What is meant by the expression "baptized for the dead" in 1 Corinthians 15:29?
This expression has often been misunderstood. First, baptism is a picture of death, and we who are baptized are identified with the One who has gone into death thus we acknowledge ourselves as dead to this world. Second, to help us in our appreciation it is important to understand that verses 20-28 of Chapter 15 are in a parenthesis. If we read verse 29 after verses 18-19 the apostle shows us that if there is no resurrection then "those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ we are the most miserable of men." So why should we be baptized? Why identify ourselves with a dead Christ if there is no resurrection? But, Christ is raised from among the dead and also "those that are the Christ’s at His coming."
Many of the early Christians suffered martyrdom, as do many today. We are baptized for or, in the place of the dead, those who have suffered the article of death. We are filling the ranks of those who have fallen asleep, whether in martyrdom or natural death. The thought in the mind of the apostle is of a battlefield, in which fresh soldiers are taking the place of those removed by death. (Simply put as those who defend the faith and serve the Lord are taken, they are replaced by new believers who will continue the Lord’s work here on earth.) The apostle would ask us, why join that company if our faith is vain and there is no resurrection? Let us hear the glorious answer: "thus also in the Christ all shall be made alive" (1 Cor.15:22). We who are identified with Him in His death, along with all of those who have fallen asleep in Jesus, will be "made alive," quickened, and then enter into what is really "life." So today let us heed Paul’s admonition: "Awake up righteously, and sin not; for some are ignorant of God" (1 Cor. 15:34). JAP