Many people since the Enlightenment, in attempt to relate to a naturalistic worldview, have "demythologized" the Bible's mention of demonic powers of darkness into symbols of nonpersonal realities. "The demonic" becomes viewed as a cultural or mythical way of referring to the evil thoughts and actions of individuals, corrupt social-economic-political institutions, socio-cultural norms, group habits, beliefs or intellectual paradigms. The Pauline epistles' "principalities" and "powers" become understood as identical to the other hostile powers of sin, the law, flesh and death. Sigmund Freud thought the "devil" was nothing more than the expression of individual repressions. Carl Jung rejected the metaphysical realities of the "powers" as only powerful psychological realities.
Jesus and Paul both indeed assumed the world as filled with evil spirits hostile to God and humanity; Jesus and Paul understood Satan as a powerful supernatural being. So did their Jewish and pagan contemporaries and antecedents.
(A) Jesus' Teachings about Demons:
Jesus' conflict with the powers of darkness constitutes a major and ongoing theme in all four Gospels' account of Jesus' earthly ministry. To his contemporaries, one of Jesus' most remarkable features was his casting out of demons and his doing so on his own authority.
Jesus taught that Satan holds unbelieving humanity in bondage and that Jesus has come to release the captives in Satan's kingdom. Jesus' many exorcisms clearly demonstrated his power over the evil one; and Jesus' exorcisms were a sign of the presence of God's kingdom. The demons themselves seemed clearly aware this key significance of Christ's earthly mission. The devil's three temptations of Jesus (Mathew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13) aimed to divert Jesus from his divinely intended redemptive mission; and Jesus' responses were characterized by the Son's unity of purpose with the Father. Perhaps it is in this sense that Jesus said "the prince of this world ... has no hold on me" (John 14:30). Christ's death and resurrection marked the decisive defeat of Satan. There exists an "eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41). Though the earthly Jesus' exorcisms liberated a few persons from the devil's power, Jesus' death and resurrection could liberate the entire humankind.
Jesus extended his mission through his disciples, giving the disciples "power and authority over all demons" (Luke 9:1, see also Luke 10:1-23). These disciples met with victory over Satan's power and influence. Nonetheless, such sensational success is less noteworthy to oneself than one's own heavenly status. All who exercise faith in Christ and "abide" in him can share in Jesus' victory over Satan and the powers of darkness.
(B) Pauline Demonology:
Whereas Acts is less concerned with the pagan converts' concerns (like how to manage their new allegiance to Christ, given their former religious practices), the Pauline epistles focus more on such concerns because Paul ministered to establish gentile churches.
Paul taught that the pagan gods have no real existence as such , but supernatural and indeed demonic ; and Paul' above teaching regarding the demonic is representative of the Judaism's establishment. However, Paul and Barnabas chose not to publicly denounce the Athenian gods as demons in Acts 17, but as "worthless things", a common Jewish reference to pagan gods. Paul's above vocabulary in reference to the demonic is rooted in Jewish literature of Greco-Roman times. Paul taught that all powers were originally created by Christ and that all powers owe their continued existence to Christ. Christ is supreme over all powers.
Paul conceived of two ages: the "Present Evil Age" and "Age to Come"; demons are part of the Present Evil Age" but are doomed at Christ's second coming. The powers of darkness have limited knowledge of God's plan. Paul concurred with John's 13:27 that the powers of darkness thought God's purposes could be neutralized by precipitating Christ's death . Christ's death and resurrection won a once-for-all victory over the demonic powers . God exalted Christ supreme over the entire realm of spirits.
Satan held unbelieving humanity captive ; both Jews and gentiles, prior to conversion, are enslaved to and spiritually blinded by the powers of darkness . By virtue of identification with Christ's work on the cross, the Christian has been freed from Satan's kingdom into Christ's kingdom. Just as Christ holds a position of superiority to the powers of darkness, so too do believers. The Holy Spirit is the only spirit-being whom Paul advocated should have a place in any Christian's life.
Demons are intimately involved in people's affairs of life by working in and through humans, for example in Jesus' crucifixion. God sovereignly uses Satanic forces . Satan is occasionally allowed by God to torment or to hinder a Christian, but God's grace is sufficient . Christians are granted divine protection .
The Christian life involves struggle against the powers of darkness. Satan has various schemes to tempt, attack, defraud and exploit Christians possibly back into enslavement , sometimes by self-presenting in a very positive light . The powers of darkness may work through influences internal to a person ("the flesh" -- people's inner drive to act deviant to God's righteousness) and influences external to a person ("the world" -- societal beliefs, attitudes, preferences, habits) . This can include false teachings and the "lawless one" .
Christians engage in this spiritual struggle through God's truth, righteousness, proclamation of the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the word of God, and praying in the Spirit. Paul never used the language of "demonization" or "demon possession" but giving a "foothold (or opportunity) to the devil" (Ephesians 4:27). One such foothold is perhaps unchecked anger . The Pauline did not discuss the principles and procedures for exorcism, though Acts 16:16-18 mentions Paul cast out a demon in Philippi.
Unlike Paul's contemporary Jewish literature, Pauline demonology makes no mention of angelic rebellion and fall, the name of angelic powers (except perhaps once) , the order within the angelic hierarchy, territories ruled by demons --- Paul was more concerned with the pressing and practical questions of the devil's wiles in actual life. Paul also never invoked angels or special knowledge about various evil spirits' functions to overcome demonic power, and never connected power of darkness with any specific country or territory. It was not Paul's purpose to explain exactly how the demons operate. Instead Paul stressed the need for Christians to recognize the existence of power demonic emissaries in the Christians' daily affairs and that these can be overcome through reliance on God's power.