A confusing doctrine has emerged in many Christians circles that I call "Third Heaven Intercession". This teaching is giving many people a false understanding of how intercession works.

In this teaching, the first heaven is the atmosphere; part of the heavens and earth that God created. The second heaven is the place where the spiritual powers of evil operate (from a reference to the prince of the power of the air in Eph 2:2). The third heaven is the place where God dwells, and Jesus sits (based on where Paul said that he visited in 2 Cor 12:2). Actually, the third heaven is the paradise, where the people who die in the Lord go to be with Jesus, so it is something slightly different, but that is not important for this article (2 Cor 12:4).

The teaching on intercession claims that prayers fail, because intercessors are still operating in the first heaven, seeing things from an earthly level. Their prayers get blocked by the spiritual powers of evil in the second heaven from getting to Jesus in the third heaven.

The solution for intercessors is to understand that they are seated with Jesus at the right hand of the Father (which is true). If they pray from their position there, their prayers will be victorious, because the spiritual powers of evil in the second heaven cannot block them from getting to the Father. Their prayers go to him directly, bypassing any blockages.

Aspects of this teaching are true, and it seems plausible, but it is also misleading because it fails to take account of the nature of authority. Understanding authority is the key to success in intercession.

Having a place in the third heaven is not a guarantee of success in prayer. Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, from where he is interceding on our behalf (Heb 7:25). His position does not give him authority to control everything on earth, so his wishes are not always fulfilled.

Jesus did not want Hitler rising to power and controlling part of the earth and slaughtering many Jews, but he did not have authority to stop him. Jesus did not want Stalin ruling half of Europe and killing many people, including Christians, but he did not have authority to stop him, though he was seated at God's right hand in heaven (please do not reply that Hitler and Stalin were God's will for the world).

The truth is that in terms of what happens on earth, authority on earth is much more important than authority in heaven. God gave authority over the earth to humans, so he can only intervene on earth if humans who have authority there give him permission.

Jesus was a human, so he was able to take back the authority on earth from the spiritual powers of evil who had stolen it from humans. After he had died on the cross, the spiritual powers of evil were totally defeated, so Jesus could say that all authority on earth (and heaven) belonged to him. At that moment, he held all authority over the earth. However, he did not keep it for himself, but gave the authority that he had won back to humans. The humans who chose to belong to him submitted to him, so he still had authority in their lives.

Most other people took the freedom (authority in their lives) Jesus had given back to them and resubmitted to the spiritual powers of evil (often unwittingly) by continuing to live their old lives. Jesus could have maintained authority over their lives by sending millions of angels and forcing them to obey his will. He could have sent angels to force Caesar to do what he wanted. Jesus could have threatened to smack down anyone who refused to obey him with angelic power. However, he chose not to do that, because his kingdom is a kingdom of love that cannot be imposed by coercion and force.

Jesus wanted people to be free, even if they rejected him, just as his Father had created them to be free. He wanted people to be free, even if they took the authority that he had won back for them by his terrible death and gave it back to the spiritual powers of evil who had cheated them before.

This is the current authority situation on earth. Jesus has authority in the lives of the people who acknowledge him as Lord, and those who submit to them for various reasons, as employees, children, etc. He has no authority in the lives of the millions who have rejected his wonderful gospel and submitted to the spiritual powers of evil.

The spiritual powers of evil have authority in the lives of people who have rejected the gospel and chosen sin and evil. This gives the powers of evil authority in the places and institutions on earth where these people have authority (even if they are located in the second heaven). Christians cannot override the decisions of these people, even if they are seated with Jesus at the right hand of the Father.

The Holy Spirit is everywhere, so the spiritual powers of evil cannot prevent the Father from hearing out prayer. The idea that our prayers can be blocked in the second heaven by the spiritual powers of evil is nonsense. Nor can they cannot stop the Holy Spirit from speaking to us, unless we have unwittingly given them permission by sinning.

All this means that our intercession will be more effective in situations where we have authority.

Parents have authority over their children. Elders have authority over the people in the body of Jesus who have submitted to them. That is why people in trouble should call on their elders to pray for them. When people submit to us by asking us to pray for them, that gives authority to our prayers into their lives.

Business people and have authority over their employees while they are at work. Managers have authority over the people who report to them. This opens the way to pray effectively for them, although this is always limited authority. Teachers have authority over the students in their classes, so this makes their prayers effective, within the limits of the authority that the students have also given to other people like parents and spouses.

Everyone has the right to speak to their political leaders, so we have the authority to release the Holy Spirit to speak to them. However, we do not have authority to make them obey his voice. However, if a president or king asks a prophet for advice, that gives the prophet extra authority when praying for him/her. Of course, the president or king will be submitting to other people too. If he/she gives them more authority, the prayers of the prophet may be nullified.

Authority is the key to effective intercession, not our place in the spiritual realms. That said, when we are in a place of authority, and are confronting evil, the fact that we are sitting with Jesus at the right hand of the Father with all his authority behind us is critically important. In situations where we have authority, the spiritual powers of evil have to surrender and submit to our declarations and decrees, if we speak on Jesus' behalf and according to his will. In these situations, the reality that we are seated in the spiritual realms at God's right hand means that they have to submit us.

The key to intercession is to seek authority: not imposing it on others by force, but whenever people freely submit to us for whatever reason, we should accept the authority and use it to pray for them. Authority makes intercession effective.