The question about whether you can take the mark of the beast and still be able to repent later, makes no earthly sense to me. And yet there are pretribulational teachers who think this is a meaningful question.
“How far can you go” is in the same vein of the frequent question that youth pastors receive from males in their youth groups about how far they can go with their girlfriends and not sin. It misses the point entirely.
I want to respond to some recent statements from pretribulational teachers John MacArthur, Brannon Howse, and Jimmy DeYoung, who believe people will be able to take the mark of the beast and worship the image and still be able to repent down the road. I find this irresponsible, dangerous, and completely contrary to what Scripture teaches. I expect sensationalists teachers such as Brannon Howse and Jimmy DeYoung to make these types of statements, but not the sober-minded John MacArthur, who I respect very much. Nevertheless, I need to respond.
It is one thing for pretribulational teachers to mislead their flock by teaching them that they will be whisked away in beds of ease before the persecution of the Antichrist. But it is another thing for them to teach that people will be able to take the mark of the beast and worship his image during the great tribulation and yet later repent of it.
I will first show that Scripture clearly teaches that taking the mark and worshiping the image is unpardonable. Once someone decides to take the mark and worship the beast’s image (it is a two-fold action, not disconnected from each other), they have sealed their eternal fate. Then I will play the remarks of DeYoung, Howse, and MacArthur and respond to their statements.
1. Scripture is unequivocally clear that “if anyone” makes the decision to worship the Antichrist and take his mark they will seal their fate—eternal perdition:
And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur 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, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. (Rev 14:9–12)
The serious tenor of this angelic warning indicates there are no exceptions. Do you think the apostle John as he was receiving this warning asked the angel, “Yea, but, how far can one go?”
What part do pretribbers not understand here?: “he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”
2. One of the main purposes of the bowl judgments is to execute wrath upon the beast’s kingdom especially his followers. The bowls open up describing his followers: “upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.” Twice in the bowls narrative we are told that they refused to repent.
So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image….The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory. The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.” (Rev 16:2, 10–11)
I find it bewildering that there are teachers of the Bible who will turn these passages on their head and insist that the beast-marked followers are still able to repent, when we are told unequivocally that they will not.
3. The next passage shows how one becomes an overcomer:
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Rev 20:4)
The overarching imperative in the book of Revelation is to be an overcomer. This is done by not capitulating to the Antichrist by worshiping him. To be an overcomer is not some amorphous process. It is concretely situated in the test of faith that all will have to face living at that time: Worship Antichrist or Jesus Christ. If you worship Antichrist you will seal your fate. If you worship Jesus Christ you will be rewarded for being a faithful overcomer.
4. There is an unbiblical theology out there that makes human beings autonomous from God. One of the consequences of this man-centered theology says that man is free to choose whatever he wants (i.e. a libertarian free will). The problem is that God is the only being in the world who is sovereign and free. God has the freedom to bring down his judgment at any time upon the ungodly. He is not restricted to waiting until they die. In fact, the seven churches are called upon to repent before it is too late (Revelation 2–3). We see this most clearly in Paul’s statement in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12, which is the same context of the great tribulation where the Antichrist’s mark and image system takes place:
The arrival of the lawless one will be by Satan’s working with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders, and with every kind of evil deception directed against those who are perishing, because they found no place in their hearts for the truth so as to be saved. Consequently God sends on them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false. And so all of them who have not believed the truth but have delighted in evil will be condemned.” (2 Thess 2:9–12).
God will harden the hearts of those who take the mark. So much so, that we were told above that when God actually judges them they will refuse to repent. To be sure, MacArthur does not affirm libertarian free will, but many other pretribs do, so this last point is directed toward them.
Next, let’s move to the comments of these pretrib teachers, including MacArthur.
John MacArthur make a demonstrable false statement.
He says that everyone in the tribulation period will have to take the mark. He says that in order for people to function in the beast’s economy people must take his mark, therefore everyone will take the mark. That is a non sequitur. That makes no sense, because the entire book of Revelation is to be an overcomer over the beast by not taking the mark. In fact, it explicitly states that true believers will not take the mark:
Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. These had not worshiped the beast or his image and had refused to receive his mark on their forehead or hand. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Rev 20:4).
The people who populate the millennium are those who refuse to take the mark, not those who take the mark and repent later. MacArthur is egregiously mistaken on this. Former beast worshipers will not be entering into the kingdom, it is those who overcome the beast will enter the kingdom.
One can begin to see how pretribulationism is a false teaching. It has dire ramifications. It is setting up believers to become vulnerable during the Antichrist’s great tribulation.
Lastly, I want to note how flippant and disrespectful Brannon Howse sounded in the video. There was no soberness of tone in this serious discussion. It was shameful.
My plea to you Mr. MacArthur is to reconsider your statements in light of Scripture and your love for God’s people. Re-examine the text, reflect on the ramifications, pray that you see the truth on this matter, so you can warn your sheep.
TAKEAWAY: Do not take the mark and worship his image!
That is the issue, not “Can I take the mark and still get saved later on.” Do not arrogantly think you will wait till these things happen then find resolve, because “Satan’s working with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders, and with every kind of evil deception directed against those who are perishing.” This is the event in which a multitude of professing believers will apostatize. Do not dismiss this warning; it will be a deceptive temptation for the vulnerable.