How long does hell burn for?
There are some Bible verses that may appear to say that. Let us look at some of these verses.
"Everlasting" Bible texts
In Matthew 25:46, Jesus said, "These shall go away into everlasting punishment but the righteous into eternal life."
Mark 9:43, "And if your hand makes you sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched."
Revelation 14:11, "And the smoke of their torment ascends up forever and ever."
Other Bible texts
Before we make a Bible doctrine from these verses, we need to see if there are other verses that speak of the punishment of the wicked.
First let us go to Malachi 4:1,3. "For behold the day is coming burning like and oven, and all the proud, yes allude wickedly shall be as stubble. And the day that is coming shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts,that shall leave them neither root nor branch. . . You shall trample the wicked for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet."
These verses tell us that the wicked will be burned up, burned to ashes.
In another place the Bible says in Psalms 37:10, 11, "For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more; Indeed, you will look diligently for his place, but it shall be no more."
Jude 7 makes this subject very plain. "As Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them in a similar manner, having given themselves over to sexually immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." Sodom and Gomorrah are not burning today, yet the Bible says they suffered the vengeance of eternal fire. How can this be explained? It means that these cities were completely burned, until there was nothing left.
What does everlasting mean?
There is another way to determine the meaning of the word eternal or everlasting.
In English these words mean that the fire will go on forever, but in the Greek it has a different meaning. Dr. Basil Atkinson explains it this way.
"When the adjective aionios, meaning everlasting is used in Greek with nouns of action it has reference to the result of the act, not the process. The phrase everlasting punishment is comparable to everlasting redemption and everlasting salvation, both Scriptural phrases. No one supposes that we are being redeemed or saved forever. We were redeemed and saved once for all by Christ with eternal results. In the same way the lost will not be passing through the process of punishment forever but will be punished once and for all with eternal results. On the other hand the noun 'life' is not a noun of action, but a noun expressing a state. Thus life itself is eternal."
Basil F. C. Atkinson, Life and Immortality. An Examination of the Nature and Meaning of Life and Death as they are revealed in the Scriptures (Taunton, England, n. n.), p.101.
God is love
The Bible says, God is love, 1 John 4:8. God loves His enemies. As the soldiers were nailing Jesus to the cross, He prayed, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do (Luke 23:34). As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel (Ezekiel 33:11).
God cannot allow sin, crime and violence to continue to cause suffering and death in this world. But He is not one to torture His children. So He does the most loving thing He can do, He destroys them eternally. The Bible says, "he will make an utter end: affliction shall not rise up the second time" (Nahum 1: 9).
You may wish to learn more through the Discover Bible Lessons on our Bible studies section.