Remember, the saints will reign with Jesus for 1,000 years. Jesus will give the saints authority to determine the amount of punishment wicked people and wicked angels must suffer. (Rev 3:21; 20:6; 1 Cor 6:2,3) The saints will not determine who is righteous or who is wicked because Jesus determined the eternal destiny of each person before the Second Coming.
Those people who injured and harmed others will be tortured in Hell according to the amount of suffering they caused. (Rom 12:19, Mat 10:28) Here is the interesting part: Many of the saints will have been victims of the people they judge! Who would be better judges to determine the amount of suffering that must be extracted from a wicked assailant than those who were their victims? Gods system of justice is perfect!
The Golden Rule demands a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a bruise for a bruise and a burn for a burn. (Exodus 21, Luke 12:58,59; Mat 18:23-35) Some wicked people will perish quickly. These will be “salted with fire,” while others, who caused great suffering, will suffer for a long time. (Mark 9:47-49, Mat 13:41,42)
The fires of Hell will extract restitution and will not burn out until justice has been served and restitution has been “paid in full.” (Mark 9:43) The fires of Hell will not burn eternally. After the wicked people’s torture is over, the wicked will perish. " Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire, says the Lord Almighty. Not a root or a branch will be left to them. . . Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things, says the Lord Almighty." (Malachi 4:1,2)
God has promised that at the end of the world, every wrong will be atoned for and He will even resurrect dead people to achieve justice. (Heb 10:30, 31; Mat 25:46) Since the fires of Hell will also extract restitution from the devil and his angels, I suppose Hell could last for several days perhaps 40 days and 40 nights? Regardless of how long it takes, everyone in Hell will eventually die and when the wicked no longer exist, Jesus will create a new Heaven and a new Earth. John wrote, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea [of fire].” (Revelation 21:1, insertion mine)
I hope you can see from this sequence of apocalyptic events how God uses Hell to accomplish justice, death and the purification of Earth. Now, I would like to address the question of an eternally burning Hell from several different perspectives altogether. Please consider the following eight points:
- Eternal Life: The reward that will be bestowed upon the saints at the last day is eternal life. “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.” (John 3:16) “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day [and give him eternal life].” (John 6:40, insertion mine)
Here is the problem: A person cannot writhe in Hell throughout eternity without first receiving eternal life. In other words, a wicked person has to receive eternal life so that he can be tortured for eternity. The Bible teaches the wicked will not receive eternal life. In fact, the Bible teaches that the wicked will perish cease to exist. (See John 3:16 above.)
- The Penalty for Sin: Most Christians believe that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. (2 Cor 5:21) This problem is a simple one: If the penalty for sin is burning in Hell throughout eternity, then Jesus did not pay the price for sin. Period. Even if you say that Jesus was tortured in Hell for three days and three nights, three days in Hell is not the penalty for sin! Even after billions and billions of years, eternity has just begun!
To pay for our sins, the penalty for sin had to be imposed upon Jesus and it was. The penalty for sin is “death by execution without hope of resurrection.” Consider the first recorded command given to Adam: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day [whether it be a Tuesday or a Friday] that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die [be executed].” (KJV, Gen 2:16,17, insertions mine) Adam and Eve were to be put to death on the very day they sinned, but Jesus, seeing that they did not sin defiantly, chose to become man’s intercessor instead of man’s executioner.
- Two Resurrections: Let us assume for a moment that a wicked person does go to Hell at the time of death. Then, try to explain why the wicked are then resurrected at the end of the 1,000 years? What is the point of resurrecting Cain (the first murderer) if he has been burning in Hell for the past 6,000 years?
Even more, what would be the point of resurrecting Abel if he has been sitting at Jesus’ side for the past 6,000 years? The doctrine of two resurrections is in direct conflict with the doctrine of an eternally burning hell. – The Bible teaches the first resurrection occurs at the Second Coming for the righteous dead (1 Thess 4:15-18, Rev 20:6) and the second resurrection occurs at the end of the 1,000 years. (Rev 20:5) The second resurrection is for the wicked of all ages.
“Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” (KJV, John 5:28,29)
- Immediate Judgment at Death: The Bible states that everyone will stand before “the Judgment Bar of Christ.” (2 Cor 5:10) If a person goes to Heaven or Hell at the time of death, this presumes that “the Judgment Bar of Christ” has been in session ever since Abel was killed. The problem is that “the Judgment Bar of Christ” has a beginning point in time and an ending point in time. The apocalyptic books of Daniel and Revelation tell us the Judgment Bar of Christ began in 1844 and closes during the Great Tribulation, at the end of the 1,260 days allotted to the Two Witnesses, just before the seventh trumpet sounds.
No one can be judged by Christ until His Judgment Bar is “set up.” For reasons beyond the scope of this response, Jesus was found worthy to ascend Heaven’s throne in 1798 and Jesus began reviewing the books of record in 1844. (Ecc 12:13,14, Dan 7:10) So, Bible prophecy indicates that immediate judgment at death is not possible. (Note: God the Father has made a few “executive” exceptions to the Judgment Bar of Christ. Enoch, Elijah and the 24 elders were taken to Heaven prior to 1844. These exceptions are justified on the basis that the Father foreknew this was the best way of resolving issues that are not part of this discussion.)
First Heaven and Earth Passed Away: The Bible teaches that God will create a New Heaven and New Earth after the old Heaven and Earth are destroyed. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. . . .” (Rev 21:1) This verse means that Hell itself has to pass away. Hell is the means through which Earth will be purified of sin! Sin and sinners will have no place on Earth, in Earth or under the Earth when everything is made new. God’s universe will be clean of sin and sinners.
Reigning with Christ: If there is an eternally burning Hell, what judgment is left for the saints to conduct during the 1,000 years? “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world . . .? Do you not know that we will judge angels . . .?” (1 Cor 6:2,3) Think about this: If all of the wicked receive the same sentence burning in Hell for eternity, then there is nothing left for the saints to judge during the 1,000 years!
Walking on the Ashes of the Wicked: The Bible declares the wicked will be devoured – destroyed – annihilated – turned into ashes. " Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things, says the Lord Almighty." (Mal 4:3)
Christians mess the doctrine of Hell up today largely because people do not understand the doctrines of restitution, God’s vengeance, soul sleep, the Second Death or the Judgment Bar of Christ. I understand how people conclude that the wicked will burn in Hell forever. Language in the Bible seems to support the idea of eternal suffering in Hell until you put everything the Bible has to say about Hell on the table. Then, and only then, can we understand the truth on this topic. The Bible is like a giant crossword puzzle. When all of its doctrines are properly defined and understood, all of the pieces will harmoniously form one beautiful mosaic.
- Golden Rule: The final reason why Hell cannot burn for eternity is that God’s own law, the Golden Rule, does not permit God to punish wicked people beyond the point of achieving restitution. Period. God abides by His own laws. He has proven His submission to His own laws by the death of Jesus!
The Father would not have allowed Jesus to die if there had been any other way to redeem man. No sinner, not even the devil, merits endless torture in Hell throughout eternity! Restitution is a finite matter and once justice is served, the wicked will die a death from which there is no resurrection.
If God tortured demons and “slightly wicked” people throughout the endless ages of eternity with the same punishment, He would be a tyrant. Justice demands that punishment be commensurate with the crime. Tyrants do not punish fairly. With tyrants, justice is arbitrary and self-serving.
They abuse their victims to suit their selfish or mean-spirited objectives. The Golden Rule can be stated: “As you do unto others, the same will be done unto you.” This is perfect justice. According to this rule, there are limits to torture in Hell.