Let’s face it: “Doctrine” is not a very popular word today. There are movements that want to minimize doctrine and emphasize Jesus only. For some, doctrine conjures up the idea of cold church creeds, stale traditions, boring discourses, and “proof-texting.”
While some contend that Jesus and doctrine should not, cannot, be spoken of in the same breath, Scripture makes plain that Jesus and doctrine—meaning Jesus and His teachings—are inseparable. To take one away is to take away both.¹
Almost everything we know about Jesus comes from the Bible, especially the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. And a lot of that content consists of His teachings. The careful reader of the Gospels recognizes they are saturated with the teachings of Jesus, and that it is impossible to separate what Jesus did from what Jesus taught, because His whole life is a lesson book. If we don’t know and accept Jesus’ teachings, how can we really claim to know Him?
Some may be surprised that the early church emphasized doctrine. The thousands baptized on the day of Pentecost “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” (Acts 2:42). This emphasis on doctrine they learned from Jesus Himself (see Luke 24:27, 44).
EVERY DOCTRINE CHRIST-CENTERED
We are told, “Every true doctrine makes Christ the center, every precept receives force from His words.”2 Some might wonder if that can really be said about every doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists. Let’s look at three doctrines as examples, showing how Jesus is at the heart of each:³
The Remnant. Is Jesus really at the center of our doctrine of the remnant? Absolutely. Let’s keep in mind that the entire book of Revelation was revealed to John by Jesus (Rev. 1:1), and therefore Jesus teaches us what the two distinguishing characteristics of the remnant are—they “keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 12:17). Several other passages describe in symbolic terms the events leading to the rise of the remnant (Rev. 10:1-11:1) and the message they proclaim (Rev. 14:6-12; 18:1-4). In essence, that message, which includes “the everlasting gospel,” applies Jesus’ Great Commission, given to the early Christians (Matt. 28:18-20), to an end-time setting. It also makes clear that “the faith of Jesus” is the only way they can keep the commandments of God (Rev. 14:12). In this verse, Jesus answers a question He had asked but left unanswered at the time: “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). There will be a people of faith on the earth. Of the remnant who live to see Jesus come (cf. Rev. 14:14-16), John is told, “Here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12).
The Sabbath. A crucial part of this final message is the Sabbath because we are commanded to “worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water” (Rev. 14:7). This is an almost word-for-word quotation of the Sabbath commandment (see Ex. 20:11). Who created all things? According to the New Testament, Jesus did (John 1:3). “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16). It was Jesus who finished the work of Creation in six days and rested on the seventh day (cf. Gen. 2:1-3).
According to the Gospel of John, as Jesus completed His saving work on the cross that Friday afternoon, “He said,‘It is finished!’”and rested in the tomb over the Sabbath (John 19:30-42), rising from the dead on “the first day of the week” (John 20:1). So the Sabbath has been doubly blessed by Jesus—first at Creation and then at the cross. Far from being legalistic, keeping the Sabbath is the most Christ-centered, gospel-oriented thing we can do! It symbolizes that, just as we did not create ourselves (Ps. 100:3), we cannot save ourselves either: “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Heb. 4:9, 10, ESV).⁴
The Sanctuary. We can see now that keeping the Sabbath is an important part of the everlasting gospel. But how is it connected with Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary and why is it singled out as part of the end-time message to be given just before He comes again?
First, this message results in a group who “keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” Second, it directs our attention to Jesus’ work of judgment (Rev. 14:7; cf. John 5:22) in the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary, where the commandments of God are enshrined (Rev. 11:19). Third, by that law all will be judged (James 2:12; Eccl. 12:13, 14). When the issue of true versus false worship is brought clearly to the forefront, the saved at the end of time will be those who worship God “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24), shown by their observance of the true Sabbath, which is His seal (Rev. 7:2-4; 14:1), while the lost will worship the beast and receive his mark (Rev. 14:9-11).
The fourth reason is that Jesus’ work in the heavenly sanctuary corresponds to the work done by the high priest on the Day of Atonement. This was the only day of the year, other than the weekly Sabbath, on which the Israelites were required to rest completely from all their work(Lev.23:26-32). Just as the Sabbath points us to Jesus’ work, so every phase of the ministry in the earthly sanctuary points to Jesus (see 1 Cor. 5:7; 1 John 1:9; 2:1). Every phase is Christ’s work and His righteousness, not our own.
THE TRUTH AS IT IS IN JESUS
Some might call this presentation of Bible texts in support of each doctrine proof-texting. But it is really just what has been “taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:21). Without a clear understanding of this “truth as it is in Jesus,” we have only a superficial Christianity and little genuine commitment. That is why, on the road to Emmaus, rather than just telling the disciples who He was, Jesus showed them from the Scriptures (Luke 24:27). He cited texts from the Old Testament to prove His points, as did all the New Testament writers. Were Jesus and the apostles proof-texting? Of course not, because they always quote Scripture in harmony with its original intention. In describing the Christ-centered focus of these doctrines, we have simply followed Jesus’ method of interpreting Scripture to show how they all revolve around Him.
The entire Bible is a witness as to who Jesus is. Jesus is the living Word to which His written Word witnesses. The only way to distinguish the real Jesus from a fake Jesus is by “the word of truth” (Ps. 119:43; 2 Cor. 6:7; Eph. 1:13; 2 Tim. 2:15; James 1:18), inspired by the God of truth “with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17, KJV). That is why God urges us to be faithful to the Word: “Give diligence to present yourself approved by God, a workman who doesn’t need to be ashamed, properly handling the Word of Truth”
(2 Tim. 2:15, WEB).⁵
¹ This article is adapted from Wahlen’s chapter in the forthcoming book Prophetic Call to Faithfulness, © 2022, Review and Herald Publishing Association and Hart Research Center. Used by permission.
² Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 6, p. 54.
³ A description of 28 Bible doctrines held by Seventh-day Adventists is available at www.adventist.org.
⁴ Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
⁵ Texts credited to WEB are from the World English Bible, published in 2000. The World English Bible is an update of the American Standard Version of 1901, and is in public domain.