The Acceleration of Life
What does this mean and is it a sign that Jesus is returning soon?
by Dr. David R. Reagan
Have you noticed how almost everything in life seems to be accelerating in growth? Knowledge has exploded. We are traveling faster and farther than ever before. Instant, world wide communication has become common place. And the power at our disposal is mind boggling.
A Sign of the Times
The Bible teaches that this acceleration of technology which we are experiencing will be a sign of the end times — a sign that will signal the soon return of the Lord.
Consider Daniel 12:4. In this verse the Lord tells Daniel that one of the signs of the end times will be an acceleration of travel and knowledge. Here's how the verse reads in the Living Bible paraphrase: "Daniel, keep this prophecy a secret... Seal it up so that it will not be understood until the end times when travel and education shall be vastly increased."
The same concept of end time acceleration is found in the New Testament. Jesus spoke about it when He talked with His disciples about the signs of the end times that would herald His return (Matthew 24:5ff). He mentioned a great variety of signs — spiritual, natural, societal, and world political — and then He said these signs would be like "birth pangs" (Matthew 24:8).
As the birth of a baby approaches, the birth pangs increase two ways. They increase in frequency and intensity. Thus, Jesus was saying that the closer we get to the time of His return, the more frequent and intense the signs will become. There will be more earthquakes and more intense ones. Likewise things like famine, pestilence and war will increase in frequency and intensity.
The Mathematical Concept
In mathematics this acceleration is called an "exponential curve." This term comes from what happens when rapid growth is plotted on a chart. When graphing the growth of something, the growth is considered to be on an exponential curve when the plot line starts moving vertically because the growth is so rapid. You can see a classic example of this principle in the illustration on this page of the growth of the Internet company, America Online.
Now, the point is that the Bible indicates that the exponential curve will be one of the signs of the end times, and my thesis is that we are living in the midst of the exponential curve. Therefore, we are living in the end times.
Examples of the Curve
The 20th Century has been the century of the exponential curve. Let's consider some examples.
1) Population — Demographers estimate that the population of the world at the time of Christ was only 200 million. It took 1,650 years for the world's population to double! But thereafter it began to double very rapidly because the Industrial Revolution produced modern medicine, which, in turn, reduced infant mortality rates and increased longevity. As the statistics below indicate, the rate of doubling has now reached exponential proportions.
|Time of Christ
2) Power — Throughout most of recorded history, the maximum power at man's disposal consisted of bows and arrows, spears, and catapults. Even at the beginning of this century, war was still primitive. World War I turned into a stagnant war of attrition because neither side had sufficient power to break out of the trenches.
Eighty years later, we have air power, armored power, nuclear weapons, and sophisticated bacteriological and chemical weapons. We have ICBM's that can deliver a nuclear payload half way around the world. We have laser guided missiles that can guide a bomb down a smoke stack. And we have nuclear submarines that can circle the globe without surfacing. Incredibly, just one of those subs today has more firepower than all the bombs dropped in World War II! It is no wonder the Bible says that in the end times "men will faint with fear" over the expectation of "the things which are coming upon the world" (Luke 21:26).
3) Transportation — In 1900 the major means of transportation was what it had always been throughout history — namely, walking and riding a horse. Bicycles had been invented, and the steam engine had been applied to ships and trains. But steam powered transportation was too expensive for most people.
I have photos that were taken in my home town of Waco, Texas in 1912, and they clearly show that most people were still getting around in horse drawn wagons and carriages.
Today we have automobiles (usually two or more to a family!) and airplanes. We have bullet trains that travel 150 miles per hour and planes that travel faster than the speed of sound. And then, of course, there are rocket ships that take people into orbit around the earth.
In 1866 Mark Twain traveled to the Holy Land. It took him three months to get there. Today, a group can get on a jet plane in New York and be in Tel Aviv in 13 hours (and most will complain about how long the trip took!).
In 1900 the average number of miles traveled per year by a person inside the United States was 1,000. Today it is 25,000 miles per year, and many of us put twice that much mileage on an automobile in a year's time.
4) Communications — At the beginning of this century the telegraph had speeded up communications considerably, but the fundamental means which most people used to get information was still the newspaper.
Today our communication resources are overwhelming. We have telephones, radio, and television. We have exotic devices like fax machines, pagers, and cellular phones. And we can communicate world wide through satellites.
I never cease to be amazed when I see someone use a credit card in an Arab shop in the Old City of Jerusalem. The shop may be nothing but a primitive hole in the wall, but over in some dark corner there will be a machine where the merchant can swipe the card. A few moments later he receives an authorization. During those few moments, the card number has been transmitted to Tel Aviv, from Tel Aviv to New York by satellite, from New York to the credit card processing center somewhere in the States, and then back to the Arab shop in Jerusalem!
I am equally amazed at the way I can sit down at a computer at my home or office and use the Internet to send a letter in seconds to almost any place in the world.
5) Computers — Computer technology has contributed to the rapid acceleration of many aspects of life, but it is interesting to note that the exponential curve applies to the development of computers as well. Anyone who tries to stay on the cutting edge of what is new in computer equipment knows that it is a never ending battle that requires a lot of money. Advances are so rapid that equipment is out of date within a few months.
In 1970 I was a professor at a college where we bought an IBM computer for $100,000. The computer filled a room and generated so much heat that we had to have the room equipped with additional air conditioning. The computer's memory was 64K!
Now, if you are not a computer buff, that may not mean much to you, but keep reading because I'm going to make it understandable; and in the process, I'm going to illustrate how rapidly computer technology has developed.
Ten years later in 1980, this ministry bought one of the first desk top computers made. It was a Tandy TRS 80, Model II. It cost $4,800. When I turned it on, I was astounded by the first thing that appeared on the screen: "64K Memory." In ten years time we had gone from a computer that weighed more than a ton to one that sat on a desk top, and the price had dropped 95%. But the memory was the same!
Ten years later in 1990, I went to Radio Shack and bought an electronic Rolodex small enough to fit into the palm of my hand. It cost $90. And when I turned it on, guess what? The first message that appeared on the screen was "64K Memory."
The first floppy disk that we used in the TRS 80 was 8" in size. It held 300,000 bytes of information. A few years later the 5 1/4" disk appeared. It would hold 700,000 bytes. Then came the 3 1/2" disk. Its capacity was 1.4 million bytes! Now the hottest thing going is the CD Rom disk. I recently read an advertisement for a CD Rom disc that contained 134,000 pages of theological documents, the equivalent of 1,400 pounds of books!
6) Knowledge — The prophet Daniel was specifically told that knowledge would vastly increase in the end times, and it has. In fact, we have become so overwhelmed with the flood of new information that it is difficult to find wisdom anymore, because wisdom comes from reflection on knowledge.
When I was in graduate school in the early '60s, there were only two or three major academic journals in each field of study. Today there are dozens in each field, and they cannot begin to publish all the academic articles that are being written. Many have to limit the articles to one page abstracts, and even then most articles are rejected for a lack of space.
Encyclopedias are out of date before they can be printed. And I read recently where a research organization had determined that one Sunday issue of the New York Times contains more information than the normal person in the 19th Century was exposed to in a lifetime!
The most amazing thing to me in the area of information is the World Wide Web that can be accessed through the Internet. Using it, I can access the documents of the Vatican in seconds, and then in a matter of moments, I can go to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, or I can dart back to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. In short, I can access information all over the world without ever leaving my office.
7) Violence — I don't think I have to emphasize that violence and lawlessness have been increasing. But it is hard to comprehend how rapid the increase has been in this century.
It is estimated by experts that the number of people killed in all the wars fought from the time of Christ until 1939 totals 50 million. In the next six years (1939 through 1945), 57 million people died in World War II. Since that time, almost 60 million have died in armed conflicts, either in wars between nations or civil wars within nations. This has been a century of unparalleled carnage.
Within the United States, violent crime has increased 500% since 1960. During the same period, the country's population increased only 41%.
8) Society — The disintegration of society has multiplied in speed as violence, wickedness, and immorality have increased exponentially. Jesus prophesied this would happen when He said that end time society would be like it was in the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37-39).
I have witnessed the decaying of society with my own eyes. I was born in 1938. When I was born, abortionists were sent to prison. Pregnancy out of wedlock was thought of as scandalous. Homosexuals were considered queer. Pornography was despised as a sickness. Marriage was sacred. Living together was taboo. Divorce was a disgrace. Homemaking was honored, and day care was provided by mothers in their homes. Child abuse was unheard of. Ladies did not curse or smoke. "Damn" was considered flagrant language in a movie. (A recent film featuring Jack Lemon had the "f-word" in it 170 times in 120 minutes!)
I could go on and on about the many ways in which our society (and societies around the world) have decided to "call evil good and good evil" (Isaiah 5:20). But the most dramatic way I can think of to illustrate how rapid the deterioration of society has become in America is to consider the results of a poll concerning public school discipline problems. Consider the differing results between the '40s and the '80s (and weep!).
The Top Public School Discipline Problems:
(Source: Time Magazine, February 1, 1988)
- Chewing gum
- Making noise
- Running in the halls
- Getting out of turn in line
- Wearing improper clothing
- Not putting paper in wastebaskets
- Drug Abuse
- Alcohol Abuse
9) The Gospel — But not all the exponential curves are bad. Modern technology has made it possible for the Gospel to be preached to billions of people through the use of such media as short wave radio, motion pictures, and satellite television.
Billy Graham's recent broadcast from Puerto Rico was carried by satellite to 185 countries and territories in a total of 116 different languages!
In 1800 the Bible was available in 71 languages. By 1930 the count had risen dramatically to 900. Today, the Bible has been published in 1,700 languages, with 1,000 more in progress. Computer technology has greatly speeded up the translation process.
10) World Politics — The exponential curve also applies to world events. Habakkuk 1:5 is as relevant today as if it were written yesterday: "The Lord replied, 'Look, and be amazed! You will be astounded at what I am about to do! For I am going to do something in your own lifetime that you will have to see to believe.'"
I took a Sabbatical in 1987 and wrote a book called Trusting God. Seven years later, in 1994, I took another Sabbatical and completely rewrote that book. The exercise gave me an opportunity to reflect back over the seven years between the two Sabbaticals. I was astounded — even overwhelmed — by the rapidity and "stupendity" of world events.
Who could have dreamed in 1987 that within the next seven years any of the following events would have occurred?
- The tearing down of the Berlin Wall
- The peaceful liberation of Eastern Europe from Communism
- The collapse of the Soviet Union
- The reunification of Germany
- The resurgence of Islam and its emergence as the greatest threat to world peace
- The sending of 500,000 American troops to the other side of the world to defend a country most Americans had never heard of (Kuwait)
- The handshake between Rabin and Arafat that has led to Israel surrendering its heartland to the PLO
In 1987 if you had predicted any of these developments, you would have been written off as "nuts." The rapidity of these events and their radical nature is breathtaking. They underscore the possibility of the impossible. And they certainly reveal that man is not in control.
The Significance of the Curve
So, what does all this mean to you and me? I would mention at least three things.
First, the exponential curve is proof positive that Bible prophecy is true. The Lord has told us what He is going to do in the end times, and we had better pay attention to it.
Second, the fulfillment of prophecy related to the exponential curve shows that God is in control. Even when it appears that everything on this earth is out of control, we can be assured that God is orchestrating all the chaos to the ultimate triumph of His Son in history (Psalm 2).
Third, the exponential curve is very strong evidence that we are living on borrowed time. It points to the fact that Jesus is at the very gates of Heaven, waiting for the command of His Father to return.
I want to conclude by issuing a strong warning against taking time for granted.
Many people are doing that today. They are saying, "I'm going to get serious about the Lord when I get out of school;" or "after I get a job;" or "after I'm established in my job;" or "after I get married;" or "after I get my children raised." Time is precious. There is very little left. Now is the time to get serious about the Lord.
Let me illustrate how critical the timing is by returning to the exponential curve. Suppose you put one bacterium in a jar, and assume it doubles every second. How many bacteria do you think would exist in the jar at the end of 30 seconds? The answer, incredibly, is 1,073,741,824. That's more than a billion in thirty seconds! That's the ferocity of the exponential curve.
Now, let's carry the illustration a step further. If at the end of 30 seconds the jar is half full, how much longer will it take for the jar to become full? The answer is one second (because it will double in the next second). That is the suddenness of the exponential curve.
That's what the Bible means when it says that people will be saying, "Peace and safety!" when "sudden destruction" will come upon them (1 Thessalonians 5:3).
Are you taking time for granted? Don't do it. Non-Christian, now is the time for salvation. Christian, now is the time for holiness.
The exponential curve illustrated is the one that could easily lead to the destruction of the United States. It took over 200 years for the nation's debt to reach one trillion dollars. Then, in only ten years, during the decade of the '80s, the debt more than tripled!
As of April 1, 1996, the debt totaled $5.1 trillion. With a population of 264 million, that means every man, woman and child in American now owes $19,182.84. The debt continues to run at the rate of one billion dollars per day. Some experts estimate that by the year 2000, all taxes collected will barely cover the interest due on the debt. In short, America is bankrupt.