Baptized For The Dead!
By Raymond D. Sopp
1 Corinthians 15:29-32: "Otherwise, what will those do who are BAPTIZED FOR THE DEAD? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them? Why are we also in danger every hour? I protest, brethren, by the boasting in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."
If we truly wish to become salt and light to this world, it is extremely important for us to understand and embrace this difficult, but extremely powerful verse of Scripture. Since we seem to be losing the battle for souls, in spite of all our grandiose evangelistic programs, perhaps we are in need of regaining this essential fragrance of Christ in our lives. When I say we seem to be losing the battle for souls, I'm not talking about body count, but the battle for the hearts of mankind. Yes, through manipulation we seem to be able to gather crowds, but are they born-again? Does God have their hearts? Or does the allure of this world still hold their hearts captive? That's a question on this side of heaven we will never know the answer to, but as I examine the fruit which is being produced within much of the Church, it does give me cause to tremble. So let us press on to understand this essential fragrance of Christ, being baptized for the dead, so we can at least make sure our own hearts belong to God, and as an individual, each is salt and light to this fallen world.
First of all, we know by context that the Apostle Paul was defending the reality of the resurrection of the dead unto the eternal life which awaits those who are in Christ Jesus at His second coming. And to do this, Paul does something very remarkable -- he uses his own life and the lives of other godly, faithful men and women as tangible proof of this resurrection to a glorious eternal existence with God. One of the words the Apostle Paul chooses to use in defense of this resurrection is the word "baptized". In the Greek, this word gives us a very powerful word picture of complete immersion. Although we are accustomed to simply seeing this word applied to an immersion in water, to those in Paul's time, it could just as easily mean a complete immersion in both identification and participation with someone, or something. Paul used this concept in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, "For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized (complete immersion in identification and participation) into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ."
To help us to receive a more penetrating understanding of this concept of complete immersion in identification and participation, let's look at John 6:53-58. In this Scripture Jesus painted an extremely powerful word picture, so powerful in fact, that it literally offended everyone who heard Him. John 6:53-58: "Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have NO life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood ABIDES in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate, and died, he who eats this bread shall live forever.'" Now that's being completely immersed in identification and participation, i.e., being BAPTIZED into Christ Jesus.
With this baptism in mind, and using the Greek's grammar notations as an aid, let us revisit 1 Corinthians 15:29. In the first sentence the grammar notation for the word baptized is both passive and continuous. And in the second sentence the grammar notation for the word baptized is both passive and contemporaneous. The grammar notation passive denotes something happening to you without any personal participation on your part to make it happen. Therefore, the point the Apostle Paul was trying to make in 1 Corinthians 15:29 was: "Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead (passive and continuous, i.e., those who are continually subjecting (participation) themselves to the possibility of death by the hands of others)? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them (contemporaneous and passive, i.e., those who actually have succumbed (participation) to death by the hands of others)?" This exegesis is confirmed as Paul goes on to say in the very next verses, 1 Corinthians 15:30-31: "Why are we also in danger every hour? I protest, brethren, by the boasting in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily."
Paul's life was an awesome illustration of this concept of being "baptized for the dead". 2 Corinthians 11:23-27: "Are they servants of Christ? (I speak as if insane) I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure." And later Paul's life became the illustration for "baptized for them" as his immersion for the dead became literal, or complete. 2 Timothy 4:6-7: "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." Yes, Paul's life in every way fulfilled this concept of being "baptized for the dead", and he offered it up as proof of the resurrection.
With this in mind, we can completely understand the Apostle Paul's thought process in 1 Corinthians 15:19, "If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied," and 1 Corinthians 15:32: "If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink (fulfill our fleshly desires to the upmost, and make the most of this earthly life), for tomorrow we die." The Apostle Paul's life was a living testament to the reality of the resurrection. His life was giving off a very pungent fragrance of Christ as a witness, to those who are saved the fragrance of life, and to those who are not, the fragrance of death. Even if Paul said not a word, his life would SCREAM, I am NOT of this world, and I'm looking forward to a better resurrection!
So we understand that this concept of being "baptized for the dead" is NOT a new concept. Let's look at a few other examples before the Apostle Paul's time. Hebrews 11:8-10: "By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God." Hebrews 11:13-16: "All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them."
Abraham, by walking away from the family and land of his birth, demonstrated to all that he believed God when God promised him a better land -- a heavenly land -- prepared by God Himself. In doing so, he made himself as a stranger to the land (world) and the family of his birth (Adam). He allowed himself to be "baptized for the dead", i.e., he moved out of his safety zone and placed himself in a difficult position amongst strangers in order to gain a better resurrection. No, it was not Abraham's lips which said, "I believe God," it was his heart which manifested itself through his actions; therefore, God was not ashamed to be called his God.
Hebrews 11:24-26: "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt (world); for he was looking to the reward (resurrection)." Moses turned away from everything this world had to offer and, with enthusiasm, embraced the reproach of Christ. Moses could not live by the world's philosophy of "let's eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." Why? Because he believed in God and that there was a better resurrection which awaited him. So once again, if someone wanted proof of the resurrection of the dead, all Moses had to do is point at his life.
Hebrews 11:35-38: "Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground." All these people showed themselves to be great men and women of FAITH, not by what they were able to gain in this world, but by what they were willing to give up in this world; which is the exact opposite of what is now being taught in many of our churches today.
Therefore, we must be very careful not to fall into the same trap (sin) as described in Psalm 106:24-25, "Then they despised the pleasant land (heaven and the resurrection); (why) they did not believe in His word, (how) but grumbled in their tents; they did not listen to the voice of the Lord." And who was Psalm 106:24-25 talking about? Exodus 16:2-3: "And the whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the sons of Israel said to them, Would that we had died by the Lord's hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." They did not long for the promised land -- heaven -- the resurrection -- but longed for the "good old days" back in Egypt, i.e., the world. Their philosophy was let's eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.
The value we place on anything is equal to the amount we are willing to sacrifice for it. Although all these people were joined to Moses, i.e., baptized into Moses, they were in fact nothing like Moses. The true longing within their hearts could not have been for the promised land (heaven), because they were so willing to turn back to Egypt (the world) for the very small price of a dinner. In contrast, Jesus placed such a great value on mankind and heaven that He was willing to be "baptized for them" (immersed in death) so that we may enter the promised land -- a better resurrection. Luke 12:50: "But I (Jesus) have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!"
Have we been guilty of alluring people to Christ by telling them how much of the world they could gain through Christ, instead of telling them what they must lose? James 4:3-4: "You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." And yet we still have preachers who boast in their worldly treasures and continue to tell others that such worldly gain is equal to God's blessing. You tell me who's right, the Holy Scriptures, or many of our present day preachers? They both cannot be right, can they? Jesus the Son, an exact representation of God the Father, always made sure He used language as strong and as direct as possible to make absolutely sure we understood the cost of a better resurrection.
Luke 14:25-27 & 31-32: "Now great multitudes were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and take counsel whether he is strong enough with TEN thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with TWENTY thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks terms of peace." Are we willing to be "baptized for the dead" and become as aliens in this world? If so, then we will always be outnumbered by those who oppose us. Luke 14: 33-35: "So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear." Are we losing the battle for souls because we are unwilling to be baptized for the dead, and thereby, exposing our own unbelief in a better resurrection?
2 Peter 3:10-13: "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise WE are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells."
You tell me, what constitutes God's blessings -- treasures on earth, or treasures in heaven? Or what is the measure of great faith -- the amount of this world's things we are able to gain, or the things of this world we're willing to give up? Or who is the heroic Christian of faith, who becomes as salt and light to this world -- the one baptized in water, or the one baptized for the dead? Have we lost our saltiness in this world, because we are unwilling to subject ourselves to being baptized for the dead? Do we despise our promised land, heaven, by quickly backing off the minute we feel any kind of deprivation? Do we quickly compromise our Christian values if our wilderness (earthly) journey becomes a bit unpleasant? All these things are signs to both God, and this world, that we "REALLY" do not believe in a better resurrection. So then, the measure of our saltiness is NOT in what we say, but it is in direct proportion to what we are willing to give up.
By the mercies of God, most of us do not find ourselves in a position where our very lives are in danger for our faith; nevertheless, almost every day we are placed in a situation, or trial, to test our faith to see if it's really genuine. And every day the world watches to see through the eyes of our passion if there is really a God – if there is really a better resurrection -- if there is really a heaven. Romans 5:3-5: "And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character (genuineness); and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love (Spirit) of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." When we persevere, we are powerfully showing the world that we already have a portion of heaven (God's Spirit) within us; hence, we know with certainty that there is a better resurrection, inasmuch as God already dwells within us. Now that's a saltiness -- a passion -- that neither this world, nor God can ignore. Our lives will not only reflect being baptized for the dead, but will permeate with the fragrance of Christ for the world to joyfully accept, or to become zealously offended; and God will not be ashamed to be called our God.
Therefore, let's look at some very practical everyday expressions of being "baptized for the dead" in Romans 12:1-3, "I URGE you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. (HOW) And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith."
And again in Romans 12:6-21, "And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy (acting). Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
In closing, please allow me to show you a very practical application of this commentary by reading an Email I received concerning a mission trip: "While I had many conversations with various Mormon and non-Mormon individuals during our outreach, the most exciting conversation I had was with a police officer. For nearly two of the three days I served during the outreach, it rained almost constantly. Friday was the coldest day as the temperature had dropped to about 39 degrees, and even with my heavy clothes, snow boots, poncho, and umbrella I was still somewhat cold as I stood in the muddy gravel parking lot handing out the literature to the passing cars.
Right in the middle of the pouring rain, a police officer pulled up to the edge of the road, got out of the car, and walked over to me. He said, ‘I'm a detective from another town who investigates double homicide cases. My job is to determine the motive behind these cases. I just came up here to help out for a few days in order to get a break from my regular job. I'm not a Mormon, or anything like that, but for the past two days I've been watching you hand this literature out and I just can't help but wonder -- WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? What makes your religious beliefs better than someone else's beliefs? Usually, I just drive by, but today I decided to stop and ask.'"
The moment this woman was willing to embrace the hardships of the day to reach out to people she did not know, and who most likely hated her, she began to give off the inescapable fragrance of Christ. What was her motive? She genuinely believed in the resurrection of the dead, and proved it by being willing to endure a trial, or hardship. This very intelligent detective was not seduced by promising the world to him, he was seduced by someone who was willing to put up with a little discomfort so a nameless stranger could obtain a better resurrection. A motive that he could neither recognize, nor understand. The world is asking, is there a God? Is there a heaven? Our lives should be screaming yes, unless we do not really believe it ourselves.
Acts 20:22-24: "And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God." All of us will be confronted by a ministry which needs to be filled, spanning from that of a prophet -- to giving with liberality -- to the graceful act of forgiveness; but if we count our lives as dear to ourselves in any way, that ministry call will be thwarted. Do we REALLY believe in a better resurrection, or do we "eat and drink, for tomorrow we die;" hence, living our lives as if there is no resurrection at all? Our lives -- our actions -- will always reflect what we really believe within our hearts. The Apostle Paul endured the hardship of subjecting himself to the possibility of death (baptized for the dead), and later succumbed to death (baptized for them), because he believed in God's testimony of a better resurrection. But will we endure even the much lesser hardships of an imperfect relationship, including marriage, or the perceived indignity of overcoming evil with good, because we believe in God's testimony of a better resurrection? DO WE REALLY BELIEVE!?
From my heart to yours,
Raymond D. Sopp
All above Bible references are from The New American Standard Bible, (La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation) 1977.
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