Sir Isaac Newton was one smart guy.

That is a supreme understatement.

Until another genius, Albert Einstein, introduced humanity to his Theory of Relativity early last century, Newton (1642-1726) had almost singlehandedly figured out and stated the “rules” for how the cosmos works. No wonder science textbooks still refer to those principles as Newtonian Physics.

Newton was also one strange guy.

Sometimes he would swing his feet over the side of the bed in the morning and be so surprised at the sudden rush of thoughts coming into his head that he would sit there, mesmerized, for hours.

Newton also had an odd habit. He would solve some of the toughest problems in the world, but then wouldn’t get around to telling anyone for years.

As a student, for instance, he was frustrated by the limitations of arithmetic and algebra. Therefore he invented calculus. Amazingly, Newton didn’t mention that fact for 27 years. Historians generally concede that the German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz independently worked out the same formulas for calculus at approximately the same time.

Newton also did groundbreaking work in the field of light and optics, but kept his findings to himself for more than three decades.

In August 1684, the scientist and astronomer Edmund Halley (for whom the comet is named) dropped in unannounced at Newton’s bungalow in Cambridge, England. The result was one of the more significant conversations in the history of science.

Halley was competing with another scientist to solve one of the great puzzles of the solar system: What kinds of paths do the planets follow around the sun? Do they travel in circles? Ovals? Randomly, perhaps? Did Newton have an opinion on this vexing question?

Oh, sure, he said. Each planet travels in an ellipse. Halley was startled. Really? How did Newton know that? “Oh, I figured it out a while ago.”

Breathless with excitement, Halley asked if Newton could produce the equations. But the genius had somehow lost his scribblings amidst countless other papers. Social historian Bill Bryson writes, “This was astounding – like someone saying he had found a cure for cancer but couldn’t remember where he put the formula.”

Nudged by Halley, Newton redid his calculations. While he was in a reflective mood, he kept thinking about things. After several years he produced Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, or simply Principia – one of the most important books ever written, and guaranteed to work faster than Tylenol PM if you’re having trouble falling asleep.

Edmund Halley, who published Principia, deserves everlasting credit for motivating its reclusive author. Concerning Newton he once said, “Nearer the gods no mortal may approach.”

Which brings us to the surprising subject that occupied Isaac Newton’s mind more than any other: the mysteries of the Bible.

Newton actually gave up his work as a scientist to devote the last twenty years of his life to solving the riddle of Jesus’ second coming. When exactly would it happen? What would be the signs of its approach?

He taught himself Hebrew in order to study, endlessly, the floor plan of the biblical Temple of Solomon, in the hope that it would yield mathematical clues to the book of Revelation. After all, if you want to tackle a theological riddle, you might as well employ one of the greatest minds the world has ever known.

And what did Newton come up with?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Jesus actually tried to save Isaac Newton a lot of trouble. He said to his disciples, *“It is not for you to know the dates or times the Father has set by his own authority”* (Acts 1:7). Period. End of story.

Here’s a timeworn principle of scriptural interpretation: We must shout where the Bible shouts, and whisper where the Bible whispers.

Which means even the smartest man in the world cannot crack a code that God has said is not our job to crack.

Besides, right now the Big Ten has 18 teams.

Even Sir Isaac couldn’t have seen that one coming.

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