Isaac Newton: Groundbreaking Theologian or Heretic?

 Sir Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton

Do you remember your grade school image of Isaac Newton? I pictured him sitting under an apple tree about to discover gravity as an apple hits him in the head.

A more realistic picture recognizes him as one of the most influential scientists of all time. He laid the foundation for all the scientific advances in the fields of physics and astronomy that came after him. In addition to his numerous scientific accomplishments, he was also a brilliant mathematician.

It’s no wonder he’s the most famous scientist of all time.

Almost forgotten amidst all of these successes is that he was also a theologian. In fact, his views regarding the Second Coming of Jesus no doubt shocked the biblical scholars of his day.

Newton’s 2060 Prediction

Isaac Newton (1642-1726) devoted the latter years of his life to studying the Bible and in particular, the books of Daniel and Revelation. He wrote copious notes on these two books that reveal his beliefs about the end times. After his death, those close to him assembled those notes into a lengthy book titled Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John, which was published in 1733.

In his notes, Newton predicted Jesus would return to Jerusalem in 2060. As a result, he’s best known for his date predictions, of which there were many, rather for what he actually believed about the Bible.

Sadly, Newton did not acknowledge the deity of Jesus (although he kept it a secret at the time from those around him). However, he believed in the virgin birth, trusted solely in the blood Jesus shed on the cross for his salvation, and further acknowledged Jesus’ resurrection, ascension to heaven, and His glorious return to earth after seven years of tribulation. And yet, somehow did not recognize Jesus for who He was and is.

If I could ask Newton one question it would be this, “Who was Jesus if not fully God in the flesh?”

Despite Newton’s serious error regarding the person of Jesus, I find it interesting to look at where his in-depth studies of Daniel and the book of Revelation took him.

Newton’s Beliefs Regarding the End Times

Stephen Snobelen is a professor of the history of science and technology at the University of King's College in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The focus of his scholarly research has been on the theological writings of Isaac Newton and during the past several years he has published articles on Newton’s beliefs.

Below is Snobelen’s brief summary of Newton’s convictions regarding Christ’s return:

Newton was convinced that Christ would return around this date [2060] and establish a global Kingdom of peace . . . . Before the Second Coming, the Jews would return to Israel according to the predictions made in biblical prophecy. The Temple would be rebuilt as well. Slightly before, or around the time of Christ’s return, the great battle of Armageddon would take place when a series of nations (the “Gog and Magog” confederacy of Ezekiel’s prophecy) invade Israel. Christ and the saints would then intervene to establish a worldwide 1000-year Kingdom of God on earth. Citing the prophet Micah Newton believed this Kingdom would usher in a time of peace and prosperity, a time when people would “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks” and when “nations shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Micah 4:3). . . . Newton took seriously the prophetic vision of world peace found in Isaiah 2 and Micah 4—a vision that sees Jerusalem as the beginning of peace. It is thus perhaps appropriate that the largest collection of Newton’s prophetic papers now resides in Jerusalem.[i]

Below is a recap of what Isaac Newton saw in his study of Daniel and Revelation. Remember, this is 150 years before these views became widespread in Bible believing churches:

1. He believed the Jews would return to their land. In Newton’s day, almost everyone believed God had rejected the Jews; in addition, anti-Semitism was prevalent in the church. The land of Israel, for that matter, was a barren wasteland. Yet, in spite of what everyone in his day thought, Newton maintained that the Jews would return to their land and Israel would become a nation once again.

2. He believed the temple would be rebuilt. Not only did Newton see the reestablishment of Israel as a result of his studies, he said they would build another temple once they were back in the land. Today, the rebuilding of the third temple is the focus of many in Israel and it seems certain that a future peace deal will enable them to build it.

3. He believed in a literal battle of Armageddon. Newton accepted the literalness of the final climatic battle revealed in the book of Revelation known as Armeggeddon. He also equated it with the battle of God and Magog, which many experts in prophecy today believe will happen either just before the tribulation or at its beginning.

During a time when the church regarded Old Testament prophecy of the future as symbolical, Newton believed in the literal fulfillment of Ezekiel 38-39, a view widely held today.

4. He believed Jesus would return and establish a one thousand year reign of peace on the earth. Newton also accepted the literalness of Revelation 19-20; he believed Jesus would return to Jerusalem to establish His kingdom and rule for a thousand years.

5. He believed Jesus would return with His “saints.” In my reading of what Newton wrote, I did not see any reference to Jesus’ return for His church or the Rapture. However, for us to return with Jesus at His Second Coming, he must have believed Jesus would take us up to heaven beforehand. The saints have to somehow be with Jesus in heaven in order to return with Him at the end of the tribulation as he believed.

I fully realize Newton’s beliefs regarding the deity of Christ greatly lessen the impact of his premillennial beliefs. I felt a deep sense of sorrow as I read about his views regarding the person of Jesus.

On the other hand, Newton based his beliefs on a biblically-centered and literal approach to prophecy; the same methodology that fueled the explosion of premillennial beliefs two centuries later.

Just like Newton, Bible scholars and preachers of the early 1900’s relied solely on Scripture and a consistent literal approach to prophecy. As a result, premillennialism became dominant in evangelical churches for many decades.

Was Isaac Newton a groundbreaking theologian or a heretic? Perhaps he was both.

Despite his heretical view on the person of Jesus, Newton led the way in showing that Scripture alone is basis for our views on the end times and the Second Coming of Jesus.

[i] Stephen Snobelen, “Statement on the Date 2060,” June 2003, at https://isaac-newton.org/statement-on-the-date-2060/