The rapid advance of technology is transforming civilization in ways no one expected—in ways that are exciting and scary, ways we are only beginning to understand. Tech seems on the verge of recreating human beings into something new—something altered, bionic, computerized, robotic, superhuman.
The Internet “spiderweb” has descended and covered nearly all elements of civilization. The smartphone, smartwatch and smart home are growing into the “smart world.”
Thinking about modern technology—considering hopes and fears, pros and cons, joys and worries—has led some to wonder if our unprecedented digital age was foretold in Bible prophecy. Is what we are seeing today outlined in any way in the pages of a book written many centuries ago?
Some readers may recall the words given to the prophet Daniel more than 25 centuries ago in Daniel 12:4 that at the time of the end “many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” Not until recent history have we seen a time when millions of people rapidly fly all over the globe, reaching destinations in hours that in previous centuries took months or even years.
And as for knowledge increasing, an item at the Digital Journal website noted this staggering trend: “Until year 1900, human knowledge approximately doubled every century. However, by 1950 human knowledge doubled every 25 years. In 2000, human knowledge would double every year. Now, our knowledge is almost doubling every day” (Tim Sandle, “Knowledge Doubles Almost Every Day, and It’s Set to Increase,” Nov. 23, 2018, emphasis added throughout).
This should certainly make us pay attention to how quickly our world is changing—and with it, how previously puzzling Bible prophecies might now be fulfilled. Let’s look at how three specific Bible verses foreshadow today’s interconnected Internet/smartphone/Big Data era and how prophecy is being or might be fulfilled.
Matthew 24:14: The gospel reaching all nations
In Matthew 24, Jesus Christ’s disciples asked Him what would signal His return. Here is one thing He said would happen: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (verse 14, King James Version throughout).
When Jesus spoke this prophecy, it was a very different world. Communication was limited. Messages were carried by foot, by ship or on horseback. It took time, sometimes a lot of time, to get the word out.
What started with the movable-type printing press in 1439 eventually matured into the Internet and smartphones—instant fingertip access to anything at any time! Today roughly 2.7 billion people worldwide own a mobile phone, putting man’s collective fund of knowledge within reach at any moment.
Christ’s words in Matthew 24:14 have never made more sense than in this era. The Internet in everyone’s pockets means the potential now exists—as never before—for the true gospel of God’s coming Kingdom to be preached, truly, to “all nations.” Beyond Today magazine, in print and through the Internet, reaches all but a handful of nations around the globe.
The stage is set for God to reach vast numbers with the true gospel. And the context of this prophecy is just before Christ’s second coming.
Revelation 11:9: Instant live global news
The second technology-prophecy verse is in the much-discussed-but-little-understood book of Revelation.
Among its many prophecies, one, found in chapter 11, involves two servants of God called the “two witnesses.” Here we find a clue pointing to today’s advanced technology.
Here is the setting of the two witnesses: The final time of the end has begun for mankind in rebellion against God. The Day of the Lord—the time of God’s wrath—is underway. God gives the two witnesses power to preach on His behalf for 1,260 days. They do miracles, work out of Jerusalem and cannot be harmed (Revelation 11:3-6).
But after they finish their job, God allows them to be killed (Revelation 11:7-8).
A curious thing happens next, something previous generations could never explain: “Their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city [Jerusalem] . . . And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations [all nations!] shall see their dead bodies three days and a half . . . And they that dwell upon the earth [again, all nations!] shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth” (Revelation 11:8-10). The two witnesses are then raised from the dead.
How do people all over the world see the two witnesses’ dead bodies in Jerusalem? This was impossible in any other age! Previous generations could only guess and scratch their heads. Of course God could supernaturally use some kind of divine jumbotron in the sky to broadcast the event to all peoples. But there is no evidence of this in the Revelation account.
What this passage describes fits only with conditions following the dawning of the technologically connected, smartphone age. It is easy to picture the masses described in Revelation incessantly checking news or social media websites for updates on events surrounding these two witnesses and to imagine them all tuning in to the breaking-news live-streamed deaths of these servants of God.
Here in Revelation 11:9, then, we see today’s technological advancements foreshadowed!
Revelation 13:15-17: A global system of unprecedented control
Now it gets eerie.
Many verses show the rise in the last days of a world-ruling superpower centered in Europe called “the Beast.” God’s Word shows it will exercise unprecedented control over people—like the vast Roman Empire but bigger and modern, with religion playing a major role. (To learn more about this coming Beast system, read our free study guide The Book of Revelation Unveiled.)
Revelation 13:15-17 shows how the religious leader of this end-time superpower will honor the civil aspect of this power, and will punish and kill those who refuse to worship the Beast: “And he had power to give life to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he [the false religious leader] causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark . . .”
Note how those who refuse to be part of this Satanic system are cut off from buying or selling—their economic tap is turned off. Then think of our soon-coming cashless society. Every transaction is rapidly becoming electronic. It will not be technically difficult for people to no longer be able to buy and sell if they do not fall in line with the Beast power.
While other verses imply that this mark is most likely figurative, representing being part of the false worship system—following society in embracing practices adopted from paganism and rejecting the signs of true Christian worship that identify God’s people—it’s not a stretch to conclude that advanced technology will be a big part of this Beast power.
Technology may not be the actual mark of the Beast, but it will almost certainly be used to enforce the mark.
Nowhere to hide
Even today, we are already seeing governments and companies use technology in ways that are frightening millions of people. A recent article in media outlet Vice—titled “I Gave a Bounty Hunter $300. He Located Our Phone”—begins, “T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T are selling access to their customers’ location data, and that data is ending up in the hands of bounty hunters and others not authorized to possess it, letting them track most phones in the country” (Joseph Cox, Jan. 8, 2019).
Another alarm was sounded when professors Woodrow Hartzog and Evan Selinger revealed how technology is robbing us of our privacy: “Technology is making it impossible to hide in plain sight . . . Facial recognition technology poses a danger to society . . . If its use continues to grow and the right regulations aren’t instituted, we might lose the ability to go out in public without being recognized by the police, our neighbor and corporations” (“Why You Can No Longer Get Lost in the Crowd,” The New York Times, April 17, 2019).
The professors also showed how this will affect people’s religious lives: “You might have thought you could skip church without anyone knowing, but churches are being marketed facial recognition systems that will make sure your absences are duly noted. It won’t stop there.”
Every aspect of our lives, including our religious choices, could soon be used against us.
Not always a force for good
The Wall Street Journal’s editor at large, Gerard Baker, pulled back the curtain regarding the “benefits” of technology in an April 2019 article titled “Technology Isn’t a Force for Liberation After All.” He wrote:
“In the hands of competent and exploitative forces, such as, let’s say, the People’s Republic of China or Facebook, the long march toward enslavement by technology continues apace. For all its benefits, artificial intelligence of the sort that drives facial-recognition software and a million other capabilities is proving an extraordinarily useful implement in the furtherance of repression . . . governments are using AI and other technologies in myriad ways to silence dissent, undermine opponents and promote their own ideologies . . .
“Even during the Arab Spring, technology demonstrated it could be a double-edged sword, with autocratic governments using then-emergent technologies to track and hunt down troublemakers. And now, in less than a decade, advances have accelerated. China leads the way, but governments of an authoritarian bent are eagerly acquiring and adapting similar tools . . . The possibilities are chilling.”
Truly they are! Again, Bible prophecies foretell the rise of a powerful authoritarian government—with a size, scope and level of control mankind has never seen. And advanced technology will almost certainly be one of the Beast’s greatest tools—one of its most effective weapons!
A massive system of control
China’s social credit system is by far the most sobering real-world application of technology today.
The Guardian describes it this way: “China’s social credit system [is] a big-data system for monitoring and shaping business and citizens’ behaviors . . . The system, which has been compared to an Orwellian tool of mass surveillance, is an ambitious work in progress: a series of big data and AI-enabled processes that effectively grant subjects a social credit score based on their social, political and economic behavior. People with low scores can be banned or blacklisted from accessing services including flights and train travel; while those with high scores can access privileges. The Chinese government aims to have all 1.35 billion of its citizens subject to the system by 2020” (Kelsey Munro, “China’s Social Credit System ‘Could Interfere in Other Nations’ Sovereignty,’” June 27, 2018).
Think of this! A government system that monitors more than a billion people, tracks every aspect of their lives, and then ranks people with a score and doles out punishments and fines for not acting in accordance with whatever the government decides is right and wrong!
And this is not merely hypothetical! The system has already had real-world consequences: “Would-be air travelers were blocked from buying tickets 17.5 million times last year for ‘social credit’ offenses including unpaid taxes and fines . . . Others were banned 5.5 million times from buying train tickets, according to the National Public Credit Information Center” (Joe McDonald, “China Bars Millions from Travel for ‘Social Credit’ Offenses,” Feb. 22, 2019).
Think back to Revelation 13 and how all this can be used to influence and control people’s religious practices and every aspect of their lives. The foundation is being laid.
Tech-fueled religious persecution
The Washington Post added more detail about how China is using technology to control people, as laid out in a Human Rights Watch report: “Chinese authorities in the western Xinjiang province are building a comprehensive database that tracks the movements, mobile app usage and even electricity and gasoline consumption of people in the heavily Muslim region . . . [These] controls by Beijing . . . are part of wider crackdowns in Xingiang that include the internment of an estimated 1 million Muslim citizens and far-reaching surveillance equipment . . .
“After denying the detention centers’ existence for a year, Chinese authorities have recently argued that Xinjiang’s network of detention centers are built for educating and de-radicalizing a Muslim population that became increasingly influenced by extremist Islamist ideology.
“International rights groups and Western countries say . . .[it is] a law enforcement approach that punishes seemingly lawful behavior or standard religious practices” (Gerry Shih, “‘Police Cloud’: Chinese Database Tracks Apps, Car Location and Even Electricity Usage in Muslim Region,” May 2, 2019).
According to the author of the Human Rights Watch report, researcher Maya Wang, everyone’s freedom is under attack. “‘This is not just about Xinjiang or even China—it’s about the world beyond and whether we human beings can continue to have freedom in a world of connected devices,’ Wang said. ‘It’s a wake-up call, not just about China but about every one of us.’”
An article in The New York Post chillingly reports: “One of the ways that people can improve their own social credit score is to report on the supposed misdeeds of others. Individuals can earn points, for example, for reporting those who violate the new restrictions on religious practice, such as Christians who illegally meet to pray in private homes . . . Of course, as the state progresses ever closer toward its goal of monitoring all of the activities of its citizens 24 hours a day, seven days a week, society itself becomes a virtual prison” (Steven Mosher, “China’s New ‘Social Credit System’ Is a Dystopian Nightmare,” May 18, 2019).
All this is shocking, sobering and even hard to believe. But these trends will only grow worse!
Our troubling future
Powerful technology is already in the hands of people at the top of huge companies and governments. Many are wielding what could be used for good for bad, so that a digital sword of Damocles hangs over the heads of billions of people.
Many who are concerned are calling for government regulators to intervene. But what happens when governments are themselves the worst offenders?
No one knows exactly how this will all play out, or how these great prophecies will specifically be fulfilled. But within today’s picture of how technology is being used to control and harm people, the outline can be seen of the coming Beast power tracking dissenters, taking away their ability to conduct business and commerce, and eliminating those who won’t conform.
A few things are certain: Conditions are getting scarier for the average citizen of any government, and technology will not bring a hoped-for manmade utopia. Technology will continue to be used for a mixture of good and evil, because man’s nature is part good and part evil.
You can know!
Long ago, the Creator God—the Master Designer and Architect of our physical world—knew our day would come. He knew that human beings, left to our own devices and given enough time, and with minds capable of creating and working together in ever-closer cooperation, would startle and amaze even themselves with their inventions.
As we’ve seen in three specific prophecies, God foretold the kinds of advanced technology we are seeing today. And beyond what we’ve seen here, you can know even more about what He recorded for our time!
God’s servants understand the big-picture framework of His plan. The prophet Amos was inspired to record: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He reveals His secret unto His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). These “secrets” were revealed to God’s prophets and apostles and have now been handed down to us through the Bible!
Justin Palm serves at the United Church of God’s Home Office in Cincinnati, Ohio, as a writer, researcher and proofreader.