CLAIM: Universalists use this passage to demonstrate that “every knee to bow” (Phil. 2:10). Does this mean that all people will come to Christ in the end?
RESPONSE: While everyone will confess that Jesus is Lord, not everyone will be saved. Put another way, while everyone will confess Jesus is Lord, they will not all confess that he is their personal Savior. We might compare this to a king conquering a foreign nation. When the king comes to the capital of the nation, everyone bows to him (whether they are friends or foes). However, some bow in respect and admiration, while others bow in fear and submission. In the same way, every knee will bow to Christ. However, some will bow out of fear of judgment, and others will bow out of love and gratitude. For an example of this, consider Psalm 110:1. Here, the Messiah’s enemies bow to him in submission, but they don’t bow to him in friendship.
While demons believe that God exists, they don’t believe in God (Jas. 2:19). In the same way, everyone will bow to Christ, but not all will trust in him for salvation. Other passages make it clear that not everyone will be saved (Rev. 20:11-15; Mt. 25:31-46; 2 Thess. 1:9; Mt. 26:24; Rev. 20:15). In fact, Paul’s citation of Isaiah 45:23-24 only confirms this interpretation, because the context of Isaiah 45 goes on to speak of God’s opponents, who “will be put to shame” (Is. 45:24). For a longer critique of universalism, see my critical review of Rob Bell’s new book.