Too many people through the ages have had to live under the assumption that their ancestors were banished to hell just for being born in a time or geographic location that was deprived of the knowledge of Christ. Even worse, loving parents have lost their precious children in infancy and had to endure the thought that their innocent child was on their way to hell for eternity. Why? Because the Christian churches of the world all taught that a person must confess the name of Christ and be baptized in order to be saved in the Kingdom of God. Well…infants cant confess the name of Christ, and unfortunately someone born in the Congo might never have a missionary pass their way. Too bad right?
How could anyone ever believe that God would be so unfair? How could anyone ever believe that He would send someone to hell (especially an innocent child) without ever even giving them a chance. Honestly…how could anyone ever even exercise faith in a God that was that cruel and unfair? Many people have lost their faith in Christianity because of this assumption alone.
Of all the doctrines that have been restored through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, doing vicarious work for the dead probably makes the most sense to me. No…Mormons don’t baptize dead people. They are baptized for and on behalf of dead people. Sound weird? Just hold on…
The very last verses in the Old Testament have been a mystery to people for years. The prophet Malachi records;
“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.” This must have been a very important verse of scripture because when the Angel Moroni visited Joseph Smith, it was the first scripture that he quoted to Joseph. The most interesting thing to note is that Moroni changed the wording on the verse. In Malachi, it says in verse 6 that the earth would be smitten with a curse, but Moroni says that the “whole earth would be utterly wasted at His (Christ’s) coming” if the hearts of the children were not turned to their fathers and vice versa.
The great and dreadful day of the Lord is an obvious reference to the second coming…but what in the world does it mean that Elijah is going to “turn the hearts of the children to their fathers?” For years and years, Jews around the world have set a place at the table during the passover meal in anticipation of Elijah’s return. With an empty chair and a cup filled to the brim at the table to show their faith, Elijah appeared again on the earth on April 3rd 1836, which would have been during the second night of the Passover Seder meal that year. He didn’t come to the Jews and sit in his empty chair during the passover meal but to the Kirtland temple where he conferred the “sealing power” to Joseph Smith.
What does all of this Elijah business have to do with baptism for the dead?
Well, many people quote Malachi 4:5-6 but forget to quote Malachi 4:1-2. This is where the magic begins…when you put the verses together. In Malachi 4:1-2, we hear that “the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall burn as stubble; for they that come shall burn them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” Think about that for a second. What does the Lord mean that we will be left with neither “root nor branch?”
The point of this earth is for each of us to make it back to Heavenly Father, and be part of His family. We have brothers and sisters that have come to this earth that have never had an opportunity to hear the name of Christ let alone receive any of the “saving ordinances”. These are our ancestors… and are not these our “roots?”
On the other end, we have our posterity…and we’ve been given this great blessing and responsibility to teach them and “raise them up unto the Lord”. Are not these our “branches?”
So…we live in the last days…the “dispensation of the fullness of times” where “all things will be gathered together in one, both that which is in heaven and that which is in earth.” (Eph 1:10) Obadiah saw a day when “saviors would come upon Mt. Zion.” Mt. Zion is a reference to the temple and the sole purpose of the temple is “to gather” families past and present. Paul told the Jewish Christian’s that many of our ancestors or “our roots” did not have the same opportunities and promises made to them that were made to us. “God having provided some better thing for us, that they (our ancestors) without us should not be made perfect.” (Heb 11:40) He lets us know that there is something we can and must do for them in order for them to be “made perfect”.
So we start to ask ourselves a few questions:
1. What does it mean when Peter says that “the gospel was 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 Pet 4:6)
2. What does it mean that Christ died and then “went and preached unto the spirits in prison” (1 Pet 3:19)
3. How and where can we help our ancestors become perfect? (Heb 11:40)
4. And lastly…what is Paul talking about when he tells us that people are being “baptized for the dead“? (1 Cor 15:29)
Here’s what it means! It means we’ve been born in the most important and interesting of times. It means that the Savior has reserved us for this dispensation to help Him ensure that every single person on this planet has had an opportunity to hear and accept the gospel and its ordinances in its fullness. It means that Christ has organized and is leading a missionary force in the spirit world for those that didn’t have the opportunity while on this earth. It means that He’s asked us to perform “vicarious work” (doing something for someone they they cannot do for themselves). It means He’ll teach them, and we’ll baptize them. It means He wants our help, and He’s done it in such a way that if we do help…we’ll learn how to become saviors through vicarious work. Don’t forget that the Savior performed the greatest “vicarious work” known to this planet. Doesn’t it make sense that he would teach us how to become like Him through that same principle of vicarious work?
Some might say, “Are you trying to tell me that you have a role in helping the Savior to save people?” Yeah…thats exactly what we’re saying. Not because He needs us…but because He wants us. Please don’t get me wrong. Everything that we could possibly do to help other people is worthless without the sacrifice of the Savior. Christ provides all of the saving power. It’s all about Him. But…he’s trying to teach us how to become saviors. “Come follow me”, “be ye therefore perfect”, be “even as I am”? Knowing what Christ wants us to become…is there any better way for us to become like Him than through vicarious work? Is there any better way for God to prove that He is just and fair and that He is “no respecter of persons?” (Acts 10:34)
So… the Lord sends Elijah the prophet, just as He promised to do, in order to ensure that the creation of this earth and the peopling of it was not an “utter waste“. He sends Elijah to seal families back to God to make it possible for us to be baptized on behalf of our ancestors. He sends Elijah so that we can teach and seal ourselves to our children. He sends Elijah so that we won’t be left with “neither root nor branch”!
Prior to 1836, you’ll find almost no evidence of people “seeking after their dead”. (Way to Perfection pg. 168) [First American Genealogical Society and Genealogical Society] In those days, almost no one cared about or researched their ancestry except for “royals”. Their lineage had a direct impact on their pocketbook and on their subsequent place in a hierarchical society. There were few if any genealogical societies that had been organized by 1836 by common people…but oh wow…you should see how many came into existence almost immediately after the year 1836 had come and gone.
There is no doubt that the prophet Elijah has been turning hearts since 1836 and it is our opportunity to live up to the potential of those that were saved for this unparalleled dispensation!