That Decompressing Exhale For Which Our Souls Long

Note: The intro to this article is adapted from a sermon I preached on October 30, 2022. You can watch or listen to that sermon here.

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In 2 Thessalonians 1:7, Paul describes the emotion that will flood the hearts of believers the moment Christ returns with his mighty angels.

Before reading the verse, consider this: If you were to pick one emotion to describe what you think believers will feel—what you will feel—the moment Christ returns, which emotion would you choose? Awe? Wonder? Amazement? Fear? Worship? Reverence? Joy? Thankfulness? Contentment? Satisfaction?

Undoubtedly, we will feel all those emotions and more when Christ returns. Yet, curiously, in this verse, Paul doesn’t choose any of those words to describe what believers will feel upon Christ’s appearing. Which emotion does he point to instead?

According to 2 Thessalonians 1:7, the feeling that will flood the hearts of believers the moment Christ returns is…

Relief.

The complete unburdening of a lifetime’s worth of stressors, sorrows, sicknesses, sins, and suffering in a single moment. That decompressing exhale our souls so desperately long for but never quite seem to manage in this life. That unthreatened assurance that everything is going to be okay which constantly evades our felt experience on this side of eternity.

Pure, unmixed, relief. This is the glorious and inseparable destiny of every Christ-follower—a destiny from which only time separates us now.

Why relief?

The surrounding context of this glorious promise of relief is—perhaps surprisingly—the judgment of God:

“This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels…” (2 Thessalonians 1:5-7)

Why will the judgment of God bring relief to believers? Consider three reasons.

1. The final judgment of God confirms that everything we ever did matters—that all our faithful suffering had a purpose and was worth it.

As Tim Keller put it, “[There are] two views of life: Either everything means something or nothing means anything. And what is it that distinguishes those two views? Judgment Day. Judgment Day is very good news. Judgment Day means you will not be forgotten.” 

The moment Christ returns, believers will instantly be flooded with the warming assurance that I am seen. I am known. I am loved. I am valued. My life mattered. My efforts mattered. And not just to anyone—to Christ himself!

We will marvel with joy and relief, knowing that all our sins have been paid for and that every moment of faithfulness is an eternal ingredient in the Divine happiness. We will sing with grateful hearts as we are enveloped with the glorious sensation that every act of obedience, every sacrifice, every painful trial we endured while trusting Jesus—it all had a purpose. And it was all worth it.

2. The final judgment of God inaugurates the righting of all wrongs and the immediate removal of all sin, stress, sorrow, sickness, and suffering.

The Narnian image of the earth greening upon Aslan’s return—that is, everything dead coming to life and everything barren becoming fruitful—is a very appropriate picture of Christ’s return. As we sing, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. [Jesus] comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found” (Joy to the World, Isaac Watts, 1719).

This life-exploding, blessing-flooding, thistle-removing image of Narnia and Joy to the World is not a romanticized pipedream—it is a promise of God himself to all his children. Notice the myriad of images of life and flourishing that God gives us in Revelation 22:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. Also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” (Revelation 22:1-4)

Plain as daylight, God promises abundance of life and fullness of healing at Christ’s return (v. 2). No longer will there be anything accursed (v. 3). No more sin. No more sorrow. No more stress. No more sickness. No more suffering. The complete unburdening, unmixed joy, and perfect healing for which our souls yearn—it’s coming.

So sing it loud, clear, and confidently this Christmas season: Jesus is coming to make his blessings flow, ‘far as the curse is found. Christ’s coming as Judge is, in fact, the greatest news believers could ever dream of.

3. The final judgment of God initiates the unhindered presence of God.

There might not be five words of hope more beautiful in all of Scripture than the first five words of Revelation 22:4: They will see his face. This is, quite simply, the consummate fulfillment of every longing we’ve ever had. As Tim Keller explains,

“The face of God is the source of all love, beauty, and joy. … The reason that you get joy when you listen to a great piece of music is because it reminds you of the face of God. Music is created by God—it’s an image; it’s a mirror of that which is in his face. You feel joy when you put yourself into somebody’s arms, but the reason you feel joy is because you are loving someone in the image of God. The joy and the strength you get in a loving relationship, the joy and the beauty you get by looking at the ocean or hearing a great piece of music—it all comes from the presence [and face] of God.”

The return of Christ will initiate the fulfillment of every dream we’ve grasped at but have never been able to fully obtain. In that moment, we will realize that our longings were, all along, not random, but custom-fitted for the very inheritance we will enjoy for all eternity. Not one longing will be left unsatisfied; all will find their fulfillment in the face of Christ. At last, we will say, “Ah, for this my soul has always longed!” Can you imagine the relief of this long-awaited fulfillment?

Rest in God’s promises 

Believer, you can take a deep breath today—even in the midst of your suffering—because God promises you this: I will give you the relief for which your soul longs. And this moment of relief will only flower into the incomparable joy of the unveiled presence of Christ—a pleasure that will satisfy us for all eternity (Psalm 16:11).

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Blake Glosson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn)Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (Dawn and Steve Mornings—here and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen)ChurchLeaders.comThe Aquila ReportMonergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Watch or listen to “With Us in the Wilderness” (sermon) here.

Read “Do You Want to be Healed?” here.

Read “Five Habits That Kill Contentment” here.

Read “Three Ways to Glorify God in Worry and Anxiety” here.

Read “An Answer to Prayer Even Better Than Clarity” here.