My friend Felecia from A Life Sanctified (a wonderful blog, I highly recommend you follow) asks:
Q: Ephesians 6:12 says (in the NLT) “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
As you probably know, I did a blog post on this verse and purposely didn’t address what falls after the last comma because I don’t really understand it. I’ve always been a touch concerned about the “evil spirits in heavenly places.” WHY would God allow evil spirits in Heaven? Is “heavenly places” some peripheral part of Heaven? Perhaps just outside the pearly gates where Pinkerton’s patrol to keep out the “evil spirits?”
This is a great question Felecia, and I do have some thoughts. Admittedly some of what follows is extrapolated from what is written explicitly, but I will try to document why I believe what I believe as much as possible. The executive summary is that there are three different things referred to as "heavens" in the Bible.
The Third Heaven
Let’s start with Paul’s telling of his (we assume) trip to the “third heaven.”
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago--whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows--such a man was caught up to the third heaven. - 2 Corinthians 12:2
From his description
was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. - 2 Corinthians 12:4
I think it is safe to say this is what you and I might call heaven, where you would find the throne room of the Almighty. This is the place described by John, Isaiah and others, the location of the sea of glass, and that heavenly worship service.
This would also be the heaven we are invited to be seated in, since it is the heaven Jesus was raised up to:
which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, … and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, - Ephesians 1:20, 2:6
The First Heaven
Then there are many references in the Bible that speak of the “heavens” that are clearly that which we can see and perceive with our natural senses.
For the choir director. A Psalm of David. The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. - Psalms 19:1
This to me is a precursor to Paul’s comments in Romans 1
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. - Romans 1:20
This heaven is visible and reachable if you have the right equipment all by natural means.
The Second Heaven
Then there is another aspect that the Bible speaks of as another heavenly realm, which you have referenced here.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. - Ephesians 6:12
We see it in Daniel 10 where Daniel prayed in Chapter 9 and heard nothing for twenty-one days. Finally an angelic messenger makes an entrance, and describes a battle between what I take to be “spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” and Michael the Archangel.
Then he said to me, "Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia. - Daniel 10:13
Since this is for the most part an invisible realm, my understanding is that, to put it in natural terms (which will always fall a bit short in explanation of supernatural reality) it exists more or less in the same space that we are in. To think of it in SciFi terms – an alternate reality, that co-exists, and is just as real, or perhaps more real, that what we can touch and feel.
In this day and age of wireless communications, microwaves, and satellite signals, it is not a stretch for anyone to understand that there are things going on beyond what we can feel and see.
So – if that satisfies, you can stop reading here. I do have a couple further thoughts that might muddy it up a bit.
We do know that at least at one time, satan stood before the throne (I guess I am actually assuming it is in the throne room) and accused our brother Job. This has often complicated my understanding of God not allowing sin in His presence.
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. - Job 1:6
I suppose that does not have to be in heaven – could have been on earth – or some other neutral territory, since long before Job was on the scene, satan was cast out of the Third heaven.
One last thing – my understanding – though I would not defend this to the death – is that the pit of hell is actually in heaven. This comes from Revelation 14:
…he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name." - Revelation 14:10-11
Well – that’s enough unpleasantness for today. I hope that sheds a bit of light on the heaven question.
What do you think? Please jump in and add to, or correct what I have said. The conversation is the best part.
I bet Pastor Joe Lillie (@josephlillie) could shed more light on the matter. He is doing (and has been for quite some time) a series blogging through every mention of heaven in the Bible simply called Heaven. You should check it out.
See you again soon.