In early 2020 the coronavirus pandemic took our world by storm. Within months multiplied millions were infected, and hundreds of thousands died. Nations shut borders, closed businesses, and ordered people to stay home. Prosperous economies evaporated as busy cities turned into near ghost towns.
If someone were planning an apocalyptic event to control the masses, it probably would look a lot like the coronavirus pandemic. With no resistance, more than a third of the world’s population was quickly locked down.¹ People gave up their civil rights to privacy, to attend church, and to buy and sell.
Many wonder if this is leading us toward the prophesied end. Online searches for “end of the world,” “signs of the end times,” and “last days” climbed sharply.² Seventh-day Adventists are asking if this could be what Ellen White predicted when she wrote, “Great changes are soon to take place in our world, and the final movements will be rapid ones.”³
An article in the influential Financial Times sheds light on how emergencies such as this pandemic transform society. “Many short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of life. That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes. Decisions that in normal times could take years of deliberation are passed in a matter of hours. Immature and even dangerous technologies are pressed into service, because the risks of doing nothing are bigger.”⁴
The concept of “fast-forwarding historical processes” explains how Bible prophecy is sometimes fulfilled. Transitioning from a freedom-loving society to the frightening days predicted in Revelation 13, in which no one can buy or sell unless they worship the beast (the political-religious power described in Rev. 13:1-8 blaspheming God and trying to usurp His authority), may happen in stages punctuated by “short-term emergencies” and implementation of “technologies.”
For example, September 11, 2001, was a fast-forwarding event. In its aftermath, unprecedented laws were enacted and technologies enlisted to create a wall of surveillance. In the United States, 70 million surveillance cameras⁵ and spy planes circling above follow large populations.⁶ The loss of privacy after September 11 and other terrorist attacks was initially debated, but society ultimately settled into a new normal, and the fast-forwarding processes paused for a season.
These prophetic pauses can last for decades. Other times, changes happen in rapid succession, propelling us toward Revelation 13. Whether we are now on pause, slow play, or fast-forward, this global pandemic remarkably demonstrates that two major prerequisites for the mark of the beast (the counterfeit of God’s seal, Sabbath worship) are currently in place.
MONITORING OUR MOVEMENTS
To understand how coronavirus spreads, governments used data from smartphones to monitor the movements of their populations.⁷ Pandemic aside, the fact that someone is recording our every move is prophetically relevant because it can be used someday to determine whether a person obeys laws to “worship the beast” (Rev. 13:12-15).
Big data and governments united to track compliance of stay-at-home laws. At the height of the pandemic, more than 90 percent of the population in the United States was ordered not to go anywhere except for the most essential reasons.⁸ Disobedience could result in “civil or criminal penalties.”⁹ Violators in Western Australia faced a fine of AU$50,000 (US$32,000).¹⁰
This pandemic demonstrates that authorities have the ability and will to legally prevent people moving around, buying and selling, or worshipping God in church.¹¹ Clearly, technology is largely in place to enforce the laws predicted in Revelation 13.
To implement the mark of the beast, a government must also be able to control buying and selling. What does the pandemic reveal about this?
A recent Bloomberg Tax article, “Why Going Cashless Has Added Value in Pandemic Age,” starts with the question “Do we still need cash?”¹² Author Jessie Yeung sees the pandemic as an opportunity for digital currency, pointing out that China’s central bank removed contaminated money.¹³ She suggests this pandemic is a fast-forwarding catalyst. “Fear of contagion could accelerate the general trend to more digital payments, according to the Bank of International Settlements.”¹⁴
A cashless society is not a new proposition. I recall former U.S. president Ronald Reagan wrestling with how to stop drug cartels. A financial newsletter I subscribed to at the time reported that someone in Reagan’s Cabinet suggested he could stop the illegal trade by removing cash from society. In reply, another person quipped, “Like the mark of the beast?” The room briefly fell silent; then the president ignored the topic and moved on.
Today cashless transactions have grown from a frightening suggestion to a comfortable reality. In Sweden, the most cashless society in the world, 80 percent of purchases are made electronically.¹⁵ Many African countries use electronic currencies—more than 75 percent of adult Kenyans use a mobile-wallet service.¹⁶ India, with the world’s second-largest population, recently pushed to eliminate cash by withdrawing the most popular bills from circulation. China’s central bank announced earlier this year that it is ready to test a digital currency.¹⁷
While it’s possible to be cashless, why would officials desire this? There are many practical reasons. “For governments, getting rid of cash would cut minting and distribution expenses and make it easier to crack down on tax evasion and drug trafficking. Stores could save on cash-handling costs, reduce theft, and possibly earn more.”¹⁸
While eliminating cash may be a practical solution for business concerns, it will easily lead to the oppression predicted in Revelation 13. Bloomberg Tax even warns about the dangers. “Critics say that in a digital-only economy, governments and banks could take control of your financial life, leaving you penniless with a flick of a switch.”¹⁹ The digital economy that is rapidly expanding around the world is bringing us much closer to the time when buying and selling can be easily controlled.
IS THE END HERE?
While this pandemic is likely a fast-forwarding event, it doesn’t foretell the imminent end. Remember, the third element in the mark of the beast prophecy concerns forced worship. This is not part of the current pandemic.
What this pandemic does tell us is that the technology is here to control large populations. How long it takes to get to the place where people willingly accept forced worship is another matter. Having the technology to enforce the mark is much different from governments being ready to enact religious legislation. My guess is that other fast-forwarding events will serve as catalysts at some future date. And as we’ve seen with the coronavirus, things can move exceedingly fast. That’s why it’s important to trust God at all times.
The first angel of Revelation 14 calls us to “worship Him who made heaven and earth” (Rev. 14:7). Worshipping our Creator God brings peace as we are reminded that “the Lord, who made all things” is “your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb” (Isa. 44:24, ESV).²⁰ We hear His reassuring promise, “I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands” (Isa. 49:15, 16).
God knows exactly who we are, where we are, and what we are experiencing. His love for us is so strong that His hands are scarred from gripping the nails on the cross. Therefore, even as an uncertain future may overshadow us, we can reach for His hand—where our names are engraved—and know He will not let us go. He will safely see us through this storm, for He promises, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Isa. 43:1, 2).