The Mark of the Beast and Perseverance
by Bob Wilkin, GRACE EVANGELICAL SOCIETY"If
anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his
forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the
wrath of God . . . . And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and
ever; and they have no rest day or night. . . . Here is the patience of
the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the
faith of Jesus."
• (Rev. 14:9-12)
years ago during a debate over the subject of Lordship Salvation I was
asked, "Doesn't Rev 14:9-12 prove that all true believers persevere in
The Reformed doctrine called the perseverance of the
saints is not exactly the same as eternal security. Eternal security
says that once a person is saved he cannot lose his salvation.
Perseverance says, however, much more than this. It says that all saved
people will persevere in a life of godliness and holiness. While
temporary times of sin and carnality may occur, no true believer will
persist in such a state for very long.
In order to examine whether
these verses prove the Reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the
saints, we need to consider the context.
These verses deal with the
Tribulation. That is a coming seven-year time of tremendous trouble on
the earth. The wrath of God will at that time be poured out in full
measure upon sinful man.
Satan will be allowed by God to install his
man as world dictator. This man, called the beast in the Book of
Revelation, will demand that everyone worship him and his god, Satan.
To enforce this worship he will link commerce with religion. He will
require that anyone who buys or sells anything must have a mark placed
on his forehead or hand. This mark is called the mark of the beast.
technology is already in place for such a system. Today debit cards are
already widely in use. No check is written. No cash is exchanged. The
buyer's account is simply debited and the seller's credited. The beast
will give each person a code for doing business and stamp that on their
hand or forehead.
The verses under consideration say that anyone who
takes the mark of the beast will spend eternity in hell. In v 11 we
learn that their torment will be unending. While some evangelicals and
fundamentalists today are saying that God will annihilate the unsaved,
there is no room for such a view in light of this passage.
So, what about it? Do these verses prove that the Reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is correct?
are three possible ways to interpret the fact that everyone who takes
the mark of the beast will go to hell. First, one could argue that
eternal security is not operative in the Tribulation. There is, of
course, no biblical or logical support for this. Eternal security is
consistently taught in Scripture (e.g., John 5:24; Rom 8:38-39). No
exceptions are given.
To suggest that eternal security is not
operative in the Tribulation--or at any other time for that matter--is
to subvert the sufficiency of the Cross. Eternal security is an
integral part of the Gospel. Thus this view is wholly untenable.
one could argue that this passage teaches that all true believers will
persist in obedience and holiness during the Tribulation. However, the
context shows that this view is also untenable.
Verses 9-11 are not
even about believers. They are about unbelievers. At the very moment an
unbeliever takes the mark of the beast he is sealed in a state of
unbelief. He will surely spend eternity in hell. (Of course, believers
can rightly infer from these verses that God would never allow them to
take the mark since they know themselves to be eternally secure. Yet
that is certainly not the main point here.)
Why would the Lord tell
Tribulation believers this? Tribulation saints will suffer great
persecution for refusing to take the mark. They will see unbelievers
who take the mark avoid the persecution they are experiencing. This
would be discouraging for any believer who was shortsighted. Verses
9-11 are thus designed to give the Tribulation saints (and believers of
all ages) the big picture.
We might paraphrase v 12 in this way:
This [knowing the fate of those who take the mark] is a motivation for
believers to endure the persecutions and to persist in obeying God's
commands and in keeping the faith.
Nowhere does v 12 say that all
Tribulation saints will persevere in obeying God's commands and in
keeping the faith. Rather, it says that one of the reasons those who
persevere will do so is because they know that the unsaved have a
It goes without saying that as Tribulation
saints reflect on the fearful future of the lost, they will be moved to
contemplate their own futures as well. They will be reminded that if
they endure they will reign with Christ (2 Tim 2:12; Rev 2:26; 3:21)
and will have other eternal rewards as well (Matt 5:1112; 6:19-21; Rev
E. D. Hirsch, an expert on biblical interpretation, reminds
us that a given set of words can have several different meanings
depending on what he calls the illocutionary force of the statement in
context (Aims in Interpretation, pp. 26, 52-53, 67). The illocutionary
force of Rev 14:9-12 is clearly hortatory. Of the approximately thirty
commentaries I consulted on this passage, nearly all attest that the
aim of these verses is to motivate Tribulation believers to persevere.
The view which suggests instead that these verses are promising that
all believers will persevere wholly misses the point.
confirms the fact that some, actually many, Tribulation saints will
fail to endure. The love of many believers will grow cold during that
Third, one is left with only one viable alternative.
Implicit in these verses is a guarantee that God will not allow any
Tribulation saint to take the mark. As He does now, so then He will
give special grace in times of testing. He will not allow any believer
to be tempted beyond his ability to withstand the test (1 Cor 10:13).
course, it is indeed conceivable that a believer might fail to utilize
the special grace which God will give him. In such cases we can be sure
that God will remove him from the tempting situation--quite possibly by
taking him home.
I believe that the rapture will precede the
Tribulation, and so I don't expect any of us to be around facing the
trials spoken of. Even so, Rev 14:9-12 challenges us to persevere in
the faith (there are still plenty of trials and difficulties for us in
this age) that we might realize the fantastic future of the overcomer.
Bob Wilkin is the Founder and Executive Director of GES.