The Sleeper Cell
“As a kid, I loved Mission Sundays, when missionaries on furlough brought special reports in place of a sermon …. There is one visit I've never forgotten. The missionaries were a married couple stationed in what appeared to be a particularly steamy jungle. I'm sure they gave a full report on churches planted or commitments made or translations begun. I don't remember much of that. What has always stayed with me is the story they shared about a snake.
One day, they told us, an enormous snake—much longer than a man—slithered its way right through their front door and into the kitchen of their simple home. Terrified, they ran outside and searched frantically for a local who might know what to do. A machete-wielding neighbor came to the rescue, calmly marching into their house and decapitating the snake with one clean chop.
The neighbor reemerged triumphant and assured the missionaries that the reptile had been defeated. But there was a catch, he warned: It was going to take a while for the snake to realize it was dead.
A snake's neurology and blood flow are such that it can take considerable time for it to stop moving even after decapitation. For the next several hours, the missionaries were forced to wait outside while the snake thrashed about, smashing furniture and flailing against walls and windows, wreaking havoc until its body finally understood that it no longer had a head.
Sweating in the heat, they had felt frustrated and a little sickened but also grateful that the snake's rampage wouldn't last forever. And at some point in their waiting, they told us, they had a mutual epiphany.
I leaned in with the rest of the congregation, queasy and fascinated. "Do you see it?" asked the husband. "Satan is a lot like that big old snake. He's already been defeated. He just doesn't know it yet. In the meantime, he's going to do some damage. But never forget that he's a goner."
The story [still] haunts me because I have come to believe it is an accurate picture of the universe. We are in the thrashing time, a season characterized by our pervasive capacity to do violence to each other and ourselves. The temptation is to despair. We have to remember, though, that it won't last forever. Jesus has already crushed the serpent's head.”
Carolyn Arends, “Satan’s a Goner: A lesson from a Headless Snake,” Christianity Today (February 2011).
I’ve mentioned before that every individual is drawn to addictive behavior, but it manifests itself differently in each person
For me, my addictive behavior manifests itself in two primary ways: work and video games
Modeled or not
My father was a very hard worker, so a strong work ethic was modeled for me, which probably played a major role in how I look at work and my addictive behaviors concerning work
My father never really played video games, so that part of my addictive behavior was not modeled for me, but is part of who I am
The desire to play video games was something that sat dormant in my life until I began playing them
In both situations, I have a choice whether or not to give in to those addictive behaviors
I obviously can’t blame my father for being addicted to video games, but I also can’t blame my father for being addicted to work
I have a choice!
I would guess that there are individuals here today who are also addicted to video games and work
Addictive behaviors manifest themselves in many other ways also (alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex, hunting, fishing, shopping, hobbies, and many other ways)
We have a choice
I’ve met with individuals who blame their parents or other circumstances for their addictive behaviors as adults
Certainly the environment we grew up in and circumstances that were beyond our control have greatly influenced who we are today, so I’m not marginalizing those things
But, too often we allow those things to continue to control us and shape us as adults, when we have a choice
A first-grade boy was talking at lunch about how some people eat cats and dogs, which caused a girl in his class to think about her dog that had passed away. She couldn’t stop thinking about her dog and it was making her sad. The teacher shared with her that we have control over our thought life. We can decide what we’re going to think about. God can help us control our thoughts. We have a choice to take control of our thought life.
John explains that Satan is released after a thousand years and he picks back up, right where he left off, with deceiving the nations. Amazingly, there are innumerable people who will follow him and reject God. John wants us to understand that . . .
BIG IDEA – The “want to” to sin is inside all of us.
GOD (Revelation 20:7-10)
Satan’s release (v. 7)
After the thousand year reign of Christ, Satan is released from his prison (the Abyss)
Was it a literal thousand years or figurative?
It could be either one
It could represent a thousand literal years
It could also be figurative for a long period of time
Both represent the passing of many years, which helps us understand the main point/principle
Why does God allow Satan one final grasp at power?
Akin provides a twofold answer [Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition, Exalting Jesus in Revelation, 311]
“To demonstrate the evil intentions of Satan that consume him now and forever.”
“To reveal that even in a near perfect environment with no Satanic temptation, man is capable of and willing to rebel against his gracious and loving God.”
PRINCIPLE – Human depravity is not a result of our environment or circumstances.
Every one of us is born with the “sleeper cell of sin” inside of us
The “want to” to sin is there from the beginning, waiting to come alive
“Perhaps the most reasonable explanation for this rather unusual parole is to make plain that neither the designs of Satan nor the waywardness of the human heart will be altered by the mere passing of time.” [Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, 371]
We see from this long period of time, when Satan’s influence and temptation are not a factor in humanity, that human beings still rebel against God, and given the opportunity, will turn to evil instead of good
Jeremiah 17:9, The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
So we can blame whomever we want for how we’ve turned out, but the reality is, WE have chosen our path, we have chosen whether to follow God or reject Him
There is no one else to blame, but ourselves
Satan is released from the Abyss and immediately begins to do what comes natural to him – deception!
Satan’s deception (vv. 8-9a)
Deceive the nations
PRINCIPLE – Satan is determined to deceive people concerning God.
“Whenever the devil is around, he will deceive the nations.” [Easley, Holman New Testament Commentary, Revelation, 377]
The amazing thing is that we, as Christians, are just as susceptible to the deceptions of Satan as anyone else
He uses false teachers within the body of Christ to twist the truth, just a little bit, so that in some cases we don’t even realize what’s happening
We begin to follow a certain preacher or teacher and can easily begin to believe everything they say without testing it against Scripture
Jesus was teaching the Jews one day and telling them that the truth He was sharing with them would set them free
They obviously didn’t understand, because they responded that they had never been slaves, because they were Abraham’s descendants
They camped on the idea of slavery instead of the truths that Jesus was sharing with them about who He was – the Messiah, the Son of God
Jesus finally says this, Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:43-44)
These Jews, who were God’s chosen people, had been deceived by Satan and we know, from the Gospel writers, that they convinced others that Jesus was not the Messiah
They were, themselves, false teachers
We can protect ourselves from false teaching and Satan’s deceptions by doing what the Bereans did
Acts 17:11, Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
What did the Bereans do?
They didn’t just take Paul’s word for it
They studied the Scriptures for themselves
As a Christian, we have the Holy Spirit living within us to help us understand Scripture
God will definitely answer, “Yes,” to our prayers for wisdom in understanding His Word, the Bible
They did it every day
Share the illustration from Greg Speck at the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember – asked for 3 volunteers to come up and share what God taught them that morning from studying His Word and one answer to prayer from the weekend
If I don’t read my Bible and pray, will God love me any less? (No)
“I don’t read the Bible or pray, so God will love me more. I read the Bible and pray, because I love God.” [Greg Speck, FamilyLife Weekend to Remember, Man-to-Man session, February 17, 2019]
My prayer is that all of us will read God’s Word and pray every day, not because we have to, but because we love Him
My Next Step Today Is To: Protect myself from Satan’s deceptions by reading God’s Word and praying every day, as an expression of my love for God.
Satan was released and immediately began to deceive the nations, but who were these people that were being deceived?
Who are the nations that John sees as this point?
There are two primary viewpoints concerning who the nations are
Some scholars believe that the army assembled in Revelation 19:17-21 that were destroyed did not include every unbeliever on earth (Osborne)
There were military personnel (kings, generals, mighty men, horses and their riders), but there were also free and slave, small and great
There may have been unbelievers who had not taken the mark of the beast and had not worshiped the image of the beast
The “nations” would then be those individuals and their children that were born during the millennium
Other scholars believe that the nations would be represented by the children born during the millennium (Akin, Courson)
These children would be born to believers who have not yet received their glorified bodies
They could also be the children of unbelievers who had not taken the mark of the beast or worshipped his image
Either way, these individuals have not had the opportunity to determine whether or not to follow the Lord
They have been “living in enforced righteousness and peace because there’s no other choice.” [Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary, New Testament, 1783]
When Satan is released and they understand what sin is, then they have a choice to make
Will they follow Jesus or reject Him
We see that there is such a large number who rally to Satan’s side that they cannot be counted (In number they are like the sand of the seashore)
Satan goes to every corner of the earth in his search to deceive the nations
Four corners of the earth
The four corners of the earth simply means that Satan goes throughout the entire earth
There is no place where his deception is not present
Gog and Magog
Old Testament background
Genesis 10:2, The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javen, Tubal, Meshech and Tiras.
Ezekiel 38:2, “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.
Ezekiel 39:1-2, “Son of man, prophesy against Gog and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. I will turn you around and drag you along. I will bring you from the far north and send you against the mountain of Israel (Magog would be a territory/region to the north of Israel)
Gog from Magog was used by God to discipline Israel during Old Testament times
They would have been a pagan nation
In Revelation, the reference to “Gog and Magog are symbolic figures representing the nations of the world that band together for a final assault upon God and his people.” [Mounce, 372]
We already know that they are pagan, since they have chosen to follow Satan instead of God
They will be deceived by Satan
John explains why Satan is deceiving the nations – there is a reason and purpose behind his deception
Reason why he is deceiving them
Satan is gathering an army for battle, because he still believes he can defeat God
They marched across the breadth of the earth, which adds to the imagery of Satan deceiving the nations in the four corners of the earth
Satan’s deception is complete and thorough
So, this army gathers in Israel and surrounds God’s people who have encamped in Jerusalem (the city he loves)
“Here in Revelation the task of the saints is not to take the battle into their own hands but to encamp before the Lord and trust him.” [Osborne, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Revelation, 714]
PRINCIPLE – We can trust God to fight our battles.
What kind of battle are you engaged in right now?
Perhaps it’s relational, financial, emotional, spiritual, or physical
It may be that we are fighting battles on multiple fronts – which is spreading us thin
During those battles we can trust God, because He is in control (omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent)
Psalm 56:3-4, When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?
Isaiah 59:1-2, Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.
Numbers 11:21-23, But Moses said, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?” The Lord answered Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”
Jeremiah 32:26-27, Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?
Take a moment to write down the battles you are currently facing
Are any of them too hard for the Lord?
Have you encamped before the Lord? (this means have you taken time to tell the Lord what battles you are fighting)
Are you trusting Him to fight your battles or are you fighting them yourself?
My Next Step Today Is To: Encamp before the Lord and trust Him to fight my battles.
That’s exactly what the saints in this final battle are doing (they’re encamped around the Lord and trusting Him)
What we see in the second half of verse 9 and verse 10 is that God is fighting the battle
Satan’s defeat (vv. 9b-10)
The vast, unnumbered army that Satan has rallied is defeated soundly when God sends fire down from heaven that devours them
Just as we saw at the battle of Armageddon in Revelation 19:17-21, the battle is won by the Lord in a very quick moment
None of the saints have to engage in battle, because the battle is the Lord’s
Satan’s final defeat
Satan is thrown into the lake of burning sulfur
PRINCIPLE – God is greater than Satan!
We can and should rejoice in this fact
That is the God we serve
He is all-powerful, all-knowing, ever present, unchanging, sovereign, and much more
Satan joins his cohorts, the beast and the false prophet, who have already been experiencing eternal torment for a thousand years
Again, we see that Satan, the beast, and the false prophet will continue to experience this eternal torment (they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever)
I don’t want us to miss an important part of this passage
Those who are born during the millennium or live through the tribulation and had not taken the mark of the beast and did not worship the beast are given the opportunity to receive or reject Jesus Christ
Like every one of us, they have the “sleeper cell of sin” inside of them
The “want to” to sin is inside all of us.
Each individual has to make the decision for themselves as to whether they will accept or reject Christ
Jeremiah 17:9-10a, The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind . . .”
God understands our heart and knows whether or not it is for Him or against Him
God provided a way for us to deal with the “sleeper cell of sin” in our lives
He sent Jesus from heaven to earth to die on a cross to take our punishment for sin
2 Corinthians 5:21, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
John 3:16-17, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
If you would like to make that decision today, please fill in the circle on the back of your Communication Card under the “Send Me Info. About: Becoming a follower of Jesus”
We learned today that we can protect ourselves from being deceived by studying God’s Word and praying daily as an expression of our love for God
We also learned that God will fight our battles for us, if we allow Him to
The Great Commission
As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been commissioned to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them God’s Word
We have a responsibility to share the Gospel with those in our sphere of influence
The result of not sharing the Gospel could be that they will suffer the same fate as Satan, the beast, and the false prophet – eternal torment in the lake of burning sulfur
They have the same “sleeper cell of sin” in their lives that we do, but do they know there is a way to deal with that sin?
“Valerie O'Connor, a high school student in Britton, Michigan, isn't in the habit of shoving her 63-year-old grandfather out the door into the snow. But her grandpa, Okey Howard, is glad she did. He was on fire at the time.
A February 2002 ice storm left many Michigan residents without power, so Valerie's grandfather had borrowed a kerosene heater from a friend to keep pipes and family members from freezing.
Unfortunately someone must have put something other than kerosene in the heater. When Mr. Howard lit the heater, it exploded, spewing burning fuel onto his arms, hands, and upper body.
Valerie saw her grandfather completely engulfed, so she pushed him out the door into some snow and rolled on top of him to smother the flames. She suffered minor burns on her legs.
"I knew something had to be done," Valerie said later. "After a moment of shock, I just reacted."
Though badly burned, Mr. Howard had the presence of mind to stumble back into the house, where he used a large extinguisher to put out the house fire.
Valerie rode with her screaming grandfather in the ambulance to the hospital. Mr. Howard said later, "I thought I was going to die. It was like hell."
If a teenager is willing to risk her own life to save her grandfather from a fiery death on earth, how much more should we be willing to risk sharing the good news so others can avoid a fiery eternity. Because of her great love for her grandfather, Valerie put her fears aside and dove into action so he could be saved.”
Clark Cothern, Tecumseh, Michigan; source: Jeff Steers, The Exponent (2-12-02)