Phil Johnson of Grace To You Ministries has put out a statement on their blog reaffirming John MacArthur’s belief that people can (and will) repent after they will take the mark of the beast. It is disappointing that he still holds this view after almost thirty-five years ago he asserted this.
I want to make a few comments.
First, I think it is deplorable that there have been blogs out there calling John MacArthur a heretic over this. It is not heresy to hold this view. I believe, to be sure, it is a deeply mistaken interpretation and carries a danger that it can convey to people that they will be able to take the mark and repent later. I do not believe at all that MacArthur intends this implication, but I believe there is a danger for some to think they may have a second chance if they end up taking the mark.
Incidentally, many of these same blog posts are also calling MacArthur a heretic because he is a “Calvinist.” Trust me, the vast majority of these people have no earthly clue what Calvinism actually teaches—they only know a caricature. And prewrathers who are calling him a heretic because he is a Calvinist, I want to remind them that the pioneers of the prewrath position are Calvinists: Robert Van Kampen and Marvin Rosenthal. So are Charles Cooper, Dan Hayden, James MacDonald, Ryan Habbena, and countless other prewrath exponents, including myself.
Second, I respect John MacArthur’s teachings and leadership. Obviously, I do not agree with his pretribulationism. I believe it is a blind-spot in his otherwise sober and sound theology. I do pray—and it is my plea—that he will come to the biblical truth that God has ordained that the last generation of the church will experience the Antichrist’s great tribulation before she is delivered from the ensuing day of the Lord’s wrath.
Now I’d like to make a few remarks and clarifications regarding Phil Johnson’s article. I want to thank him for writing the article.
1. I took the title of his article “Unforgivable?” as an indirect reference to my blog post (even though he alludes to other websites, including Brannon Howse’s radio program: “This whole issue suddenly became a matter of intense controversy when it was mentioned on a provocative radio program.”)
Even though in my blog post I use the term “unpardonable,” my article, however, was focused on why the act of taking the mark will be unforgivable. It is not because God is not willing to grant repentance if someone repents (a point Johnson belabors in his article, even though I completely agree with him, so it is a moot point). My point in my article—which I made clear—was that there will not be forgiveness because mark-takers will not be willing to repent.
2. I am not identifying the unpardonable sin mentioned by Jesus in the Gospels with taking the mark and image of the beast. However, I believe it will be the eschatological unpardonable sin, as I argued in my article because the book of Revelation teaches that people will not repent once they take the mark of the beast.
I also argued in my article that MacArthur is in error in teaching that everyone will take the mark of the beast when the Antichrist comes on the scene. This contradicts the clear teaching in the book of Revelation that it is the overcomers who will refuse to take the mark. The overcomers are not those who have taken the mark and then repented later. By definition, the overvcomers are those who have victory because they resist the temptation to take the mark, thereby not capitulating to the Antichrist. In short, they are faithful to Christ.
3. Johnson cites Matthew 12:31: “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” I agree; however, forgiveness implies a willing heart to repent. And I argued that in the book of Revelation it teaches that mark-takers will not repent.
4. Next he writes: “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.” It is reprehensible, which leads to the two-fold point of the angelic warning: To warn that mark-takers will seal their fate (vv. 9–11), and, accordingly, to instill endurance in believers (v. 12).
5. Johnson lumps the sin of taking the mark with other sins that he cites in 1 Corinthians 6:9–10. However, as I have shown, the book of Revelation singles out this eschatological sin as a damning-hardening sin.
In the same eschatological context just before the second coming, Paul writes: “and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thess 2:10–12). In short, God has an eschatological purpose in this instance to condemn—not the dead—but the living, those who “refused to love the truth.”
6. Next, he writes: “On the other hand, only one very specific sin is ever said to be unforgivable.” In the Gospels, yes. However, the narrative in the book of Revelation shows that taking the mark is this one very specific sin that will condemn people, and they will refuse to repent of it. Accordingly, the issue is not so much is it unforgivable, as it is of whether mark-takers are willing to repent, which Revelation says: no.
Takeaway: The church will one day face the onslaught of the persecution of the Antichrist’s great tribulation before it is raptured from the ensuing day of the Lord’s wrath. The Antichrist’s main instrument by which he will control people is the two-fold mark and image system. The book of Revelation exhorts believers to be overcomes by not taking the mark—for if you do, you 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.”
Those who refuse to take the mark will be the overcomers.