The Essence of Heaven, Part I

What is heaven all about? When I was a child, the pastor of the church my family attended told me the following true story.

During World War II, he was a preacher in Europe. A Christian family he knew had a daughter who was not interested in Christianity. She was not interested in going to heaven. This preacher wanted to try to help this young lady; he wanted to arouse in her a desire to be a Christian and a desire to go to heaven. So he engaged her in conversation one day about this subject. She emphatically stated that she was not interested in Christianity, and why, if she did not want to go to heaven anyway, should she be a Christian? What was the point?

This girl told him, “I have heard about heaven. I have heard that it is a place where people float around on clouds, and they play harps.” And, she continued, “I am not interested. I do not even care for harp music! I certainly am not interested in floating around on a cloud, so I do not want to go there.” You see, she had no idea what heaven was really about.

There are many people like her. Even many Protestant Christians who go to church every week, if asked, “What is heaven? Please describe it to me,” could tell you almost nothing.

Abodes of Bliss

Many Seventh-day Adventist preachers, when talking about heaven, just tell people what it is not like. There is nothing wrong with this, because the Bible probably has more texts telling us what heaven is not like than any other thing.

For instance, it says in Isaiah, concerning that place, that no violence will be there. In Isaiah 33:24, we are told, “The inhabitants of that place will not say, ‘I am sick.’ ” Is that nice to know?

Revelation 21 gives us a number of descriptions in the first four verses. It says that in that place there is no sorrow, crying, or death. When we are in heaven, we will never attend a funeral. We will never go to a mortuary or pick out a tombstone or a casket. We will never go to a hospital; there will be no surgery there, because it is not needed.

There will be no pain in heaven. This is a great comfort to many people, such as drug addicts. Those who are trying to get off an
addictive substance experience extreme withdrawal pain. I have never been addicted to a substance like that, so I cannot explain or understand exactly how they feel, but one of their greatest pleasures is to read in the Bible that when they get to heaven, there will be no pain.

So, this is what preachers usually do. We tell people what heaven is by telling them what it is not¾there is no war; there is no crime; there are no prisons; there is no sickness. This is all good to know, but have you ever stopped to analyze the situation and think through that even if all those things were taken away, you would not necessarily be happy?

Heaven is a place described by Ellen White as having “the abodes of bliss.” (See Testimonies, vol. 8, 140.) Bliss! Do you know what bliss is? Bliss is an extreme, intense state of happiness. The angels, the intelligences in heaven, are in this bliss or this extreme, intense state of happiness all the time. The redeemed are going to be the same. Isaiah 35:10 says, “The redeemed of the Lord will come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads. They will obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”

They are going to have joy. They are going to have intense happiness. You see, that actually is the essence of what heaven is about. It is this intense happiness that everybody has all the time that makes heaven heaven.

Self-Sacrificing Love

You see, heaven actually has more to do with something that is internal in your mind than something that is external. It is not just golden streets and music, although there is beautiful music, and there are golden streets. There is also wonderful food, but that is not what heaven is.

So, here is the question: What makes heaven heaven? We can answer that in one sentence: “The spirit of Christ’s self-sacrificing love is the spirit that pervades heaven and is the very essence of its bliss.” Steps to Christ, 77.

What is the very essence of the bliss, the intense happiness that is in heaven? What is the very core of it? It is the spirit of self-sacrificing love. Somehow this is a concept that it is very difficult for people in this world to comprehend, because we have had an opposite education of which the devil has been in charge. It is throughout all the educational system, it is in all the philosophy of man, and it is in our language. Have you ever heard someone talking about “taking care of No. 1”? When they refer to “taking care of No. 1,” of whom are they speaking? Self. In the devil’s program, I am No. 1, and you are to make me happy.

There are many illustrations that would help us understand this concept, but I will share just one. About 30 years ago, a beautiful, young, married lady was driving her car, and she had neglected to put on her seat belt. Unfortunately, she was in a collision, and because she did not have her seat belt on, she was thrown forward headfirst through the windshield of the car. As she went through the shattered glass, her face was terribly lacerated. When her husband came to see her in the hospital, can you imagine what happened? This man had married that beautiful face. That beautiful face made him happy, but when that beautiful face did not exist any more, there was nothing to hold that marriage together, so he divorced her. (By the way, men are not the only ones who do things like that. I could tell you other stories where women did almost the identical same thing, but we will not go there. You get the point.)

If I am No. 1, then you are to make me happy, and when the time comes that you do not make me happy anymore, then we are going to separate. This is one of the reasons there is such a huge divorce rate today. This is the devil’s philosophy, the devil’s program that has taken over almost the entire world.

Jesus came into this world to show us that this is a wrong idea, to show us that we are to sacrifice ourselves for the good of somebody else. They are not to sacrifice themselves for our good; we are to sacrifice ourselves for their good. If we could ever get it learned, we would see the divorce rate bottom out.

Jesus’ Mission

Let us read a few Scriptures so you can see that this is exactly what the New Testament teaches that Jesus came to do.

“On behalf of all He died, in order that those living no longer might live for themselves, but on behalf of Him who died and was raised again.” 11 Corinthians 5:15. What was the purpose of Jesus’ coming and of His death on the cross? So I would no longer live for myself.

Jesus Himself talked about this in Matthew 10:34-39. Verse 39 reads, “The one who finds his soul will lose it.” Who is the one who finds his soul? That is the one, I am No. 1; I actually do get what I want! The text continues, “The one who loses his life for My sake will find it.”

What does it mean to lose your life? That means your life is sacrificed for somebody else, and if you learn that principle, Jesus says that you are going to find eternal life. If you do not learn that principle, you are not going to find eternal life.

John 12:25 says, “The one who loves his soul will lose it, and the one who hates his soul in this world will keep it unto life eter-nal.” Of what is Jesus talking? One person makes his own life  No. 1; the other person sacrifices his whole life for somebody else. The one who gains his soul and loves his soul will lose it, but the one who hates his soul and sacrifices all of his soul for somebody else will keep it. This is what Jesus taught.

Some Rain Must Fall

I have many cousins, but of all my relatives, two male cousins were much more handsome than were any of the rest of us. Both of them had very pleasing personalities and were very popular wherever they went.

One of these cousins, as a young man in the late 1950s, decided that he was going to join the Navy. He wanted to become a Navy pilot. I remember that as he was traveling from Washington State to Pensacola, Florida, he stopped to visit my family, who was living in Colorado, on a Saturday afternoon. He was going to Florida to join the Navy; then he went to flying school there, and realized his dream of becoming a Navy pilot.

While he was in Florida, he married an absolutely beautiful woman. Not only was she beautiful, but she was intelligent. She was a psychologist. After they married, he was stationed in Hawaii. He became one of the chief pilots for the DC7 that took the Rear Admiral of the United States Navy all over the world visiting bases, but especially over the South Pacific.

So, he had the job of flying the Rear Admiral of the United States Navy all over the South Pacific; his wife was a professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii; they were stationed in Honolulu; they had it made! I mean, he had the kind of job, the kind of wife, the kind of life that men all over the world dream about but almost none of them ever have high status, high income, lots of friends, lots of official functions, lots of parties. But the saying goes, “Into each life, some rain must fall.”

One time when he was stateside, he was in a dreadful automobile accident. He was injured so badly that he was unconscious when he was taken to the Intensive Care Unit. Of course, his wife came to the hospital and talked with the physicians. They told her they did not know what would happen; they did not know if he would ever come to consciousness again, and if he did, whether or not he would have his faculties or if he would be a vegetable.

This beautiful, talented, intelligent lady knew lots of psychology, but she was not prepared for a situation like this. She could not handle it, so she divorced him. After the divorce, he did regain consciousness and improved, though he never could fly an airplane again because of the injuries he received.

This is what happens in this world when we make ourselves No. 1, but Jesus said, “If you gain your life, if you gain everything, you are going to lose it. But if you lose everything, if you lose your life, if you sacrifice your life for somebody else, you are going to keep your life unto life eternal.”

As a Mosquito

The greatest example of this is Jesus Himself. The more I study the story of Jesus, the more astonished I become. I am in absolute awe. I believe, personally, that I will tiptoe and walk in awe in His presence through all eternity, because I do not understand what He left. Talk about self-sacrifice! He did have everything. He had the whole universe, and He was not forced to come down here to earth. He was not ordered to come down here. He went to His Father and pled to come down here. He left everything¾the power and the glory.

There is no way to explain it. The best illustration I have ever heard is if you were to ask someone, “Do you want to become a mosquito?” That is pretty crude, I suppose. We just do not have any way to help people to understand what we are talking about when we talk about what He left behind to come down here to earth.

Jesus Christ is the only Person born in this world who planned out every detail of His life before He was born, with His Father. Every detail of His life was planned out before He ever came! It was not an accident that He was born in a stable. It was not an accident that He was born into a poor family.
It was not an accident that He was poor all of His life. Until He went to Jerusalem to die on the cross, He was one of the poorest men in Jerusalem. All He had left were His clothes, and they took those from Him. What was this all about? It was to teach us the principle that you sacrifice yourself for somebody else. Jesus said, “If you do not learn this, you will not have eternal life.”

A Happy Place

Now, what happens if you do learn the lesson? If you go to heaven, friend, here is what will happen. In this world, everybody is looking out for No. 1 first and, then, other people after that. But, in heaven, everybody is looking out for the happiness of somebody else. They get their joy and happiness from bringing joy and happiness to somebody else. So, everybody in the whole place will be interested in making someone else happy. It is a happy place!

When you are around somebody whose greatest desire is to give anything that they have to make you happy, then you are in a position to start to learn what heaven is about.

Ellen White said, concerning Jesus, that when He was here, “It was heaven to be in His presence.”
The Ministry of Healing, 18. Have you ever tried to analyze that? What was it that made it like heaven to be in His presence? Now, the road is going to get a little bit rough as we study this, so get your seat belt on!

The only people who are going to go to heaven are the people who are like Jesus Christ. Read Revelation 14:1-5; read 11 Corinthians 3:18; read 1 John 3:1-3. Now, Jesus Christ was a person, and it was heaven to be in His presence because of the self-sacrificing love that was in His heart. Remember, the spirit of self-sacrificing love is the spirit that pervades heaven, and it is the very essence of its bliss.

Now, notice carefully where we are going. Self-sacrificing love is the spirit that pervades heaven and is the very essence of its bliss. It was like heaven to be in Jesus’ presence, because He had that self-sacrificing love, and all the people who go to heaven will be people who are Christlike. They will have the spirit of self-sacrificing love like He had. Now, if we really have the spirit of self-sacrificing love like Jesus had, what will it be like to be in our presence? If you and I have become Christlike, it is going to be like heaven to be in our presence, because we have the spirit of self-sacrificing love inside.

The road is going to get rougher yet.

A Little Heaven

If the husband has the spirit of self-sacrificing love so that he is Christlike, it is going to be like heaven to be in his presence. If the wife has the spirit of self-sacrificing love like Jesus has, it is going to be like heaven to be in her presence. If both of them have the spirit of self-sacrificing love in their hearts, what is it going to be like in their home? Why, friend, it is going to be like heaven on earth!

I am glad Ellen White was so specific on this. “We may have a little heaven to go to heaven in, if Christ breathes upon us his Holy Spirit. His love will be with us, and we shall be acquainted with him, and can bring him into our families.” Review and Herald, April 21, 1891.

At another time, Mrs. White counseled: “Parents, make your home a little heaven on earth. You can do this, if you so choose. You can make home so pleasant and cheerful that it will be the most attractive place on earth to your children. Let them receive all the blessings of the household. You can so relate yourselves to God that His Spirit will abide in your home. Come close to the bleeding side of the Man of Calvary. Those who are partakers with Him in His sufferings will at last be partakers with Him in His glory.” Sermons and Talks, vol. 2, 200.

Now the road is going to get really hard.


What if your home is not like a little heaven to go to heaven in? Oh, friend, this is what we did not want to hear. If your home is not like that, if your home is not a little heaven to go to heaven in, at least one of the people in that home cannot go to heaven in the condition in which they are right now. Something to think about, is it not?

This spirit of self-sacrificing love cannot be forced on anybody. A husband cannot force his wife to love him; a wife cannot force her husband to love her; parents cannot force their children to love them. You cannot force it. It cannot be commanded.

Ellen White wrote, “The exercise of force is contrary to the principles of God’s government; He desires only the service of love; and love cannot be commanded; it cannot be won by force or authority. Only by love is love awakened. To know God is to love Him; His character must be manifested in contrast to the character of Satan. This work only one Being in all the universe could do. Only He who knew the height and depth of the love of God could make it known.” The Desire of Ages, 22.

Let us consider this in a very practical way for a moment. Some of you will be able to relate to this because you have children. A human baby is born to be loved, but the baby does not understand very much about love. The mother is supposed to know about love, and if the mother knows about love, the mother starts giving love to the baby. It is a wonderful thing to see. Every day, several times a day, the mother gives love to the baby. It is expressed in many different ways¾by touching, by stroking, by the expression on the face, by the tone of the voice, by giving food, by giving water, by making the baby comfortable. There is a reason that God made human babies so they require a lot of care. It is in the process of receiving that care that they learn what love is.

But the time comes when the baby starts to really respond to the mother’s love. It is very interesting to see this response. Why is the baby responding to the mother’s love? Because the baby has received so much love from the mother that now this baby has love to give back to the mother.

Now, let me ask you a serious question, albeit an awful question, but we need to face reality. What if the baby is born to a woman who is angry and bitter and does not have very much love to give? Do you know what will happen?

Let us read about it: “The reason why there are so many hard-hearted men and women in our world, is because true affection has been regarded as weakness, and has been discouraged and repressed. The better part of the nature of those of this class was perverted and dwarfed in childhood; and unless rays of divine light can melt away their coldness and hard-hearted selfishness, the happiness of such is buried forever.” Review and Herald, June 22, 1886.

How awful this is! Their happiness is buried forever, unless divine love can break through that ice.

“If we would have tender hearts, such as Jesus had when he was upon the earth, and sanctified sympathy, such as the angels have for sinful mortals, we must cultivate the sympathies of childhood, which are simplicity itself. Then we shall be refined, elevated, and directed by heavenly principles.” Ibid.

There are people all around us (I do not say this to judge anyone) especially in our time much more so than 50 years ago, who are spiritually and emotionally crippled, and they will be spiritually and emotionally crippled until Jesus comes, because of the spiritual and emotional damage that was inflicted on them from babyhood up through childhood.

I am not saying that those people cannot be saved. God can save people whether or not they are physically crippled or spiritually and emotionally crippled, but the fact remains that in this world they are spiritually and emotionally crippled.

I mention these things to hopefully be a little bit of help to those of you who are parents of small children. Do not repress or neglect
to give affection to your small children. If you do, they will grow up to be hard-hearted men and women. They will be emotionally crippled for the rest of their lives in this world.

To be continued . . .

[Bible texts quoted are literal translation.]

Pastor John Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at:, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.