At the 87th Academy Awards in March 2015, no one was slapped on stage – a statement that really didn’t need to be made until after this year’s awards. Also, Eddie Redmayne won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role in “The Theory of Everything,” a fluffy biopic about the life and times of the renowned theoretical-physicist Stephen Hawking. The irony is that the movie said little about Hawking’s theory of everything, perhaps because the audience would be hopelessly lost.
There’s an interesting exchange in the film between he and his wife at the time, Jane Hawking. She asks him, “What about you? What are you?” and Stephen Hawking replies, “Cosmologist, I’m a cosmologist.”
Confused, Jane asks, “What is that?”
“It is a kind of religion for intelligent atheists.”
Uh … yeah. Anyway, it’s just a cool idea that there could be a theory of everything – a concept that would explain all, tell all, bring congruent and incongruent particles together, and merge them into a single explanation. Wouldn’t it be great if we could make sense of everything? After all, we have so many questions and so few answers.
- Are we alone in the universe?
- What makes us human?
- Why do we behave badly?
- Why do bad things happen?
- How long will Covid last?
- Is there a cure for cancer?
- Is time travel possible?
The last item was of great interest to Hawking, and perhaps his most well-known book is the popular A Brief History of Time. In the film, his character asks, “What is the nature of time? Will it ever come to an end? Can we go back in time?” He goes on to say, “Someday, these answers may seem as obvious to us as the Earth orbiting the sun, or perhaps as ridiculous as a tower of tortoises. Only time [will tell], that’s what we say.”
Wikipedia has this to say about a theory of everything: “The theory of everything (TOE) is a putative theory of theoretical physics that fully explains and links together all known physical phenomena. … Physicist John Ellis claims to have introduced the term into the technical literature in an article in Nature in 1986. Over time, the term stuck in popularizations of quantum physics to describe a theory that would unify or explain through a single model the theories of all fundamental interactions of nature.” (emphasis added)
We are one Sunday removed from Easter, and now we see the risen Christ positioned in His exalted glory. Having visited earth and humankind as Jesus – a tiring and brutal experience – Jesus Christ is now seen in His post-resurrection and heavenly splendor. Talk immediately turns to a second visitation to Earth – this time, not to suffer, not to offer salvation, but to come as “ruler of the kings of the earth” (v. 5). Every eye will see this happen, and “all the tribes of the earth will wail” (v. 7).
We could suggest, then, that Jesus is the summational Theory of Everything – or, if you will, Jesus is our big TOE. In him, all of history comes together. Because of Jesus, our current reality makes sense. Because Jesus lives, life takes on meaning. Because Jesus is Lord of all, we have hope, even though we live in a fallen world.
Jesus is the one who explains “through a single model the theories of all fundamental interactions of nature.” Our text from Revelation twice refers to Jesus Christ as the one “who is and who was and who is to come” (vv. 4, 8) and refers to him as the Alpha and the Omega (v. 8). In fact, it is Jesus Himself who speaks these words.
This, then, is the entry point for a reflection on the Christ of Revelation, resplendent in glory, who is all and in all … who is … who was … and who is to come.
Who Is … Jesus is what He always was or has been. In other words, Jesus’ plunge into humanity did not in any way diminish who He had always been.
Therefore, Jesus is, at this very moment, alive. No, He’s not alive in the same way we might say that we are alive, or our friends and neighbors are alive. We have corporeal bodies; Jesus doesn’t. We look like human beings; Jesus doesn’t. The “body” that Jesus has is quite different. It is a spiritual body. He doesn’t have a body like ours that is perched on a planet floating around in space, orbiting the sun. Recall also how Jesus shocked His disciples by appearing and disappearing at will, seemingly passing through walls of plaster or stone. Note Jesus’ response to Mary in His memorable post-resurrection appearance recorded in John 20:11-18 and see also 1 Corinthians 15:39-50.
Who is Jesus? He is a real person who is alive with a spiritual body. Jesus is not a dead person. He is not a stone figure chiseled by sculptors. He is not an image of a holy man of long ago painted in pastels on canvas or frescoed on plaster. He is not simply a character portrayed in the gospels.
Jesus is. He exists. He is real. How many words can we use to express this idea? He is real, viable, alive, contemporary, among us, present and aware of all things, communicative, responsive and reactive. He is a presence in the cosmic continuum. Many theologians have referred to Jesus as the Cosmic Christ. This might be translated into saying that Jesus is our Theory of Everything.
That Jesus is explains why it is proper to pray to Jesus and pray in His name. You don’t pray to a dead person. You don’t pray to an image, a stone, a piece of wood. Jesus told His disciples, “I will do whatever you ask in my name … If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it” (John 14:13-14). When the first martyr of the church was being stoned to death, he prayed to Jesus: “While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’” (Acts 7:59-60). And think of this: The Bible ends with a prayer to Jesus: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).
Because Jesus is, we also have a legitimate reason to thank, praise and worship Jesus. We probably do all three of these things for the same reasons: for His sacrificial love for us, for His suffering and death on the cross, for His exemplary life he lived among us, for the timeless truths He taught while He walked on Earth, for the intercession He makes on our behalf before the Father, and for the promise of His presence in our lives.
We would do none of these things were it not for this reality: Jesus is.
Who Was … This same Jesus also existed in space and time as an historical reality some 2,000 years ago. When He was born to a young woman living in Nazareth in Galilee, He was given a name: Jesus. So, Jesus was … a baby with a mom and dad. Jesus was … a toddler, a neighborhood kid, a precocious preteen sharing his views to the priests of the temple, a young man working in his father’s shop.
In the world of the Middle East when Jesus was born, babies usually had only one name. If more information was needed, you simply added the father’s name or the place of origin. That’s why in his lifetime Jesus was called Jesus son of Joseph (Luke 4:22; John 1:45, 6:42), Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 10:38), or Jesus the Nazarene (Mark 1:24; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:19).
Later, Jesus was … a man with a mission. He was called the Christ, from the Greek word Χριστóς (christos), which translates to the Hebrew term meaning Messiah or “anointed one.” Many of His followers thought He was the new King David and that He would restore the fortunes of Israel. Perhaps He was Elijah restored, who would deliver judgment against their oppressors. In the writings of the apostle Paul, the names of Jesus and Christ are sometimes used together, separately and in various orders: Jesus, Jesus Christ, Christ Jesus, Christ and Lord Jesus Christ.
Sometimes, critics will huff and sniff about the fact that there is very little extra-canonical mention of the historical Jesus. Yes, Josephus, Pliny and Tacitus – writing 60 or more years after Jesus died – mention Jesus directly or tangentially.
And, true, there’s the problem about the archaeological evidence — there is none. This is not surprising, says Lawrence Mykytiuk, an associate professor of library science at Purdue University and author of a 2015 Biblical Archaeology Review article on the extra-biblical evidence of Jesus. “There’s nothing conclusive, nor would I expect there to be,” he says. “Peasants don’t normally leave an archaeological trail.”
Even Bart Ehrman, notorious atheist and professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, sneers at the idea that Jesus was not a historical figure. “The reality is that we don’t have archaeological records for virtually anyone who lived in Jesus’s time and place,” he says. “The lack of evidence does not mean a person at the time didn’t exist. It means that she or he, like 99.99% of the rest of the world at the time, made no impact on the archaeological record.”
And Who Is to Come … It has been a huge article of faith in the universal church since Jesus airlifted off a Galilean launch pad about A.D. 29 or 30 that Jesus is coming again. This belief has persisted over two millennia. Jesus is, He was, and He most definitely is coming again.
Believers in A.D. 90 certainly believed this, and they took great comfort in this. Many scholars believe Revelation was written in the mid-80s to mid-90s of the first century. This roughly corresponds to the imperial reign of Domitian (A.D. 81-96), the last ruler of the Flavian dynasty.
Emperor worship reached new heights during the despotic rule of Domitian, and this was not an easy time for Jews and Christians who, according to the fourth-century church historian Eusebius, were heavily persecuted, especially in the last years of Domitian’s autocracy. It is likely that Revelation, as well as the First Epistle of Clement, were written during this period.
The Greek word for “overcome” is used more times in Revelation than any other place in the New Testament, and for good reason. In those trying times, it was helpful to hear a voice that encouraged churches and Christians to keep their hands to the plow, their eyes on the prize and remember that a time of reckoning is at hand.
This voice is the voice of the exalted Christ and “him who sits on the throne.” He calls on the churches to remain faithful to Him amid a fallen, idolatrous and sinful world. Their perseverance will be rewarded, because Jesus Christ is not only he who is and he who was, but he “who is to come.” Christ exhorts the church to remain faithful in times of suffering because He is coming soon.
We live in a world where knowledge is power. Yet, no one person can know everything there is to know. The last person of whom this could be said, according to the late pundit William F. Buckley, was Erasmus of Rotterdam. It is also possible that those who have a theory of everything are limited to a few denizens of spooky labs at MIT, Cambridge University or other research facilities around the world.
If, however, we’re asked about our theory of everything, a very plausible response would be to turn to The Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ and cite in particular verse 8 of chapter 1 and Hebrews 13:8: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who “is the same yesterday and today and forever,” and “who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Jesus Christ is the Beginning.
He is the Ending
He is the Lord God.
He is coming again.
He is the Almighty.
Jesus Christ is our big Theory of Everything. Amen.