1 Corinthians 15:27-31 — For he has put everything in subjection under his feet. But when it says “everything” has been put in subjection, it is clear that this does not include the one who put everything in subjection to him. And when all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all. Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, then why are they baptized for them? Why too are we in danger every hour? Every day I am in danger of death! This is as sure as my boasting in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Understanding “Baptism for the Dead”
The phrase “baptised for the dead” in this Bible passage may lead some to scratch their heads and wonder what on earth God could possibly mean. When someone is said to have been “baptised for the dead,” what precisely does it entail?
Over the span of many centuries, several theories have been advanced to account for this phenomenon. Only one religion uses this scripture to support its belief that purgatory exists. They argue that this passage proves that there are departed souls who need our help even after death. People who have gone away hope that our “baptism for the dead” would help them move on from purgatory. The actual act of water baptism for the deceased is to be performed by members of a different religious denomination. They believe that “baptism by proxy” is acceptable in God’s eyes.
They argue that the benefits of our baptism are really extended to the deceased through baptism. However, many scholars argue that Paul was referring to a ritual used by early Christians that was really rooted in pagan beliefs and customs. They ignore the fact that Paul does not oppose the practice of “baptism for the dead,” but rather presents it as something to be expected and as something that is essential to the Christian path.
Paul’s Meaning of “Baptised for the Dead”
What does Paul mean when he says Christians have been “baptised for the dead”? He did write about it as if it were a normal part of being a Christian. What precisely was he rambling on about?
The verse makes perfect sense when viewed in light of the rest of the chapter and many other places in Paul’s writings where he discusses the same topic. Keep in mind that the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is primarily concerned with Christ’s death and resurrection. In reality, in the passages just preceding the one quoted above, Paul describes a resurrection that occurs in stages. Specifically, he details an impending “order” of resurrection:
1 Corinthians 15:20-26 — But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; then when Christ comes, those who belong to him. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be eliminated is death.
The Connection to Christ’s Death and Resurrection
For one of the classifications Paul listed the phrase “they that are Christ’s at His coming” pertains. Obviously, Christians and other members of the Church are included here. Those who die in Christ are constantly spoken of as being raised in Him, first spiritually and then physically at this great resurrection, a concept that Paul sometimes referred to as “The dead in Christ.” This is due to the fact that the spiritual resurrection precedes the bodily one.
But then Pauls throws in a question. He asks, “Otherwise, what shall those do who are baptised for the dead if the dead rise not at all?”
What’s the point in putting ourselves in harm’s way every single minute? Paul emphasises the one-to-one relationship between those who are “baptised for the dead” and those who are “dead in Christ” and waiting for resurrection when he writes, “I die every day!” When He says that others are being “baptised” on behalf of those who have “died in Christ,” He refers explicitly to those who have already passed away.
This “baptism for the dead” is on behalf of people who are “dead in Jesus Christ” by those who are “alive in Christ.”
Paul makes an attempt to emphasise the significance of this Truth. The next question he poses is, “Why would there be a baptism for the dead if the dead in Christ are not raised?” In other words, if those who had died in Christ were not resurrected from the tomb, then there would be no need for this “baptism for the dead.” But the resurrected dead will return. We must thus carry out this pattern, sometimes referred to as “baptism for the dead.”
Baptism in the Spiritual Sense
Paul mentions baptism, but what does he mean by that term? He explains it to us.
1 Corinthians 15:30-34 — Why too are we in danger every hour? Every day I am in danger of death! This is as sure as my boasting in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord. If from a human point of view I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what did it benefit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Sober up as you should, and stop sinning! For some have no knowledge of God – I say this to your shame!
Paul’s “baptism for the dead” does not include any real water. No, this is a baptism in the spiritual sense, and Paul is speaking of the death he experiences on a daily basis as a result of the struggles, suffering, and spiritual warfare he engages in order to experience a resurrection to the glory of God and for the benefit of the larger Body of Christ.
Paul defines what it means to be a bondslave of Christ and to the people of God. When we talk about helping others, we usually limit the conversation to the realm of the merely physical. However, there is a service that is far greater than that, and it should not be left undone, either.
Implications for the Body of Christ
This is what it means to be “baptised for the dead,” as taught by Paul. As I continue to die at God’s hands, the life of Jesus Christ is made manifest, not only in me but also in the Body of Christ.
Paul is here elaborating on a facet of the Christian experience that has not been emphasised heavily in the teachings of Christian churches: the fact that God has been preparing and calling together the members of the Body of Christ for over two millennia.
What does this mean?
It means that I will die in the future, but that my death will have secondary effects on myself and primary effects on the Church as the Body of Christ. God will require me to go through a fiery trial and be “baptised in fire” on occasion, not just for the sake of my own development and freedom, but also for the sake of the rest of the Body.
We tend to focus on ourselves when we’re facing difficulties.
From our perspective, the issue is what we are gaining from it, or more accurately, what we are losing as a result of it. However, from God’s perspective, the issue may be what we are supplying to His Body through it. It is possible that as a result of our trust in the midst of adversity, God is adding something eternal not only to ourselves but also to every other member of the Body of Christ who has ever lived.
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The Two-fold Effect: Death and Life
Every book of the Bible contains this Truth, but in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he makes a very clear connection to it:
2 Corinthians 4:11 — For we who are alive are constantly being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our mortal body.
God consistently follows this pattern, beginning with treating each person on an individual basis. Because of my faith in Christ, I know that my death will be followed by a resurrection in which everyone who has died in Christ over the past two thousand-plus years will be made alive again. This will happen when Christ returns.
There are times when we have to go through hardship and tests that do not seem to have any clear advantage for us or make any sense at that moment. Perhaps we are unable to fathom the point of this trial that has been propelled upon us. These times are without a doubt a test of one’s faith. We have no choice but to have faith that God understands what is truly best for us in the long run.
This present age is the time in which God is putting the glorious touches on the Church, the Body of Christ, but it is not the time in which God’s major purpose for the Church is being fulfilled. That time will come after Christ’s resurrection, and until then, we will not be able to comprehend all that God has in store for the Church, the Body of Christ.
Being a Bondslave of Jesus Christ
You know, when we talk about being a bondslave of Jesus Christ, it really challenges our preconceived notions of leadership, doesn’t it? In our human pride, we tend to think that leaders must have authority over others. We associate leadership with power and control. But the truth is, being a bondslave of Jesus means letting go of all those notions.
When we truly surrender ourselves to Christ, something transformative happens within us. All our spiritual aspirations, our vanity, and our desperate need for the approval of others begin to fade away. It’s like a refining fire that purges us of our selfish desires and ambitions. This transformation takes place in a secret place, where only the servant and the Master are present.
You see, being a bondslave of Jesus means finding our true identity and purpose in Him. It means letting go of our need to impress others or gain their recognition. We become free from the shackles of ego and self-centeredness. Instead of seeking superiority or validation, we humbly embrace the role of a servant, just as Jesus did.
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In this upside-down kingdom of God, the fruit of our service never leads us to feel superior to others. Even if we consider ourselves to have more humility, it doesn’t give us a license to elevate ourselves above our fellow believers. Instead, it humbles us even further, reminding us that our purpose is to serve and love one another, not to lord over them.
Being a bondslave of Jesus is a radical shift from the world’s definition of leadership. It’s not about exerting control or seeking prominence. It’s about selflessly pouring out our lives for the sake of others, just as Jesus did for us. It’s about finding joy and fulfilment in serving, rather than in the applause and recognition of people.
Let us embrace the freedom that comes from surrendering to Christ. Let us let go of our ego, our desire for approval, and our need for superiority. Instead, let us humbly take on the role of a servant, imitating the example of our Lord. In doing so, we will discover the true meaning of leadership—the sacrificial love that brings transformation and unity to the body of Christ.
May we walk in the footsteps of our humble servant King, Jesus Christ, and find our fulfilment in serving others with love and grace.
The Construction of the Body of Christ
It is made up of those people who have been saved from this world by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ throughout the course of the last two thousand-plus years. Through Jesus Christ, a personal relationship with God has been established for each individual member of that Body. This is the cornerstone upon which Christianity is built. There is, however, a broader Body that exists as a result of all of these human ties.
This larger Body is a living organism for which God has an unending purpose. In addition, we are obligated to endure pain for the sake of that Body. We are commanded to fill up that which is behind the afflictions of Christ in our flesh for the sake of His Body, which is the church.
Colossians 1:24 — Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I fill up in my physical body – for the sake of his body, the church – what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.
This refers to the suffering that Christ endured on our behalf. And after everything has been finished, the conclusion will be reached. All those who have passed away in Christ will be raised from the dead by God, and they will be united with those who are still alive. God our Father will then take us all into the endless ages as the Bride of His Son.
May the Spirit of the Lord Jesus open your eyes to understand this truth.
Let Us Pray
We come before You in awe and reverence, seeking Your presence and guidance as we reflect on the deeper truths of our faith. Thank You for the wisdom and insight found in Your Word, which continually reveals new depths of understanding.
Lord, we are humbled by the mystery of baptism for the dead, a concept that can perplex us. Yet, we trust in Your divine wisdom and seek clarity and illumination through prayer. Help us to approach this topic with open hearts and minds, ready to receive Your revelation.
As we navigate different interpretations, Lord, grant us discernment and unity in our search for truth. May we be respectful and open to the perspectives of others, recognizing that Your Word may be revealed to us in various ways. Guide us to a deeper understanding of Your intentions and purposes.
We recognize, Father, that the ultimate significance of “baptism for the dead” lies in the profound connection to Christ’s death and resurrection. Help us grasp the fullness of this truth. May we comprehend the hope and assurance we have in being united with Christ, both spiritually and physically, in His resurrection.
In times of hardship and adversity, Lord, strengthen our faith. Help us trust in Your greater plan and purpose for our lives, even when we cannot see the immediate benefits. Grant us the grace to persevere, knowing that our sufferings can bring about something eternal, not only in ourselves but also in the broader Body of Christ.
Teach us, O God, what it truly means to be Your bondservants. May we humbly surrender our own ambitions and desires, seeking to serve You and Your people selflessly. Enable us to comprehend the significance of the Body of Christ, Your Church, and the ongoing work You are accomplishing through it.
Lord, as we face challenges and trials, help us remember that You are continually building Your Body. Give us the strength to endure the pain and afflictions that come our way, knowing that we contribute to the greater purpose of the Church. May we find comfort in knowing that we are part of something far greater than ourselves.
Finally, Father, we eagerly anticipate the day of resurrection when all those who have died in Christ will be raised by Your mighty power. Unite us with them in the endless ages as the Bride of Your Son. May our lives be a testimony to Your transformative work and the hope we have in Christ’s victory over death. We offer this prayer in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.