Conflict gripped Sri Lanka in 1988, with two terrorist groups dominating different regions in the country. I was in Colombo to preach when a curfew was imposed, but my hosts managed to get a curfew pass to Kandy. While driving, we noticed that the roads were deserted with numerous checkpoints along the way. The city was locked down and everyone was taking refuge in their houses.
The old car that my doctor friend was driving developed a punctured tyre on a small road in Colombo. The car stopped just outside a bicycle repair shop, and it took my friend considerable effort to persuade the owner to repair the tyre. He finally came out and with his simple tools managed to do the job.
Just then a military convoy drove by. In one of the cars, I could clearly see the face of the president of Sri Lanka who was in the car. After the convoy left, we felt shivers run down our spines. It was curfew time, and the sight of some men along the roadside would have made the military escorts trigger-happy, but they rode by as if they did not see us, as if we were invisible.
Several other things occurred during that trip that reminded me that there was an unseen world. The unseen world is expressed in the Bible through instances such as when the prophet Elisha was surrounded by the Aramite army in Dothan. He calmly prayed for his fearful servant’s eyes to be opened. The servant then saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire – the armies of God (2 Kings 6:15-17).
Paul used the term “heavenly places” five times in Ephesians (ESV). This phrase is best understood to refer to spiritual realties where Jesus reigns in His kingdom. We are called to live in this spiritual kingdom, as we go about with the routines of our earthly existence.
Firstly, every spiritual blessing is in Christ in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3). We need not look elsewhere for spiritual blessings. We need only to focus on Christ. We can easily forget this as we get caught up in the business and activities of this world, only to realise later that we have been looking around everywhere to be blessed except to Christ.
Secondly, Christ was raised from death to be seated at the Father’s right hand in the heavenly places (Eph 1:20). He rules from there with sovereign authority. The resurrection of Jesus vindicated Christ who is Himself God. Death could not hold Him and He now reigns in the heavenly places.
Thirdly, God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6). The story of Christ (death, resurrection, ascension) becomes our story too when we believe in Him and are baptised into His death and resurrection (Rom 6:5). The past tense of the verbs asserts that we are already experiencing this heavenly place blessing. It will be made complete when Christ comes again (Eph 2:7).
Fourthly, through His grace working in our lives, God has made us object lessons for the “rulers and authorities” (angels) in the heavenly places (Eph 3:10). You and I are God’s lesson plan in the cosmic classroom. What an amazing calling!
Finally, the heavenly places are where spiritual combat takes place (Eph 6:12). In the unseen spiritual world, great battles are being fought in societies and souls. Our role is to stand firmly. We would be foolish to ignore this reality.
In summary, the heavenly places tell us the following:
➢ Look up to Christ for all your blessings.
➢ Bend your knee before Christ for He rules over all.
➢ Sit calmly instead of running around restlessly.
➢ Let God use you to teach the cosmic powers.
➢ Stand firmly amid spiritual battle. Trust Christ. Live victoriously.
It is easy to become so secularised and this-worldly that we lose our sense of the heavenly places in which we are called to worship, live, serve and do spiritual battle. Are you living in the heavenly places even though you walk about on earth’s streets? Are you aware of spiritual realities surrounding you and operating within you? Are your spiritual eyes opened to see beyond earthly horizons?
Bishop Emeritus Dr Robert Solomon was Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore from 2000 to 2012. Currently retired, he now keeps busy with an active itinerant ministry speaking and teaching in Singapore and overseas.