Hollywood has added to the “fun” with the commercialization of demons, monsters, vampires, ghosts and evil spirits. As a result this has caused a good deal of confusion in the minds of people when it comes to the subjects of ghosts, demons and evil spirits.
“Evil Spirits” and “Demons”
What we know about the character and nature of demons is that they are spirit beings and are in subjection to the devil, that is Satan (Matthew 9:34 ; 12:24, 26-28; 25:41). We know that the demons or devils are called “Satan’s angels” (Matthew 25:41 ). There is no denying that Satan and his angels are spirit-beings who have sinned (John 8:44 ; 1 John 3:8 ; 1 Timothy 4:1 ; 1 John 4:1 ). Therefore it would be correct to say that devils, including Satan, are “angels that sinned” (2 Peter 2:4 ; Jude 6 ).
The Old Testament does not have much to say about demon activity beyond a general attribution of idolatry to the worship of demons. While we may conclude that there was some form of demon activity during the Old Testament, there is no indication that any prophet demonstrated the kind of authority that Jesus had over the demons (Matthew 12:28 ) or that which was later given to his apostles (Luke 10:17 ; Mark 16:17 ).
In the New Testament we can see that a unique feature of Christ’s ministry, when compared to the Old Testament prophets and John the Baptist, is the authority He exercises over the demons (Matthew 8:16 ; Mark 3:14-15 , Luke 9:1 ; 10:17). The only explanation offered for demon possession in the New Testament is that it was a sign of the approach of Messiah’s Kingdom (Matthew 12:28-29 ; Luke 11:20-22 ; Mark 3:22-27 ). As such, it manifestly identifies the spiritual nature of the Kingdom and establishes the conflict of that Kingdom with Satan and sin. It is apparent that the activity of the demons was limited and temporary. Their powers were a concession and do not belong to them inherently.
We know that Jesus came to “bind the strong man” and “spoil his house” (Matthew 12:29 ; Mark 3:27 ). Jesus attached His own power over the demons as being essential to binding Satan in order that his house could be spoiled. This overthrow of the demons would be an undeniable sign of the Kingdom having come (Matthew 12:26 ; Luke 11:20 ). The New Testament reveals an appointed time for the sending of the demons into ‘the abyss’ (Mark 5:1-13 ; Matthew 8:28-32 ; Luke 8:26-33 ).
The demons knew that there was an appointed time for their torment (Matthew 8:29 ) and that the appointed place for them was “the deep” (Matthew 8:31 ) where they would be tormented (2 Peter 2:4 ; Jude 6 ) and where they await their final judgment (Matthew 25:41 ). We know that this occurred at some point during the first century while the apostles were ministering under the great commission. Peter speaks of the angels that sinned as being “delivered” and “reserved.” Jude says they are in “everlasting chains” unto “the great day.” Their release was only temporary (and they knew it [Matthew 8:29 ]), but their return to imprisonment is permanent (Jude 6 ). Therefore we do not need to be concerned about supernatural manifestations of demons today. Their release was for the purpose of providing a sign that Christ indeed had power over Satan and his minions. Namely that the god of this world was most certainly judged and his kingdom destroyed (Colossians 2:15 ) and as a result we have received a Kingdom that cannot be shaken.
“Ghosts” and “Hauntings”
If not a demon or evil spirit, most people would define a ghosts as ‘the spirits of those who have died’ who walk around as vagabonds among the living haunting the earth. Tradition shows that immigrants believed spirits were earthbound until they received a proper send-off with ‘treats’ – possessions, wealth, food, and drink. Those not suitably “treated” would “trick” those who had neglected them and would multiply if that spirit had been offended during its natural lifetime. Scripture would stand in opposition to such understanding of the departed and clearly reveals their state and limitations. While we may be tempted to ascribe characteristics of demons and spirit-beings to that of human spirits, they are different and as such we must be careful to only consider what the bible teaches about the human spirit in answering these questions.
The Bible never portrays souls as lingering after death (Luke 16:22-23 ; Luke 23:43 ; 2 Corinthians 5:8 ). There is no evidence that spirits are committed to a roaming existence in the material realm (Luke 16:30-31 ). Samuel is the only case of a disembodied spirit returning to the material realm (1 Samuel 28:7-19 ). However, we take note that he was “brought up” and “disquieted” (28:15) and returned to Hades saying Saul would join him there (28:19). Therefore, Samuel is the exception that proves the rule (28:17). At death the spirit “departs” (Philippians 1:23 ) as opposed to “abiding still” (Philippians 1:24-25 ; cf. Mark 6:10 ). The spirit goes to God (Ecclesiastes 12:7 ), we are “gathered to our people” (Genesis 25:8 ) and (if found righteous) we will be with the spirits of just men and angels (Hebrews 12:23-24 ). We will not have knowledge of things on the earth (Ecclesiastes 9:5-10 ). Therefore, the dead no longer directly influence the people or events of this world.