Dark Innovation: The Role of Technology in Revelation 13
Imagine a world of the future. It is a desperate world where human beings are controlled by a single, tyrannical power. If we look behind the curtain to see what energizes this power, we find something much more sinister than a corrupt political agenda or master plan of greed. We find a plot hatched by the dark prince of the universe whose ambition it is to become God.
The book of Revelation prophesies a future government that Satan will control and use to deceive and manipulate the nations through the False Prophet and Antichrist:
And he [the False Prophet] deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast [the Antichrist] who was wounded by the sword and lived. He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666 (Rev. 13:14–18).
Verses 16–18 are undoubtedly the most familiar passages in Revelation, not only to believers, but also to millions of unchurched people who know nothing about future prophecy and may never have opened a Bible.
Those who receive the mark commit the ultimate, tragic, irrevocable choice to reject Christ and embrace the Antichrist as God, thus reaping everlasting judgment (14:9–11).
Revelation 13:14–15 describes the world stage that precedes the mark of the Beast. The False Prophet, the Antichrist’s coconspirator, will perform counterfeit miracles and exercise global power as a religious leader.1 The most spectacular of his feats will be the Antichrist’s faux resurrection after it appears he was assassinated (v. 14).
Although the False Prophet gives lifelike “breath to the image of the beast” (v. 15), it will be left to individuals around the world to build the image (v. 14). And those who refuse to worship the image will be killed.
This joint project for interactive imagery will be coordinated by a central command that connects everyone worldwide to a despotic system of control, raising the specter of innovation run amok.
How might technology play a part in these events? The manufacturing of this image is obviously significant since Revelation mentions the image six more times (14:9, 11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4).
As I worked with my coauthor, Tim LaHaye, on our recent novel, Mark of Evil—the last of our four-book, futuristic fiction series released earlier this year—we wrestled with the relationship between technology and future events. Though it is only fiction, the novel earnestly seeks to examine current innovations to see if and how they might fit into this prophetic landscape.
In the last decade and a half, technology has provided us with a glimpse of how this particular part of the most demonic scheme in human history might be accomplished.
Until the digital information explosion in the last half of the 20th century, the thought of a global system of imagery projection and instant, worldwide human control (let’s call it digital devilry, or DD) seemed like science fiction. But with the rise of personal computing, Internet communications, and the stunning increase in digital data transmission, such global control is indeed realistic.
The science of “big data”—the ability of computers to accumulate and then analyze titanic amounts of information extremely rapidly—has made DD possible.
The retrieval and analysis of huge amounts of voter data helped tip the U.S. presidential election in favor of incumbent Barack Obama in 2012, according to a Democratic insider:
Big data gave Obama 2012 the names of all 69 million people who voted for the candidate in 2008 and allowed the campaign to rebuild that winning coalition, vote by vote. Big data told the campaign which voters were undecided, and even which voters with otherwise Republican attitudes could be swayed to vote for the president.2
The author admitted big data can be used for good or evil: “Not all the consequences will be good. New technology can manipulate, empower, or do both.”3 Today we can instantly process and control all of the essential data concerning not just the American electorate, but the entire human race. Google advertises that its “cloud platform” for data storage and retrieval can handle some 4 trillion message transactions per month. The Knowledge Society has also tabulated some startling facts about the meteoric rise of big data. In 1986, the growth rate of data storage was 23 percent per year. By 1996, it had increased 800 percent; and by 2004, data storage was up by 4,100 percent.4 The report cites Google’s former Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt, who said in 2010 the total of all documented information between “the dawn of civilization” through 2003 equaled about 5 exabytes of data—roughly the amount of data being created and stored every two days today.
If DD is going to play a part in the fulfillment of Revelation 13:14–15, then it will require a massive information-retrieval-and-storage capacity to track and manipulate the billions of people on planet Earth. We are rapidly approaching that point. In fact, we may have arrived there without knowing it.
Simply having the ability to marshal and control big data, however, is not enough. DD would also require a heightened ability to connect people, collect data about them (such as their identities, locations, behavioral patterns, and movements) and then tie everything to a central portal. Enter the World Wide Web and the universe of digital connections.
This principle of connectivity is a mainstay of new-media Internet communications—notably Facebook, Twitter, and a variety of smartphones like the iPhone. Their developers pride themselves on having created the capability to digitally link people and groups instantaneously—transcending time zones, travel restrictions, and geographic distances. The result is a different way of viewing the world because of technology.
A string of events in 2011 helps shed light on the social and political force of these new-media connections. All these events were coordinated and fueled by cellphone or smartphone texting, emails, Twitter messaging, or Facebook postings:
- Anti-government protests in Tunisia and Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt
- Protests in Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Morocco, and Syria
- The cessation of the “jasmine revolution” in China after cell service was shut down
- Protests in Athens, Greece, over pay and pension cuts
- Hundreds of teens swarming to a beach party in Boston, Massachusetts, after instantly responding to a Facebook invitation, thus warranting the response of a SWAT team
- A similar incident in Shaker Heights, Ohio
- Organized riots due to digital messaging in the United Kingdom cities of Tottenham, Enfield, and Liverpool
- Hundreds of thousands of people marching or protesting in Israel, as well as in U.S. cities like New York City; Portland, Oregon; Boston; Chicago; and San Francisco5
But social protest is not the only evidence of the power of connectivity. Technology companies are making a concerted effort to link the world’s people together through a wide variety of gadgets, activities, and places, using an increasingly smaller number of wireless networks. One commentator described the phenomenon (now dubbed “Internet of things”) this way, regarding only one area—the automobile:
Consider this: The American Automobile Association [AAA] said in its letter to the FTC [Federal Trade Commission] that vehicles are rapidly becoming two-ton smart phones. The number of cars connected to the Internet will grow from less than 1 million in 2009 to an estimated 42 million by 2017, the letter said. And that’s just vehicles. Millions of people connect through security cameras, home appliances, medical devices, and other products. AAA wants to know who controls all that data.6
Meanwhile, tech giants like Qualcomm and Cisco are trying to create a universal global standard (a “language”) to enable all digital devices to “talk” to each other. Such a project has the potential to link together an ocean of digital objects across the globe, such as automatic garage doors in homes, heating and air conditioning thermostats, lawn sprinklers, baby monitors, video games, personal vehicles and taxicabs, central offices’ building controls, restaurants and retail stores, as well as televisions, radios, cellphones, computers, and—of course—millions of security cameras around the world.7
Facial- and Voice-Recognition Revolution
In the world of the future, Earth’s inhabitants likely will be connected through digital communications and Internet tracking, with the information stored through the big data capacity of ultrafast computer systems.
If that data is ultimately used to manipulate and control them, what about the dissenters? What about those who refuse to engage in technology?
Today in America, by virtue of the human-recognition innovation, technology can come to people whether they like it or not. Federal agencies like Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Central Intelligence Agency, and now local police departments, can use biometric technology to match people on the street with a catalog of photographs and identify them in seconds.8
The U.S. government has even granted Apple Corporation a patent for facial recognition features on its iPhone. Presumably, iPhones will eventually recognize callers through photo ID images and instantly identify them based merely on their facial characteristics.9
Facebook has already been using facial recognition technology to mine facial imagery data posted on Facebook, although its current uses are still sketchy.10
But facial recognition is not the only way technology can trace you. Voice recognition systems can identify you through your speech patterns.11 In Mark of Evil, Tim LaHaye and I wrote a fairly disturbing scenario of the possible sinister uses of these types of technology.
However, we need not view technology exclusively as the Devil’s tool. Though Satan’s plan will be impressive, it will not be flawless. Where Satan rules, God can overrule. And we have reason to believe God will provide for the needs of His people who refuse the mark of the Beast, just as He provided for the Israelites during their Exodus from Egypt and their wanderings in the wilderness.
In fact, technology may well play a powerful part in God’s redemptive plan for the human race and in accomplishing His great commission of carrying the gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth.
Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias has called the new-media world of Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and Google “the new tower of Babel.” But he also sees their positive potential and said they are “not intrinsically evil.” His advice: “Be wise, be careful, but harness it for good. It is here to stay and will only multiply in its capacity.”12
Almost daily in my work with the National Religious Broadcasters, I see ways in which gospel communicators are using the tools of new-media technology to penetrate the globe with the Good News of Jesus Christ. When the inventions of radio and television became available to the masses in the 20th century, preachers rushed to the forefront, seeking ways to use them to communicate truth to the world. This trend is continuing today by followers of Jesus who use Internet-based communications and wireless devices for the glory of God.
Whatever the means of fulfillment of the prophecies in Revelation 13, one thing is certain: God will wrap up human history and establish His Kingdom exactly as He has promised. Unlike the short-lived kingdom of the Evil One, God’s Kingdom will be everlasting and the grand setting for our eternal reunion with Him.
Just imagine for a moment what a world like that will look like. The Bible gives us an electrifying glimpse:
And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (21: 3–4).
All that God has planned and all that He has accomplished through His intervention in the affairs of the human race have been for one purpose: to bring us to Himself. That is the single most important example of “connectivity” in the history of the universe. And that divine and eternal connection is the one that counts.
- John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 1,980 n Revelation 13:11.
- Joe Trippi, “Technology Has Given Politics Back Its Soul,” MIT Technology Review 116, no. 1 (January/February 2013), 36.
- “The Knowledge Society: The impact of surfing its tsunamis in data storage, communication, and processing” <tinyurl.com/tsdataa>.
- Bill Wasik, “Crowd control—How today’s protests, revolts and riots are self-organising [sic],” WIRED (January 2012), 79–80.
- Sue Reisinger, “Caught in the Middle,” Corporate Counsel, November 1, 2013 <tinyurl.com/caughtInM>.
- Bill Wasik, “Welcome to the Programmable World,” WIRED, May 14, 2013 <tinyurl.com/WelcomeIOT>.
- Todd Strain and Monica Garske, “Chula Vista Police Use New Facial Recognition Technology,” NBC San Diego, November 13, 2013 <tinyurl.com/ChulaFace>.
- Darrell Etherington, “Apple Patents Face Recognition Tech for Enhanced iPhone Privacy and Automated Controls,” TechCrunch, December 3, 2013 <tinyurl.com/ApplePFR>.
- Sophie Curtis, “Facebook defends using profile pictures for facial recognition,” The Telegraph, November 15, 2013 <tinyurl.com/FBprofilepix>.
- “Automatic Speech Recognition Market, 2D Gesture & Facial Recognition Industries Forecast in New Research Reports Available at ReportsnReports .com,” PRWeb.com, December 12, 2013 <tinyurl.com/autospeechRM>.
- Alex Murashko, “Christian Apologist Says Social Media Like the Tower of Babel,” The Christian Post, April 3, 2013 <tinyurl.com/RZbabel>.