Saturday, April 3, 2010
Another Easter Gift: The Redemption of the Dead
Peter tells us that after His death, the Savior went to visit the spirits that were in prison in the spirit world. Why did the Savior visit the spirit world? Peter goes on to teach us that the Savior went to preach the gospel to those who had not received it. "By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;" 1 Peter 3:19 Isaiah, speaking messianically wrote, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; Isaiah 61:1 What were the "good tidings that He preached? Of course those good tidings were tidings of salvation. Through acceptance of the gospel message, the spirits were delivered from the prison that held them bound. John wrote, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live." John 5:25 One might question if John was speaking about resurrection when he said that they that hear shall live. But resurrection is something that comes to all, regardless if they have heard of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this situation, the term "shall live" refers to spiritual salvation from sin.
Peter went on to teach, "For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." 1 Peter 4:6 Clearly, the dead were not only given the chance to hear the gospel, but to be judged according to the knowledge they gained while in the spirit world.
But as we learn from John, hearing the word is not enough to enter the kingdom of God. He wrote, "Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." John 3:5 So what are the dead to do, who accept the gospel in the spirit world, but no longer have the chance to be baptized? The apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth to clear up their misunderstandings about the resurrection. Some of them believed there would be no resurrection. He wrote, "Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?" 1 Cor. 15:12 He went on to remind them, "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? 1 Corinthians 15:29 Paul knew that baptism for the dead was performed by members of the church, and his reminder to the saints at Corinth was that there was a purpose behind this baptism; that the dead would one day be judged, and would need the ordinance of baptism
While He was on the earth, the Savior gave His Priesthood authority to the apostles. He said, "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Matthew 16:19 Baptism is one of the ordinances that would be bound in heaven through the priesthood authority on earth.
We, as Latter-day Saints, do our geneology to search out our kindred dead. We act as proxy for them in sacred temples to ensure that the saving ordinances, including baptism are performed on their behalf. In Malachi we read, "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." Malachi 4:5,6 President Joseph Fielding Smith taught, "What was the promise made to the fathers that was to be fulfilled in the latter days by the turning of the hearts of the children to their fathers? It was the promise of the Lord made through Enoch, Isaiah, and the prophets, to the nations of the earth, that the times should come when the dead should be redeemed." (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. (1954-56) 2:154) Without the chance to have baptism performed in their behalf, those who never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ during mortality would not be able to gain salvation. The whole purpose of creating this earth would have been frustrated, and indeed, it would be as if it was smitten with a curse. I can testify that as we search out our ancestors, and perform these sacred work on their behalf, that our hearts are truly turned toward them. As they accept the gospel as it is preached to them, and as they accept the baptism by proxy as it is performed for them, they too can qualify to enter the kingdom of God. This was the "good news" preached to the spirits in prison. This is part of the good news of Easter.