Baptised for the Dead

By David Embury

1Cor 15:29 Otherwise, what will they do who are baptised for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptised for the dead?

What is "baptism for the dead" and who were "they" that were being so baptised? Verse 11 of 1Corinthians 15 helps identify who they were:

1Cor 15:11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Firstly, "they" were the other apostles and ambassadors of Christ to Israel [2Cor 5:20]. "The dead" of 1Cor 15:12 are old covenant historic Israel, who though dead in trespasses and sins, were promised to be brought out of their grave of bondage and exile [Hos 13:14; Ezk 37:1-14] and raised to newness of life in Christ – having had the "ungodliness of Jacob" turned away [Rom 11:26].

Secondly, "they" were also known as the "first-fruits" [Jas 1:18; Rev 14:4], and as such participated with Christ THE first-fruit "out from among the dead" [Acts 26:23; 1Cor 15:20,23; Col 1:18] in that age transforming work of the Spirit in bringing about the works of righteousness, by the giving of their lives through suffering. Dying daily to the old Mosaic world of sin and death i.e., the Law, and rising to the new world of life and righteousness in Christ Jesus [Rom 6:3-6; 2Pt 3:13]. Conformity to the death of Christ was a 'baptism of suffering' – there was a cost [2Cor 4:11-12; Lk 9:23]:

Mk 10:38-39 But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?" They said to Him, "We are able." So Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptised with you will be baptised;

The main thrust of 1Cor 15 is that of "resurrection", and resurrection has to do with baptism – being buried and raised in Christ to newness of life. Jesus' ministry and that of the Spirit that followed was a 'baptism of fire', the refiner's fire of trial, salvation and judgment [Mal 3:2; Lk 3:16; 1Pt 1:7, 4:12]. Many first-fruit believers experienced this baptism of tribulation and persecution on behalf of Israel "that some might be saved" [Rom 11:14]. That the first-fruit believers suffered at the hands of Pharisaic Israel is well attested in the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles and The Revelation, headed chiefly and initially by that Pharisee of the Pharisees, Saul of Tarshish [Act 9:13-14]. Yet even Saul himself in the plan of God [1Tim 1:13] came to know as "Paul" that which he perpetrated against Christ's Church [Act 9:16].

2Cor 12:7-10 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. cf. 2Cor 11:23-27.

Rom 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. cf. 2Cor 4:17.

1Cor 15:30-31 And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour? I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.

Rom 8:35-36 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." cf. Phil 2:16-17; 2Cor 1:5-6.

Mt 24:9 "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake. cf. Jn 16:33; Act 14:22.

Salvation was of the Jews and for the Jews, that is, all Israel [Jn 4:22; Mt 15:24; Act 3:26] – which in fulfilment carried a wider Gentile focus [Gen 12:3; Act 3:25]. Theirs was a "corporate" work of national salvation, and as such being the first-fruit saints were joined to Christ in his sufferings thus confirming and bringing to fullness the redemptive work begun in Christ [Col 1:24; 1Thess 3:3; Heb 2:3] in preparing the way for the rest of the harvest, of which they were the first offerings. This salvific outworking on behalf of the "elect" was not restricted to the first-fruits "this generation" saints only, but was inclusive of and on behalf of all old covenant Israel, hence Paul's: "so all Israel will be saved" Rom 11:26. This was the divinely intended precursor to the inclusion and reconciliation of the Gentiles into the commonwealth of Israel; thus the middle wall of division being obliterated and the two becoming one in Christ [Eph 2:11-16].

'Baptism for the dead' was not about some ancient form or practice of vicarious baptism in the literal sense, no it was the baptism of suffering by the firstfruit believers that was working towards the "fullness" of both Jew and Gentile in Christ [Rom 11:25-26]. It was a partnership in persecution, a suffering on behalf of the saints [Gal 6:17; Phil 1:29-30], the "working out" of their salvation. This was the focus and force of Paul's "baptism for the dead."