If you were on a deserted island and you uncorked an empty bottle containing Philippians 2:9-11, you would probably be a Universalist (believes everyone will be saved eventually).
The key phrase here is “every knee should bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” By itself, this could mean that every single individual who ever lived will embrace Jesus—if not in this life, then surely in the next.
But all we would need is for the rest of the Philippian letter to float ashore in order to see that Philippians 2:9-11 doesn’t teach universal salvation. In Philippians 1:28, Paul says that those who oppose the gospel will face “destruction,” while those who embrace it will be saved. There’s a contrast here between believers and unbelievers; each have very different destinies. In Philippians 3:19, Paul refers to the enemies of Christ whose “end is destruction,” while followers of Jesus look forward to resurrection and glory (3:20-21). Once more, there’s a contrast. A contrast between believers and unbelievers and their individual destinies (note the word “end” in 3:19), which follow the decisions they make in this life.
We also need to see that Paul in Philippians 2 is actually quoting from the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Here, the prophet Isaiah looks forward to a time when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess the name of God (45:23). But in that passage, Isaiah is referring to God’s salvation, which is witnessed among the nations and embraced by some but not all. In fact, Isaiah himself, in the very passage that Paul quotes, says that there will be some who embrace salvation and some who continue to resist it.
So what does Philippians 2:9-11 mean? It means that there will come a day when Christ returns to reclaim His creation, and everyone will acknowledge this. King Jesus will reign, and none will be able to deny it. But Paul doesn’t contradict Isaiah. With this salvation and reign also comes judgment for those who oppressed Christ in this life. Isaiah said this in the very next verse (45:24), and Paul affirms it as well (Phil. 1:28; 3:19).
* Do you live like you believe that this is true?