The Problem of Death: Part 3
By: Mike Stokes
In this final article on the subject of death I want to focus on two final questions: Prayer and baptism for the death, and the question about deathbed repentance.
(6) What about prayer and baptism for the dead?
Some offer prayer for the dead in hope of making their destiny brighter. There is no scripture basis in support of this belief. There is a reference to such a belief in one Apocryphal book (2 Maccabees), not accepted as part of the cannon. Baptism for the dead is in the Bible; 1 Corinthians 15: 29. Christians in Paul’s day were under extreme persecution, they often experienced martyrdom just after being saved, without being baptized. It was a concern of Christians in the church at Corinth, some represented those who were killed by being baptized for them. Paul acknowledges this practice, he neither condemned or encouraged it. His point is, unless one believes in the resurrection, what’s the point of such a practice.
(7) What about deathbed repentance? (Luke 23: 39-43)
If Christ meant this to be the only case like this, seems he would have quietly said to the thief, don’t let anyone else know but, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” No, he spoke for all to hear, neither would it have been written in the Bible, but he had this wonderful grace reported in the daily news of the gospel record, because he intended to repeat it. He would never have encouraged hope which he cannot fulfill. This is a remarkable case, the thief had no gospel message preached to him except the gospel he heard from Christ’s enemies, for they said, “He saved others” (v35), the thief must have thought, perhaps he can save me too. Some might say, but, he was not baptized, or took communion, or joined a church. He could do neither; and that which God regards impossible for us he does not demand of us. So, what did the felon do? He confessed the Lord, and that publicly, that is the very essence of baptism. He makes a full confession of guilt, speaking to his partner in crime says, “And we indeed justly; for we received the due reward of our deeds” (v41). He did all he could (wish I could say the same about myself). Note, he only ask to be remembered but he received a surprising answer, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (v43), implying he and the criminal will walk in together. This is a wonderful example of the grace of God, but one should not depend to heavily on this example for their own case. It is true, the Lord will accept all who repent, even if it is at the last hour, but how do you know you will repent? It is true one thief was saved–but the other was lost.
The questions and answers in this series of articles are not exhaustive, but I hope they are helpful to those who have questions about, “The Problem of Death.”