Is punishment in hell everlasting?

What is the meaning of the second death?
Is there a point where the person goes out of existence or will he be forever in hell being punished?

Good questions, @DDK.

Most Christians believe that the punishment in hell is everlasting the same way that the blessings of heaven are for the saved - and I think they are right for several reasons.

First, if the Bible statements about heaven being an eternal blessing for the saved are taken literally (Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:46; Revelation 14:10-11), then on what basis should we take the same statements about hell being an eternal curse any differently? It requires some creative reinterpreting to make the suffering of hell only temporary.

As much as I might like to think that the lost would not suffer forever, I would strongly advise on the side of caution against suggesting to a lost person that hell might not be quite so bad as he’s heard - that it’s just an eternal annihilation. I don’t think it’s safe to say that hell for Hitler is no different than a dead house cat.

Another reason I believe hell is eternal is because I believe that the image of God in man comes from the spirit breathed into mankind from God at creation - and it is therefore indestructible. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has placed eternity into the hearts of men. As God had originally planned it, that was meant to be a great blessing - eternity with God, what could be better? But the downside is that, when corrupted, the greatest blessing becomes the greatest curse - eternity without God, what could be worse?

Another reason is because God’s holiness and hatred of sin is infinite. Biting one forbidden fruit is enough to cast you from paradise and condemn all your offspring to hell until the end of time. It violates an infinite holiness that provokes His infinite wrath, demanding infinite justice, requiring an infinite penalty to atone. But since we are finite, we could never satisfy the demands of infinite justice. That is why the infinite Son of God joined our race - so that He, as the perfect Son of man, could suffer the penalty on our behalf and satisfy a wrath that we never could.

Another reason is because the people who go to hell are hardened against ever repenting. C. S. Lewis put it this way: “The gates of hell are locked from the inside.” That is, God’s infinite ability to pardon is not what makes some people unpardonable. It is the hardened sinner’s inability to ever repent. People in hell will never get out because they will never repent - the gates are locked from within.

For a biblical example of this, consider the sinners at the end of the Tribulation in Revelation 16. Here the judgments of God are climaxing into the most intense period of suffering the world has ever known - the closest thing this world will ever see to hell on earth. By this point, virtually everyone still alive has committed themselves to either Christ or the antichrist. If ever the punitive judgments of God could have turned hardened sinners from their way, this would surely be it. And yet, look at the sad refrain in verses 9, 11 and 21. Instead of repenting, they blasphemed the name of God… they blasphemed the God of heaven…they blasphemed God because of the plague…

But now, having said all that, I must hasten to add a couple of points. First, Jesus said that not all the people in hell would suffer to the same degree (Matthew 11:21-24). God only holds people accountable for the light they had, not the light they didn’t. A person who sinned against greater light will suffer greater torment. Those who rejected lesser light will suffer less.

And second, as terrible as the wrath of God is, His love is even greater. Only an infinite love could have been able and willing to rescue repentant sinners who turned to Him from their sins.

Now, I do not know what has prompted this question. It may be a theoretical point that you’re curious about. It may be something far more personal - perhaps about someone you love who is lost. If they are still alive, then you can continue to witness and pray for them. Where there’s life, there’s hope. If they’re already gone, then who knows what the Spirit of God may have been doing in their heart during their final hours, final minutes, final seconds.

All I can tell you for sure is that, in the end, the Judge of all the earth will do right (Genesis 18:25)!

I hope this will help you with this question.