Advances in privacy-invading technology are rapidly paving the way for the fulfillment of prophecy.
More than 70 years ago, in his novel 1984, George Orwell wrote of a nation controlled by a totalitarian dictatorship. By using cameras, spies, intimidation, and psychological manipulation, the government—personified by “Big Brother”—sought to exert near-total control over people’s movements, behaviors, and even thoughts. The phrase “Big Brother is watching you” described this oppressive level of government surveillance. George Orwell was an insightful observer of the world, and he recognized the possibility of a government becoming more and more oppressive and invasive in the lives of every person under its sway.
Could Orwell’s predictions come to pass? Consider some of the prophecies of the Bible. Writing about the future, the Apostle John recorded in Revelation that he saw, in vision, two ferocious beasts. One beast rose up from the sea and the other arose from the earth. Students of the Bible understand these beasts to be human leaders wielding power over the nations. Their power will reach its climax at the end of this age, when this unholy alliance will take unusual and far-reaching control over people’s lives. They will even force people to accept a mysterious mark, without which they will essentially be cut off from society.
Could we lose or give up control of our will and our lives? Will a “Big Brother” system really arise on the earth? If so, how can we prepare?
The book of Revelation introduces these two beasts. This is what John wrote of the first beast: “Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name” (Revelation 13:1).
When we compare this passage with Daniel 7 in the Old Testament, it is evident that this beast from the sea is a combination of four world-ruling powers culminating in the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire collapsed in 476 AD—this is the mortal wound described in Revelation 13:3. Also in verse 3, the beast’s deadly wound is healed, referring to the restoration of the empire under Justinian in 554 AD, aided by the pope in Rome. This resurrected Roman Empire would have successive revivals, and is to make its final appearance at the time of the end.
John described the second beast as coming out of the earth: “Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon” (Revelation 13:11). This powerful beast represents a religious leader who does great wonders to deceive the masses. He presents himself as an emissary of Christ, but proclaims a very different message—the words of a dragon.
These two dark “beast” forces work together to coerce the population into taking a mark of identification, as John explained: “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” (vv. 16–17).
Is this Big Brother coming? It sounds a lot like Orwell’s society of 1984. Think of the suffocating repression of personal rights this is describing. It is shocking to think of this happening in the liberty-loving, open societies of the Western world.
Some people believe Big Brother is already here. And truly, the worldwide coronavirus crisis has created an environment ripe for governmental overreach and even abuse. On June 26, 2020, TIME magazine ran an article entitled, “It’s Not Just Maria Ressa’s Arrest. Coronavirus Is Accelerating Crackdowns on Press Freedom Across Asia.” The author, Laignee Barron, detailed how authoritarian governments and even open democracies are using the pandemic as a cloaked opportunity to exercise censorship:
“This period is a dreamlike situation for any authoritarian government,” says Daniel Bastard, RSF’s [Reporters Sans Frontiers] Asia-Pacific director. “They can pretend to protect their citizens from ‘fake news’ while being the only authority that can precisely decide what is true or what is false. In this regard, the coronavirus crisis is a formidable pretext to impose censorship.”
When the COVID-19 crisis hit, many governments around the world quickly moved to get the virus under control. Restrictions on travel, employment, recreation, and meetings were outlined. Some measures were even odd and somewhat comical. One company, called Draganfly, developed drones to detect sick people from above, even detecting sneezing, coughing, heart rate, respiratory rate, and fever (“Coronavirus News: Pandemic drones to monitor fever, crowds from above,” ABC7NY.com, April 15, 2020).
What a remarkable device! But should we be alarmed by pandemic-related censorship and devices that can detect your health from afar? Is Big Brother already here?
Many of the safety measures required by health officials are not great sacrifices. Christians should cooperate and do what they can to safeguard their families and their neighbors. Jesus clearly taught, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Paul told Christians to obey their human governments, except when those governments command them to disobey God. He wrote in Romans 13:1, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.”
And yet, are things going too far? Some say yes. Some evangelical leaders connect strong governmental actions to the biblical mark of the beast, claiming that “implantable microchips… could be used to control the population under the guise of tracking COVID-19 infections and immunity” (“Some evangelicals fear the ‘mark of the beast’ from a coronavirus vaccine,” Yahoo News, May 14, 2020). Thankfully, there is no credible evidence of this occurring. But with modern technology, might it soon be possible?
Is the mark of the beast being introduced now, under the guise of COVID-19 monitoring? Has Big Brother arrived? To be clear, this world will always have evil dictators who seek to gain power through any means, as well as those who seek to control others for their own personal benefit. But the description of the mark of the beast in Revelation 13 is on a totally different level than COVID-19-related regulations or policies. These are not the mark of the beast.
With that said, many find it unnerving to see ever-more intrusive and invasive technology used to fight this pandemic. For example, a crucial element of fighting any contagious disease is “contact tracing.” When someone contracts a serious and contagious illness, health officials interview them to identify those with whom they have been in contact. Using this information, they can track down others who might be infected. Then, quarantine and other efforts can help prevent the further spread of the disease.
“Quarantine” is not a bad word—it is a biblical principle used for millennia to combat contagious diseases. However, new technology available on smartphones takes the contact-tracing process to an invasive new level, something that George Orwell might have envisioned in his novel. Consider this report:
Media reports suggest that Ecuador’s government has authorized GPS tracking to enforce compliance to quarantine. The Israeli authorities’ move to permit the security service to use cell phone data of infected persons has already raised privacy concerns…. In South Korea, authorities have been sending health advisory texts which have been accompanied with personal details of infected patients (“COVID-19, surveillance and the threat to your rights,” Amnesty International, April 3, 2020).
Privacy experts realize that once governments gain unusual, emergency powers, they rarely give them up. A June 18, 2020 article from The Guardian reported:
Extensive surveillance measures introduced around the world during the coronavirus outbreak have widened and become entrenched…. The measures have often been billed as temporary necessities rushed into place to help track infections, but governments have been accused of denting civil rights with the widespread use of techniques such as phone monitoring, contact tracing apps, and physical surveillance such as CCTV [closed-circuit television] with facial recognition (“Coronavirus mass surveillance could be here to stay, experts say,” emphasis added).
No, COVID-19 tracking efforts are not the mark of the beast. Social Security numbers or implanted chips are not the mark of the beast, either. However, it is not hard to imagine the beast power employing technology similar to what is now being deployed to conduct constant surveillance—for our “own good”! Today, it is welcomed as a measure to save lives. Tomorrow, could it be used to control and even take lives?
But before sounding the alarms, it is important to take a step back and ask what technology was like before the coronavirus. Was it not already invasive? And did we not bring it on ourselves?
A New York Times editorial entitled “Total Surveillance Is Not What America Signed Up For” contained the following:
Your smartphone can broadcast your exact location thousands of times per day, through hundreds of apps, instantaneously to dozens of different companies. Each of those companies has the power to follow individual mobile phones wherever they go, in near-real time. That’s not a glitch in the system. It is the system. If the government ordered Americans to continuously provide such precise, real-time information about themselves, there would be a revolt…. Yet, as a society, without ever focusing on this profound choice, we’ve reached a tacit consensus to hand this data over voluntarily, even though we don’t really know who’s getting it or what they’re doing with it. As the close of 2019 approaches, everybody is searching for the meaning of the decade. Here’s a thought: This is the decade—the period since the founding of the App Store, in 2008—in which we were brainwashed into surveilling ourselves (December 22, 2019, emphasis added).
Think about it! If you have a smartphone, it constantly sends detailed information about you and your location to people you don’t even know. It transmits information about your private emails, purchases, photos of you and your family members—even your health information, if your device collects it. Would we ever consent to share this much private information about ourselves and our loved ones if it weren’t a matter of having more and more conveniences? In one of the great ironies of our time, maybe we have already been welcoming Big Brother’s “culture of surveillance” into our homes and into our lives, sharing our every move in exchange for the lifestyle of tech.
Amazon’s home helper, Alexa, can listen in to what you’re saying, even when Alexa has not been asked a question: She’s always listening. Google operates Gmail, the very widely used email service. Google reads those emails…. Apple’s FaceTime has a bug that allows people to eavesdrop. Facebook knows everything about everyone. They’re following you. I wish I could say there’s a way out of all this, but I don’t think there is. We’ve opened the surveillance box and we can’t close it up (“Big Brother is already watching us: Varney,” FoxBusiness.com, January 30, 2019, emphasis added).
No, Google is not the beast! And the App Store is not where you can obtain the mark! But think about it: Could the technology we are becoming more and more dependent on today be preparing us to be manipulated tomorrow? What if, rather than Google’s marketing algorithms, censorship officials were to read your e-mails, record what you say, keep track of whom you associate with, and take note of how you express your beliefs? Could this happen?
God gave the prophet Daniel a glimpse of the world in the end times, and he recorded this: “But you Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase” (Daniel 12:4). Data is the big buzzword in today’s “knowledge economy.” Businesses are in a race to find ways to mine and use data in order to give consumers what they want before their competitors do. And we as consumers are all too obliging with ever more reams of data. Knowledge is increasing, and it is all in the name of technology—more options, better functions, easier processes. The faster, the better.
Is technology bad, of and by itself? No. Advanced technology has brought many benefits to our civilization—and facilitates the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God around the world, as this magazine and our Tomorrow’s World television program and websites do. To a certain degree, if we live in this world, we are forced to use its technology. Notice what Jesus said when He prayed for His disciples before His crucifixion: “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).
Christians live and function in this world, but we should not be slaves to our devices. We should be servants—bondslaves—of God (Romans 1:1)! As we use technology, we should be careful to protect our personal information and educate ourselves on how to do so. We must be wary of scam artists. We need to protect our passwords and evaluate our choices carefully. We should remember that for every new feature that provides more convenience, we are usually giving away personal information. If we are allowing a growing presence of invasive technology into our lives, we should be thinking, where will that lead us in the future?
No, the beast has not yet been unveiled. But it is coming, and society today is being conditioned for the stripping away of personal freedoms and liberties when the mark of the beast is enforced.
What should Christians do? At the beginning of this article, we saw that two prophetic beasts of Revelation will cause the masses to take the mark of the beast. That mark will identify a person as belonging to the beast’s system. But the prophet Ezekiel gives some helpful clues on how to be identified with God’s mark instead. That is vital to know! As dark days approach, how should Christians identify themselves as true followers of God?
God gave the prophet Ezekiel a sobering look at the destruction of Jerusalem that was coming in his time: “And the Lord said to him, ‘Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it.’ To the others He said in my hearing, ‘Go after him through the city and kill… but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark’” (Ezekiel 9:4–6).
As society descends into ever-greater immorality and corruption, Ezekiel’s vision should be taken as a warning for today as well. It is because of sin that God will allow our lands to be punished. It is because of sin that He will allow calamity to come. True and devoted Christians should take sin seriously. They should “sigh and cry” for the sins done in the land. They should confess their sins and beg God’s forgiveness. They should strive to have clean hands and pure hearts, knowing that this can be accomplished only through the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7).
In a time of growing moral chaos and depravity, we must love God and love our neighbor (Matthew 22:37–39). We need to ask God to intervene and guide our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1–2). We need to grieve over the sins of our lands—and repent of the sins we have committed, for no one is without sin (Romans 3:23). We must ask God for discernment about these events that are unfolding and ask for help to not be deceived (Matthew 24:4), because these coming evil dictators will deceive many.
The “Beast of Revelation” has its famous mark, but did you know that God also has a sign that “marks” His people? If we accept the shed blood of Christ for our sins, if we are led by His Spirit, and if we diligently obey His eternal commandments, we can have that sign! What is it?
We can have it if we learn from the lessons of judgment that came upon ancient Israel. God indicted the ancient Israelites for their rebellion against Him, saying, “So I also raised My hand in an oath to them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, ‘flowing with milk and honey,’ the glory of all lands, because they despised My judgments and did not walk in My statutes, but profaned My Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols” (Ezekiel 20:15–16).
Is there any lesson there for us? Have we today also come to the point where many despise the laws, judgments, and commandments outlined in the Bible? Be honest. What is being taught in many of our universities, promoted by much of our media and entertainment, embraced by the bulk of our leaders, and celebrated by many ordinary people in society as well? Honor and respect for God and His laws, which bring happiness, blessings, and contentment? Or open contempt and disdain for anything having to do with the God of the Bible and His way of life?
Notice what Ezekiel further recorded: God said, “But I said to their children in the wilderness, ‘Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, nor observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols. I am the Lord your God: Walk in My statutes, keep My judgments, and do them; hallow My Sabbaths, and they will be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God’” (Ezekiel 20:18–20).
God wants His people to love Him, to love their neighbors, and to obey His commandments. This includes keeping His Sabbaths. God said His Sabbaths—the seventh-day Sabbath and the annual Holy Days—would be a “sign” between Him and His people. These days would be an identifying mark taken on by His loyal and faithful servants! And to those who are willing to repent, have their sins covered by the blood of Christ, and obey God’s laws, He gives the precious gift of His eternal Spirit (Acts 5:32). In doing so, He begets us through that Spirit as literal sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:14).
What is the message for us? How do we take on the mark of God? By repenting of breaking God’s laws—including His holy Sabbaths—by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf, and by receiving His precious, eternal Spirit.
The dystopian police state of George Orwell is not here, even in the midst of this pandemic. But there are signs that a deceptive and despotic power is on its way. But even more importantly, there are signs that assure us of the soon-coming return of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ. He is our Rock, our fortress, and our salvation (Psalm 18:2). He is the One we must seek with all of our hearts (Isaiah 55:6–7). And He is the One to whom we must show ourselves loyal, even in the difficult days to come (2 Chronicles 16:9). Big Brother is coming—but we can be ready!