By Jim Roberts
In Ephesians, Chapter 2, the Apostle Paul reminds us that we were at one time dead in trespasses and sins as we walked according to the course of this world system. But God, because of His great love, intervened and saved us by His mercy and through His grace. Then God did something that was totally unexpected when He raised us up to sit in the heavenly places. Verse 6 says:
“(God) raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
Of course, this sounds rather odd to us at first. How can we stand on this earth while being seated in the heavenly places? In this statement Paul is actually teaching a very important doctrine. There is a difference between the way we are in the natural world and the way God sees us in Christ. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we are far from perfect, but God does not see our imperfections when He sees us in Christ. Notice that we are not seated in the heavenly places with Christ, but we are seated in the heavenly places in Christ.
God could never accept or fellowship with that which has even a spot of sin. The Old Testament sacrifices had to be without spot and without blemish. The Lord Jesus, Himself, was the spotless lamb of God. Peter said that we were not redeemed with corruptible things such as silver and gold but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without spot or blemish.
God requires absolute righteousness. Part of the good news for us is that when we put our faith in Christ, we are baptized into Christ and His righteousness. From that moment of faith, we are added to the Church which is the Body of Christ, and God sees us in the heavenly places and in the righteousness of Christ. Ephesians 5 says that Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for the Church, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.
Paul put it this way in Colossians 1:
“And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.” (Col. 1:21-22)
Some have said that Paul was simply building upon the doctrines of the Lord Jesus when he emphasized the heavenly realms. They point out that Jesus taught His followers to lay up treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust can corrupt. They refer to the fact that Jesus told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world. They also cite Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus where Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again, or more literally, that he had to be born from above.
However, when Jesus told his disciples to lay up treasures in heaven, He went on to say that they should not worry about earthly provisions because God was going to give all of these things to those who seek first the kingdom of God. Their hope was clearly based in a future earthly kingdom.
When the Lord Jesus told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world, He was saying that the world system of His earthly kingdom would not be anything like our present world system. Satan directs the affairs of our present world system as the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2). Satan is the god of our present age (2 Corinthians 4:4), and Satan is the head of the rulers of the darkness of our present age (Ephesians 6:12). The Lord Jesus was telling Pilate that His kingdom would bring in a new age with a new world system which will be free from Satan’s influence. Again, we see that Jesus consistently taught the hope of a future earthly kingdom.
When the Lord Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be born from above, He was telling Nicodemus that he needed to be born spiritually into the kingdom in heaven before he could hope to be part of the kingdom from heaven. The Lord knew and encouraged the fact that Nicodemus was looking for the earthly kingdom of God.
In comparison, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the saints at Ephesus, he was writing to members of the Church which is the Body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23), and he never mentioned Christ’s earthly kingdom at all. In fact, he taught that the Church will be blessed in the heavenly places throughout the ages to come.
“(God has) raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” ( Eph. 2:6-7)