The more we study the Bible, we will begin to notice words or phrases that are peculiar to a certain writer or book. For instance, the word “know” (Gr. gnosis) appears more than 30 times in 1 John. In the book of Hebrews, we find the word “better” more than 12 times. And in the book of Philippians, the words “rejoice” and “joy” are found more than 15 times.
Each of these would make for an excellent study, and perhaps we can consider them on another occasion, but I want us to look at the book of Ephesians, where the phrase “heavenly places” appears 5 times. This phrase is exclusive to the letter to the church at Ephesus.
In Ephesians 1:3, the phrase is used to speak about the spiritual blessings (ie. adoption as sons, forgiveness of sins, seal of the Spirit, salvation, inheritance, assurance, hope, comfort, fellow Christians, etc.) available to the children of God. These spiritual blessings are only available “in Christ” (or “in Him,” a phrase which occurs 25+ times in the book). But our phrase, “in the heavenly places” is also used.
So, what are the heavenly places? Paul is not saying we must wait until we get to heaven to access blessings in Christ. The list previously mentioned are all enjoyed by God’s people in the here and now in prospect of a future heavenly home. If we focus on things above (Col 3:1-2), walk in the light, and are led by the Spirit (Rom 8:9, 14; Gal 5:16, 18), then we are in the heavenly places. As God’s people, we should realize that there is more than this physical world we live in. There is a spiritual realm all around us. The New Testament says we’re part of a spiritual war (2 Cor 10:3-6; 1 Tim 1:18; 2 Tim 2:3). In fact, Paul would go on to say in Ephesians 6:12 that we do not battle a physical enemy, but “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” We’re in a spiritual battle in the spiritual realm.
In Ephesians 2:6 we find another reference to the “heavenly places.” Paul says we’re made alive with Christ (v 5), we’re raised with Christ (v 6), and that we sit together in the heavenly places in Christ (v 6).
This is not a reference to heaven, for in the next verse, he speaks of what God will do for us “in the ages to come” (v 7). That’s heaven. But if verse 7 is heaven, then what is verse 6 about? Again, it is the spiritual realm that we reside in. it is you and I realizing there are spiritual hosts and activity going on around us that exist beyond the dull blinders of physical existence.
We may not see an angel as some in the Bible did; a visible image of the Christ may not appear before us as it did for Daniel’s friends in the fiery furnace; the Angel of God may not stand in our way as He did before Balaam; but that doesn’t mean the spiritual realm is non-existent or inactive. Elisha’s servant could not see the hosts of heaven, but they were still there! God’s word says they are still there (Heb 1:14). We may someday unwittingly entertain angels, even as Abraham did.
Give us spiritual eyes, Lord, that we may see and know and dwell in the heavenly places.