Rick Warren, sometimes called “America’s Pastor,” said recently it would be a mistake for Christians to discern the signs of the times with respect to the Second Coming.
“The Bible clearly says that NO ONE can figure out the timing of Jesus’ return,” he wrote. “It’s a waste of time.”
As evidence of this conclusion, Warren wrote: “In fact, if anyone claims to know the date, you can be certain it WON’T occur on THAT date – because Jesus said ‘NO ONE knows the day nor hour it will happen!’ In fact, Jesus admitted that even HE did not know the date of his return! (Only the Father knows.) It WILL happen someday, regardless of scoffers, but it is a waste of time trying to figure out the date. To attempt to figure out something that even Jesus admitted he didn’t know – is pure arrogance.”
He pointed to scriptural references in Matthew 24:36-37 and 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 as explicitly denying that anyone could decipher when Christ might return:
- “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”
- “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.”
I guess if you quit reading the Bible after those two verses, it would be a logical conclusion that believers were wasting their time by reading prophecies about the Second Coming. But that would be a mistake. In fact, it would be disobedience, because Jesus actually commanded His followers to watch for the signs. In fact, all of Matthew 24 is devoted to Jesus spelling out the signs that would precede His Second Coming and says when we see them, we will know He is “at the door.”
Furthermore, Jesus commands us to “watch” for Him. Being watchful and ready is equated with being a “faithful and wise servant.”
This is a familiar refrain in the Bible.
What about 1 Thessalonians 5?
There are more than two verses in this chapter. Warren is taking two completely out of context. Here’s the context Warren is omitting:
“But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.
“For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
“For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
“But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
“Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
“Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
“For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.”
In other words, those who will overtaken like a thief in the night are those following Rick Warren’s advice. True believers obedient to the words of Jesus and Paul will be expectant of the Second Coming and watching for the signs of the times.
But the children of the day and the children of the light will not be surprised:
“But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.”
Paul has some more advice in this chapter: “Despise not prophesyings.”
Warren would do well to heed that advice, rather than very selectively misleading many others by taking a verse or two out of context.
Jesus never said, as Warren proclaims, “It’s none of your business when I am coming back.”
“It is interesting that the last topic the disciples wanted to talk about before Jesus ascended back to heaven was prophecy and future events, but Jesus changed the subject! (Acts 1:6-8) Jesus was far more interested in evangelism and missions than prophecy!” wrote Warren. “We should be too! Instead of teaching about ‘last things’ Jesus changed the subject. Jesus essentially said ‘IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS to figure out the future. INSTEAD I want you to go be witnesses to the entire world.’”
Sharing the gospel and making disciples is not mutually exclusive to paying attention to prophecy. In fact, it is through prophecy that Jesus was recognized by some when He came the first time, and it is through paying attention to prophecy that He will be recognized the second time.
In fact, Warren himself notices that the end comes after the gospel is shared worldwide – a mission closer than ever before in the world’s history.
“If you are looking for a specific sign to happen before Jesus returns, here it is from Jesus himself: ‘This Gospel of my Kingdom (Good News) MUST FIRST be preached throughout the ENTIRE WORLD, as a testimony to EVERY NATION so EVERYONE hears it, and THEN FINALLY, the end will come.’ Matthew 24:14,” wrote Warren.
Indeed, sharing the gospel should be of paramount importance to every believer. But it’s the whole gospel that needs to be shared – not selective portions, not the Gospel according to Rick Warren.
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