The Unseen Realm
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)
We have in this passage four different words that are important to understand: seen, unseen, temporary, and eternal. The seen is what we call the physical realm, that which is visible to the physical eye. This realm can be studied and experienced through our natural five senses of taste, touch, sound, sight, and smell.
The unseen is another realm. Like the physical realm, it also can be experienced with the five senses. The five senses of our physical body do not interact with the unseen realm, but we have five senses in our spirit that interact with this realm. The physical realm and spiritual realm are what Paul was writing about when he refers to the seen and unseen.
Then we have the eternal and the temporary. The eternal is any realm other than the physical. For example, ten billion years ago, God existed in the heavens and in the spirit. Ten billion years from now God will still exist in the heavens and in the spirit. When Paul writes of the temporary, he is speaking of this physical realm that began in Genesis 1. If you were to draw a line to represent time and it extended infinitely into the past and infinitely into the future, and if you were to put a one-inch mark on this line, this would give you an idea of what the time-span of the physical realm looks like compared with eternity. This is a good perspective to have when considering the reality of the spirit realm.
Many have stated that the spirit realm is just as real as the physical realm; this is in fact a huge understatement. The truth is that the spirit realm is far more real than the physical realm. In fact, if you were to die this very second while reading this blog, you would immediately be dwelling in the spirit realm. You are one heartbeat away from existing entirely in the spirit realm. Yet some live their entire lives denying the existence of the spirit realm.
The spirit realm is far more real than the physical realm.
When an angel appears in the physical realm, people generally think that the angel came from Heaven. It is true that the Lord’s angels do have their home in Heaven with God, but they can also surround us on the earth in the unseen realm, such as with Elisha and his servant in Second Kings 6. They sometimes manifest in the seen realm to speak a message, and then step back into the unseen realm, such as with Balaam in Numbers 22. At times this delivery of a message can take much time and warfare that we may not be fully aware of. For example, the angels Michael and Gabriel had to war together against the prince of Persia (possibly a regional evil spirit) to be able to finally break through 21 days of warfare and deliver a message to Daniel (see Dan. 10:13).
Defining the Terms:
Some teachers in the Body of Christ have coined new extra-biblical terms for explaining three different realms. [Authors note: “extra-biblical” simply refers to things not in the Bible. This is not the same as anti-or unbiblical] Based on Paul using the phrase “third heaven” in Second Corinthians 12:2-4, they have extrapolated that if there is a third heaven, then it would stand to reason that there must be a first and second heaven, neither of which is mentioned by those names in the Bible. Theologically, this is not a bad assumption. However, when we begin to create new extra-biblical terms, we usually scare and divide from other parts of the Body of Christ. I have chosen to use biblical language as much as possible that I may be able to bring other more timid parts of the Church into new experience with the Holy Spirit.
When people refer to the first heaven they mean what the Bible calls the seen realm. When the second heaven is spoken of, it is what the Bible calls the unseen realm, which surrounds the physical realm. The term third heaven is only mentioned one time in Scripture and it is referred to as an experience that had happened once in 14 years and the author could not even describe this precious experience.
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. - 2 Corinthians 12:2-4
Because the third heaven is only mentioned once and without description, I chose not to use this term casually. Consider that the third heaven must be something profound—in that it was indescribable and unusual—in that it happened once in 14 years. While we do have access to the heavenly realm and experiences, according to Paul the third heaven is altogether something different.
Examples of the Unseen Realm
- Elisha and his servant
“Go, find out where he is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.” Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city. When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” the servant asked. “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. - 2 Kings 6:13-17
In this story Elisha had been surrounded by enemy forces during the night. When the servant awoke and realized that they were surrounded, he was full of fear. Elisha, however, was calm, cool, and collected. He directed his servant not to be afraid and informed him that there were more forces on their side than the enemy had on his side.
Elisha was seeing into the unseen realm of the spirit. He prayed that his servant would be able to see as well. The servant received this impartation and was able to see what Elisha saw. My friend Dr. Harold Eberle has an interesting insight about how we see things in the spirit and how God communicates with us:
The servant received this impartation and was able to see what Elisha saw.
“To see how spiritual dynamics relate to natural consequences, consider how the prophet Elisha and his servant became surrounded by enemy soldiers. When Elisha prayed for his servant’s eyes to be opened to the spiritual world, “he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17 NKJV). Knowing that God was with him, Elisha had no fear. He prayed that God would strike the enemies with blindness, and they immediately went blind for a season.
This story is enlightening concerning how the spiritual realm appears to the one who can see into that realm. God communicates through visions. He uses pictures we can relate to in order to communicate what is going on in the spiritual world.
Concerning Elisha and his servant’s vision, it is difficult to say whether horses and chariots actually existed in the spiritual world or if the horses and chariots that they saw represented the power of God that was available to defend them. For us today, horses and chariots would not be a very effective representation of God’s power because one modern military machine such as a tank could defeat thousands of horses and chariots. Perhaps, then, if God wanted to reveal His power to us, He would show armies with all of the latest, most deadly equipment.
That reveals how realities in the spiritual realm are communicated to us in the natural realm. It is similar to the pictures one sees in dreams. There are true messages behind spiritual images, but the images are merely a form of communication.”
- Daniel sees in the spirit realm
Daniel lived a life full of incredible spiritual experiences. In Daniel 10, Daniel sees into the unseen realm, but the men who were with him did not share in his experience. He had recently had a vision about a coming war and was emotionally disturbed by it for several weeks. One day, as Daniel was standing on the bank of the river Tigris, he began to see into the spirit realm:
On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; the men with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. - Daniel 10:4-7
Daniel saw, and although the men didn’t, they did sense a very strong presence, so strong that they actually fled and hid. How incredible that they were standing next to Daniel one minute and suddenly had the overwhelming urge to run away and hide! The vision continues with Daniel all by himself:
So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground. A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling. - Daniel 10:8-11
Daniel managed to stay for the vision, but he was physically overwhelmed.
Daniel managed to stay for the vision, but he was physically overwhelmed. From the outside, this must have been interesting to watch. Here is Daniel with a group of guys, when suddenly they bolt, looking terrified. Daniel is the only one left, and he turns pale and drops to the ground. Then trembling, he rises to his feet, yet in the physical, nothing is visible to make sense of this.
- The Apostle John
The apostle John was under religious persecution and had been exiled to the island of Patmos. He wrote that on the Lord’s Day, he was in the spirit. Suddenly, he entered into a prophetic experience where he saw into the unseen realm.
I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to His feet and with a golden sash around His chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. Then He placed His right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” - Revelation 1:9-18
When it says that John “fell down as though dead,” his physical body actually fell down in the physical realm. As he stood in the physical realm and watched a vision before him in the spirit realm, he was affected physically. In Revelation 1-3, John is in his physical body watching a vision with his spiritual eyes. It is not until the beginning of chapter 4 that John leaves his body behind. In Revelation 4, God calls John up and out of the earth: “Come up here” (Rev. 4:1), and the experience becomes an out-of-body experience.
- Balaam and his donkey
This is one of the most mysterious stories in the Book of Numbers. Balaam the prophet was rebelling against the word of the Lord. He had set out on his donkey and had two of his servants traveling along with him. The Word tells us that Balaam’s donkey saw into the spirit realm and saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword. The donkey turned away to save itself, but Balaam, who was dull to seeing because of his disobedience, became angry with the donkey. He began to beat the donkey to go down the road. Again, the donkey saw the angel and tried to get away by pressing up against a wall, thus crushing Balaam’s foot. Balaam beat the donkey again. A third time the donkey saw the angel, and this time it just sat down under Balaam. This angered him again, and again he beat the donkey.
Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey and his two servants were with him. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, she turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat her to get her back on the road. Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between two vineyards, with walls on both sides. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat her again. Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat her with his staff. - Numbers 22:21-27
This story gets really weird when God gives the donkey the momentary ability to speak. The donkey asks why Balaam is beating her, and Balaam responds that the donkey is making a fool of him. He foolishly says that if he had a sword, he would kill his talking donkey (A very Shrek-like response)! The donkey reasons with him that she has never acted in this way, and Balaam concedes that this is true. Then suddenly the Lord opens Balaam’s eyes to the spirit realm. There standing in the unseen realm is the angel that was sent to kill him. The angel says that if the donkey hadn’t turned away, he would have killed Balaam and would have left the donkey alive.
Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.” The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?” “No,” he said. Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown. The angel of the Lord asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her.” - Numbers 22:28-33
This opens up a discussion about animals and the spirit realm. Pastor Roland Buck, author of the classic book Angels on Assignment, shares about his dog having an awareness of the spirit realm:
“Queenie, that’s my dog... a purebred Great Dane... quietly “woofed” as she pressed her wet nose against my face. The time was 2:00 A.M. I knew what was up by now. That is the way she rouses me when she becomes aware that angelic visitors are in the house.”
Perhaps Balaam’s donkey had a heightened awareness of spiritual beings because of the proximity of the anointing over time, or perhaps it is part of the nature of animals to be aware of the spirit realm.
From this sampling of Scripture we see that many Bible characters experienced and interacted with the unseen realm. As New Testament believers, we also have access and should experience this realm in our lives.
The unseen realm is neither good nor evil.
There are a lot of opinions about whether the spirit realm is good or bad, but as we look at Scripture we find that both angels and demons operate on this plane of existence. Even Jesus appears to Daniel and John in this realm. The unseen realm is neither good nor evil, in the same way that the physical realm is neither good nor evil. It is merely a plane of existence. Just as in the physical realm, the beings that dwell there can be good or evil. To say that everything in the unseen realm [or second heaven] is demonic is not biblical and we will be cutting ourselves off from a legitimate way that God speaks to us. Since we do not live in awareness of the spirit realm on a constant basis, we must use discernment when interacting with this realm.
(This has been a chapter from The School of the Seers: Expanded Edition)