The attempt to distinguish Jesus from Biblical truth, and thus from the doctrinal and moral imperatives this truth enjoins, is sadly alive and well in certain circles of contemporary Adventism. What those of this mindset consistently fail to recognize is that the “Jesus” they talk about is notably absent from the Bible story.
A recent online article attempts to distinguish Jesus from the other doctrines we hold as a people, using very little Scripture in the process. The author makes such claims as, “We seem to think we should focus on Revelation 14 at least as much as, if not more than, life with Jesus. I disagree.” “Our focus should be such that we have to consciously decide to look past Jesus to see what else is out there” .
Quoting Jesus’ statement, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6), the author goes on to cite Paul’s statement that “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2) . Then, citing one contemporary Adventist group that in his view “follows in Paul’s footsteps,” the author complains that this group is “sorely criticized in some quarters, including the General Conference” . He laments that people ask this particular group, "'When are you going to move on to deeper matters?” then exclaims with incredulity, “What? WHAT? WWHHAATT?” .
Along similar lines, a pastoral colleague of mine recently preached a series titled, “Jesus All,” insisting that far too many Adventists pursue an emphasis he calls, “Jesus And.” He spoke of those church members who focus on such issues as the human nature of Christ, the sanctuary service, and Biblical gender roles, lamenting—like the above author—that such folks seem to forget that their faith should be “all about Jesus.”
The pastor went on to tell the story of the thief on the cross, insisting that “all” this man needed was Jesus, and that he “couldn’t even go out and keep the Ten Commandments.” The notion thus created is that accepting Jesus and keeping Jesus’ commandments are two different things.
The Jesus of Scripture
Both the Jesus of Scripture and His faithful apostle Paul would find such talk strange, even offensive.
How, may we ask, is Revelation 14 something other than “life with Jesus”? This chapter proclaims the everlasting gospel to the world (verses 6-12), with its final pronouncement regarding those embracing this threefold message, “Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (verse 12).
The Jesus described in the Gospels declared that humanity shall live “by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). This pronouncement includes the entire Word of God—the beasts of Daniel and Revelation as well as the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, Revelation 13 as well as First Corinthians 13, Daniel 8:14 as surely as John 3:16. The Jesus of Scripture declared that Spirit-empowered obedience to His Father’s commandments was the unalterable condition for gaining eternal life (Matt. 7:21; 19:16-26; Luke 10:25-28).
Far from the all-inclusive, postmodern fabrication with which some have lately confused the Biblical Savior, the words of our Lord declare, “Narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:14). And one finds it hard to reconcile Jesus’ radical condition of salvation to the rich young ruler (Matt. 19:21-22) with the illusions of unconditional grace and forgiveness taught by certain ones in today’s Christendom.
Contrary to what some appear to believe, the thief on the cross was not offered unconditional salvation. The Bible—Jesus included—is clear that confession, repentance, and a turning from sin are necessary in order to receive divine forgiveness (II Chron. 7:14; Prov. 28:13; Isa. 55:7; Matt. 6:14-15; I John 1:9). The penitent thief fulfilled these conditions by reproving his companion and acknowledging his sin in contrast with Jesus’ innocence (Luke 23:40-41). To say this man “didn’t have time to keep the Ten Commandments” is belied by the Biblical truth that obedience as well as disobedience to God’s commandments is primarily a state of the heart. Jesus applied this principle to the issues of murder and adultery, declaring that the intent of the heart is synonymous with the outward deed (Matt. 5:21-28). The same is true with righteousness. The thief on the cross wasn’t able to restore the things he had stolen, which the Bible says is necessary in order for a thief to be forgiven (Eze. 33:15). But Jesus knew what was in this man’s heart (I Kings 8:39), and thus recognized his compliance with God’s conditions for the pardon of his sin.
Like Jesus (Matt. 4:4; 7:21; 19:16-26; Luke 10:25-28). the apostle Paul taught that divinely-empowered obedience to God’s commandments is the condition of salvation (Rom. 2:6-10; 8:13; Heb. 5:9), in contrast with the non-salvific, self-generated piety produced by the unconverted heart (Rom. 3:20,28; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9). And too many cite Paul’s statement about knowing nothing save “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2) without reading the chapters that follow, in which the apostle gives the Corinthian Christians an in-depth discourse on correct theology and moral rectitude.
Has the group praised by the online author quoted above placed its own emphasis on the doctrinal and moral specifics stressed by Paul throughout First Corinthians? Or is their vaunted “Christ focus” contrived apart from the doctrinal and moral clarity found in the pages of Holy Writ?
The Whole Bible a Manifestation of Christ
Was Paul, in the counsel contained in the subsequent chapters of First Corinthians, breaking his pledge “not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified”? Certainly not. The doctrinal and moral injunctions of the Bible are all a revelation of the loving character of our Lord. The Bible is clear that both God’s justice and His mercy form a part of His good and loving character (Ez. 33:18-19; 34:6-7). It is for this reason that Ellen White declares:
All truth is to be received as the life of Jesus. Truth cleanses us from all impurity, and prepares the soul for Christ’s presence .
In still another statement she makes the even stronger declaration that “the whole Bible is a manifestation of Christ” . Thus when Jesus declared Himself to be “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6), He was identifying Himself with the collective witness of the written Word. We see this reflected elsewhere in the New Testament, when the apostle Paul states that Christ Himself was in the pillar of cloud that guided Israel through the wilderness (I Cor. 10:1-5), thus making our Lord personally responsible for both the blessings and curses that attended the wanderings, judgments, and triumphs over Israel’s foes that attended the progress of the chosen nation.
Ellen White tells us it was Jesus Himself who instructed Lot and his family not to look back as they fled from Sodom:
The heavenly messengers took him (Lot) and his wife and daughters by the hand and led them out of the city.
Here the angels left them, and turned back to Sodom to accomplish their work of destruction. Another—He with whom Abraham had pleaded—drew near to Lot. In all the cities of the plain, even ten righteous persons had not been found; but in answer to the patriarch’s prayer, the one man that feared God was snatched from destruction. The command was given with startling vehemence: “Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.” . . .
The Prince of heaven was by his side; yet he pleaded for his own life as though God, who had manifested such care and love for Him, would not still preserve him .
Describing our Lord’s experience at His trial, she explains the power that was available at His command to deliver Himself had He so chosen, and how He had used this power before:
Under God the angels are all-powerful. On one occasion, in obedience to the command of Christ, they slew of the Assyrian army in one night one hundred and eighty-five thousand men. How easily could the angels, beholding the shameful scene of the trial of Christ, have testified their indignation by consuming the adversaries of God .
These stories may not give warm fuzzies to hearts of a postmodern bias, but the inspired pen thus identifies the Jesus of Scripture with God’s dealings throughout sacred history.
Regarding such doctrinal issues as Christ’s human nature, the sanctuary, and gender roles in ministry, one is astounded to hear these teachings depicted from the pulpit as something supposedly not part of a Christ-centered focus. In the first place, the question of the human nature Jesus took in His incarnation is explicitly about Jesus, and how far He condescended when coming to this earth. The sanctuary message is likewise all about Jesus—nothing in the ancient ritual or its antitype is possible without the sacrifices that represent our Lord and the mediation He now offers in His heavenly ministry. And even the present gender controversy in Adventism is all about Jesus, as it concerns the manner in which men and women mirror respectively the loving servant-leadership of our Savior and the godly submission of His spiritual body in both home and church relationships (I Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:22-25).
Conclusion: “Jesus All” or “Jesus And”?
If ‘the whole Bible is a manifestation of Christ” , nothing in the Sacred Writings—no doctrine, no prophecy, no liturgical or moral injunction—can rightly be viewed as something “added on” to Jesus. Jesus can never be depicted apart from the divine truths that disclose His character and loving, at times corrective guidance exerted toward His people.
It is true, of course, that a mere theoretical knowledge or surface compliance with the written Word will neither reveal Christ nor save the sinner. The Word of the living God must be engraved upon the heart in order for its Christ-focus and transforming power to be truly understood and experienced (Deut. 30:14; Psalm 119:11; Jer. 31:31-34; Rom. 10:6-8; II Cor. 3:3; Heb. 8:8-10). But neither Jesus, His apostles, nor other inspired messengers ever present the Savior’s character or saving mission apart from enjoining adherence to the whole of God’s written counsel. Jesus’ rejoinder to the first of Satan’s assaults in the wilderness of temptation clarifies this point beyond misunderstanding:
It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4).
Thus, according to Jesus Himself, “Jesus All” must include all that God commands, through the lips of our Savior as well as all of His servants the prophets (Amos 3:7).
1. Edward Reifsnyder, “Do We Need New Adventist ‘Distinctives’?” Adventist Today, Aug. 2, 2019 https://atoday.org/do-we-need-new-adventist-distinctives/
5. Ellen G. White, Our High Calling, p. 208.
6. ----The Desire of Ages, p. 390.
7. ----Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 160-161.
8. ----The Desire of Ages, p. 700.
9. Ibid, p. 390.
Pastor Kevin Paulson holds a Bachelor’s degree in theology from Pacific Union College, a Master of Arts in systematic theology from Loma Linda University, and a Master of Divinity from the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He served the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for ten years as a Bible instructor, evangelist, and local pastor. He writes regularly for Liberty magazine and does script writing for various evangelistic ministries within the denomination. He continues to hold evangelistic and revival meetings throughout the North American Division and beyond, and is a sought-after seminar speaker relative to current issues in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He presently resides in Berrien Springs, Michigan