Question: "What are the heavenly places/realms?"
Answer: The phrase “heavenly places” or “heavenly realms” is used several times in the book of Ephesians (1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12). This phrase is translated from the Greek word epouranios, meaning “the sphere of spiritual activities.” “Heavenly realms” can refer to both angelic and demonic activity. Ephesians 1:20 says that God “raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.” But Ephesians 6:12 speaks of evil forces in the same realm: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against . . . the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
As flesh-and-blood humans, we have very little understanding of the spirit world. We cannot see, hear, or touch it. However, the Bible assumes it, and we can glean insight into a world we cannot see by studying what God tells us about it. First of all, God is spirit (John 4:24). He exists outside the bounds of time, space, and matter. His home is called heaven (Acts 7:55; Isaiah 63:15), but this is a distinct place, not to be confused with “the heavens,” referring to the atmosphere (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 148:4), or the “heavenly realms,” which encompass all spirit beings. In God’s heaven, He sits on a throne (Matthew 23:22; Hebrews 4:16), surrounded by adoring angels (Revelation 7:11; Psalm 99:1) who exist to serve God and minister to His saints (Hebrews 1:14; Matthew 4:11; Genesis 19:1). Angels also have the ability to appear as men when sent to deliver messages from God (Genesis 18:2, 16–17; 19:1–2; Daniel 10:5–6).
However, the dark side of the heavenly realms belongs to Satan and his evil spirits. Satan is not the counterpart to God. God has no challenger. Satan is a created being who has only the power God allows him to have for only as long as God allows it (Isaiah 14:12; Luke 22:31; Revelation 12:12). Yet, for reasons known only to God, Satan and his minions are allowed to wreak havoc upon the earth and the servants of God—if unchecked by spiritual warfare and the holy angels. Daniel 10 gives us the best glimpse into what happens in this world we cannot see. An angel was dispatched by God to deliver a message to Daniel as he prayed, but the messenger was detained for three weeks by “the prince of Persia,” a demon (verse 13). The angel later told Daniel that he had to have help from Michael the archangel in order to prevail and continue on the assignment God had given him.
This glimpse into the heavenly realms helps us understand a few things. First, we learn that there is fierce warfare taking place at all times. Satan and his demons are actively working to thwart the plans of God and destroy whatever they can (see John 10:10). If a mighty angel on a mission from God could be detained by demonic forces, then demons must have great power. Second, God does not leave His children defenseless against this evil army. Second Corinthians 10:4 says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” Ephesians 6:11–17 tells us exactly what armor we need to stand firm against the temptations and schemes of the devil. In ourselves, we are no match for Satan’s devices. We need spiritual armor to fight spiritual battles. The third truth we can learn from the Daniel passage is that prayer gets God’s attention and that His answer is on the way. There are forces unknown to us that may interfere with God’s desire to aid us, and we must continue to persevere in prayer until the answer comes (see Luke 18:1; Ephesians 6:18).
The heavenly realms are as real as the earthly realms. We will spend most of our lives living in the heavenly realms (2 Corinthians 5:1; 1 John 5:11). In contrast, our earthly existence is only a “vapor that appears for a little while and is gone” (James 4:14). Physical battles may seem intense, but the results are temporary. However, spiritual battles have eternal consequences. When we live our earthly lives in recognition of the unseen battles that rage all around us, we will be more careful about what we say and do (Ephesians 5:15–16; 2 Corinthians 2:11). We will be faithful to utilize our weapons of prayer and the armor of God, knowing that the real battles are fought and won in the heavenly realms.