Ephesians 6:12 talks about wrestling against principalities and powers...and "against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." What is meant by “the heavenly places” in this case?
The phrase “heavenly places” or “heavenly realms” (NIV) translates the Greek word epouraniois, (lit., “the heavenlies”), and is found only 5 X in Scripture, all of them in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Eph. 1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12). That is actually helpful for interpretation purposes because Paul clearly has a theme going in Ephesians in which ”heavenly realms” plays an important role. We can expect the phrase to have a consistent meaning throughout.
When we follow the concept throughout Ephesians we discover several characteristics of the “heavenly realms.” For example, chapter 1 verse 3 tells us that the heavenly realms are now the normal plane of the believer’s existence and experience. The spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ are given and received in the heavenly realms:
Eph. 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
This heavenly realm is where Jesus is right now at the Father’s throne:
Eph. 1:20 …which he [God] exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms…
The obvious implication of this is that we as new creatures in Christ inhabit this same heavenly realm as Jesus does, even while we inhabit the earthly realm. In fact, Ephesians 2:6 specifically says that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead enables every born again believer in Jesus Christ to experience life in the heavenly realms as really as we experience life in the physical realm:
Eph. 2:6 [For] God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…
This is not a metaphor. God wants to introduce us, to show us off—His spiritual children—to those for whom heaven has been their only home. Why?
Eph. 3:10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms…
Beyond that, God needs us to function in the spiritual realm with a certain degree of confidence and familiarity. We now live in two realms at the same time, the earthly and the heavenly. We are creatures of two natures, and we are engaged in the spiritual warfare that is raging in both realms.
Eph. 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Those who are truly “in Christ” have been given access into the heavenly realms through the Spirit. We have “have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age,” as it says in Hebrews 6:5. One day that will be our primary residence; and it is that wonderful day and that wonderful, imperishable life that we are in preparation for now.