The ideas of heaven and power raise false notions in our mind. We generally see heaven as a place to go to. In Greek thinking, the earth was wicked, and salvation was escaping the world to heaven.
Non-Hebrew ideas came into our view. We became corrupted by Greek culture, which individualised our faith, making it self-centred. We changed the gospel, claiming God’s aim is to take us out of the world to heaven. Even the resurrection of our body has been overthrown in many people’s minds.
The idea of power has been corrupted. We have taken on a self-centred concept of heaven and a self-centred concept of power. God came in Christ to show us what power means. We still corrupt it, to mean force. When we say in these notes that heaven designates power, we don’t mean God’s use of force. God’s power is entirely different to this human idea of power.
Heaven Means Rule
In the Old Testament, the highest heaven represented where God rules. It means the rule of God over the earth. Visions of heaven weren’t of literal scenes, but of symbols, metaphors, about what heaven is decreeing and doing concerning earth’s renovation and renewal (often also called judgement). Even in Revelation, heaven is seen in this pictorial way, describing what was happening on earth from God’s perspective.
This doesn’t mean that heaven is not a place somewhere. That kind of thing is outside our human frame of reference. The bible doesn’t answer our curiosity. In scripture, heaven simply means God’s rule over earth, and the values he rules by, nothing more. In scripture, heaven is not ever seen in Greek individualistic terms. The Old Testament never saw heaven as a place to go to when we die.
Heaven was about a general world renewal for us all. The Hebrew spoke of heaven and earth in conjunction. They are to come together in Christ, and in the new creation.
Ephesians begins with Paul’s blessing, showing that we believers have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ. This needs to be understood Hebrewly. It’s like Paul’s claim in Ephesians 2, that we have been raised up and seated with Christ in the heavenlies. This means, that though we are on earth, we are invested with heavenly power. This power isn’t the power to curse our enemies, but to serve them.
The vision that Paul was portraying was the Hebrew vision, of God’s rule and presence coming to the earth through his new people. It is the vision of Daniel 7, where after Christ was seated at the right hand of power, he ruled over the nations through his saints in the world. In Daniel, heaven also is depicted simply as God’s rule and authority over the nations. God’s redemptive and reconciliatory rule has come, and is coming, to the world, through the church. This is what Paul’s blessings mean.
A Hebrew Vision
Ephesians opens with a reiteration of the Hebrew gospel, God’s plan of soteriology, or what we call salvation. And this is the coming of heaven and earth together in reconciliation, in world renewal.
This is what the Prophets said, “The glory of the Lord shall cover the earth.” This is what the book of Revelation shows in the last chapters. Heaven and earth have joined for total renewal.
Even the first verses in Ephesians are a Hebrew blessing. “Grace and peace to you.” To people like Paul, this recalls the shalom of creation, the commission of Adam and Eve to bring that shalom to the world. This was still the Jewish view in Paul’s day, and what he believed was being fulfilled through the gospel of Christ.
The vision of Ephesians isn’t a Greek one, of the believers going to heaven when they die. It was a Hebrew vision, of heaven coming to earth through our lives. This is what the believers at Ephesus were seeing when they read the letter from Paul.
In chapter 1, Ephesians continued to unveil God’s plan. In verse 10, God is bringing together all things in heaven and earth. Heaven and earth are uniting in Christ. Heaven is renewing the world through the church. This was Paul’s gospel. This is what Paul meant by salvation. Paul concluded verse 23, by saying the church is Christ’s body, through which God fills all things. He is filling his whole creation through his new temple.
In the Old Testament, the temple was the place where heaven and earth joined. It was the conduit, where heaven flowed out from, into the nations. Paul was saying that the church is that temple. We are the place where heaven comes down to earth and renews all things. God fills his whole creation, by coming through his new temple people, out into the world.
In chapter 3:10, Paul continues this theme. God is revealing his wisdom to the principalities and powers of the world. Whenever a Jewish person spoke of wisdom, they were referring to God’s creation. Proverbs 8, and many other texts like that, show us that God made the world through his wisdom. Wisdom speaks of God’s creational power. In the New Covenant, wisdom speaks of God’s new creational method.
We will see this later, when we look at Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. There, wisdom is God’s foolishness, or God’s weakness. It is his counter cultural plan. It is his cross. This was to renew the hearts and relationships of the Corinthian believers, and spill over from the church, into their communities, bringing a heavenly styled transformation to the world.
This is the wisdom, that Paul says in Ephesians, is being revealed to the powers of this world through the church. The powers of the world are those things in heavenly places that exert rule over humanity. They are multiple. Some are spiritual, as in Eph 6:12. We believe this means demonic powers, but it may also refer to impulses that control natural people, with destructive biases that go unnoticed until Christ opens our eyes. Spiritual powers have been dethroned through the cross of Christ, they have lost their power. But they struggle to regain their power, through deception.
Principalities of Division
The powers also include human governments and their manipulative deceptions which influence humanity. These things – propaganda, rumours, lies, selfish sentiments – are rife in our world today.
The powers Paul mentioned also include our religious walls which divide us. Paul speaks of these in Colossians, as we have seen. Anything that rules over humanity, to divide and destroy our relationships, and frustrate God’s creational program of renewal in Christ, are called powers in the heavenlies, meaning above, ruling over human responses and behaviour.
In Ephesians, Paul speaks of God’s plan to bring all things in heaven and on earth into unity in Christ, for global transformation. This unity doesn’t mean we all act the same way, but that Christ’s life and nature become a reconciling wisdom between our different groups in the world. It is the same as Paul’s vision in Romans, where through the church, creation is delivered from its bondage to corruption. This is achieved through the church’s new wisdom, which is a self-giving redemptive life style, that brings renewal to relationships and justice to our wider communities.
Paul claim about the heavenly powers concerns their rule within human imaginations, that seek to bring division and destruction to God’s whole creation. These divisions are peddled within our cultures for the sake of selfish interests. This selfishness is the governing power that we are in captivity to. It works in our minds to deny God’s creational wisdom of reconciliation, the self-giving wisdom of the Sermon on the Mount.
Ephesians 2 was an example of things on earth coming together in Christ. It was the Jews and gentiles. Previously, their religious traditions had separated them, acting as a power governing their refusal to serve each other, to bring justice to the world. But the cross had broken the dominion of these traditions. Paul called people to lay aside their nationalism, by which they had been manipulated into destructive divisions, and instead seek to heal each other. Because the Jewish leaders stood to lose considerably from this new arrangement, Paul was maligned for it.
Ephesians shows that God is calling us to put aside patriotism and our other self-centred dominions, and seek to bring healing to each other, through mutual care and justice. The church is to practice this within our own faith community, by bringing down these powers of division within our own hearts, and then allow this new wisdom to spill over into the world, renewing the powers that control self-centred destruction in our wider world.
We read Ephesians 6 in the light of the Hebrew gospel of world renewal that Paul was declaring.
Resisting the powers and standing in faith, means resisting the self-centred persuasions that come to divide us from each other, and instead taking up a cross-centred posture of service towards the world. This is how the church reaches the sinner, not with stones. This overcomes satan’s work of dividing and destroying. God’s kingdom gathers and heals.
The result of our misreading Paul’s soteriology, and misconstruing texts about heaven, is we develop a wrong posture in the world. Instead of renewing this world through counter-cultural leaven, we view salvation being fulfilled in heaven. This allows us to adopt more divisive ways of overcoming our challenges. We may turn to Moses to support this, and not to the Sermon on the Mount. We may look to Constantine for our salvation, and not to the self-giving wisdom of new creation.