Elon, North Carolina
II Peter 3:15-16 says, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters.
His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction”.
The Apostle Peter poked some fun at the Apostle Paul in one of his epistles. Peter was a simple fisherman. Paul was a deep thinker, a great theologian. Peter said that some things in Paul’s epistles were “hard to understand”.
It is pretty bad when some of your fellow apostles do not even understand what you are writing because it is too deep for them. Today, we will be looking at two statements by the Apostle Paul which are very difficult to understand.
Last week, we looked at several lessons on death and resurrection in the last section. We saw that death is unnatural, universal, representative, reversible and temporary.
We saw that Jesus was the first fruits, the first to be raised from the dead with a glorified body and we are the later fruits. We saw that the Bible teaches that everyone who dies will be raised from the dead (though not all at the same time) and that Jesus will be the one to raise people from the dead.
Today, we will be looking at some very deep doctrines. Some may be Christians all their life and never study these doctrines. We are looking at them because we are going through the Book of I Corinthians. To start off, I want to go back to some of those same verses to look at what Paul believed about the end times. What was Paul’s eschatology?
Paul gives a brief timetable of future events. He doesn’t list everything. There is no mention of the tribulation but notice he lists six events that go from 33 AD until the eternal state. What is Paul’s brief timetable of future events?
Paul’s Timetable of Future Events
1. Christ, the first Fruits, is raised from the dead (15:20).
2. The resurrection of Christians who died, the later fruits (15:23).
3. The Second Coming of Christ (15:23).
4. Jesus rules on earth in the Millennial Kingdom (15:25).
5. All enemies are destroyed – death, Satan, sin (15:24, 26).
6. The Son will be subject to God the Father (15:28) in the eternal state.
1. Does this mean that Jesus stops ruling and turns everything over to the Father?
I Corinthians 15:25 seems to say this. “For he must reign UNTIL he has put all his enemies under his feet”. If you just read this passage, you might think that Jesus will stop ruling and turn everything over to the Father.
Once all of his enemies have been defeated, his ruling may take a different form but he will still rule. He will not rule as a conquering King but will continue to rule as the prince of Peace. The form of his rule will change but Jesus will continue to rule. How do we know this?
- Luke 1:33 says that Jesus will reign FOREVER (a quotation of Isaiah 9:7).
- Luke 1:33 also says His kingdom will NEVER end (Luke 1:33).
- Other passages say that Christ’s kingdom will be ETERNAL (II Peter 1:11; Daniel 7:14, 27).
- God says that Christ’s throne will last FOREVER AND EVER (Hebrews 1:8). In fact, Revelation 22 mentions the throne of God and the lamb in the New Jerusalem (22:1, 3).
Revelation 22:3 says that Christ’s servants will serve him for all eternity. So Christ will continue to rule in eternity but he will rule under the authority of the Father. He will NOT reign independently of the Father. He reigns for the purpose of glorifying the Father (cf. Philippians 2:9-11). That is exactly what he did when he was on earth.
2. How can Jesus be equal to the Father in power and authority and be subject to the Father?
I Corinthians 15:28 says, “When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him”. That is very easy to answer. I would make several points.
First, you can have submission and equality at the same time.
Husbands and wives are equal but one is supposed to be subject to the other. In fact, the same Greek word is used that is used here (ύποτάάσω) is used of wives submitting to their husbands (Ephesians 5:25).
The same Greek word is also used in Luke 2:51. Jesus was subject to his parents but was not inferior to his parents.
Second, this submission of the Son to the Father is functional, not ontological or metaphysical. It does NOT refer to nature or essence but to office or position.
Third, this submission of the Son to the Father is voluntary, not involuntary subjection. He was not coerced or forced by the Father to submit. He submitted Himself to the Father.
Baptism for the Dead
In 15:29 we come to a rather strange verse. The verse says, If the dead will not be raised, what point is there in people being baptized for those who are dead? Why do it unless the dead will someday rise again? There is one group of people today who believe in this today.
Today, this is a Mormon rite performed in Mormon temples. They baptized deceased ancestors. Mormons believe that people who die can be baptized by proxy and given the chance to accept the gospel after death. Spirits cannot be baptized in water. It must be done by proxy.
The reason Mormons do so much genealogical study is so that they can do proxy baptisms. This is a very big deal to them. It is one of the most important things they believe that they can do. How did this doctrine begin?
You might be surprised but the Book of Mormon (1830) does not say anything about baptism of the dead. It began in 1841 based on a supposed revelation that Joseph Smith received.
Is this a biblical doctrine? How do we answer the Mormons? It is actually very easy. There are several major problems with the Mormon view and several assumptions that they make. Whenever you encounter a strange interpretation, you might stop and think about the assumptions it makes.
Problems with the Mormon Interpretation
1. It builds a major doctrine of their faith on one verse of Scripture.
Now if the Bible says something only one time it is true. God does NOT have to say something one hundred and fifty times for it to be true. However, you should NEVER base a major doctrine of faith on just one passage of Scripture.
Any true doctrine of God will be found in many places in the Bible. There is only one verse in the Bible that talks about baptism of the dead. This is a problem of methodology.
2. There is another problem of methodology.
Another rule of biblical interpretation is that you should NEVER base theology or doctrine on obscure passages. This is an obscure verse. No one knows exactly what it means. There are forty different interpretations of the passage.
There are very few passages in the Bible that we simply do not know what it means but this is one of them. Most of the Bible is clear but this passage is not. We should never use an obscure passage to contradict a plain passage of Scripture (because the Bible does not contradict itself) but that is exactly what cults do.
3. It is based on the assumption have you have to be baptized to be saved.
That is why the Mormons do this. The assumption is that if you die unbaptized you cannot be saved. Is baptism essential for salvation? No. If that was the case, then the thief on the cross never went to heaven. Baptism is important. It is a command. If you are not baptized, you are disobedient to a clear command of Scripture but baptism is not what saves you.
There are many who believe that you do have to be baptized to be saved, especially people who are members of the Church of Christ, and they have verses that they use. Some of them have some fairly strong arguments. I want to look at one of those verses.
Mark 16:16 and Baptismal Regeneration
What does the verse say? “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned”. What arguments from the text supports the idea of baptismal regeneration?
1) Most Baptists believe that “He who believes will be saved” but that is not what the verse says. It says, “He who believes AND IS BAPTIZED will be saved”. Who is the person that Jesus says will be saved?
Not just the person who believes but the person who believes AND is baptized. Note the conjunction “and” in the verse. It means not just one thing but an additional thing as well. The first argument is that faith and baptism are terms of salvation.
2) We also describe baptism as the first step after salvation but they would point out that the order is faith, baptism and then salvation. Baptism precedes salvation. It does not follow it.
What do you think of this argument? Is it valid? It sounds like a strong argument but there are several problems.
First, it is a logical fallacy.
The statement “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” is a true statement. The question is whether we can turn the statement around to say, “Whoever does not believe and is not baptized will not be saved”. We cannot.
It is a logical fallacy (negative inference fallacy or denying the antecedent). It is called the fallacy of modus tollens in Latin. It takes the logical form.
If A then B.
Therefore, not B.
It would be like saying, “If a man lives in North Carolina, he lives in the United States. If he does not live in North Carolina, he does not live in the Unites States”. The first statement is true.
The second statement may or may not be true. He may be a resident of Florida or California and still be in the US. The Bible says if you do not believe you will be condemned (Mark 16:16b). Nowhere does it say, “If you are not baptized, you will be condemned”.
Second, baptism precedes salvation in the passage because final salvation is in view.
We know that from the future tense of the verb and because of the opposite of being saved is being condemned. So what is Mark 16:16 saying? Baptism was an outward symbol of faith. The two always went together but it was a symbol. F. F. Bruce (1910-1990) was a very famous biblical scholar. He lived in England.
He wrote over forty books. He died over twenty years ago. I have a personal letter from F.F. Bruce written over twenty-five years ago. In that letter, Bruce paraphrases this verse: “He who believes (belief being normally attested outwardly in baptism) will be saved. He who does not believe will be condemned”.
4. It is based on the assumption that people will get a second chance.
If they did not believe the gospel on earth, they can believe it in the next life. That is unbiblical. The Bible teaches that NOW is the day of salvation (II Corinthians 6:2). It says that “it is appointed unto man once to die and after this THE JUDGMENT” (Hebrews 9:27).
We also have the account in Luke 16 of the rich man who went to Hades. He wanted a second chance but was not given one. If people who suffer in the next life are given a second chance, that would have been the perfect time to say so.
One passage they use is I Peter 3:18-20. After his death Jesus made proclamation to the spirits in prison. We are not quite sure if he preached to human spirits or angelic spirits (i.e., fallen angels) but it was probably the latter. There is only one time in the NT where the word “spirits” refers to people (Hebrews 12:23), every other time, it refers to angels.
After his death, Jesus preached to fallen angels who were imprisoned. The text does NOT say that he preached the gospel to them or that anyone got saved, just that proclamation was made. Were these spirits given a second chance? II Peter 2 makes clear that these spirits are held in chains until the final judgment (2:4-5, 9).
5. It is based on the assumption that the baptism of the living person is credited to the dead person.
The Bible teaches that salvation is a personal matter. That is clear from Ezekiel 18:20. Each person is accountable before God for His own life. No one can be saved for you, Romans 14:12 says, “Each of us will give an account of himself to God”.
No one can do it for us. Wives cannot believe for their husbands. Parents cannot repent for their kids. We cannot be baptized for our ancestors. That is one of the problems with infant baptism. Little infants are baptized on the basis of the faith of the parents. That is not biblical.