In The Bible’s Overall Story Part 1 I looked at the stages of the relationship between people and God. However, questions arose from it, “What about people who don’t repent and rejoice in this life?”. This is an important question because billions of people fall into this category, as far as I can tell.
I think there are good biblical reasons for believing that those who don’t repent and rejoice in this life will do so at some point in the next. In a future post I’ll explore how God might bring people freely to this position but in this post I’ll simply focus on what I think are His promises that He will.
One of the passages that I think most clearly shows the repentance and joyful response to God’s mercy is:
… that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.Philippians 2:10-11, NLT
In the letter to the Philippians, Paul seems to be expanding on God’s promise in Isaiah 45:
Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth.
For I am God, and there is no other.
By Myself I have sworn;
Truth has gone from My mouth,
a word that will not be revoked:
Every knee will bow to Me,
every tongue will swear allegiance.Isaiah 45:22-23, HCSB
… this acknowledgement of Christ is universal. Paul emphasizes that there are no exceptions by expanding the Old Testament text “every knee will bow” with the words “in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” This is going considerably further than the Isaiah text. In Isaiah only the living were in mind. All the survivors of the nations would bow, but the dead were dead. Not so here. Even those “under the earth,” that is to say, the dead, will bow. So the picture is of every single individual who has ever lived acknowledging the rule of Christ.Gregory MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist, page 98
I think the bowing and declaring Jesus as Lord isn’t subjugation for a number of reasons:
First, we see that God has just called all the nations to turn to him and be saved, and it is in that context that the oath is taken. Second, the swearing of oaths in Yahweh’s name is something his own people do, not his defeated enemies. Third, those who confess Yahweh go on to say, “In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength,” which sounds like the cry of praise from God’s own people.Gregory MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist, page 68
Elsewhere in Paul’s letters when he speaks of confessing Jesus as Lord it is always in a context of salvation. No one can say that “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3). If someone confesses with their mouth and believes in the heart that Jesus is Lord, then they will be saved (Rom 10:9). There are no examples in Paul of an involuntary confession of Christ’s Lordship. The word translated as “confess” (exomologeomai) is a word almost always meaning “praise.” Throughout the LXX version of the Psalms it is used of the joyful and voluntary praise of God, and that is how it is used in the LXX source text of Isaiah 45:23. There is no good linguistic reason to think Paul was using it in any other way here.Gregory MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist, page 100
I’d suggest that this positivity is one of the reasons the HCSB, ESV and NLT, all translate the action in Isaiah as “allegiance”.
It cannot mean mere outward, hypocritical and forced agreement…Henri Blocher1
Furthermore, Paul says the confession is “to the glory of God the Father” and we are told countless times that people faking it doesn’t achieve this―quite the opposite, God detests outward displays of “piety” and “praise” when hearts aren’t in it. For example,
[Jesus] answered them, “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written:
These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.Mark 7:6, HCSB
In contrast, there’s a persistent theme of God desiring, deserving and receiving everyone’s wholehearted, joyful praise. For example:
Let heaven and earth praise Him, the seas and everything that moves in them,Psalm 69:34, HCSB
All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.Psalm 86:9, ESV
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!Psalm 98:3-4, ESV
My mouth will declare Yahweh’s praise; let every living thing praise His holy name forever and ever.Psalm 145:21, HCSB
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!Psalm 150:6, ESV
I think that the Great Commandment is part of the “Truth [that] has gone from [God’s] mouth, a word that will not be revoked”, that ultimately it is a prophetic revelation of the holistic, truly glorifying, worship of God by everyone.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.Matthew 22:37, ESV
1. Blocher, Henri. Everlasting Punishment and the Problem of Evil. Edited by Nigel M. deS. Cameron (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1992), p. 303. While we agree on the point quoted, I think he makes some puzzling theological moves so ends up with conclusions that I disagree with.