Friday, November 18, 2011

The Heavenlies

Frank Krahmer/Corbis
In our past study we learned that the elements of both the natural and the spiritual were originally arranged to occupy one sphere. From the start, one was meant to be part of the other, and that is the way we still see it today. Spirit beings crossing over were not uncommon. God came down from His holy mountain in the cool of the day and spent time with Adam and the rest of His creation. Angels likewise were welcome to come across and intimately savor the beauty of God's creation, even to mingle with God incarnate likeness. We have also seen the probability that God's ethereal abobe of heaven may not really have been that semi-transparent floating city in the sky that we common picture after modern media's rendition, but as a very high mountain peak way above the clouds as several verses in the Bible support. From the pinnacle, God views His creation; from that point, He beholds the stars which the ancients believed then were attached to the clouds. So when Lucifer aspired to raise himself "above the stars of God" (Isaiah 14:13), there was no doubt he was planning to topple God from the highest point of the sacred mount of heaven, or "the mount of assembly." At this point we take off to venture into a world just below heaven but immediately right above the earth; a world represented by the clouds, known to some as the gateway to heaven. It is called the Heavenlies.

Digital Art/Corbi
The modern notion about two worlds invisible to yet intersecting each other is principally based on the corruption of sin that God’s presence can and ever will not endure. This was how the Spirit of God drew away from man “for they are only mortal flesh” (Genesis 6:3, New Living Translation), which if translated loosely means, “because they have chosen the path of corruption.” Yet even now in earth's corrupted state, the world continues to be a home for spirits and a crossroad of visiting spirits good and malevolent. And among these spirits of the latter type, one seized the heavenlies and turn it into his throne room.

Blue Lantern Studios/Corbis
In a prophetic narrative given by Ezekiel, this Guardian Cherub was in Eden (Ezekiel 28:13), adorned with “every precious stone,” his “settings and mountings were made of gold.” But “wickedness was found” (verse 15) in this “model of perfection” (verse 12). He filled his heart with rebellion and sought to overthrow God from His throne (Isaiah 14:13), raise himself above the other angels of heaven (Ibid.). The attempt failed miserably and, according to the Prophet Ezekiel, the Guardian Cherub was cast to the earth (Ezekiel 28:17), out of his heavenly position forever. Despite his fallen state, this spiritual being maintained his access traversing the physical sphere. In fact, he later successfully established a virtually permanent residence on the planet shortly after his fall. From then on, he had been able to found certain bases of his sinister operation in specific regions in the globe. Pergamum, for example, was singled out in the Bible to be one of these places (Revelation 2:13).

Though this angel failed in his ambition to overthrow God out of heaven, he settled for the next best thing of effectively wresting away from man his God-given authority to rule “over all the earth” (Genesis 1:26). In Adam’s failure to secure his Divine commission, the entire natural sphere was corrupted and the title of prince of the earth transferred from him to the Guardian Cherub (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). Out this ancient right did the Cherub derive his audacity to offer Jesus Christ “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” if He but just bow down and worship him (Matthew 4:9).

Swim Ink/Corbis
Because of this change of management in the natural world, the exchange of love, goodwill, wisdom, and joy between the spheres was vexed. What was like a thick cloud of sweet-smelling incense of devotion rising from man to heaven thinned into a faint mist, almost undetectable; and instead the stench of rebellion and corruption crept upward and saturated the pure white clouds of the sky. If heaven shut its windows in contempt on what was happening on the natural sphere, the former
Guardian Cherub whose name he changed to Satan, or “slanderer,” in his undying dream to make himself “like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14), seized the skies and made them his own heaven, just like the Most High.

The Heavenlies

It can be said that the skies became Satan’s fake heaven. Was there in any way a dethronement of Godly authority? Here is what happened.

The Bridgeman Art Library/Gettyimages
Satan, then known as Lucifer, the “morning star, son of the dawn” (Isaiah 14:12), learned a humiliating lesson about messing with the Most High. In Ezekiel 28:17 to 18, he was hurled to the earth, along with a third of the angelic host which made its choice of believing his delusion of becoming “like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14). In their fallen state, however, this angel of ambition somehow found his wish granted. According to his strategy in Isaiah 14, he would first “ascend to heaven” (verse 13) which he did, for a brief moment. Next, he would “raise [his] throne above the stars of God” (Ibid.) which, as we have mentioned, became a fact. In Revelation 12, John the Revelator noted “an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his head” (verse 3) that he identified as “the devil or Satan”(verse 9), with this historical detail: “His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth” (verse 4). In the Bible, angels were often referred to as stars. With this fallen third, Satan’s wish to rise “above the stars” was fulfilled.

Karl Maret/Corbis
Then in the fourteenth verse of Isaiah 14, he determined to “ascend above the tops of the clouds” to “make [himself] like the Most High.” According to the Bible, God Most High sits enthroned in a place called heaven, spiritually located “above the tops of the clouds.” The psalmist of Psalm 113 was very specific when he pinpointed God’s throne “above the heavens” (verse 4) or “above the sky,” even describing how He “stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth” (verse 6). Two chapters ahead in Psalm 115:16, King David declares: “The highest heavens belong to the Lord.” With God officially and undisputedly owning heaven, Satan, being regurgitated from his position and his holy place, had to settle for the next best thing: the clouds.

Gary Weathers/Tetra Images/Corbis
The earth has its imitation of heaven. Since ancient days, man’s earliest understanding of heaven was aided by the sight of the sky. Its vast stretch and inaccessible height was believed to have hidden a riddle of grandeur and of goodness that touched the earth and appreciated his existence. The rain, for instance, touches the ground and cools his world; brings the growing green to life; and floods the empty trenches with that which revitalizes flesh and blood. Because of this, mankind has learned to spiritually expect a wealth of good things from the sky called miracles, pleasant things of grace that benefited his chances to survive a brutal earth. This gratitude seems to be expressed in James 1:17 where the writer cited, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights….” Then as soon as the heavenly miracles were began to be seen as gifts, his curiosity shifted to this heavenly giver.

The Greek god Uranus is an example of the ancient peoples' appreciation and attempt to understand the sky by personifying it.

The Bridgeman Art Library/Gettyimages
The realm of the clouds was a very fertile dimension to establish domination. Being the most transcendent component of the natural sphere, whoever controlled it has conquered the earth, in spite of a higher heaven. In fact, the sky’s situation proved vitally strategic as it perfectly lay sandwiched between heaven and earth. This meant total control of anything exchanged between the natural and the supernatural. Satan seized this high region and remodeled it into a stronghold, a bastion to continue his campaign of defiance against God whom he swore to overthrow; against man who was favored with the authority to rule an entire creation; and against the earth, the world that has now served as his dead end. Unlike the radiant and festive atmosphere of heaven, the skies of the natural world were remote, silent, and lonely; yet it provided the fallen angels a convenient mock-up of the indigenous abode that they have lost in their unfaithfulness. This enthronement in the high place of the earth garnered Satan the title “ruler of the kingdom of the air,” as coined by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:2, and his minions, “thrones…powers…rulers…authorities” (Colossians 1:16), “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

Mayan Serpent ©Boris Vallejo 1983
The Apostle Paul made numerous references to the spiritual skies ruled by the demons calling it the “heavenly realms” or the “heavenly places” (mostly in the King James Version). It was a realm the ancients perceived as bustling with supernatural activity and conflict against the heaven of God, the result of which manifested in the natural either as a triumph for good, righteousness, and justice, or as a hostile usurpation of wickedness and perversion. The most vivid account of this ethereal struggle can be seen in the tenth chapter of Daniel, featuring an angel of God waylaid and overpowered by a demon named the “prince of the Persian kingdom” (verse 13):

“Then he [the angel] continued, ‘Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. The Michael, on of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia’” (verses 12 to 14).

Diego Lezema Orezzoli/CORBIS
The story introduced several figures of the spirit realm. Besides the angelic messenger, there was a prince (or principality, as used in Ephesians 1:21 and Colossians 2:10) who, apparently by his name, held a key sway over the affairs of the Persian kingdom; another divinity called the “king of Persia”; and the archangel Michael who was known to guard the people of Israel (12:1). Moving on to the twentieth verse, the angel tells the Prophet Daniel that his journey back to heaven will entail another fight with the prince of Persia, the result of which will bear a greater significance than an angel’s unhassled trip back home: the entrance of another spiritual official known as the prince of Greece (10:20). Daniel’s life at this period was at a twilight, and so was the Persian kingdom. He had seen how Jerusalem fell into Babylonian hands. Later, he witnessed the Persian invasion of the Babylonian Empire. All of these events the Prophet had lived through were prophesied before they occurred. This means that they were decided by colliding forces in the heavenlies long before their appointed time of fulfillment. Now a new prince from the west was about to enter the imperial race, as spoken to him by God’s angel. Daniel never lived to see the very day this prince stepped in, but in 323 B.C. the Macedonian Alexander the Great rose to power and proved to be the goat of Daniel 8:5.

The question whether battle was the only way of deciding things in the heavenlies seems to be a great big yes. It was through battle that Lucifer attempted to secure his ambition and it was through battle that he lost his status as God’s anointed status, along with the third of the angels he deceived:

“And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan…was hurled down to the earth, and his angels with him” (Revelation 12:7 to 9).

In Judges 5:20, the Prophetess Deborah sang of how “from the heavens the stars fought…against Sisera,” the mighty Canaanite general that fell by the prowess of the Hebrew judge Barak and finally by the cunning hand of the woman Jael.

After Lucifer failed to secure his place in heaven, the only purpose for him left to give meaning to his worthless existence was to battle every move of God that originates out of heaven. The ancient believers may have known this so well that it was in this respect in which they found a very special aspect of God's omnipresence. If all God's activity originated out of heaven, they might have believed, then not all what God had intended came to fruition in that the malevolent layer of the heavenlies may have filtered the rising and descending traffic of prayers and bequests between God and His earthly believers. What was therefore needed was to establish multiple and separate points of the Divine spiritual exchange as an alternative to the first Godly base just above the demon-populated heavenlies. Through God's unique attribute of omnipresence, the intervening power of the heavenlies was rendered irrelevant, obsolete.

Brooklyn Museum/Corbis
So based on His omnipresence, God established multiple locations where prayers can be processed into answers. In Psalm 139:8, King David sang of this principle: "If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there." Before this, in Psalm 135:6, he declared, "The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths." So David cited several locations where God's prayer-processing branch offices could be found, other than from His original base: the earth, the seas, and the depths. In Psalm 95:4, he even saw "In his hand...the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks [which] belong to him." So wherever man was he can be sure God was there to listen to him, hear him praise Him, fill his needs, and bless him with success.

Jesus later built further on God's omnipresence: "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).

The Image Bank/Gettyimages
Solomon, in his wisdom, contemplated on the logic of localizing God into a Temple in Jerusalem other than heaven for not even "the heavens...the highest heavens" could contain Him (1 Kings 8:27, 2 Chronicles 2:6, 2 Chronicles 6:18). This meant that wherever man spun his head, there was God to meet him! And process his requests! And have fellowship with him! And have a good time with him!

Even before the time of the father and son kings, God was way ahead in demonstrating His anti-localization policy and strategy to phase out the influence of the heavenlies. During the time of Moses, God made good His expressed intention dwell among His people once they hit the sands of freedom. He ordered a sanctuary made for Him so that He may dwell among them (Exodus 25:8). In Exodus 29:45, God was full of anticipation when He said, "Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God." In Exodus 29:46, we see in His own words the very reason why He imposed the freedom of Israel from Egyptian bondage:

"They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God."

In the fifteenth chapter of Exodus, Moses and his sister Mirriam sang how God, "By the power of [His] arm" (verse 16), would bring the Israelites "in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance—the place, Lord, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established" (verse 17).

And God did physically in all His glory descended upon the earth and dwelled in a tent pitched in the middle of all the tribes of Israel (Exodus 40:34–36, Numbers 9:15–17, 2 Samuel 7:2), made by human hands but under the specific guidelines of His Spirit (Exodus 25:9,33:9–11, 39:32). Here, Moses and Aaron the High Priest would meet God and carry out an active conversation (Numbers 7:89) where instructions, consecrations into office (Numbers 11:16–17), and reprimands (Numbers 12:4–9) were carried out—without the intervention of any ageny from the heavenlies.

But the most outstanding proof of God's sincere and determined mission to rid the barrier of the heavenlies getting between Him and His people was the incarnation of Jesus Christ, His Son. For thirty-three years, by the Holy Spirit and power, the Son of God "went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil" (Acts 10:38), honest-to-goodness acts of God unfiltered by any ghost of the heavenly realm. The three and a half years of His ministry of "doing good" was a festival of deliverance and miracles imparted directly from the hand of God to the person who precisely asked for it. It was like God was making sure the person making the request got what he needed.

And before Jesus ascended into the right hand of the Father, He promised "another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth" (John 14:16–17), the Holy Spirit. If Jesus came to teach, so the Spirit would also "teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you" (verse 26), "guide you into all truth" (15:13), as well as "bring glory" to Jesus "by taking from what is mine and making it known to you" (verse 14). And if Jesus came to heal the sick and raise the dead, likewise, the Spirit will perform the same good deed, as St. Paul explained in Romans 8:11:

Francis G. Mayer/Corbis
"And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you."

El Greco's interpretation of the unforgettable day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended in the form of "tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them" (Acts 2:3), them being the believers holed up in the Upper Room. 

Yet aside from the sending the Holy Spirit after Him to safeguard the believers, Jesus' work did not end after He lifted His feet from the earth when He ascended to heaven. In the Book of Hebrews, the writer stated that Jesus our High Priest (4:14) and "mediator of a new covenant" (9:15) entered a sanctuary not made by human hands such as the Tabernacle built by Moses or the Temple created by David and Solomon, both of which the writer called "copies of the heavenly things" (9:23), and cleansed the original and heavenly Most Holy Place with His own blood (verse 12–14). Cleanse it from what? If this Most Holy Place was in heaven, why did He need to cleanse it with His blood? Did anybody sin in heaven? Remember the angelic rebellion, which resulted in the takeover of the heavenlies. When Jesus ascended to the Father, His quest by then was to retake the heavenlies from the enemy. In Colossians 2:15, the Apostle Paul explained how Jesus "disarmed the powers and authorities" and made a "public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in him."

Araldo de Luca/CORBIS
According to the Scriptures, Jesus "was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight" (Acts 1:9). It may have been that the demons of the realm attempted to overwhelm the ascending Christ and give Him a part two of the cross; or it may have been His momentous stopover to execute the next part of His plan and cleanse the heavenlies once and for all.

The Apostle Paul used an analogy from the victory march held by a conquering Roman Caesar who entered the Imperial capital and chained behind him were the humiliated throng of vanquished foes paraded on the streets of the city for all Romans to see and further humiliate as well. In this fashion, Jesus, risen in power, invaded the heavenlies corralled its denizens and marched them all over the universe in the sight of the holy host of heaven to humiliate. What Jesus did next seized all demondom by surprise: He took over the heavenlies. In Ephesians 1:21, it is said that Jesus took His seat at the right hand of God—we all know this, but what we don't is that the "right hand of God" is—"in the heavenly realms." So what was once a treacherous layer of the spiritual atmosphere which for a long period stood for frustrating the hand of God in blessing His people, had finally become an extension of heaven through Jesus Christ who had finally taken over and open its gates to pour out "every spiritual blessing" in His name (Ephesians 1:3). In this same place will His saints be seated, beside Him, as stated in 2:6:

Araldo de Luca/CORBIS
"And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus...."

The generations that followed Adam and Eve never knew God as well as their First Parents, aside from an exempt few, because of the incessant intrusion and meddling made by the heavenlies to frustrate the dynamic relationship between man and God. Through the ages, the devil and his horde stood in the middle of both heaven and earth and did their insidious best to block prayers rising from believers and arrest the gifts from God descending to His people. These enemies hidden in the clouds also deceived believers by frequently visiting man through various means seducing away their faith as they posed as the One True God. This was the reason for the unanswered prayers, the poverty, the hopelessness, the death of the innocent. One great reason for the widespread destruction and Satanic activity before and during the time of Christ was due to the demonic control of the heavenlies. As an example, ever notice how rampant demonic possession was during the time of Jesus that every now and then we read of a demoniac being delivered from the dark side?

The demonic control of the heavenlies did not entirely render God impotent until Jesus came along. In fact, great miracles and promises were imparted during Old Testament times that are still being upheld in our days as without equal in feat. God continued to speak through His prophets, making His promises, approvals, disapprovals, warnings, and judgments known. Hebrews 1:1 states that God spoke through the prophets "in various ways"; this means that God never found it a problem delivering to man His intentions even when it passed through the thickest concentration of heavenly demons in the air. That was when He did it Himself. But when He sent a messenger to do it, there was a problem, like in Daniel 10:12–14 when the angel God sent with the answer to the prophet's prayer was detained "twenty-one days" in the heavenlies until the Archangel Michael arrived to overpower the ruling Prince of Persia and send the imprisoned angel free to finally accomplish his task. In Old Testament times, we read of demons presenting themselves before the LORD along with all the holy angels of heaven, as in Job 1:6 and 2:1; in 1 Kings 22:21, a lying spirit—a spirit of the heavenlies—appeared before God and volunteered to confuse the prophets of Ahab to lead this Godless king to his death. During those times, the demons, though no longer sharing a part in God's presence seemed to just casually stroll back into the pearly gates and hang out with the guys up there! The access may have been provided by the heavenlies in which its role may have had something to do with being a gate (Matthew 7:13–14), a door (Luke 13:24), or a "narrow road" to heaven (Matthew 7:14). But when Jesus came, their happy days abruptly came to a crashing end. Revelation 12:8–9 tells the story as seen by John the Revelator:

Blue Lantern Studio/Corbis
"But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him."

Now it does appear that John was recounting the old story of how Satan fell from heaven on his bid to rise "above the stars of God." But the following verses suddenly speak about the authority of the Messiah:

The Bridgeman Art Library/Gettyimages
"Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony" (verses 10 and 11).

The Apostle John may have been referring to the past, but after the ninth verse his focus had raced several thousands of years later when Jesus, after His resurrection, came along and kicked down heavenly doors, hammering the plain reality to the rebel angels that angels were not meant to rule, not in the heavenlies, not in heaven, not elsewhere! Not even in hell. Being kicked out of their cool places in the heavenlies, the demons came crashing upon the earth, according to Revelation 12:12:  

"Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short."

Craig Lovell/CORBIS
Jesus grabbed this piece of authority Adam surrendered to Satan when he sinned the sin of disobedience and gave substance to His words in Matthew 28:18, "Then Jesus came to them and said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.'" And them disenfranchised demons sprawled to the earth like a bunch of homeless rats scurrying here and there finding a place to hide their scared little heads because the One with the "iron scepter" is in town and here to stay, eager to "dash" His foes "like pieces of pottery" (Revelation 2:27).  This is why when we command a demon to relinquish its grip upon its possessed, it has no choice but to obey in Jesus' name. This is why the Apostle Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 1:20 that "no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ. And so through him the 'Amen' is spoken by us to the glory of God." Because Jesus had finally taken over the heavenlies—that vast symbol of God's authority, ubiquitously and eternally looking down upon the earth without slumber or sleep—He was able to assure the signs enumerated in Mark 16:17–18 to anyone who believes in His name:

Trolley Dodger/Corbis
"they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."

And now that Jesus sits enthroned in the heavenlies, what He said in John 14:6 may be understood in this "heavenly" light: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." After the age of the ruling spirits, it is just an encouragement to know that every prayer, every praise, every inquiry, and even every complaint no longer passes through a demonic filter, but through the Son of God Himself! And we can be sure whatever we send to God in faith gets sent to Him fast, whole, and easy. In another verse, Jesus taught about some "narrow gate" (Matthew 7:13 and 14) which anyone aspiring to enter eternal life must enter. In quite the same analogy presented in Luke 13:24, He speaks about a "narrow door." Again, Jesus seemed to speak about His second mission to retake the heavenlies and make it the gate of heaven as it was truly meant to be.

WATARU YANAGIDA/anamaimages/Corbis
[Whew! Good stuff! And there's gonna be more, so be here!]

1 comment:

  1. Lot of research involved here. Good lots of reasonable explanations.