Shall bow – or should bow?

Shall bow – or should bow?

By Stephen Green

First published in the Christian Voice Newsletter January 2013


Isaiah 45:23 I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.

Romans 14:11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.

Philippians 2:10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Isaiah wrote our opening words in response to the idols of Babylon, and the Lord’s statement is as great a source of hope now as when it was revealed to the people of Israel around 2,700 years ago.  There is an immediate national context:

Isa 45:17  But Israel shall be saved in the LORD with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end.

There is also a topical context: Cyrus is mentioned in verse 1 as the Lord’s anointed.  His kingdom of Persia would supersede that of the Babylonians and he would provide for and protect the rebuilding of Jerusalem and her temple.  But there is an eternal, creation context as well:

Isa 45:18 For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.

Nor does Isaiah forget that the reign of the Messiah of God will extend to the Gentiles and their ‘isles’.  Verse 24 says ‘to him shall men come’ and verse 6 ‘that they may know from the rising of the sun and from the west that there is none beside me.’  The verse immediately preceding God’s promise that every knee shall bow to him and every tongue shall swear says:

Isa 45:22  Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.

When the Apostle Paul quotes Isaiah 45:23, his immediate context is not apparently relevant to that of Isaiah.  In Romans 14 he argues that young believers should not be put off with ‘doubtful disputations’ and that no-one should put a stumbling-block in the way of someone weaker in the faith by judging his fellow according to what he eats or drinks.

However, Paul’s teaching is fastened on the judgment seat of Christ.  The idea of Jesus Christ sitting in judgment rather than just being accommodating and ‘loving’ is not very fashionable today, but the Apostle says quite clearly in Romans 14 that we are not to judge each other in meat and drink precisely because we shall stand before a greater judge who is Lord of all:

Rom 14:9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. 10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

After quoting Isaiah 45:23 in verse 11, Paul says:

Rom 14:12  So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

So every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess to God in the judgment.  As with Isaiah, we have a future perspective.  That is valuable and essential to our hope and to how we deal with one another, but there is even more to come.

Four or five years later the blessed Apostle was writing to the church at Philippi.  In that letter, the Holy Spirit dramatically revealed that the reward for Christ’s obedience to the humiliation of the cross was to be exalted to the seat of ultimate power:

Php 2:8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Paul takes Isaiah’s prophecy and transforms it.  Yes, there will be a day when ‘Jesus shall reign where’er the sun doth his successive journeys run.’  Yes, ‘God is working his purpose out’.  But what about the meantime?

In his Epistle to the Philippians, in verses 10 and 11 of chapter 2 quoted above, Paul used the Greek aorist subjunctive instead of the simple future tense of Romans 14.  According to the Greek scholar Spiros Zodhiates, the aorist tense ‘is used for simple, undefined action’ while the subjunctive mood ‘makes an assertion about which there is some doubt, uncertainty or indefiniteness’.  Taken together, the aorist subjunctive is ‘used as an imperative’.  It states how things ought to be, which is why the King James translators rendered it in these verses as ‘should’.

In other words, Paul is saying to the Philippians that every knee bowing to Christ and every tongue confessing him is not just how things will be, but how things ought to be in the here and now.  The cross changed everything:

Rom 14:9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.

So what difference does the imperative of should over the future tense of shall make to us Christians?  We already had the hope and certainty of Isaiah’s prophecy and the focus of Christ’s final judgment.  But now we have the knowledge that our great king demands obedience of men and of nations right now.

In other words, the church needs to buck up.  It is not enough to sit around in satisfied composure knowing that we are on the winning side.  God calls us to be part of the prophetic battle, pressing the crown rights of King Jesus, proclaiming to our political leaders that they should be ruling in line with the laws of God.

According to the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, any authority that any human being has, as an individual, a parent, a church leader or a ruler of nations is derived from Almighty God.  As Paul wrote to the church in Rome:

Rom 13:3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

The ruler is the minister of God.  He rules under the authority of God to promote good and the Gospel and to execute wrath on those who do evil according to the standards set by the Almighty.  That is why we must pray for our leaders, and why we must pray for them specifically to rule under the authority of Jesus Christ:

1Tim 2:3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

To bring this all up-to-date, a bull bursting into a china shop has great power but actually no authority.  In the same way, David Cameron might have the power to enact ‘gay marriage’, for example, but he has no authority to do so.

Let us not forget that on 2nd June 1953 the United Kingdom’s Christian constitution was renewed by our present Queen in Westminster Abbey.  She promised to rule under the authority of God, to maintain the laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel.  She was given the Orb from the Crown Jewels and told to ‘remember that the whole world is subject to the Power and Empire of Christ our Redeemer’.

That is no more and no less that what Paul told the Philippians.  It is a constitutional reality in the UK, but it is true of every nation.  Therefore, it is what the church in every land should be reminding political leaders.

I want to be part of a church standing up for Jesus Christ in every sphere, one that prays for our rulers to repent and honour Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords.  At a time when the sword of Nero Claudius Caesar said that he was the only and ultimate authority, Paul’s words to the Romans were fighting talk, contending that be they never so high, there is one higher than any earthly ruler:

Eccl 5:8 If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than they.

The politicians of this world need to kneel in humility to Christ in this world before they come before him for judgment in the next.

We need to pray that the body of Christ will take up its prophetic duty.  Jesus shall indeed reign over all, but he has the right to be reigning over every heart and over every nation now.


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