Every Knee Will Bow: The Political Implications of Paul’s Eschatology

Therefore God has raised him to the loftiest height
and bestowed upon him the name that is above all names,
In order that in the name of Jesus
Every knee will bow,
In heaven and on earth and under the earth;
And every tongue will confess that
Jesus is Lord!
To the glory of God the Father

-Philippians 2:9-11

I wonder how often we gloss over the verses above when we read the very familiar passage from Philippians 2. Do we really consider all the implications of this confident eschatology? Do we think that these verses only address our future? Do they have a present significance?

These verses should have an immediate impact on your present. They might not change the WHAT of your present situation, but they should change HOW you SEE your present situation. Paul is confident. Jesus has been raised to all authority in heaven and on earth. One day everyone will recognize his rule, willingly or not. This should affect the lens through which we see our present situation. I have written about Paul’s confident perspective while in prison earlier (Freedom in Chains). That article was more general, but I argued that Paul’s confident hope revolved around the twin poles of “Jesus is Lord” and “Jesus is coming again.” That hope is on display in Philippians 2. In this post, I want to talk more specifically about the political implications of the message.

It is hard to avoid politics in 2017 America. The country seems bitterly divided and the politicians in Washington are trying to write legislation that will affect the lives of millions. As I write this, the Senate is debating a healthcare bill that only came to the floor for consideration because the Vice President had to cast the tie-breaking ballot. That is hardly a mandate. Unfortunately, politicians have forgotten what it means to compromise and it appears that healthcare will be worked out along party lines. No matter what happens, roughly 50% of the country will feel disenfranchised.

This frustrates me for a lot of reasons. I am frustrated that we live under a “winner takes all” government. The US has turned into a textbook case for the tyranny of the majority. It also frustrates me because I happen to be a leftist in politics. It has been depressing and maddening that every decision made by those in power is the exact opposite of what I would want to happen.

I do not believe that I am right on every issue. Some of my opinions are wrong; I just do not know which ones they are! My primary point is that it would be easy to become completely dejected and despondent when nothing seems to be going your way. However, these verses give me hope. One day everyone, Republican and Democrat and all those in between, will bow to Jesus. We will all be confronted by the God of love and justice.

There is hope in that. There is hope in the knowledge that this mode of existence and this age are temporary and provisional. One day, the Lord will establish a loving and just society.

The truth is that my concerns, when compared to concerns around the world, are pretty insignificant. We have it good here in America. There are millions around the world that live under truly oppressive regimes. This confident eschatology should give them hope as well. One day the tyrants and dictators will themselves bow to Jesus and be called on to account for their actions.

There are still others that live under oppressive human institutions such as human trafficking, and no political scheme seems able to address it quickly enough. Even for the least of these, there is hope in the gospel. One day Christ’s reign will be made manifest in world and sin and death will be defeated.

I like how N.T. Wright puts it in The Resurrection of the Son of God. The Christian gospel is a “coded but powerful reminder to the young church, living in Caesar’s world, that Jesus is Lord and that at his name every knee would bow.”1 Therefore, Christians should never think of themselves as without hope. This hope should be more than just wishful thinking. It is based upon the confidence of what God has done in Jesus through his death and resurrection. That history secures our future. It is a confident hope with a sure foundation.

This post barely touches the surface of the political implications of the gospel Paul preached to the early Church. I have only addressed how this future hope should affect our present perspective. I have not broached how this future hope should affect our present actions. That is for another day. I must also admit that there will be many times when our hope falters. Life is not easy, but thanks be to God that we have the writings of Paul and (hopefully) the encouragement of other Christians around us to remind us of our future in Christ!

1 N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 338.

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