The Unseen Realm is a true resource, but it is the kind of resource that you are likely to read clean through, and then read through some other time, and then keep it nearby in order to refresh your memory on this or that.
Too many contemporary Christians are modernists when it comes to their cosmology, with the sole exception of their belief in the human soul. The reality of the afterlife—and a heaven populated with “angels” and what not—doesn’t really count because it is quietly assumed that that place is outside the regular cosmos somehow, and so can’t be incorporated into the modern cosmology. The universe is thought to be exactly what the atheist astronomer says it is—a vast empty space, punctuated here and there with dead rock and flaming gases. The spiritual realm is filed away in the 17th dimension somehow.
The problem with this is that there is such a thing as a biblical cosmology. We often miss references to these realities in the text because we are so steeped in the modernist conceptions that we simply slide right over them in our Scripture reading. But if we are ever brought up short, we will really be brought up short, and this will be the book that can do it. The subtitle is a very good description—“Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible.” Considered as a promise, it is a promise that delivers.
Michael Heiser begins his exhaustive biblical study of cosmology with Psalm 82:1
“God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; He judgeth among the gods” (Ps. 82:1).
This is not an instance of the living God judging among the dead superstitions. It can be read as “Elohim stands in the congregation of the mighty—He judges among the elohim.” The one true God with a plural suffix in His name judges among the plural gods that have a plural suffix for a different reason.
Scripture does not teach us that the pagan gods were non-existent. Paul tells us that there were in fact “gods many and lords many” (1 Cor. 8:5-6), and he tells us that genuine demonic forces were involved in idol worship of the pagans (1 Cor. 10:20). And when Paul cast a demon out of that young woman at Philippi, the original says that he was casting out the “spirit of a python.” This marked her as a devotee of the god Apollo. All of this is to say that the unseen realm is not sparsely populated. A lot is going on there, and a lot is said about in the Scriptures.
This book is really outstanding. There are places where I differ with a particular point, but even here it is a delight to be having the discussion. The Unseen Realm is scholarly, readable, provocative, and above all, grounded in the text. The only serious criticism I would have concerned the (unnecessary) foray into a discussion of free will in Chapter 7. But even that was comparatively a slight distraction.
Who are the Nephilim? What is the council of the gods exactly? Who were the beings that were locked up in Tartarus? Who is the angel of YHWH? What is meant by the “two YHWHs,” and how does this relate to the radical scriptural insistence upon monotheism? What is being referred to when we speak of principalities, powers, dominions or thrones? The chief value of this book is that we learn that it is not necessary for our eyes to glaze over when we encounter references like this. When we turn to the Scripture with our questions, it is astonishing how many of those questions are answered explicitly in the text.