Speaking Sense about the Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15:12-34
Theme: Like him we rise.
This week’s lessons teach us the consequences of disbelief in a bodily resurrection.
We now come to verse 20 where Paul wrote, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Christ really has been raised from the dead, and the very fact of that is proof that we ourselves will be raised if we are joined to him in saving faith. He is talking about Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection. As we look at that from the perspective in which he was writing, he is talking about a relatively small span of years.
The Lord Jesus Christ died and rose again in a.d. 30, according to my calculations. Then there is Paul, writing in the 50s to these Christians in Corinth. Given the small span of years, there would be a tendency on the part of some people to say, “Well, this teaching is nice, but it really is just a little incidental phenomenon of history.” Paul counters that by taking us back to Adam and the fact that we fell in Adam and were united to Adam in the fall.
Then Paul comes to the present by pointing out that, just as God judged us as sinners in the fall of Adam, God now judges us according to the atoning work of Christ for those who are united to him by saving faith. He then goes ahead to the future by saying that the time is coming when Christ, who is going to be victor over all, will subdue that last enemy, which is death. Death will reign no more. And Christ, at the very end, as the Son, will submit everything to the Father. God the Father will be all in all.
It is not some small thing that we are talking about, because the essence of salvation is the resurrection through which we are united to Jesus with our whole being – body, soul, and spirit – and one day, even death itself is going to be destroyed. We are going to be part of the victory as we stand with Christ in our resurrection bodies.
Paul talks about a particular problem in the church in Corinth in verse 29. He wrote, “Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?” There are all sorts of peculiar interpretations of this. Paul is probably referring to something that they did – some burial rite that they practiced at the time. Some have said that, whatever it was, it must have been wrong. Paul does not endorse it. He is merely asking them why they are doing it if there is no resurrection. I think that interpretation is inadequate. Let me suggest a few other interpretations.
There have been some who believe that “being baptized for the dead” means that there were those receiving baptism on behalf of those who had already died in order that they might be saved after death. In our own time, we have a cult that practices this–the Mormons. Some very pious Mormons are baptized many times for many people. The problem with that is that it imparts a mystical property to baptism. It is saying that salvation comes by the performance of a rite. Fortunately, in Christianity, this practice has been repudiated.
There is another explanation that says that when a new believer is baptized, he is taking the place of somebody who has died beforehand. Harry Ironside had a very interesting story to illustrate this explanation.
A much-venerated saint in his congregation died, a man who had been a great blessing to the church. He had witnessed to his family, but not all of them had come to Christ. Yet, when the funeral was held some of the children who had not believed were there. When they came to the end of the service and the family was invited to take a last look at the face of the one who had died, Ironside intervened and said, “I really feel constrained before we close this casket just to say this. We have lost a pillar of the church and I know there are people here who have not come to Christ. I am wondering if there is anybody who would like to make a profession of faith in Christ, and so indicate his or her willingness to take the place of this one that we’ve lost.”
With that he gave a Gospel invitation and one of the relatives, a son, came forward and confessed Christ. He said that he would like to try to begin to fill the shoes of his father who had lived in such an exemplary way for God. The following Sunday, this man was baptized publicly. Ironside took that story and said, “That is what it is. When we are baptized, we fill up the ranks in the church, taking the place of the honored dead.”
Study Question

What are the various interpretations mentioned in today’s lesson concerning baptism for the dead?

Further Study
Read Romans 5:12-21. What does it mean to be in Adam? to be in Christ?

Study Questions
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