“Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead?” (I Cor.15:29)
Outline: introduction- baptism makes you a part of death and resurrection of Jesus Christ- baptism for the dead -a type for Seth
Introduction: emphasis placed by sects on baptism tends to obscure the real intent of baptism.
There are so many baptisms mentioned in the Scriptures while we read the Pauline injunction that there is only one baptism as there is only one Church. (Eph 4:4) Anglicans, Mormons, Pentecostalists and Baptists all have interpreted baptism from the position they have taken. They have also verses to prove it. But are they not missing the woods for the leaves they count in defense of their doctrines? Leaving these aside let me focus on Jesus Christ. It is not ritual but the person of Jesus Christ is at the heart of baptism.
Immersion baptism identifies a believer with the death of Christ while sprinkling points to the Old Testament practice, which under the New covenant points to redemptive work of Jesus: blood of Jesus washes away the sins of the believer. Pouring water during baptism places accent over the infilling experience of Pentecost which came in the wake of the Ascension. Rather than being distracted by shadings of baptism let us look at the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Baptism for the dead in this case celebrates the spirit of Jesus.
I shall explain this in detail.
Baptism fulfills divine will.
When Jesus came to this earth he persuaded his cousin John the baptist to baptize him. ‘It is proper to do this to fulfill all righteousness.'(Mt3:15)Jesus knew the key to baptism. It was his definite commitment in the path of fulfilling the divine will. Before the foundation of this world a body had been prepared for him and in his submitting to the will he became the firstborn for all who in future would submit to the divine will as he did.
The Son of Man fulfilled the righteousness of God in accepting baptism.
Death of body puts the role of spirit in focus
It puzzled me as I read the passages of Jesus who appeared in his glorious body to his disciples. ‘Look at my hands and my feet…touch me and see.'(Lk24:39) ‘Doubting’ Thomas was asked to feel his wounds (Jn20.27) Curiously we read he tells Mary ” Touch me not..for I am not yet ascended.’ (20:17)
He was not yet ascended. Jesus had a last mission before ascending to the heavens. The souls to whom he preached while dead were to be reconciled with God ‘When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from men…'(Ps.68:18) Of this we also have a commentary in the epistle of St.Peter. ‘For Christ died..the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to god… he was made alive by the spirit through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison… 1 Pe.3:18-19
The body of Jesus was Word made flesh and there was no corruption in his spirit even when chastisement for our transgressions was laid on him. His death worked out our salvation by faith. In short the body fulfilled the will as it was preordained. In his burial the spirit (that was Holy Spirit given a body) preached to the ancient world that never had chance to be part of his earthly ministry.
Ministry of Jesus in body and spirit was necessary for perfecting the divine will.
The redemptive work of Jesus covers the living and the dead. When Jesus ascended to the heavens proof of his ministry was not only in his body but of his spirit as well. The latter was necessary to preach the gospel -the good news that he was the fulfillment of prophesies of the prophets and patriarchs. Dead souls who never had chance to see this fulfilled were thus brought into the ambit of Christ’s ministry. These were his proof of ministry in the spirit.
This ministry in spirit makes both mankind and spiritual beings angels and such like in subjection to him.1Pe.3:22; Eph.1:20
Having fulfilled the divine will he is set down at the right hand of God. The fulness of the Son of Man establishes the sovereignty of God over the dead as well as the living.
God as the Judge is the head while he is the body. In short his ministry in his body was for the Church and ministry in spirit (the preaching of his spirit in prison) was for the dead. God’s judgment is perfect and his Son ensured that it would be so.
Seth as a type for us
In the Adam’s genealogy I had cited the role of Seth in place of Abel who was killed by Cain. This is a type for our role in the baptism for the dead. The dead in the case is our Savior Jesus.
By the death of Jesus we, like Seth, take his place. What would that mean for us? We are accepting our accountability as Seth to please God as Abel did before him. Our body as living sacrifice must please Him. We are accountable for what we do in body. ‘ For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive the thing done is his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (2 Cor.5:10)”
In following the example of Jesus left for us we are not only being part of his death in our bodies but also in our spirits. Jesus preached to the dead in his spirit so we also must stand testimony before spirits of those dead. This is the baptism for the dead in a nutshell.
It is fundamental for our faith that we believe in our resurrection. We received Sprit by faith and it intercedes for us. Baptism for the dead enjoins us to accept the reality of our spiritual bodies after we put away our corruptible bodies. Consequently this baptism testifies that we are living in the blessed hope that we shall see all those who are gone from us.
No ritual involved in baptism for the dead.
A question may arise: do we pray for those loved ones who perhaps did not accept the grace freely offered in Jesus Christ?There is no scriptural sanction for it. So to intrude into the office of God shall indeed be a grievous sin. While in our bodies we surrender our spirits to God that after we have put away our bodies our spirits must follow the example of our saviour. Our spirits should only preach our blessed hope and our lives hidden in Him. Christian hope covers both aspects body and spirit. Our body and spirit must be conformed to the example left by our Saviour.