Updated: Apr 11
Elisha and his companion were running from an army, and they looked at each other: the companion had fearful eyes but saw only calmness in Elisha.
Why wasn’t he scared, he asked himself.
Elisha said, “Don’t be afraid. Our army is greater than theirs.”
But there are only two of us.
Then Elisha asked God to show his companion.
Suddenly, the sight before him peeled back to reveal a whole other world. One with unidentified creatures teeming in it.
One that was hidden there all along.
Elisha prayed and said, "O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see." So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:15-17).
With natural eyes, all they could see was their human enemies in an otherwise empty valley, but when God granted them a special, supernatural vision to see beyond our realm, they saw another realm.
One full of foreign beings—glorious beings of fire.
This story shows how much of the ancient world saw the universe, including Israel.
Here’s a summary of the ancient cosmology:
Outside our realm is the divine realm
These two realms overlap
The divine realm is typically invisible and inaccessible
The beings in the divine realm can greatly affect our realm
Most of us don't really imagine that heaven is in the sky or outer space, but it's also not immaterial like a ghost (read more about that here).
Nor did the Israelites believe this.
In the Bible—and this is very important—heaven overlaps with our dimension. Everywhere, all the time.
The space-time fabric of our reality is a dimension below the heavenly dimension, which means that there is an invisible world behind what we see.
It’s all around you and me right now!
Portals to Heaven
The last article discussed how quantum physics has convinced scientists that there is an invisible realm behind our reality, and this theory not only points to the Biblical perspective, but it’s an intriguing entry point into this new series on temple theology.
The mention of science here isn’t about proving the Bible’s perspective, but about resurrecting our interest in the Bible’s cosmology about the intersection of heaven and earth—which is foundational for understanding temple theology.
Here’s a summary of the main points we went over.
Scientists have been talking about extra dimensions for nearly a century, but recent discoveries have made these theories even more plausible.
Now, physicists are making more connections and becoming more convinced about these possibilities, as in this popular book, The Invisible Reality, written by a current leading physicist, Brian Greene.
Here’s the gist of this perspective for our purposes:
Recent discoveries have resulted in new theories in physics.
These theories are well supported by mathematical equations.
One of these theories is string theory.
One plausible implication of string theory is higher dimensions.
This is especially fascinating because of how they describe these higher dimensions, which are:
Out of the reach of humans
Invisible to humans
Overlapping with our dimension
Physical like our dimension
Distinct from our dimension
Intertwined with our dimension
Now you’re all caught up.
After looking at some attributes of this higher dimension, we’ll be ready to creep into the golden realm of temple theology.
The descriptions of higher dimensions fit snugly in the Biblical portrait of a dual universe. Even the most rudimentary readers of the Bible understand something about a hidden reality where God, angels, demons, and the departed somehow reside.
But as in the Elisha account, this hidden reality is right here next to ours, we just can’t see it unless God opens our eyes.
And this understanding is everywhere in the Bible. Remember what Stephen saw when he was being stoned to death?
“But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Look, I see the heavens opened’” (Acts 7:55-56).
He saw “the heavens opened”, which was practically an ancient way of saying a portal appeared between our dimension and the heavenly dimension.
Or think how Mark described the Spirit descending on Jesus, which seems to be through one of these portals. Unlike Matthew and Luke, he used a unique word that means to rip fabric apart: “He saw the heavens being torn open” (1:10).
It’s almost as if there’s an invisible curtain separating our dimension from God’s dimension, which isn’t too far from what the temple curtain represented (as we’ll see later in this series).
John even spoke of these portals as open doors: “I looked and behold, a door [was] standing open in heaven” (Rev. 4:1).
The hidden dimension of heaven is assumed throughout the Bible and much of the ancient world. But it’s not up there in the sky somewhere.
It’s here. All around us, all the time.
But like a fish in the ocean, we can’t sense it unless God gives us special vision, and we can't interact with it unless God gives us special permission.
The first peculiarity of the higher dimensions of physics is that, if there are beings in it, they can see into our dimensions, but we can’t see into theirs.
It’s like they’re standing behind the one-way glass detectives use in interrogations.
According to the Bible (never mind science), this is true.
Think about it.
A prophet during the early years of Israel’s history, Balaam, had an interesting supernatural encounter. While he was riding his donkey down a path, the donkey kept turning off to the side. He eventually got so frustrated he physically and verbally abused the poor donkey.
He couldn’t figure out what was wrong until “the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way” (Num. 22:31).
The report describes:
An invisible being
A being that sees into our realm
A being that is visible only after God grants special vision
The encounter is presented as an anomaly, in that it is not normal to have this vision of the higher realm.
But is this other world and the beings in it immaterial or material? Or something else entirely?
Similar to vision that's like one-way glass, higher-dimensional beings can actually interact with our world, even though we can’t interact with theirs. This is also assumed between both covers of the Bible:
God is unseen but he sees all things
God is untouchable but he governs all things
Spirit beings also see and can interact with us, but are typically invisible
This one-way cloak between our world and the heavenly dimension makes us like a living show that the higher-dimensional beings can always watch.
And they do.
They’re even called watchers in 1 Enoch, Daniel, and other books, apparently because this is part of their function in God’s creation—they’re his eyes and ears, and his hands and feet (as are his saints in a different way).
Angels are indeed described in the Biblical literature as viewing humans:
Peter speaks of them as curious about us (1 Pet. 1:12)
Jesus spoke of them as guardians over people (Matt. 18:10)
Paul mentioned them as viewing our lives (1 Cor. 4:9)
But they do more than watch us. They physically interact with us:
“The angel touched him and spoke to him” (1 Kings 19:5)
“His angel shut the lion’s mouths” (Dan. 6:22)
Two angels destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19)
They can touch us, talk to us, protect us, or kill us.
It seems they can engage with us as much as we can with each other, (including sex, according to the Jewish account of the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6).
At the very least, they can physically engage with our dimension.
1 Enoch, an ancient Jewish text that influenced the New Testament authors, says that angels, “whenever they wished, they appeared as human beings” (1 Enoch 17:1). This is also assumed throughout the supernatural accounts in the Bible.
They can more than engage with the physical, they can transform into various physical forms at will, sort of like how Jesus transfigured into a heavenly-looking being (Mt. 17).
That’s a clue.
Another clue is the disappearance of physical bodies into the heavenly realm, such as Enoch, Elijah, and Jesus. The Hebrew text says that Enoch “was not”, and the context implies that he didn’t die (Gen. 5:24).
The Greek text (LXX) says, “He was not found because God transported him” (Gen. 5:24), using an unusual word that can mean to transform or to transfer—either way, it gives the impression that Enoch’s physical body disappeared from our realm to be with God in his realm.
Each of these implies that the higher dimension of heaven is a sort of physicality. It’s at least as physical as our reality, if not more!
C.S. Lewis suggested this in The Great Divorce, where the realm of hell was less physical than ours, while the realm of heaven was more physical than ours. This is also implied in The Last Battle.
What about the appearing and disappearing acts of heavenly beings?
When ghosts, demons, angels, or whatever you want to call them, appear in the Bible (or other people’s accounts), they seem to come out of nowhere then disappear back into nowhere.
Here’s an example.
The Angel of the LORD who visited Samson’s parents, “went up in the flame of the altar” (Judges 13:20). He was in front of them one moment, then he disappeared in the fire (see also 2 Kings 2:11, and Acts 1:9).
First, where is it supposed to have gone?
It appears to go upward to a point, at which point it vanishes, or you’d have to argue that he actually went to stay someplace up in the clouds or in outerspace.
But why does it travel upward then?
Because God’s presence and pagan deities (like Baal, the weather god) were often associated with the sky, likely to communicate supremacy and transcendence (Dan. 7:23), which is why temples were built on hills, and why God usually appeared on mountain tops.
Here’s a more crucial question though: why do these beings seem to appear and disappear?
The short answer is: dimensions sort of interact one-way like one-way glass.
There’s a book that helps unpack this dense phrase, called Flatland, where a two-dimensional being, a square, who lives in a two-dimensional realm, interacts with a three-dimensional being, which is a sphere.
The square and the sphere try to understand each other’s realms, and while the sphere has no problem comprehending a 2-D world, the square is lost.
The square can’t imagine a higher dimension. When it thinks of a sphere, it can only picture a circle.
And if the sphere were to slide into the square’s 2-D world to say, “Here’s what a sphere looks like”, it would look like a circle.
What’s interesting about this tale is that the sphere’s behavior appeared supernatural or magical from the square’s perspective, when in fact it was interdimensional.
For example: when the sphere stepped down into the 2-D realm to meet the square, it seemed to appear out of nowhere. And when it left, it seemed to disappear into nowhere.
Because the 2-D square can’t see the 3-D world, so as soon as the sphere slipped out of the 2-D realm, it disappeared from 2-D sight.
It’s one-way, just like people’s experience with beings in the higher dimension of heaven: in the Bible and outside in the broader world of experience.
Here's another example.
Imagine your computer screen, which is 2-D. Now imagine a line in the middle.
From the perspective of a 2-D being inside the computer screen, that line would appear like a barrier. If they wanted to get to the other side, they would need to go around.
But since we are 3-D beings, we can just drag our finger across the line, and this would appear to the 2-D beings like walking through a wall.
You might know where this is headed now.
These thought experiments also support the idea that the heavenly dimension is physical like ours, but somehow much more physical, since all dimensions contain the attributes of lower dimensions.
Think about this.
A 2-D world contains the first dimension inside it because the first dimension is just a line, but it fits in the flat 2-D world.
So also, a 3-D world has two dimensions (length and height), but it also has width.
If this reasoning is accurate, then the heavenly dimension has all four of our dimensions—length, height, width, and time—but it also has additional dimensions.
The physics imply this, even as the Biblical accounts support this.
Now to the gem of interdimensional inquiries.
The Supernatural Jesus
Out of all the supernatural people in the Bible, Jesus is the most prolific:
He made water transform into wine
He walked on water
He appeared and disappeared out of nowhere
He raised the dead
He healed diseases and wounds
He resurrected himself from the dead
And he flew up into the sky then disappeared.
He was a supernatural guy. Could his powers and these events be explained in terms of heaven as the higher dimension?
Did Jesus seem to appear, disappear, and reappear from nowhere in an inter-dimensional style? Definitely.
Some instances of this before his resurrection are debatable (though I take them as supernatural descriptions), like when the crowd cornered him on a cliff but, “passing through their midst, he went away” (Lk. 4:30).
Or in John 10:39, where the Greek is likewise ambiguous in his escape from a mob, but conceptually, both seem to mean that he supernaturally vanished (unless someone wants to argue that he was just really sly).
After Jesus resurrected, he seemed to travel by supernatural means even more, as when he was having dinner with his disciples, and “he vanished from their sight”, where some of the manuscripts use a special Greek word that does mean “vanish” (Lk. 24:31).
There are many bizarre descriptions of the resurrected Jesus that remain a mystery.
Like the time he seemed to appear out of nowhere so that “they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit” (Lk. 24:37).
That seems obvious.
This is the clearest example: “Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them” (Jn. 20:26; see also vs. 19).
In these descriptions, he seems to walk through walls, vanish into nowhere, appear out of nowhere, which is similar to the teleporting that Philip (possibly) experienced (Acts 8:40), and the encounter of the square with the sphere.
Did Jesus, like the sphere, step into a higher dimension? This would appear to make sense of the current evidence. It also gives a sturdier frame through which to view these events, one that is consistent with the Biblical presupposition that heaven is an overlapping, higher dimension.
Was the new body of Jesus physical? Everyone knows this.
It was an especially important tenet of early Christian theology, which is why the gospel authors labored to prove that Jesus was indeed raised as a concrete, physical body.
“Touch me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Lk. 24:39).
Or when Jesus persuaded Thomas of his resurrection with a physical touch on his (not-yet-glorified) body: “Put your finger here and see my hands, or put out your hand and put it in my side.” (Jn. 21:27).
If Jesus raised in a physical body, which he was, doesn’t it strongly suggest that he also ascended into a physical location?
And when he returns it will be a physical encounter, as the angels who miraculously appeared into thin air as Jesus vanished into nowhere.
To read more about the physicality of heaven, Randy Alcorn attempts an exhaustive study of it purely from the Bible in his book, Heaven. Here, he shows that heaven has all of our dimensions of space, including time.
What about when Jesus walked on water?
It doesn’t take a physicist to imagine how dimensions could explain this.
If heaven is a higher dimension, and if it is also physical (albeit different), and Jesus was able to step between both, then he certainly could have done so to stay above water.
Similar mechanics are implied in John’s account of Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee, when “they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land” (Jn. 6:21).
Jesus steps off the water and into the boat, and the next thing the disciples knew, they had essentially teleported to their destination.
If Jesus was using a multi-dimensional ability to walk on water, then perhaps he was able to open the disciple’s bodies up to this experience, like when God opened Balaam’s eyes to see into the higher realm.
Or when the disciples were on a mountain (where theophanies often are), engulfed by a cloud where they saw supernatural humans in the higher realm.
It sounds like every other account in the Bible, as well as millions of self-proclaimed eye-witnesses all around the world.
Some researchers are convinced that Jesus was able to tap into the heavenly dimension in a regular human body because of his special gifting, or closeness to his Father, or perhaps it was related to his hybrid nature from the Spirit's implantation in Mary.
But that when he resurrected, he did so in a special body.
A body that was made to live in God’s realm and our realm.
A multi-dimensional, or rather, a higher-dimensional body, that could slip back and forth between realms like the angels and demons.
This would explain his ability to teleport, walk through walls, and ultimately disappear into the heaven dimension, all the while retaining his four-dimensional, physical attributes.
People have speculated about this for over a century.
One author concluded that higher dimensions, “can explain so many seemingly supernatural parts of the Bible”, such as the appearing and disappearing acts of beings.
He also sees the disappearing acts in scripture as interdimensional behavior, since a three-dimensional being “who has been translated from our space into a higher-dimensional space”, he explained, “will remain invisible to earthly beings until he returns again to our space.”
One physicist explained that not only is this plausible from the perspective of quantum dimensions, but it explains the strange condition of the shroud of Toran (the supposed cloth that Jesus’s body was wrapped with, which has an unexplainable image on it).
According to him, transforming Jesus’s body into a multi-dimensional vehicle would give off tremendous radiation, which could explain the image on the shroud.
Heck, considering that quantum mechanics can be observed in electricity, lights, and photosynthesis in plants, it's possible that demonic temptations in our minds are a quantum interaction in our brains!
These kinds of speculations, the ones based on quantum physics, are entertaining to think about, and they could all be true, but they don’t seem to affect our faith.
Now, the broader theme of heaven as a higher dimension is a necessary part of Biblical theology, and it certainly can affect our faith.
And as it's been stressed, it’s fundamental to temple theology.
Here’s where it gets serious.
Jesus is the New Portal
John calls Jesus something strange to us but surprising to first-century Jews.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14).
There is a special word behind “dwelt”, ἐσκήνωσεν, which more literally means “to tabernacle”, or “to pitch a tent”. This is the exact language used about the Tabernacle in the Old Testament, which was Israel’s portable, proto-temple from the time of Moses to David.
Why on earth would John picture Jesus as the Tabernacle?
It’s not just an ancient way of saying that he took up a body, or that he literally is the Tabernacle; rather, he is inferring that Jesus functions like the Tabernacle or temple.
Here we begin to dip the tip of our toes in the vast ocean of temple theology.
It’s all about functions for the Hebrews. That’s their category of thought (while ours is typically ontological, or, referring to the nature of a thing).
The primary function of temples in the ancient world was to create a portal between our space and God’s space.
Jesus is the portal between heaven and earth, which he came to unite (Eph. 1:10).
Remember Jacob’s dream?
He saw “a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!” (Gen. 28:12).
What Jacob saw was a gateway between God’s presence in heaven and our realm.
He sees a stairway between earth and heaven, but since heaven isn’t literally in outer space or somewhere up in the sky, this is more a figure of speech that communicates a merging between these two realms.
This merging happens at temples.
That’s why Jacob then named the place Bethel, which in Hebrew means “house of God”, a title for the temple, which is why the temple was built on that location.
This also makes sense out of Jesus’s enigmatic statement to Nathaniel, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (Jn. 1:51).
He’s saying Jesus becomes this portal between heaven and earth, which is already expected because Jesus is also the Tabernacle. See Richard Bauckham's book, Gospel of Glory.
You have to appreciate how pregnant this imagery is.
If Jesus is the temple, then he is the place where God's presence can be accessed by humans, which means he's the epicenter for giving blessings and life to advance God's plan for creation.
This is why Genesis was seen as the construction of a cosmic temple (which we'll examine in the next article).
This is how temples work.
What’s the Point?
First, just soak in the beauty of these truths and their implications for our lives.
Second, regardless of what physics says, the higher dimension of heaven is the Biblical truth, which means we live in a supernatural reality.
It means there is a hidden world all around us, all the time, with beings watching and moving things behind the scenes of our lives—this is the cosmic battle between the Creator and those “spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).
It means we shouldn’t be surprised by supernatural phenomena like miracles or disappearing beings, because we live in a supernatural world.
Put to death the lie that God doesn’t do miracles, because he's a supernatural God who invented our supernatural world, including you and me, who are destined for a supernatural future!
It means, according to the Bible, the “spiritual” realm is not the world of immaterial ghosts but is somehow just as physical as our world—probably (somehow) much more.
It means that, when a believer dies, they don’t fly off into outer space, or disappear, or wake as a bodiless entity; it means they fall back into a higher, physical, superior, and mystical dimension.
To be with Jesus forever.
With what kind of body exactly? The Bible doesn’t say.
But now we're ready to dive into the sparkling waters of temple theology.
For more about some of these views, look into these scholars:
Michael Heiser (the supernatural)
G.K. Beale (temple theology)
John Walton (the Ancient Near East and Judaism)
And of course, the world renown, N.T. Wright