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Christian Biblical Studies
BAPTISED FOR THE DEAD
Unless noted otherwise, all Scripture references are to the New International Version, UK Edition of 1984.
Question: What is meant in 1 Corinthians 15: 29 by being ‘baptised for the dead’?
[I]f there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptised for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptised for them?
Answer: A profound and often-overlooked truth is concealed in these words of the Apostle Paul. Of the many interpretations of this verse, the one which seems to favour his meaning is that of the sin-offering of the Gospel-Age Church – the Very Elect.
Under the ‘what if’ metaphor, the Apostle establishes the unassailable truth of the resurrection of Christ:
He appeals to the testimony of numerous eyewitnesses (vs. 1-11). He clinches the link between the resurrection of Christ and the heavenly or special resurrection of the Church — without the one, the other is impossible (vs. 12-20). In its turn, the general resurrection of mankind, the non-elect, is made possible (vs. 21, 22), leading to the events he assigns to the Kingdom of God on earth (vs. 23-28). This brings us to the particular verse under review (29).
No one can win eternal life for another. There is no such thing as salvation by proxy. Christ, and Christ alone is the Saviour whose meritorious death has provided the means whereby anyone may, by faith, be released from the condemnation of sin and gain an opportunity to live forever.
The Apostle startles us with his declaration that the Church do not sacrifice for their own benefit. Yes, their longing to be with the Lord was a glorious incentive, but their essential purpose for sacrifice was beyond mere self interest. As Jesus Himself was baptised to a ministry of death, so were the Church (Matthew 20: 22; Luke 12: 50).
In this sense, then, the Church were ‘baptised’ on behalf of the ‘dead ones’ (so reads the Greek); that is, for the world of mankind – all those technically alive but dying, and all those literally dead.
The sin-offering of the Church must not be confused with the ransom-sacrifice of Christ. The members of the Church, fallen human beings, had no merit with which to redeem anyone. The sin offering of the Church collectively refers to their role in suffering in partnership with Christ, their sufferings being counted as part of His. Their sufferings cannot in any way augment the merit of His perfect ransom-sacrifice, which was a unique, complete, once-for-all-time offering. But the scope of their trials, tribulations, and overcoming as members of the Body of Christ encompasses the range of experiences common to imperfect humanity, and thus they became qualified to be merciful and compassionate rulers with Christ in the Millennial Kingdom. They will, with Christ, constitute the World’s High Priest.
Paul writes in Colossians 1: 24 that ‘I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.’ To put it another way, where the sufferings of Christ, the Head, ended, the sufferings of the Body of Christ began. Thus, the Church suffers for the benefit of the world of mankind, whose salvation is the aim of their future ministry. A practical example of this principle is that of a would-be nurse who, throughout years of rigorous training, conscientiously applies herself to academic and clinical studies in order to be of service to her future patients.
Copyright April 2013 ukbiblestudents.co.uk
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