A better translation here (Eph. 1:20) might be “highest heaven.” It is so translated in the Authorized Version, Ephesians 6:12: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” It is the same word, but here the translators did not use heaven. Why not? Because the emphasis of the verse is on the places of high political power in this world. So, if the word can suggest the highest places of political power in this world in Ephesians 6:12, it can and does mean the same thing in Ephesians 1:20 because the contexts are similar. Paul just mentioned God’s power in this world, not in some nether realm of Gnostic imagination.
The point of v. 20 is that God raised Jesus from the dead and seated or established Him in the place of highest honor and authority in this world, in the same place referred to in Ephesians 6:12 as “high places.” The suggestion that this verse is about heaven rather than the seat of worldly power in this world, has gutted the verse of its central significance—that Christ is Lord of this world right now. The point is not that Christ is seated next to God in heaven, though He most certainly is. Rather, the point is that God has raised Jesus from death to the highest seat of worldly power.
Eph. 1:21 continues this theme by adding to the description of Christ’s worldly power. Again, the verse is about this world, not heaven. But the assumption that Paul was talking about heaven caused the translators to write the idea of an abstract heaven into verse 20, and the idea is carried into verse 21. The verses do have a common theme. But again, Paul was not talking about some Gnostic, mint-julep sipping, American, Fundamentalist version of heaven. He was talking about Christ’s role and reign in this world when he wrote, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (v. 21).
While it may be true that God’s heaven is far above (ὑπεράνω) the earth, that was not what Paul intended to suggest. “Far above” is not a wrong translation, but it doesn’t fit the context and furthers false assumptions about heaven. A better translation might be “greatly higher” in the sense of rank, position and/or authority and power. The larger context of this section of Ephesians 1 concerns the power of God. And God’s power raised Jesus Christ from death and established Him as the highest authority, far beyond all earthly powers. And by earthly powers Paul meant to suggest political and governmental power in the world.
But Paul did not limit God’s power to politics and government. God’s power touches everything. So, Paul mentioned that it was higher or far superior than all “rule and authority and power and dominion” (v. 21) or “principality, and power, and might, and dominion” in the Authorized Version. The idea is that God’s power exceeds everything, including principles, laws, human intention (or will) and even divine Lordship.
Paul was very much aware that Jesus Christ was a transitional figure in history. Paul taught about the end of the old age and the advent of the new. So, it comes as no surprise that he said that this was true at the time that he said it, but that it would be true for all time, into the next age, the age that Christ had inaugurated. That next age was not some other worldly Platonic realm of ideas, but was the beginning of what we call Western Civilization. We know this because the forces that would later restart the clock at the birth of Christ. What was a next age for Paul is a this age for us.