In Revelation 13, the second beast forces everyone in the world to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, and “they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name” (Revelation 13:17). It is often postulated that, in order for the Antichrist or the beast to control all buying and selling, a cashless society will be necessary during the tribulation. As long as people are using cash, transactions can be completed in private, but, if all currency becomes electronic, then every transaction can be monitored.
Be that as it may, a cashless society is not necessary to fulfill the conditions of Revelation 13:17, nor does moving toward a cashless society indicate that “the end is near” for the following reasons:
1. The “end times” started with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. We have been in the “end times” for the last 2,000 years. Paul describes his contemporary generation as those “on whom the culmination of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). He warns Timothy of conditions in the last days as though Timothy will encounter them (2 Timothy 3:1–5). In Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, he identifies the pouring out of God’s Spirit upon believers as a sign of the last days (Acts 2:17). James 5:3 warns the rich that they are hoarding wealth in the last days, when they should be helping the poor. We are currently living in the end times, cash or no cash.
2. The conditions described in Revelation 13:17 existed in the first century, without a cashless society. In Asia Minor (the area of the seven churches to whom the book is addressed), if a tradesman wanted to practice his craft, he would have to be a member of a trade guild. Each guild had a patron deity, and, in order to be a member of the guild, the tradesman would have to participate in worship of the deity. If a Christian tradesman refused to worship the deity and join the guild, he was prohibited from practicing his trade and thus unable to earn a living, effectively preventing him from buying and selling. This is the background of Revelation 13:17. In modern communist countries, Christians have sometimes been blackballed. The authorities make it clear that no one is allowed to buy or sell to Christians, nor is anyone allowed to help them with donations. If Christian parents are incarcerated, no one is allowed to help their children. Other groups have been persecuted in this way, too; a cashless society is not needed to keep certain people from doing business.
3. Even in a cashless society, there will always be ways around the system. Barter of goods and services and the black market will always exist. Revelation 13:17 does not require that the beast maintain absolute control over every single transaction, only that the official policy forbids these transactions, making them illegal and punishable and therefore more difficult.
In the final analysis, a cashless society may make it easier for a totalitarian government to control its citizens. This is a fact of human existence and not necessarily linked to the “end times.” A cashless society is not an indicator that the Lord’s return is imminent, because believers of all ages have been warned and encouraged that the Lord may return at any time. This was true when no one had even imagined electronic transactions. The most that can be said is that every day that passes brings us one day closer to the Lord’s return.