““Why are you so amazed?” the angel asked. “I will tell you the mystery of this woman and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns on which she sits. This calls for a mind with understanding: The seven heads of the beast represent the seven hills where the woman rules. They also represent seven kings. Five kings have already fallen, the sixth now reigns, and the seventh is yet to come, but his reign will be brief. The scarlet beast that was, but is no longer, is the eighth king. He is like the other seven, and he, too, is headed for destruction.””
Revelation 17:7, 9-11 NLT
The angel confesses to John that there is a mystery involved in the vision of heads and horns, the woman, beasts and kings. The angel, as he tried to explain what was going to happen, said “a mind with understanding” would be required. But his explanation was quite detailed. Many theologians and others have claimed to have the understanding the angel said would be required and have worked out the meaning of when these events will take place, at least to them. But in all of that, how much fruit has been produced for the Kingdom?
Although I say there is only limited value in trying to work out what it all means, from the perspective of 21st Century Planet Earth, the reality is that there is still a mystery here. Why wasn’t John given a clearer vision? Why wasn’t he told specifically who the main players were, and when the events described would happen? However, Jesus said that only God knows the exact time. So all those claiming to “understand” when it will happen are encroaching on God’s domain.
About the clarity of prophecy, what about some of the Old Testament prophesies about the first coming of Jesus? We see, with the benefit of hindsight, how spectacularly accurate they were. For example, Isaiah prophesied, as recorded in Isaiah 7:14, “All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).” Imagine how the people of Isaiah’s day would respond to the reality of a child being borne to a virgin? Laughable to them? But with the benefit of hindsight we marvel at its accuracy. Or consider Jesus’ death. We read the graphic description of the crucifixion experience in Psalm 22:14-15, “My life is poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, melting within me. My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.” So one day I’m sure that we will look back at John’s prophetic vision and finally understand how accurate it was.
Perhaps another reason for prophecies not being as accurate as we would like is the limitations of trying to articulate events that are to take place in the future with a limited vocabulary. For example, imagine a “prophecy” given in the nineteenth century about the coming of mobile phones. How would our Victorian forbears describe it, in the language, and with the vocabulary, of the times? Silly example I know, but hopefully it illustrates the point I am trying to make.
But I’m sure the real reason for prophecies not being as clear as they could be is that God wants us to be dependent on Him. Through faith we trust Him with our future. Through faith we are assured that, even though He has given a glimpse, or hint, of what is to come, He wants us to embrace His love and provision for the situation and times in which we live. That’s good enough for me! And we pilgrims respond with our praise, worship and gratitude.
Dear Father God. You are our loving Heavenly Father. You are always available for us to come and worship at Your throne, accepted and loved. How grateful we are. Amen.