Baptized for the Dead

“Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?” —I Corinthians 15:29,30

THE Apostle Paul wrote, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (I Cor. 15:22) Few will deny the fact that the entire human race is either dead or dying, and Paul explains that this began with the first man, Adam. This was due to Adam’s disobedience of divine law. Essentially the entire 15th chapter of I Corinthians presents the assurance that the dead will be restored to life by means of a resurrection.

Just as all in Adam die, “even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Paul explains why this is so: “For since by man came death, by man … also the resurrection of the dead.” (vs. 21) Here we are reminded that it was the man Christ Jesus who redeemed the world from death; which is in keeping with Jesus’ own words when he said that he would give his flesh “for the life of the world.”—John 6:51

The apostle used the word ransom to describe this feature of the divine plan for the recovery of man from the condemnation of death. He wrote, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior: who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.”—I Tim. 2:3-6

The Greek word in the New Testament which is translated ransom signifies “a price to correspond.” The man Christ Jesus being, as the Scriptures declare, “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb. 7:26), corresponded with the perfect Adam, who was created in the divine image. It was this perfect man Adam who brought death upon himself and upon his entire progeny by his transgression of divine law; the perfect man Jesus gave himself in sacrificial death, and in so doing he was a price to correspond which provided redemption for the entire adamic race. This opened the way for all to return to life.

Paul wrote, “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23) A similar thought is expressed in John 3:16,17: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

Jesus further explained, “He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18) These texts reveal that the whole world, by heredity, is under condemnation to death, and that escape from this condemnation has been provided through Christ; and further, that this escape depends upon the faith and acceptance by the individual of this provision which has been made for him.

During this present age those who, on learning about this provision of God’s grace, accept it upon the conditions of obedience and full dedication to do God’s will, are said to be “justified.” Paul wrote, “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:1) Those who have not come to Christ in full faith, supported by the complete dedication of their lives to do the will of God by following in the footsteps of Jesus, do not enjoy this “peace with God.” These are still alienated from him through sin—still under condemnation to death.

There is no other way of salvation from death than through Christ. Speaking of Jesus, Peter said, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) The reason there is no salvation from death except through Jesus is that he is the only One who shed his perfect human blood on behalf of the sin-cursed and dying race. Shed blood is, in the Scriptures, a symbol of life poured out, and Jesus poured out his soul unto death, that all of Adam’s children might have an opportunity to live.—Isa. 53:12

When we accept by faith the provisions of Christ’s shed blood, and devote ourselves to the divine will, we find that there is more to it than merely believing. Paul wrote, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.” (Phil. 1:29) There are many scriptures to indicate that it is the privilege of believers to suffer for, or with Jesus. In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him; if we suffer, we shall also reign with him.”—II Tim. 2:11,12

“For the Dead”

Appropriately Paul mentions this aspect of the divine will for all believers in connection with his discussion of the resurrection of the dead. There were apparently some in the church at Corinth who did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, and he points out that if Christ be not raised from the dead then there is no hope that any of the dead will be restored to life. He shows, on the other hand, not only that Jesus has been raised from the dead, but that all through him will be restored to life.

The apostle shows clearly that this will be accomplished by Christ’s rulership, and that he will reign until all enemies are put under his feet, and that even death itself will be destroyed. When that glorious kingdom work is complete the kingdom will be turned over to the Father, that he “may be all in all.” (I Cor. 15:22-27) To this he adds the words of our text, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?”

To this the apostle adds, “And why stand we in jeopardy every hour … if the dead rise not?” “I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.”—vss. 30-32

Here we are reminded that true believers in Christ—those who are actually following in his footsteps—suffer and die with him. And this, Paul explains, is on behalf of the dead world of mankind, indicating that in some manner the dead will benefit from the sufferings and death of the followers of Jesus. And this, indeed, is one of the important features of God’s grand design for giving life to the world of mankind. It is brought to our attention in a number of ways in the Scriptures, and one of those ways is through the promise which God made to Abraham—the promise that through his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed.—Gen. 12:3

Paul identifies this promised seed of Abraham as being Jesus, and adds, “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, … and if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:16,27-29) Here it is clearly shown that those who are baptized into Christ and who are faithful, will inherit with him the promise of blessing the families of the earth. Since these families of the earth which are to be blessed are either dead or dying, it is logical to think of those who are thus baptized into Jesus Christ as being baptized for the dead. It is through this death baptism that they prove worthy of and are prepared for that great future work of blessing all the families of the earth.

Baptism Further Explained

The water immersion authorized in the Scriptures for believers is merely a symbol, or picture, of the true baptism, which is not into water, but into Christ. Paul explains, “Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” (Rom. 6:3) Again, “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection.”—vs. 5

What was the likeness of Jesus’ death? Paul explains, “For in that he died, he died unto sin once, … likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin.” (Rom. 6:10,11) Jesus never had been a sinner. His death “unto sin” was therefore a sacrificial death on behalf of the world of mankind. Our being planted with him by baptism into death is likewise a sacrificial death, and on behalf of the dead human race. Paul wrote, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”—Rom. 12:1

Jesus’ sacrificial death unto sin provided for the cancellation of the sentence of death resting against the adamic race; no other sacrifice is needed for this. But the world, made free from condemnation, needs to be enlightened concerning the sacrificial work of Christ; and upon acceptance of this provision it also needs to be lifted up out of degradation, sickness, and death in order to be restored to the perfection lost in Adam. And the followers of Jesus who are planted together in the likeness of his death participate in this work of enlightenment and restoration.

Reconciling the World

Paul wrote, “All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the ministry of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”—II Cor. 5:18-20

It is clear from this passage that the sacrificing followers of the Master do participate with him in the reconciliation of the world. This work originates with God. He is the great Author of the plan of salvation of the lost race, and this plan was put into operation through Jesus: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” And then we, the followers of Christ, are brought into the picture as Christ’s representatives in the work of reconciliation for which he made provision. We are given the “word” of reconciliation.

Verse 21 reads, “For He had made Him to be sin [a sin-offering] for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” Here we have the explanation of the basis upon which we, who are by inheritance members of the sin-cursed and dying race, can be used by God in the work of reconciliation. It is because Christ, first of all, made provision for our reconciliation, and upon the acceptance of this provision we are “made the righteousness of God in him.” We add nothing to the merit of the blood by which we are reconciled, but the power of that blood effects our reconciliation, and God reckons us as perfect, and gives us the privilege of participating with Christ in the work of reconciliation for others.

The following verse, which is the first verse of II Corinthians 6, reads, “We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.” How marvelous is “the grace of God” which Paul urges us not to receive in vain! This privilege of being workers together with God is a work which embraces two ages in the divine plan of salvation—the Gospel Age and the Millennial Age. Christ commissioned his church to go into all the world and preach the Gospel—the word of reconciliation. This work requires sacrifice, the laying down of our lives. It is this that is involved in our death baptism with Christ, our suffering and dying with him. We “fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ … for his body’s sake.”—Col. 1:24

And then, as we have seen, the work of the approaching Millennial Age, when the body members have all been gathered and prepared, will be to reconcile and restore mankind to life. Verse 2 of chapter 6 reads, “(For he said, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)”

The expression, “Now is the accepted time,” does not apply to the lifetime of individuals, but to an age in the plan of God—the Gospel Age—when God accepts the sacrifice of his people and assigns them a role in his plan as workers together with him. In this text Paul is quoting in part from Isaiah 49:8,9: “Thus saith the Lord, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee; and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages; that thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.”

Two Salvations

During the Gospel Age those who, through faith, partake of the provision of life made for them by God through Christ, will, if faithful unto death, be exalted to glory, honor, and immortality. (Rom. 2:7) They are spoken of in Hebrews 3:1 as being “partakers of the heavenly calling.” In II Peter 1:4 they are described as being given promises by which they might become partakers of the “divine nature,” which is the nature of God. In Romans 5:2 these are depicted as rejoicing” “in the hope of the glory of God.”

The divine nature is not only immortality, but also the source of life. That is why, as in Isaiah 49:8,9, quoted above, those who are referred to as being preserved by God through all their trials, as they suffer together with Christ in his death baptism, are represented as saying to the prisoners, “Go forth,” and “to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves.” These are the prisoners of death who, through Christ and his faithful followers during the Gospel Age, will be awakened from death. But these will not be exalted to the divine nature, as will be the church; but will be caused “to inherit the desolate heritages.”—vs. 8

This is the heritage of life on earth, and the dominion of earth that was given to Adam, but which he lost through sin. This heritage of earthly life was purchased by the blood of Christ, and the church will join with him in restoring this purchased heritage to all who will obey the laws of that thousand-year kingdom of blessing—that kingdom during which the dead for whom we are now being baptized will be enlightened, and given an opportunity to return to perfection of human life.

How thankful we are that our loving and eternal God has been an ever present help for his sacrificing people throughout this entire “day of salvation” which we believe is now nearing an end! We are glad that, through the merit of Christ’s blood, our Heavenly Father accepts the sacrifices of his people, and thus makes possible the test of their faithfulness to him, looking to their ultimate exaltation to the divine nature.

As we have seen, even during the time when their death baptism has been going on the Lord has been using them as co-workers in the great plan of salvation. And as we have seen, these will continue to be used as ministers of reconciliation during the Millennial Age, for it will be these who will convey the message of reconciliation to all mankind, until eventually this knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.

It will be through the church, as ambassadors for Christ, and using the word of reconciliation, that the knowledge of the “ransom for all” provided by Jesus will, in due time, be testified, or made known to all.—I Tim. 2:3-6

The Bride

In symbolic language the Bible speaks of the church as a whole—all those, that is, who, during the Gospel Age are planted together in the likeness of Jesus death, as the “bride” of Christ. In Revelation 19:7 Jesus is mentioned as the “Lamb,” because of the sacrificial nature of his work of redemption, and we read, “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.”

This making ready of those who will be united with Jesus in glory, and share with him in the restitution work of the Millennial Age, has entailed much sacrifice and suffering. Jesus’ own ministry was predominantly one of sacrifice; a sacrifice that ended in death. The Scriptures urge us to be like him, symbolically to be buried with him by baptism into death.

The adornment of the bride-to-be, in addition to being unselfish love which leads to sacrifice for others, is also an adornment of humility and obedience in doing God’s will. It is, in fact, a rich combination of all the fruits and graces of the Holy Spirit. And it is only when each prospective member of Christ’s future bride is thus adorned, and the whole brought forth in the first resurrection, that the marriage of the Lamb will take place.

And it will be then that Revelation 22:17 will be fulfilled, for not until then will there be a bride. The text reads, “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Here we are informed that “the Spirit and the bride” will constitute the vanguard of those who invite mankind to partake of the water of life, again revealing the unique position in the plan of salvation which is occupied by those who are planted together in the likeness of Jesus’ death.

No wonder Paul points out how futile would be Christian suffering and death, how empty of meaning our baptism for the dead, if there is to be no resurrection of the dead! But we know that there is to be a resurrection of the dead, because Christ the firstfruits has already been raised from the dead and exalted to heavenly glory. The first resurrection will embrace all who have suffered and died with him that they might live and reign with him, but this glorious hope can be realized only through faithfulness in death baptism.

We rejoice in the assurance of divine help for those who are laying down their lives in sacrifice, and one of the greatest incentives to faithfulness is the clearly set forth truth of the Scriptures that our death baptism is to accrue to the benefit of the world; that if faithful we will have a share in the great future work of restoring the dead world to life, enlightening them, and giving them the opportunity to live forever.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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