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The Image of the Beast Part I and II

Originally published 2015; updated 2021


Not many years ago, students of the Bible struggled with many of the prophetic texts that had yet, as of then, come to pass. One of these issues was whether Israel would come back as a nation. Both the OT and NT alluded to this, but 1,878 years had passed and still, there was no national state of Israel anywhere on anyone’s maps. And then, on May 14th, 1948, there was. Of course, this is old news to us now, because this transpired some 73 years ago, but the point being, until it happened, debate raged whether it ever could happen.


Another point of contention is found in Revelation 11:9-10, in which these two witnesses who are a thorn in the Antichrist’s side for 3 ½ years are killed, and their bodies left lying in the streets of Jerusalem for all the world to see. Students and scholars of ages struggled with the idea of how the whole world could see their bodies in Jerusalem if they weren’t physically there to see it. And then there was the invention of direct broadcast satellite television, who through geosynchronous satellites in geostationary orbits around the earth, afforded mankind for the first time, the ability to see events around the world as they happened. Now, 31 years later, we are desensitized to these particular technological advancements, because we’ve been inundated with a 24/7 news and entertainment cycle since the late 1980s. The point being, things remain unknowable, until the time in which events catch up, and then they become knowable, even forgettable.


But looking back, neither of these two events took place in a vacuum. We should expect to see progressive stages of development that continue to shape and build on that first new vision until fulfillment. Whether that new vision was a future homeland for the Jews in Europe back in the 1890s, or in the ability to see global events as they happen from anywhere in the world. But oftentimes, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees when you’re in the middle of the forest.


I think the same can be said with this idea of the coming one-world system headed up by the man we know as the Antichrist. The point of clarification here is that there have been many antichrists. (1 John 2:18) I think that is in large part, because Satan is not omniscient, and doesn’t know when the end of the last days will begin, so he always has a man (or men) waiting in the wings ready to take center stage. But what we know according to the books of both the OT Prophets and the NT Apostles, is that a global system is coming, and this final system will dominate the entire world.


I think the biggest hindrance people have in recognizing the lateness of the hour, is that we tend to view the future, based on what happened in the past. True, history does have a way of rhyming, but technological advancements these days are evolving so rapidly that the only constant, is change. And with new breakthroughs in genetics, robotics, communications, weaponry, etc. happening by the day now, it is transforming how we understand the world we live in. Nothing seems impossible anymore.


I happened to catch a recent podcast from “a View From the Bunker” (VFTB), in which Derek Gilbert was interviewing Zoltan Istvan on the topic of “Religion and AI”. The discussion centered on an article Zoltan published discussing religion and Artificial Intelligence (AI), and how these two would intersect at a future juncture in human history. Zoltan Istvan was bringing the discussion points both as an atheist and Transhumanist, who was questioning which religion (if any) would be the one that would have its particular beliefs, ethics, and values installed into this new system. The point I think they kept coming back to was, it would depend on who develops it first.


Artificial Intelligence by definition, is when a system becomes sentient, or self-aware. This is primarily associated with computer software programs, not robots. Robotics is like the body, and the software, the brain.


While I was listening to this discussion, a series of ‘eureka’ moments began going off in my head, where I began to see the seriousness of the gravity of the situation. AI is the new arms race for the 21st century and will eclipse anything we’ve ever seen before…because whoever develops it first, has the potential to control everything. Now, before I get too far into this, we need to recognize that AI already exists. We interact with it unknowingly almost every day. So let’s define and categorize what we are talking about.


  • AI Caliber 1) Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI): Sometimes referred to as Weak AI, Artificial Narrow Intelligence is AI that specializes in one area. There’s AI that can beat the world chess champion in chess, but that’s the only thing it does. Ask it to figure out a better way to store data on a hard drive, and it’ll look at you blankly.


  • AI Caliber 2) Artificial General Intelligence (AGI): Sometimes referred to as Strong AI, or Human-Level AI, Artificial General Intelligence refers to a computer that is as smart as a human across the board—a machine that can perform any intellectual task that a human being can. Creating AGI is a much harder task than creating ANI, and we’re yet to do it. Professor Linda Gottfredson describes intelligence as “a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience.” AGI would be able to do all of those things as easily as you can.


  • AI Caliber 3) Artificial Superintelligence (ASI): Oxford philosopher and leading AI thinker Nick Bostrom defines superintelligence as “an intellect that is much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social skills.” Artificial Superintelligence ranges from a computer that’s just a little smarter than a human to one that’s trillions of times smarter—across the board. ASI is the reason the topic of AI is such a spicy meatball and why the words immortality and extinction will both appear in these posts multiple times. (Source: Gizmodo)

Theorobotics


What I think that most people miss in reading topics like this, is how fundamental this will change everything. Imagine trying to explain to someone back in the 1970s or ’80s, about a coming future internet, that is what trying to explain what a coming AGI and ASI will be like. Remember your life before the internet, and now imagine it without it. How different would it be? Surely, this would revolutionize life in an even greater magnitude, than the Internet has in our own day. So when Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Istvan were discussing jokingly whether this was going to be ‘Bapti-costal’ or ‘Presby-Lutheran' system, I couldn’t help but thinking, what if the exact opposite happened?


Granted, a Chinese version of AI would be significantly different in regards to ethics, morals, and religious programming. Imagine then an Iranian one, a North Korean version, or an American one. What if this new AI system, which happens to be anywhere from 1 to 1,000 times smarter than the smartest human, dismisses all religions as inadequately archaic? What if tried to take everything in the Bible literally? Makes you wonder at least at the genius that God had in using different forms of language; similes, metaphors, parables, symbolism, etc., all this mixed in with the passages we hold to literally doesn’t it?


But what if this system is not being able to process the varying nuances of every single religion, first tries the ecumenical approach of blending them all together, which turns into a global form of pantheism, which then ultimately leads to the view that the system itself is worthy of worship? All we know for sure is that after the Rapture of the Church, whatever passes for religion afterward will be exceedingly hostile to the true Christian faith.



And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months. Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. Revelation 13:5-7


For over 100 years now, the naturalistic sciences have been feverishly working to eradicate the ‘old-fashioned’ idea of a supernatural Deity who created all things by His sheer will…hence why the ‘big bang theory’ and ‘theory of Darwinian Evolution’ are taught not as a theory, but as fact in every major university and most of the public school systems in the modernized world. When anyone with a degree dares to question those humanistic teachings, they are subsequently blacklisted and immediately written off as kooks, while those academic and political types who do espouse these humanistic theories are lauded as mental giants for holding to such ideas. The list of prominent atheistic scientists is lengthy indeed.


Men like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking’s opinions carry ten times more weight in academia than anything degreed men like John MacArthur or Ken Hamm have to say on the subjects of Creation and human origin. Imagine a system that was 1,000 times smarter than Dawkins, or Hawking’s, and had every ounce of information that was available to humanity, at its digital fingertips? Imagine that the world’s most prolific spokesman for Christianity (or pick a religion) attempting to debate this AI system at a televised event.


That system could not only trounce you in a debate by drowning you in data, but while debating you, it shuts all your bank accounts down, empties them out, wipes out any digital record of your existence, and then falsifies everything about you to every major social media site within seconds. Would you want to debate it? Who could stand against a system like that? What if one man had the power to control this system? Frightening thought isn’t it?


…And all the world marveled and followed the beast. So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?” Revelation 13:3-4


The Image of the Beast Part II


“If an AI possessed any one of these skills—social abilities, technological development, economic ability—at a superhuman level, it is quite likely that it would quickly come to dominate our world in one way or another. And as we’ve seen, if it ever developed these abilities to the human level, then it would likely soon develop them to a superhuman level. So we can assume that if even one of these skills gets programmed into a computer, then our world will come to be dominated by AIs or AI-empowered humans.”

― Stuart Armstrong, Smarter Than Us: The Rise of Machine Intelligence


When reading about the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, there is one thing I have always wondered about. Maybe it’s not four separate riders, but one rider (the Antichrist) who is on the first white horse, then changes horses moving from white to red, to black, and finally to the pale horse, sequentially. Nothing in the text disputes that notion, I think we’ve just kind of accept four different riders because that’s the way it’s always been depicted in the artwork. But considering all the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) already out in the world today, what one thing would give ANY nation(s) the edge in a future military conflict? More bombs? More tanks? More submarines? More satellites? More drones? More soldiers? More internet bandwidth?


Not that having more of any of the above hurts a nation in as far as their ability to project strength, but neither does it give them the definitive edge that a super-intelligent ASI system could. Imagine a system, which could go into your adversary’s networks, and shut it down the day before your planned invasion of that nation. Not just shutting down the internet, but electrical power grids, water plants, anything that is connected to any type of internet or electrical-based system, which could potentially be a target.


Or this ASI could launch this nation's missiles at itself, so you don’t even have to invade them. It could also do that while simultaneously freezing all of its monetary assets and holdings, hacking and data mining every citizen's and politician's email, and wiping out any communication networks that might exist. ASI would truly be a game-changer, especially considering how interconnected our world is these days. This potential alone, is why AI has become the new arms race. Maybe this is why three of the horns (nations/regions) give their authority to the Beast? (Daniel 7:8; Rev. 17:13)


We know that AI Caliber 1 is readily in use these days. We know that AI Caliber 2 is already in the process of being developed. I suspect, that given the secrecy at which certain groups like the CIA, NSA, DARPA, and others (private entrepreneurs, and other nations) are working to develop this and may have it in varying stages…but are not discussing it. Much like the secretive Manhattan Project in the 1940s, the man on the street had no idea the US was working on the most powerful bomb in human history until it was used against the Japanese at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this too may be something that is complete already and we just aren’t aware of it. AI Caliber 3, from Caliber 2, doesn’t seem that far a stretch then, since you could use Caliber 2 to assist in developing Caliber 3. The hard part is getting to Caliber 2.


Now, AI by definition, simply means that this software system reaches a level of self-evaluation and understanding, and becomes sentient, or self-aware. Being self-aware would also intrinsically create a level of understanding for its own self-preservation, in which the system determines by itself who has control over it if anyone. Since we know that one man ultimately does (the Antichrist/Little Horn/Beast/Son of Perdition), he somehow gains control over it probably through supernatural means. Interestingly, some of the smartest men in the world, a few of which have made their living off of inventing the very systems that they fear could one day be their downfall, are now expressing genuine concern over the thought of computers gaining super-intelligence.


Assessment


Because this technological development is still ongoing, maybe why a lot of what is going on in the book of Revelation, particularly chapters 6-19, remains both eerily foggy and yet familiar to our understanding. Much like Revelation 11:9-10 was a mystery for bible students of earlier generations, the technological limitations of any given period of time, limits people’s ability to comprehend that the technology was actually attainable. IOW, you don’t know what you don’t know.


Now that this AI technology exists, and has for the most part become commonplace, we have largely become desensitized to its advancements in our own day. This is in large measure, because of the entertainment industry, who floods the cultural marketplace with books, television shows, and movies that includes AI of every varying scope. I could literally list off dozens of movies alone that have. Here are some of the more familiar ones you will remember:

  • The Matrix Series;

  • 2001-A Space Odyssey

  • The Terminator series

  • Star Wars

  • Eagle Eye

  • Iron Man 1-3

  • I, Robot,

  • Chappie, AI

  • Short Circuit

  • Wall-E

That is Hollywood, here is reality. This includes a shortlist of technological advancements that exist and is being developed today:

If politicians these days are gridlocked and struggling to come to terms with issues like the national debt, terrorism, and failing economies, imagine how much more they will struggle to wrap their minds around the ethics of the topics listed above. (Which is probably why these topics are generally avoided) Some of these issues are redefining what it is to be human, and thus, requires ethical and moral boundaries to be put into place, to ensure that the human race will and can survive. This puts in a new light, what Jesus said in Matthew 24:22…


And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.


Politicians in the US and abroad, are struggling to come to terms with how quickly these advancing technological breakthroughs are changing our reality, and it is likely that they never will. This is why I believe that it will take some form of super-intelligent AI system to sort through all the issues and problems man has today. Moreover, it will be a man who is either given control or has control over this AI system who will be the one who wields this overwhelming power. But seeing as the only other alternative to AI in bringing this pseudo-world peace to earth and simultaneously solving all of our problems (for a moment) is visitors from outer space. Both seem incredible, but AI seems more likely.


The term’s like ‘technological singularity' and just ‘singularity’ are still in the stages of being adequately defined, but Ray Kurzweil (Google) believes it is when “the time when the Law of Accelerating Returns has reached such an extreme pace that technological progress is happening at a seemingly-infinite pace, and after which we'll be living in a whole new world”. (Source: Gizmodo)

The reason that we don’t understand exactly how or what the Mark of the Beast is just yet, doesn’t mean that this technology doesn’t exist, we just don’t know how exactly it will be introduced or utilized. But we can see this technology in its embryonic form through things like RFID chips and digital tattoos. AI is most likely what bridges our gap in our knowledge in this regard, and also leapfrogs us forward over that same bridge at a pace many are probably not prepared for.


Since the United States, the world’s predominant economic and military superpower, is trying to take the lead in this new arms race for artificial intelligence and we know according to Scripture, that the revived Roman Empire is the final world super-power at the end, we should be able to reasonably assume that somehow Europe beats the US to the punch in the AI arm’s race. Once AI is established, it will revolutionize science and technology, and life as we know it on earth within a relatively short period of time.


While I expect AI to play a significant role in this image of the beast coming to life, it is the False Prophet who enforces through means of signs and wonders (2 Thess. 2:9), the merging of economics with religion and is able to do this, by using a super-intelligent AI, man’s DNA, and a globally interconnected network.


Update: Since this original publishing in 2015, there has been a new development regarding the potential "image" that the Beast may use. See here to meet the new giant that is coming to a number of cities around the world.


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. Revelation 13:15-18


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