In the Heavenly Places in Christ Jesus
Throughout Ephesians, Paul used the term “heavenly places” (one word in the original Greek):
- “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3).
- God “worked [great power] in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:20).
- God “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6).
- “Through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:10).
- “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).
What did Paul mean by “in the heavenly places?”
The Greek word—epouranios—is an adjective which means “heavenly.” Usage in classical Greek: Homer used the term only to refer to the gods; If the adjective was made into a noun (substantive use), the term referred to the gods (We use the substantive all the time—e.g., the term “divine” can be an adjective—a “divine being”—or can be a noun—“the Divine.”); and The word also meant “up to heaven.”
When we come to the New Testament, we find a broader use of the word:
“Heavenly” is applied to God: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matt 18:35).
“Heavenly” is applied to Christ: “As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven [lit, “the heavenly one], so also are those who are of heaven [lit, “of the heavenly ones. ”]. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven [lit, “of the heavenly one].” (1 Cor 15:48-49).
“Heavenly” is applied to the place where the celestial bodies are: “There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly [lit. “of the heavenly ones”] is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory” (1 Cor 15:40-41).
The term can also mean “heaven,” hence the translation of “heavenly places.” God “worked [great power] in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:20). “Through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:10). The “rulers” and “authorities” appear to be different types of heavenly beings.
There is more than one heaven (cf. 2 Cor 12:2). Almost everyone in the ancient world believed there were different levels of heaven (usually 3 or 7); Paul famously mentioned the third heaven in 2 Corinthians 12. Different spiritual beings lived in different levels of heaven; God lived in the highest—the purest—heaven. Thus, demonic forces could be said to live “in the heavenly places.” “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). “The heavenly places” mentioned in Ephesians 6:12 would certainly not be the same “heavenly places” where Christ dwells with the Father according to Ephesians 1:20.
The term can also mean “heavenly things.” “They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb 8:5). “Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things [not the same word we’ve been studying] to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these” (Heb 9:23).
Where does all of that leave us as we seek to understand “the heavenly places” in the first two chapters of Ephesians?
The location of all spiritual blessings in Christ is “in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3)
Some have seen the heavenly places mentioned in Ephesians 1:3 and 2:6 as the church. For example, Wilbur Fields in the College Press Bible Study Textbook series wrote in The Glorious Church: A Study of Ephesians: “Here in 1:3 and in 2:6, it seems to refer plainly to Christ’s church. This glorious institution is certainly a heavenly place. In the church our citizenship is in heaven. Phil 3:20. The church is called ‘the kingdom of heaven’ often in the parables of Christ” (p. 30). Since the early church would have thought of heaven in 3 or 7 (more likely 3) levels, it’s doubtful that they would have thought of “heavenly places” here as the church.
I would suggest that seeing “heavenly places” in Ephesians 1:3 and 2:6 as the church is reading our understanding of the totality of the Scriptures back into the text instead of allowing this text to speak for itself. In other words, we know: (1) That all blessings are in Christ; (2) That the only way to get into Christ is to be baptized into Christ (Gal 3:27); (3) That those who are baptized into Christ become part of the body of Christ, i.e. the church (Acts 2:47); (4) We are not currently residing in the heavenly places. Therefore, the heavenly places in Ephesians 1:3 must be the church. The question I would pose is: “Would the original readers of this passage have understood ‘the heavenly places’ here to be the church?” That seems highly unlikely.
It seems that Ephesians 1:3 refers to the heavenly places as the origin of all spiritual blessings. All spiritual blessings are “in Christ” who is in the heavenly places (Eph 1:20). All spiritual blessings, in other words, originate in the heavenly places and make their way down to us through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Since Paul speaks of spiritual blessings rather than physical blessings, it’s also highly possible that Paul envisions us in a spiritual way in the heavenly places with Christ where we get our spiritual blessings (see below).
We have been raised up with God and seated with him in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6)
In this paragraph, Paul was drawing a sharp contrast between the physical and the spiritual (e.g., he speaks of “the desires of flesh and senses,” v 3 vs. being made “alive together with Christ,” v 5). In that context, the apostle said that God had raised Christians up with himself and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. It seems that Paul was drawing a metaphorical contrast between the physical and the spiritual—in our sinful, physical lives prior to conversion we lived in the realm of sin (Eph 2:1-2), but in our spiritual, holy lives after coming to Christ, we dwell with Christ in the heavenly places.