The Courts of Heaven: Answering the Critics
There’s been growing interest among believers in learning how to operate in the courts of heaven. Along with growing interest, there’s been growing criticism. In this message, I provide an explanation of what the courts and councils of heaven are and respond to the objections of critics.
I use the terms courts and councils because some of the venues are like courtrooms, where legal proceedings are transacted. Other venues are less formal. The proceedings there are more like council meetings. The courts and councils of heaven are places where spiritual beings carry out the governmental affairs of heaven and to some degree, the affairs of earth. In all of them, Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are the central figures
Are the Courts of Heaven Biblical?
Critics have objected that the courts of heaven is a concept not found in the Bible. Let’s take a look at the third chapter of Zechariah:
Then the angel showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord. The Accuser, Satan, was there at the angel’s right hand, making accusations against Joshua. And the Lord said to Satan, “I, the Lord, reject your accusations, Satan. Yes, the Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebukes you. This man is like a burning stick that has been snatched from the fire.” Joshua’s clothing was filthy as he stood there before the angel. So the angel said to the others standing there, “Take off his filthy clothes.” And turning to Joshua he said, “See, I have taken away your sins, and now I am giving you these fine new clothes.”
This is the biblical model upon which my teaching on the courts of heaven is based. The court most people appear in is the court of accusation, where there is a defendant and an accuser. The Lord is the Judge, who hears the accusation and proclaims the defendant not guilty. The Bible doesn’t assign a name to this place but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to call it a court. On earth, we generally face our accusers in court.
Another venue found in the Bible is a heavenly council, where the Lord discusses His plans. In the twenty-second chapter of first Kings, we find the story of Ahab and his plan to attack Ramoth-Gilead. The prophet Micaiah was given a glimpse of a heavenly council as they discussed the fate of Ahab:
I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by, on His right hand and on His left. And the Lord said, ‘Who will persuade Ahab to go up, that he may fall at Ramoth Gilead?’ So one spoke in this manner, and another spoke in that manner. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, and said, ‘I will persuade him.’ The Lord said to him, ‘In what way?’ So he said, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And the Lord said, ‘You shall persuade him, and also prevail. Go out and do so.’
1 Kgs 22:19-22
There is no judge in this scene. No defendant and no accuser. Rather than a courtroom proceeding, it seems to be a council meeting. The Lord heard the council of an evil spirit, whose plan was put into operation.
The Effects of Sin
The court that is familiar to most critics is the court of accusation which provides a venue of arbitration between humans and evil spirits. Critics have objected that the doctrine of the courts of heaven views our relationship with God from an old covenant perspective; where the blood of Jesus has not yet freed us from the power of sin.
Sin and how it’s dealt with in the courts has nothing to do with our relationship with God. The issue being addressed is the opportunity it provides for evil spirits to attack us. The apostle Paul, writing after the death and resurrection of Jesus, teaching a new covenant reality wrote:
Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.
Paul taught that being angry creates an opportunity for the devil. If we choose to sin, it doesn’t make us less righteous in God’s eyes, but it does make us a target for demonic attack. The apostle John, again, teaching a new covenant reality, prescribed the remedy:
My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.
1 Jn 2:1
The word “advocate” in this verse can be translated, attorney. John taught that when we sin, we should let Jesus, our attorney, plead our case before the Father. And that is exactly what we do in the court of accusation. Demons can torment us until we face them in court and have the Judge pass sentence on them and clear us of the accusation.
Satan Can’t Appear in Heaven
Critics have noted that the Bible says Satan was cast down and thus, he cannot possibly be found in a heavenly court. This objection might seem valid, but we need to do a little more digging.
There is no debate that all the angels—both the ones who are loyal to God and the ones who rebelled against Him—resided in the heavenly realms. After their rebellion, the fallen angels were confined to some other realm. Some believe that they were removed from the heavenly realms completely and confined to earth. Those who hold this view cite passages like:
I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.
The accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.
Satan and his minions have without question, been removed from their former estate, but have they been confined to earth?
The apostle Paul, again writing to believers who lived after the resurrection, about a new covenant reality, taught that the evils spirits who oppose us, still reside in the heavenly realms:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
We must resolve the apparent contradiction that evil spirits were cast down from heaven but still reside there. The problem comes as a result of viewing heaven as a single realm without subdivisions. Heaven, in fact, has a multiplicity of realms, each of which is reserved for different types of spiritual beings. We see the multiple realms of heaven spoken of in passages like this one from first Kings:
But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!
1 Kgs 8:27
This passage mentions two realms: heaven and a higher one; the heaven of heavens. What is the heaven of heavens?
What is a king of kings?
He is like other kings but has a higher level of authority. He rules over other kings.
The heaven of heavens is a higher realm of heaven that serves as the dwelling place of God and other spirits, but which is off-limits to Satan and his angels. When we understand that there are multiple realms of heaven, the apparent contradiction is resolved. Satan was cast down from heaven, but not to earth. He is confined to a lower realm of heaven; the one where the court of accusation is located.
Satan is Defeated
Critics have observed that Satan and his minions have been defeated and rendered powerless and that there is no need for us to obtain victory in a heavenly court.
Satan surely has been defeated and rendered powerless. But this objection fails to recognize the fact that there are two realms we must reckon with: the realm of time and the realm of eternity.
Healing is an example of how a reality in eternity doesn’t immediately manifest in the realm of time. God decided in eternity to provide healing for sickness and disease. Despite the victory that Jesus provided for our healing, we are not instantly healed when be believe. Healing must be enforced through prayer, the release of power, or the removal of evil spirits. Does our action against evil spirits mean that Christ’s victory was powerless? Of course not. It simply means that His victory in eternity requires our participation in the realm of time in order for it to manifest.
Appearing in the court of heaven isn’t an admission that Jesus hasn’t defeated the powers of darkness. It simply recognizes that all which He’s done for us in eternity has not yet fully manifested in the realm of time. We don’t plead our case hoping for victory. We go there knowing victory is assured, but that it still needs to be enforced against evil spirits.
Believers Are Defendants in a Legal System
A final criticism of the courts of heaven is that it views us as little more than defendants in a legal system. Where is our sonship, critics ask? What about our kingship? Our place of ruling and reigning with Christ?
If you’ve only read about the court of accusation, as is true of most critics, your concern is understandable. It does seem like a place of powerlessness. There isn’t much glory there. Not much to be excited about. But the court of accusation is not a place we want to visit often. It’s only a starting point. It’s in the other courts and councils where we grow into sonship and kingship. These are the places where we’ve been seated with Christ in the heavens.
But critics don’t mention the other courts and councils. And that’s a shame, because the very things they want to experience are happening in them.
In the court of war, we learn the strategies of heaven. In the court of kings, we learn to make decrees that establish heaven’s rule. We receive angelic help in the court of angels. In the divine council, the Lord meets with angels and saints to decide the affairs of heaven and earth. There are many other courts and councils in heaven. In time, and with experience, we’ll gain access to all of them. As we explore them and meet with the Lord in person, we’re transformed into sons and kings who fully reflect the glorious image of God.
If you’re interested in learning more about the courts of heaven, you might check out my book Defeating Your Adversary in the Court of Heaven.