that, “In the time in which I fell (and now I have repented of that), this is how I lived. These are the things that I reflected upon.” That is one way of reading it.

There are others who say (and I think better, and even very interesting, which shows the creativity of the Holy Spirit in inspiring this book of Scripture) that it is not written by Solomon but there is an unnamed narrator. You can see this in the beginning of Ecclesiastes 1, and the very end of Ecclesiastes 12, where there is a prologue and an epilogue, an intro and a conclusion. The intro and the conclusion are written in the third person—somebody standing back and writing about Qohelet, about the preacher, the convener. The rest the book is written in the first person (“I said” and “I saw” and “I thought” and “I concluded”). So there is a narrator who begins and who ends the book, and the purpose of the book (as the end says) is that his son would not live in the folly of this worldview. In the midst of that, there is this person Qohelet, and the narrator assumes the name of Solomon and he assumes the persona of Solomon and all his wisdom, etc., to give it even more force as we might read it.

Again, the point of all that is to take upon a well-known name and a well-known figure from the Old Testament and to use him as the foil—the one who is writing and the one who is reflecting and the one who is speaking. Solomon of course, being so wise, would be one to turn to in terms of the vanity of this life apart from God.

Ecclesiastes is a very pessimistic, downtrodden, strange book. And commentators have not come up with a good structure for the book. There is not a very easy way of outlining it (i.e. here are the three points, and here are the sub-points, and here is how it all fits together). The point is that the book meanders. As you read the book, there does not seem to be much structure. It seems to be a little bit of this and a little of that, and he comes back to that, and he comes back to this, and the point is to say, “It is all just a mess.” Life under the sun is an absolute mess (apart from God that is).

Ecclesiastes’ Message🔗

Notice our text then. So here is Qohelet, our assembler. He is calling together the people of God and he is calling together the reader to hear his wisdom, to hear his thoughts, to understand what it is like to live in the world outside of God and outside of Christ.


So our first point in our text is tyranny. We have two points: tyranny and eternity. So does heaven exist? The first point I want to point out is this: the writer speaks about the tyranny of time. Does heaven exist? Well, before we can think about that, we must understand what is like to live in this world. Time is a tyrant; that is what Qohelet wants us to know.

So notice as he begins that his pessimism is no greater place than here in Ecclesiastes 3. The tyranny of time. Life. The constraints of living in a fallen world in which our death is inevitable. You might recognize Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 in the Byrds’ Turn! Turn! Turn! The Byrds just did not have it right. This text is not an idyllic, peaceful “There is a time for everything.” I always wondered in that song, “Why is it sung in such a lullaby type of tone when it talks about death and war and hating?” “There is a time for hate”! Beloved, there is a reason for that. This is not meant to be read with the idyllic tones that that famous song gave it. And it is not meant to be a text that is put on the front of funeral bulletins. This is often a text that we turn to to somehow give us a silver lining in that dark cloud. It is not meant to be that!

This text is meant to make us despair. It is meant to give us a sense of the fact that these things are inevitable. We will be born; we will die. There will be peace; there will be war. There will be times to love and there will be times to hate. That is just the way life is! And notice, as he speaks in verse one about seasons and times for every matter under heaven, he speaks about these things being inevitable. This is life! And he gives a series, a litany of polar opposites: born/die, plant/pluck, kill/heal, break/build, weep/laugh, mourn/dance, cast/gather, embrace/release, seek/lose, keep/cast, tear/sow, silence/speak, love/hate, war/peace. There is a time, a season, for all these things under heaven.

It is meant to show us the sovereignty of God in working all things as they come to pass, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says. Notice verse nine: he asks that question as he recounts life under heaven. “This will happen, that will happen… It is inevitable.” And so he concludes: What gain is it to work? If it is true that simply all I am going to do is live for a time and I will be one who “plugs in” these various aspects of life, what is the point? What is the gain? I am going to die anyway! All my things that I have built will be destroyed; all the things I planted shall be plucked; all the people I have loved they shall hate, and I have embraced, they shall release. What is the point of all of this?

Verse ten: “I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.” God has ordained all things that come to pass, and Qohelet knows that. We see that in our experience. We run and we work and we are like that little mouse on that wheel. We will never get the piece of cheese! I work and I work and I work, and I always get behind and behind and behind. We have children, and what a joy it is, but then Saturday is absolutely busy. It is games, games, games! Sunday is busy, our life is busy, our work never ceases, our bills always pile up, our worries never end, our struggles never cease. I have seen the busyness that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.

And then he says in verse eleven: “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” There is a praise song In His Time that, again, totally misses the boat. The term he uses here can be translated “beautiful,” but also it can be translated as “suitable,” or “appointed.” As one commentator says, the beauty of how all things work together is the fact that they are ordained. Everything that God has made has a suitable, appointed time and place. That is the beauty of it. God knows all things from beginning to end. He is the Alpha and the Omega. But again, this is the despair of it. I work; I go to sleep; I wake up tomorrow. Nothing changes. It is like that movie Groundhog Day. It just never ends. You never get out of that cycle.

And it is despairing! It is hopeless! Although our neighbours know that heaven exists or there is something beyond the grave, they also (and us too) know the angst and the struggle of life. If this is what it is like (and this he is describing apart from God), how despairing and how depressing it must be for our loved ones who are outside of Christ! I can remember my life in these terms, and I am sure many of you can as well. God has given men to be busy. He has made all things appointed, and in that we find their beauty. That he appoints all things in its time.

Are you depressed? Do you feel in your hearts what Qohelet, the preacher or the convener, is saying? All things have their appointed times. The sun rises and then it sets. We are born and God ordains the number of our days, the psalmist says. You cannot add or take away a second. He knows the hairs on your head. They are falling out; they are getting grey; you are dying! The alarm goes off, you work; you race home; you go to sleep; you awake the next day. All we are really doing, in a sense (as Qohelet is trying to convey) is simply being plugged into various jobs. All we are doing is filling time. All we are doing is just doing what God has commanded us and called us and ordained for us to do. It seems as if there is never an end. There is no purpose. I go to work; I pay for my kids' school; I pay for my bills; I try to fund our retirement; I will never have enough.

So when does it end? So that is why he concludes (notice this tyranny that exists in this life):

I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away. Ecclesiastes 3:14-15, ESV

Time is a tyrant. He is an enemy. And your days are counting down. This is the life of man apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. In the context of the old covenant: apart from the Lord—the Lord of the covenant, God himself, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.


And here is a vivid picture of life after the Fall. This is what happened! You want to know what original sin looks like? Here it is! This is the curse that God has placed upon us. Our [Belgic] Confession of faith describes the fall of Adam in the garden when it says this: “By sin Adam separated himself from God, who was his true life.” God created Adam for life—for eternal life, for heaven. By his sin he separated himself from that, seeking his own life. Adam was separate from that, and so now are we.

But the narrator of Ecclesiastes—as he takes on the name and the persona and he speaks of himself as the person of this Qohelet, he speaks about his tale, his pessimistic nihilism—yet throughout the book you will notice that there are little glimpses of hope. There are little glimpses of something beyond this life. And that is why we want to look at the second part of verse eleven, which speaks about eternity.

So there is tyranny of time, but in all of that there is a little faint glimpse of something (as Qohelet says in verse eleven), and we call that eternity. “Also, [God] has put eternity into man's heart.” God has put eternity into man's heart! In that rat race, that rat knows there is something else. In your work, in your toil, in your labour, you know in your heart of hearts there is something greater. This is why one writer said this:

This quest is a deep-seated desire, a compulsive drive, because man is made in the image of God…. Man has an inborn inquisitiveness and capacity to learn how everything in his experience can be integrated to make a whole. W. Kaiser Jr, Ecclesiastes: Total Life, p. 66

God has put eternity into his image-bearers hearts. He has made us this way. From the very beginning, God instilled in man—in Adam and Eve—a desire and a capacity for eternal fellowship with God. The Fall, of course, separates him from that. And he writes here that God, in the midst of this tyranny, has put eternity into the hearts of his creatures—his sons, his daughters, even his enemies. Through the common grace of God, even the most vile atheist has this sense of eternity in his or her heart.

So does heaven, does something, exist beyond the toil of the tyranny of our time in this life? According to the speaker, notice two points about what he says about eternity into our hearts.

A universal belief. He says that eternity is a universal reality. “He has put eternity into man's heart”—all men, women, and children know this. All cultures in all times and all places testify that there is more to life than what we can see and experience. For example, some ancient cultures believed that the soul lived near the grave. The body was put in a grave but the soul lived right there, and the family members had to go and give food and take care of that soul. Don't we go to the graveside and put flowers there? Even the most vile atheist might put flowers near a grace. It is an outward expression of that which is in our own hearts. We know there is something greater, though we might repress it. That is at least one example from ancient cultures. 

Don't we also know that some believe that there is a reincarnation? Life is a toil, there is a continual pessimism, and eventually as you are reincarnated from one state to another state and over and over and over again, you finally reach nirvana. What is nirvana? It is unconscious eternal existence. To get out of this life is the goal of your neighbours who might have some sort of Buddhist philosophy. Get out of this life, and not even know it, but for eternity just be!

The Greeks believed that after death the soul was taken across a river. That is why you would put a coin in the person's mouth as they were buried. The coin was then taken, and then you would go across the river to either a place of reward or punishment. Even Plato, the great philosopher, believed in something greater. Although he believed in the pre-existence of the soul and in the immortality of the soul, there was something in his heart that he knew.

It is a universal phenomenon. It is a universal belief. “He has put eternity into man's heart.” So when you talk to your neighbour, assume it. Just like Paul says in Romans 1, all people know God exists (except those in unrighteousness who suppress it, of course). They know it is there! And you can speak to them, because they have that dignity as the image-bearers of God that they were made for eternity. The question is where they are going to spend it.

An internal belief. But notice also, as Qohelet describes it, that “God has put eternity into man's heart.” It is not just a universal phenomenon, but it is an internal phenomenon and belief. It is within. It is a part of our makeup. It is a part of how we were made and formed in the image of God—to have this eternal desire for an eternal dwelling place. We all crave it and we all long for it! That is why your neighbours, who work so hard in the week, go out into the desert and they do all their things with all their fun toys—they are trying to escape! They want something beyond this life; they just do not know how to get it. They create their own reality, their own rest, their own escape, because it is within their hearts. It is just repressed.

Qohelet speaks about life apart from God. That is why it is so pessimistic. This is what is in the minds and this is what is in the heart of your neighbour. He may not express it, but this is what he is thinking. What is the gain of all this? Why should I have kids? Why should I work? Why should I do anything? Time is just that most tyrannical of enemies.

Our hope and joy. But yet the apostle Paul writes to us about the hope for those who are not outside of Christ but those who are within Christ. Paul says in Colossians 3 that we who are in Christ, our lives are “hidden with Christ in God.” And because our lives are hidden with Christ in God—the Creator of heaven, the invisible realm, and the earth, the visible realm—the God who has created heaven and who has created the eternal place for us to dwell, the God who has created in our hearts this desire and longing and capacity for eternity, that God is our life! Our lives are hidden with him. And therefore we can, as Koheleth says, be joyful! We can do good. We can eat and we can drink. We can take pleasure even in the toil of our work. There is the Protestant work ethic thousands of years before it existed—taking pleasure, although it is toilsome, in that work.

In fact, verse 13 says, “This is God's gift to man.” Back in Ecclesiastes 2 (again, there are little glimpses throughout Ecclesiastes of this hope amidst despair), Qohelet says:

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to the one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. Ecclesiastes 2:24-26, ESV

We have that life of eternity made real for us in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ, eternity who himself became time and became human for us. Who stepped into our shoes and who lived in our plane. Qohelet longs for eternity. He longs for the consummation of all things. He wants this stuff to end! He wants something more. He wants his toil no longer to be meaningless. In the midst of his meaningless life—9 to 5 [o’clock] for some of us, 6 to 6 for many of us, or even longer than that—he gives us a glimpse that we can have pleasure in this life already, because that life has been given to us in Christ.

That is why we read from the apostle Paul’s words: “If Christ has not been raised” (if there is no resurrection of anyone at all, let alone Christ), “our preaching is futile and your faith is in vain. We are misrepresenting God as ministers of the gospel.” And he says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:14-15, 19).

Do you get his point there? If you are trusting in Christ just to help you cope, just to get through life ([life] is hard! I know that!)… If we have made this story up and it is just a way to sort of be the opium for the masses… If it is kind of a way to make life a little easier, sort of like the movie The Matrix: The guy who turns on Neal at the end, his whole life is an illusion, and he comes to realize that and he says, “Ignorance is bliss,” and he eats the steak which has no flavour at all, but he has been told that it has and he just pretends that does… If we only have hope in this life, if we only hope in Christ for this life…we are of all people most to be pitied! He goes on later on in the text and he says, “You know what? If this is the case, eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Done. End. Story done. Close the book. If we only hope in Christ in this life, we are of all men most to be pitied.

So does heaven and eternity exist? Yes, it exists. Even the pessimist Qohelet knew it. He knew what Jesus' resurrection proves. He knew what Jesus' resurrection brought and gave to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are not those who hope in Christ merely in this life. We are not those who are most to be pitied. In fact, those who are apart from Christ are those who are to be pitied. Eternity (which is in our hearts) outside of God and apart from Christ—that is the pity of the world that is so fallen in which we live.

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