by Phil Johnson
Several years ago in a live Q&A session, someone asked John MacArthur if taking the mark of the Beast during the Great Tribulation would be an unpardonable sin. His answer, in short, was no. Though there is a stern warning against taking the mark of the Beast in Revelation 14, the sin is not categorically said to be unpardonable. (That would contradict Matthew 12:31.) The point of the severe language in Revelation 14 is to make clear what an utterly reprehensible sin it will be to swear an oath of willful loyalty to Antichrist.
Someone posted John MacArthur’s reply to that question on YouTube with a melodramatic one-word title in all caps: “OUTRAGE.” Gossip-mongers on the Internet got hold of it, apparently, and within days someone wrote to our ministry saying, “I saw pastor John on a YouTube video saying the way to be saved in the Tribulation is to take the mark of the Beast.”
If someone listens to Pastor MacArthur’s reply and imagines he was saying it’s no great sin to receive the mark of the Beast, listen again; that grossly twists what he actually said. The question is not (as one writer suggests) “How Far Can You Go and Still Be Able to Repent?” The point John MacArthur was making is about the extremes to which God’s grace will reach in order to seek and save a sinner.
Yes, Revelation 14:9–11 says, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” Clearly, receiving the mark is a sin that will send those who commit it to hell.
But the Bible also says, “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–10). In short, all sin carries the threat of eternal doom, and some particularly heinous sins have a built-in hardening effect that makes them particularly dangerous. Scripture occasionally singles out common sins that have this peculiarly soul-destroying effect.
On the other hand, only one very specific sin is ever said to be unforgivable. Any sin that is repented of is forgivable. Immediately after declaring all fornicators, drunkards, and swindlers unfit for heaven, the apostle writes, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (v. 11). After saying, “Whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven,” Jesus famously forgave Peter, who denied Him before men.
Jesus Himself said, “Any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven ” (Matthew 12:31, emphasis added). The one unpardonable sin was the sin of those who had seen His miracles with their own eyes; they knew He was the true Messiah; they were part of the generation to whom He was personally sent. And yet they attributed His powers to Satan. That was unforgivable because it was such a hard-hearted, willful expression of utter rejection from fully enlightened hearts, who punctuated their rejection with an extreme blasphemy. Those Pharisees had stood in the presence of the living embodiment of all truth; they heard His words and saw His works. All the mysteries of Christ had been unveiled before their very eyes. And yet they spurned Him. There was nothing else that could be shown to them to enlighten them further. They were not deceived; they knew full well what they were doing. That’s why their sin was unpardonable (cf. 1 Timothy 1:13).
Revelation 19:20 indicates that multitudes will take the mark of the Beast because they are deceived. Scripture does not say that they are thereby automatically hardened forever against repentance. That is not the point of the strong warnings.
This whole issue suddenly became a matter of intense controversy when it was mentioned on a provocative radio program. It’s certainly not worth all the ink that has been wasted and all the bandwidth that has been consumed by angry people demanding explanations and retractions. This much should certainly be clear from the biblical text (and I think would be affirmed by all sides): Taking the mark of the Beast is high treason against Christ and will be judged by God accordingly. Meanwhile, the Lord is “good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon [Him]” (Psalm 86:5).
#1 Posted by
John Cochrane | Wednesday, October 30, 2013at
Thank you Mr. Johnson for this post. I never could understand the "Left Behind" mentality that the Mark of the Beast was the final straw for people to be saved during the GT. I have even had some spirited debates with family members about it but I could never fully formulate my objection to it until now. As always you, along with the rest of the teaching staff at Grace know how to bring clarity to the hardest passages.
Thank you for all you do.
#2 Posted by
Matthew Hammond | Thursday, October 31, 2013at
Our men's group were just pondering this subject tonight. I have also been looking at a commentary about taking the mark (refer to link).
I also use 2 Thessalonians 2:6-16 as a reference of being predestined and also the warning in verses 9-12 of this passage. In any case, I believe that it is not wise to ever take the mark.
#3 Posted by
Felix Lee | Thursday, October 31, 2013at
Thank you for clarifying, and for the fast response to this online gossip it was getting out of hand.
#4 Posted by
Laurenz Thenu | Thursday, October 31, 2013at
I read it.
My initial response:
Johnson's thesis paraphrased: If you are deceived into taking the mark of the beast, you can still come to the truth and be saved, because it doesn't compare exactly to the 'blaspheming the Holy Spirit' passage. Being deceived is not the same as knowingly going against God.
But doesn't God send deception as final judgement as well? 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12. Doesn't that chapter deal with the end times, where God clearly sends a strong delusion as punishment, resulting in eternal damnation. 9 'Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.11 And for this cause God shall SEND them strong delusion, that they SHOULD believe a lie:12 That they all might be DAMNED who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. ' Here God sends deception as judgement, where damnation followes punishment.
And what about Revelation 19:20 where It says:
20 'And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.' It doesn't say: with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast AND HAD NOT repented.
Or Revelation 20:4
4 'And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.'
If Phil Johnson thinks the best way to start out a defense of this particular teaching, by labelling those who called GTY out, gossip mongerers on the internet, than he did not do his research very well.
The controversy is not people on youtube calling out GTY on this very important matter. The controversy is that these 'gossipmongers' were critical and for that they get the previous mentioned label. The controversy is the insufficient defense in this blogpost of the 1980 q&a and teaching. The controversy is a later John Macarthur teaching (1993), where John teaches the opposite and that both teachings are downloadable.
Being deceived is sometimes ones own fault, for instance by not obeying Matthew 24:4. But it can also be an eternal punishment from God (Thessalonians 2:9-12).
But what do I know, I'm just another layman with a bible and an internet connection.
#5 Posted by
Greg Linscott | Thursday, October 31, 2013at
I wonder if the people who believe that taking the mark is a deal-breaker also see baptism as a requirement for salvation (Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38)...
Thanks for the helpful contribution.
#6 Posted by
P B | Thursday, October 31, 2013at
Hi Phil; I'd never heard the claim that John had said the way to be saved was to take the mark of the beast! However, I am doubtful about this particular interpretation of scripture. Scripture says that those who worship the beast THEN take the mark. The mark is the result of the choice of who to worship. Since the object of that worship is the beast and not God, it would seem to pretty much amount to rejection of God and saying in effect something akin to No, we would rather have Barabbas! And scripture says that by their own choice, they go to hell forever. It seems that God is speaking in the knowledge of hearts in this case and how it is that they got to the point where they took the mark. What taking the mark actually is indicative of. Especially when these things come after decades of the gospel being preached and people being warned of things to come. It would seem to be a determination to continue in one's own wisdom and ways despite all warnings and evidence to the contrary that eventually leads to being so deceived. Rarely are we ever not involved in our own deception.
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I include this for interest's sake as its one that is out there in response to this issue and includes the links to John's Q and A session. I chanced upon it while looking something else up and so include it without either endorsing or rejecting it as it discusses some things that at this point are over my head.
#7 Posted by
Marcus Murdock | Thursday, October 31, 2013at
Those who repent even with that mark will be tracked down easily, hunted, and slaughtered. But yes, only full out rejection of the Holy Spirit is the unforgivable sin.
#8 Posted by
Lazar Lazarovski | Thursday, October 31, 2013at
Thank you for that clear and concise explanation. It has come up in conversation this past week and I didn't know really how to answer that question. In my mind, it didn't make sense because the only unpardonable sin as you pointed out is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31).
The truth is just so amazing.
Happy Reformation Day to you brother and thank you for your faithfulness to the truth of the Gospel!
Imagine, we have the truth in our hands because by God's grace, giants like Luther, Calvin, Huss, Tindale, Spurgeon and other faithful men carried the Gospel on their shoulders and the sea of blood that came with it, to defend that truth.
Faith alone, Christ alone, grace alone, Scripture alone and may all the glory be to God alone!
your servant and brother in Christ,
#9 Posted by
Lynda Ochsner | Thursday, October 31, 2013at
Agree with a previous commenter about the issue of deception, and I also thought of 2 Thess. 2 after I read Phil's post here. There is a difference between being "innocently deceived," and the deception that is part of God's judgment on unbelievers in reference to the reign of antichrist during the Great Tribulation. Revelation 14 makes it quite clear that ALL of those who take the Mark of the Beast are the same ones who later experience God's wrath forever and ever.
#10 Posted by
Daniel Beck | Thursday, October 31, 2013at
Some on the internet are starting to teach that the mark of the beast may be the rearranging of a persons DNA by taking the mark itself, possibly in the form of a "bio-chip" that promises eternal life, and that once a person accepts this mark, and their DNA is spliced into something part human which has immortality with some serious flaws in the form of "grievous sores" etc., then thats it, the person is, from that point on, irredeemable.
Among other verses, the people teaching this refer to Revelation 9:6 which says " In those days people will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them." This verse supposedly speaks of the flawed immortality given by the mark which also allegedly makes a person irredeemable. I don't believe this interpretation, but I thought I would throw it out there and hopefully get some input.
#11 Posted by
Rick Garner | Thursday, October 31, 2013at
In reference to post #4 by Laurenz Thenu, would you please give me the reference for the 1993 teaching by Pastor John that you referenced in your post, thank you in advance.
#12 Posted by
Laurenz Thenu | Thursday, October 31, 2013at
Any good pastor will agree that checking any teaching against the bible is good and biblical (Acts 17:11). So don't just take anyone at their word.
Let me paraphrase Johnson's thesis: You can still be saved after you take the mark of the beast, because it is a result of being deceived and therefore not the same as the one unforgivable sin: Blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
This is not true. Teaching otherwise is dangerous and wrong.
These people who take the MOB are in deception, because even though they have heard the truth, they rejected it. Their deception is a judgement of God 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12.
There is another important reason proving this thesis false and that is again found in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12, but this time in combination with Matthew 24:14. Both passages are teachings about the end times. A time that we are living in right now.
Thessalonians 2:9-12 'Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.'
You can't receive or not receive a love of the truth before actually being told the truth. Before actually knowing the truth. This is exactly in line with Matthew 24:14 'And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in ALL the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.'
So we know that before the Antichrist enters the world stage and before the MOB is implemented, the gospel will be preached into all the world. No one will have an excuse. No one will be able to say, standing before the judgement seat:"How could I have known!"
The ones who take the mark of the beast at one point in their live, will have also had the chance to receive a love for the truth. But they will not.
Read the scriptures for yourself. Put aside your own preconceived notions. Put aside your admiration for a person or ministry. Because anybody can get it wrong. And in this case GTY is wrong.
That is not to say I don't appreciate other teachings offered through GTY.
In reply to Rick Garner
The 1993 sermon is entitled Angelic Messengers and can be found here:
#15 Posted by
Wayne De Villiers | Thursday, October 31, 2013at
A couple of observations about your posts (#4,#12):
1) I don't think John changed his position between 1980 and 1993.
Check what he said in his 1993 sermon: "And the people of the world will take some mark on their hand or their forehead which indicates their loyalty to the beast, as we saw back in chapter 13. And what this angel is doing is saying...Look, here we are at the very end, you have heard the hundred and forty-four thousand, you've heard the two witnesses, you've heard all of the people who have proclaimed their faith in Christ, Jew and Gentile, and some of them were martyred. And certainly in the very martyrdom itself they gave testimony of the grace of God in Christ. You have heard an angel flying in mid-heaven. You've been warned by another angel who has pronounced doom. And here is one last note for you, if you still will worship the beast, if you still will worship his image, if you are still going to maintain your identification clear on out through all of this, verse 10, "You also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God.""
At the end of that same message he says: "...end of verse 11, for those who worship the beast and his image and whoever receives the mark of his name. Simply, those who will not turn their allegiance from Antichrist to Christ. What a warning. "
So, as far as I can tell, John saying in his 1993 message that if people who receive the mark repent in response to the message of the 3rd angel, they will be saved.
2) You are very confident that all the world will hear the gospel before the beast requires the world to take his mark (Revelation 13:16-17). It is interesting to note that Matthew 24:14 will be fulfilled by the first angel in Revelation 14:6-7. On what basis do you assert that the events of Revelation 14:6-7 will occur before the events of Revelation 13:16-17?