Heavenly realms is a term we use for speaking about spiritual realities in spiritual dimensions. The term heavenly denotes a place higher or more perfect that our earthly one and the term realm contextualizes this place as being under the rule and reign of God. Though we understand that these heavenly realms are in another dimension it’s a mistake to believe that they are irrelevant to earthly matters. On the contrary, the Bible teaches that what happens in these spiritual realms has a direct bearing to what happens on earth. What’s more these realms are not remote and inaccessible to us, but closer than we often imagine.
The world of the science fiction novel is full of hidden worlds. Every child loves the stories of Narnia with it’s amazing wardrobe that leads to a magical realm. Then there’s Alice in wonderland, the strange adventures of a young girl who tumbles down a rabbit hole into a place that is ‘curioser and curioser’. These stories capture the popular imagination because we seem to love the idea of mysterious hidden worlds that are accessible from our own.
More recently we’ve enjoyed movies like ‘The Matrix’ that turn this concept inside out and have the real world as the one we can’t see, and the one we live in as the illusion. This is perhaps closer to the Gospel paradigm. Those who choose to can ‘get out of the matrix’ but the reality is dangerous and disturbing; so much so that some would rather go back to the illusion. But for those who embrace the true reality there is supernatural power to defeat the enemy through faith, hope and love.
All these fantasy stories have portals that transport their characters into other amazing worlds that are waiting to be explored. They are often places of adventure and danger, but also of courage and victory. And this is another important characteristic of these stories because they often take the most unlikely, average kinds of people and through their adventures transform them into significant leaders who accomplish great things.
The Kingdom that is Not of this World
Jesus often spoke of another world he called the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of heaven. Here’s some of the things he said about this world:
- We’ve got to be born again to see it and be like a child to enter it (John 3:3) (Mark 10:15)
- If we truly look for it we won’t have to worry (Matthew 6:33)
- It isn’t something we can point at and say there it is, but that it is among us or inside of us (Luke 17:20-21)
The Bible speaks of this spiritual dimension or realm and says that it is inhabited by spiritual beings. God is spirit so he himself inhabits this realm and there are also different types of angelic beings such as archangels and cherubim and seraphim. There are also places mentioned in this realm such as ‘the courts of heaven’ (Paslm 82:1) where strategic decisions are made and angelic messengers are dispatched on assignment (2 Chronicles 18). We even read of spiritual realities of earthly structures such as the tabernacle and the heavenly city (Hebrews 8:5, Revelation 21).
When the Bible speaks of ‘the highest heavens’ it’s speaking of this spiritual world called the Kingdom of Heaven. To the spiritually minded this world is far more real and enduring than the physical one. It does not decay and pass away but it is eternal.
The Apostle Paul had ecstatic experiences of being caught up into this heavenly reality that were so powerful he didn’t know if he was in his body or out of it. He said he was caught up into paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. He called this place the third heaven. (2 Corinthians 12:2)
There are lots of references to heaven or the heavens in the Bible but they are not all the same place. From Pauls reference to the third heaven we can rightly conclude that the Hebrews understood there was a first heaven and a second heaven too.
First Heavenly Realms
The understanding of the Hebrew writers was that the first heaven was the earthly atmosphere:
“The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands.” Deuteronomy 28:12
“Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons, . . . ” Acts 14:17
Second Heavenly Realms
The second heaven was the stars and moons and suns
“In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun . . . It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other, . . . “. Psalm 19:4, 6
Third Heavenly Realms
And the third heaven – (also the highest heavens) was where God dwelt
“(phrase repeated numerous times in following verses) …then hear from heaven, your dwelling place . . . ” 1 Kings 8:30
“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you.” 1 Kings 8:27
Now we know that God and man have an enemy the Bible calls the devil who was cast down from the highest heavens and now inhabits the lower heavens. These spiritual enemies are described in the Bible as thrones, powers, rulers and authorities; they have power in the second and first heavens. However through the transforming work of Jesus our spiritual eyes are opened to the third heavens and we are able to see and hear what the Father is doing and agree with it. (Colossians 3:2, Ephesians 2:6)
This helps us understand scriptures like this from Ephesians:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)
So when Jesus instructs us to pray to our heavenly father: “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6), he is saying, let the will of our Father God in the highest heavens thwart and overturn our enemies activities in the second and first heavens.
This activity is sometimes called ‘intercession’.
Too Heavenly Realms Minded?
There is an old saying that someone can be too heavenly minded to be any earthly good but the Bible teaches the contrary. It says we must set our minds on heavenly things if we are going to be any earthly good at all. (Colossians 3:2)
Jesus said many times that He only did what he saw his Father doing (John 5:19-20). Jesus had a way of seeing what was happening in the third heaven and carrying it out with what he said and did on the earth. It follows that as those who are born from above (John 3:3) and filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) we too should expect to ‘see’ what our heavenly Father is doing and carry out those plans in our lives.
These don’t have to be acts of greatness by mans standards; in fact they might not even be noticed by other people but, they may have great import and impact in the heavenly realms. What you do may be important for a bigger scheme that relies on you playing your part.
For example – you may sense that God has a plan and purpose for a place in your community. You might think, great, what has that got to do with me? Well, everything… because you are now Gods agent in the earthly realm that is going to make that happen, you are going to play a part in seeing Gods Kingdom come and his will being done; manifest right where you are today. Why don’t you take a walk and start declaring Gods plans and blessing over that building or land He showed you? You will be surprised at what may begin to unfold as you engage your faith to see ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. What we must decide, like many of our heroes in the stories we love, is which world is more real: this temporary one or the one that was unseen but now we see; the heavenly one?