For years, this Scriptural phrase has been used to propagate the notion that, in the end, every one will either willingly or no, acknowledge that Jesus is LORD, and while this may be true enough; when Paul quoted Isaiah ( 45:23 ) in Romans 14:11, I believe that Paul had in mind, not necessarily every person who ever lived, or will live, but, as his context, historically speaking, is the 'final battle' between the Judaistic old covenant economy and the new covenant in the Body of Christ, those who under the new covenant in Christ, were ready to shed the skin ( Romans 16:20 ) of the oppressive old covenant economy.
Speaking of, and exalting ( exulting in ) the humility of Jesus the Christ; Paul later wrote to the church in Philippi, 'Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and [ that ] every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ [ is ] Lord, to the glory of God the Father' ( Philippians 2:10 ). Here again, though the language sounds pretty universal; we must remember again, the context in which Paul wrote these words. Isaiah's context, of course, is the return ( from captivity ) of God's people, and the revelation of the new covenant. In this context, then, Paul also wrote his letters, and made his quotations. Earlier in chapter 45 ( verse 14 ); God revealed through the prophet that 'The labor of Egypt and merchandise of Cush and of the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over to you, and they shall be yours; they shall walk behind you, they shall come over in chains; and they shall bow down to you. They will make supplication to you, [ saying, ] ‘Surely God [ is ] in you, and [ there is ] no other; [there is ] no other God'. In a previous article, I wrote, concerning this glorious phrase, 'He was saying, not only that all those who came to him would willingly 'bow the knee' and worship Him, but that even those ( in the first-century ) who refused to acknowledge Him for who He was, would be forced, unwillingly, 'like it or not', to acknowledge Him as their Creator': I believe still, that this is the case, though I believe now, that Isaiah's words are not only fulfilled prophecy, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, and the 'passing away' ( Hebrews 8:13 ) of the old covenant economy, but ring gloriously true of the universal impact of God's great Gift!
We all make choices, some good and some bad, but in the end, I believe ( and this 'end' is personal, not eschatological, biblically speaking ); I believe that God, who is 'not willing that any should perish' ( II Peter 3:9 ), will reveal His saving grace to all men, not necessarily according to the established orthodoxy of the institutional church, but according to His loving truth. I may stir up some trouble ( 'open a can of worms' ) by making such a statement, but let me assure you that I am not saying that all are 'saved' at this point in time ( though it could well be argued that salvation was fully realized at the cross, in the finished work of Christ ); what I AM saying is that when God revealed His plan of salvation through His covenant with His creation, and then inspired words like those of Peter, above, Paul's words to Timothy that God is the 'Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.' ( I Timothy 4:10 ), and John's statement in I John 2:2, 'He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world', He made clear, through the inclusivity of the 'new' covenant in Christ, that all will eventually come to know ( realize, acknowledge ) Him as their Savior!
Is the 'world' ready for this glorious truth?
Many, I believe, are being awakened to this fact, but so many more are still suffering, laboring under the assumption of the guilt that centuries of indoctrination have foisted upon the Body of Christ, the Church of God. I am, by no means, saying that we are at any great advantage over those who have not yet come to this realization, and, as has recently been brought to my attention; I AM in the habit of making assumptive statements like those above. I admit, though not readily ( very grudgingly, in fact ) that I COULD be wrong! I believe though, that God has revealed this to me, and that He wishes for me to propagate it. Though I believe this to be true, and that God has revealed ( and is revealing ) it to me; this does NOT ( necessarily ) mean that it is true. Assuming ( perceiving ) though, that this IS God's truth; I believe that we should encourage our brothers and sisters ( for we are ALL the family of God ) with this fact, but that we should also take care in propagating it, since those who have been 'steeped' in the traditions of men ( not necessarily a 'bad' thing ) are often quick to rise in defense of their precious doctrines, and to strike at any offender. Some though, and this gives me 'chills ( 'goose-bumps' ), and thanks be to God' have an 'open heart', and are ready to receive this glorious truth!
May God grant us all, whether we have 'received' this glorious truth or not, to encourage one another in love, tactfully sharing the love we have received, and not making acceptance of our perceptions a prerequisite for following God's command!
Charles Haddon Shank