O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
The "Screwtape Letters" by C.S. Lewis was my earliest teenage introduction to the sinister world of Satan and his henchmen. All that storytelling skill which C.S. Lewis possessed had me believing this as gospel at that time. But, with all due respect to the beloved Narnia creator, C.S. Lewis had some screwed up theology with regard to the demonic world. John Bunyan's "Holy War" was also a great favorite for me back then in the 70's.
Fast forward to the present. The comments following are not intended to debate the issue of whether or not Satan and the demonic forces exist as actual evil spirit beings. I hold the view that they did exist. (Note the past tense.) The intent of this post is to put forward the references I've looked into that lead me to believe that both Satan and demons have been eliminated from this current age and are no longer operating on this planet since the final fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. I do realize that this position pits me against every missionary that ever had a witch doctor shake a rattle in his face, but I weigh scripture against perceived experiences, and the Book wins with me every time. There will be mistakes in this post, I can almost guarantee, because I'm human, and with a plethora of words there cannot fail to be error somewhere. Just read this with your Bible open in your own hands, is all I ask.
(#1) I'll start first of all with a question that appears unrelated at first glance. Do you believe the miraculous sign-gifts that were functioning in the early church after Pentecost have disappeared? If you do believe that the need for, and the practice of these sign-gifts has ceased since the 40-year transition period of "marvelous things" has passed away, (Micah 7:15), then that would also include exorcisms - top of the list in Mark 16:17 - "...in my name shall they cast out devils..." If the "sign-gifts" have passed, along with tongues-speaking, drinking poison, etc., then the gift of true exorcism is gone as well. Does anybody see the improbability of God getting rid of the antidote for dealing with demons, but leaving them free to wreak havoc in this world? That sounds like regression to me - one step forward, two steps back. It contradicts the I John 3:8 statement that the Son of God was going to undo the works of the devil. Rather, I would say that the demonic forces were removed entirely in 70 AD, and thus, the need for exorcisms was taken away also, as an outdated remedy which was no longer necessary, just as tongues-speaking became no longer necessary once the completed canon of revelation from Christ was given.
(#2) Next, try a reference from the OT. Don Preston (I think) would agree that Zechariah 13:1-2 is a text for "demon disposal". The surrounding context includes prophetic references to Christ's betrayal and crucifixion, with specific details of Jerusalem's siege at the end of the OC age. Zechariah 13:1-2 reads, "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and uncleanness." (Sounds like the same river emerging from the house of God in Ezekiel 47:1-5.) "And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD of hosts, that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered:" (Anything post-crucifixion that attempts to rival Christ's ultimate sacrifice - temple rituals, etc. - is an idol, and will be removed.) "...and also, (in conjunction with these events), "I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land." This phrase pairs the elimination of the ministry of the prophets together with the passing away of any unclean spirit from out of the land. (I Cor. 13:8 - "...but whether prophecies, they shall be done away...") If we are willing to admit that all revelatory prophecy has ceased since the original canon was given (prior to 70 AD), then according to this reference we must also admit that unclean spirits have passed away as well, since these two are linked together in this Zech. 13:2 verse.
(#3) Here's another OT passage that I believe points directly to a 70 AD timing of the demons' disposal. It comes from Isaiah 24:21-23. Again, the context is the desolation and destruction of both the city and the inhabitants of the land who have "broken the everlasting covenant" (Isaiah 24:5). The triple judgment of "fear, and the pit, and the snare" (Isaiah 24:17) came to the inhabitants of the earth. "The foundations of the earth shake" (Is. 24:18) states. (This sounds like the shaking of the earth and the heavens predicted in Hebrews 12:26-27.) "And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high", (this is the evil angelic hosts, since righteous angels wouldn't require punishment), "and the kings of the earth upon the earth", (this is evil human leadership in the land being punished simultaneously with the evil angelic hosts), "And they", (both the human and spirit elements), "shall be gathered together as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison", (Jerusalem functioned as a trap for much of the time between 66-70 AD, but especially at the end with Titus completely encircling Jerusalem with a wall by Pentecost's time), "and after many days shall they be found wanting." This "found wanting" is the elimination of both these evil human leaders and evil spirit beings alike.
(#4) We know that Jude 6 and II Peter 2:4 both mention the destined purpose of God in reserving the demons unto the "judgment of the great day". This can be interpreted to mean that God intended to use them as a judgment tool on that evil generation, or that they are to be judged themselves and cast in the lake of fire along with their leader at the close of the age. I believe both happened. Paul tells the Corinthians in I Cor. 6:3 that they will "judge angels" in the next life after their physical death. Again, this must refer solely to evil angels since the righteous angels had done nothing to warrant a judgment. A picture of the demons also being used a a judgment tool is found in the Rev. 9:1-11 passage where Satan (Apollyon), the king over the bottomless pit, is given the "key" to the abyss in order to release his "locusts" over the earth for a specified 5 months of tormenting activity.
(Short rabbit trail here: This curiously exact time frame of 5 months in Rev. 9:5,10 has been identified by Dr. Gentry as the 5 months between Titus' arrival at Passover in 70 AD until the final fall of Jerusalem. It does amount to a tidy 5 months. But there is another 5-month time frame that fits the order of events much better in Rev. 9. It extends from Gessius Florus becoming procurator in May 66 AD until the armies of Cestus Gallus arrive at Jerusalem at the end of Sept. 66 AD. Josephus describes how Florus goaded the Jews into the war of rebellion by his overbearing, heavy-handed treatment of them. Demonic instigation using human agencies to torment the Jews into the inevitable conflict. Based on Rev. 9:12, it appears that this 5 month period comes to an end, but that there are still two more trumpet judgments that follow afterward. This couldn't be the case if the 5 month period is at the very end. So I have changed my agreement with Dr. Gentry on where this puzzle piece fits. Woman's privilege to change my mind:-)
Back to topic now. Considering the torment these demons inflict on their victims, I John 4:18 equates torment with abject, paralyzing fear. "Fear hath torment", John says. This may explain the effect these demons had in these latter days over the inhabitants of the land who had no seal of God in their foreheads. "Men's hearts failing them for fear..." is how Luke 21:26 describes these times when the powers of heaven were shaken. Remember the triple judgment just mentioned in Isaiah 24:17 - "fear, the pit, and the snare..."? This torment of fear is a punishment that can be shared by human and spirit beings alike, as when the legion of demons pleaded with Christ not to torment them before the time (Matt. 8:29) As an aside, the lake of fire may be simply a substituted title for a place with varying levels of fear - on a scale anywhere from simple distress to overwhelming, petrifying dread, depending on the punishment deserved per individual being. Just a thought - don't quote me on this! At any rate, the difference between those with the seal of God in their foreheads and those without is demonstrated by the statement in Rev. 9:4. Demonic forces were not allowed to hurt those sealed by God. Just as II Tim. 1:7 says, "God hath not given us a spirit of fear..." The saints were immune to this torment.
(#5) Here is another, rather roundabout way of dating the disposal of Satan and his legions. We know that Satan had a sort of "kingdom" under him, based on Christ's words in Mark 3:24-26, Luke 11:18, and Matt. 12:25-26 where He says that if Satan's kingdom was divided against itself, it could not stand, but would have an end. This is a flat-out statement, presupposing the existence (and the termination) of an earthly domain given to him. Satan himself boasted of this in Luke 4:5-7 during the 40-day temptation of Christ in the wilderness. This kingdom he would never have had if Adam and Eve had not handed it to him on a silver platter the moment they obeyed Satan's suggestion rather than God's command. "His servants ye are to whom ye yield yourselves to obey..."(Rom. 6:16) And we know that no man can serve two masters at once. In effect, mankind took the crown of dominion over this world that God had given them and placed that very crown on Satan's head at that moment. An abdication of position. I believe this is how Satan came to be titled as the "prince of this world" in John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11, and the "prince of the power of the air" in Ephesians 2:2, and so forth. All these labels indicate a dominion of sorts. When we come to Rev. 11:15, this verse tells us that the "kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ". This would necessarily include any earthly dominion that Satan had ever had a claim to. This is the end of his kingdom. The timing of this in context is immediately upon the 7th angel sounding his trumpet and of the judgment and rewards of the dead being given in Rev. 11:18. A recapitulation of this event is presented in Rev. 20, with the added detail of Satan being cast into the lake of fire at that time. This entire chapter 20 falls within Revelation's self-imposed brackets of a near-time fulfillment to that generation, (Rev. 22:6,7,10,12,20), so I must conclude that Satan's disposal in Rev. 20 is a fulfilled event. And since the lake of fire is said to be prepared for the devil and his angels, (Matt. 25:41) it would seem that they share his fate at this point.
(#6) Another observation already brought up before on another post uses Hebrews 2:5 which reads this way in the Interlinear, "For not to angels did he subject the habitable world which is to come (Mello) of which we speak;" (the author had already been speaking of "these last days" and the changing of the heavens and the earth after they have grown old; likewise, the about-to-be-inherited salvation), "but fully testified somewhere one saying 'What is man that thou art mindful of him, or son of man that thou visitest him? Thou didst make lower him for a little than the angels; with glory and honor thou didst crown him, and didst set him over the works of thy hands; all things thou didst subject under his feet.' For in subjecting to him all things, nothing He left to him unsubject. But now, not yet do we see to him all things subjected..." (Not yet before 70 AD, that is, when the tables would be turned and the saints would judge angels.)
All this "lower than the angels" part doesn't seem to connect with demon disposal at first, but the very first part of Hebrews 2:5 is easily identifiable with the topic. There was a "habitable world" about to come in the experience of the Hebrews audience; namely, the "new earth" prophesied in Isaiah 65:17. This new earth that was coming was not destined to be subject to angels in the same way that the world the apostles lived in had been harassed by the "prince of this world" and those under him. At the time of the crucifixion and the resurrection, Satan had lost his range of movement between heaven and earth, and had been cast down to the earth - and his angels with him. This was the warning Jesus gave His disciples just before His death. In John 12:31 and John 14:30, He speaks of the "coming" prince of the world that was going to be cast out of heaven into the earth once the sacrifice on the cross was accomplished in real-time. (Rev. 12:10-11 pinpoints the timing.) This is major cause for rejoicing for those in heaven, but at the same time, a terror for the inhabitants of the earth at that time. Once Satan is cast out of heaven into the earth, he knows he has but a short time (Rev. 12:12), - also, a "little season" - which turns him into a "roaring lion walking about", perpetrating a war of persecution on the fledgling NT church - the remnant of the seed of the woman. The word "short" means just that, I believe, with 70 AD on the near horizon.
Backtracking to the part of Hebrews 2:8 that says "all things thou didst subject under his feet..." This describes the feet of mankind under discussion in a pre-fall condition - which Adam and Eve forfeited. God promises through Paul in Romans 16:20 that He would crush Satan shortly (Tachei) under the feet of the believers. This is a promise that would actually relieve all of mankind of the oppressive presence of angelic evil, and would be accomplished by the establishment of the new heavens and the new earth. This is the reason for the phrase, "...but now, not yet do we see to him (mankind) all things subjected." The NC age after 70 AD is the time that "not yet" is anticipating. What was forfeited would be regained through Christ. What better way to define a new heaven and a new earth than to have Satan and his demons finally absent from both locations?
Does this eliminate the presence of wickedness on this planet, though? Unfortunately not. If anyone thinks that the level of evil in this present world cannot be explained without including the presence of Satan and his hosts, they do not have a true evaluation of the depraved heart of man in it's natural state. The position mankind is in now leaves him without the devil as a scapegoat onto which he can pass the blame for his own actions. Actually, the devil never has "made us do it", from the garden and onward. I believe in an ultimate purpose for God subjecting the human race through history to a variety of "spiritual" environments. First, with a sinless couple and the devil without any effect yet on mankind. Next, with a fully operational demonic influence roaming earth and heaven. Then, with a chained demonic force, limited in the scope of it's power to deceive. After that, a blitzkrieg of infuriated spiritual foes just before their disposal. We have now been given a new earth purged of any Satanic presence. Apparently, the lesson God intends us to learn is that sinful man will still act in a corrupt manner, regardless of his spiritual environment, unless he is changed from the inside by the implanting of His Spirit. This does nothing but magnify the grace and the glory of God in the long run, which is really the entire purpose of the universe, anyway.
We have been blessed. "To whom much is given, much shall be required."