Chapter 50: “For This Cause Was the Gospel Preached Also to Them That Are Dead”

The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, (1979), 414–19


Map Chp. 50

The First Letter of Peter to Saints in Five Provinces

Apparently Written from Rome, ca. A.D. 62–63 (1 Peter)

1 Peter

Salvation Comes by Faith in Christ

1:1–16

Christ Was Foreordained to Be the Redeemer

1:17–21

Converts Experience a New Birth in Christ

1:22–25; 2:1–3

Christ, the Cornerstone for a Holy Nation

2:4–10

The Obligation of Christians Towards Gentiles

2:11, 12

Saints to Accept Civil Authority

2:13–25

Husbands and Wives Should Honor Each Other

3:1–7

“Be Followers of That Which Is Good”

3:8–17

Christ Preached the Gospel to Spirits in Prison

3:18–22; 4:1–6

“Speak as an Oracle of God”

4:7–11

Saints to Be Tried in All Things

4:12–19

Elders to Feed the Flock of God

5:1–4

God Refuses the Proud and Favors the Humble

5:5–14

Interpretive Commentary

(50-1) Theme of Peter’s First Letter

How the saints ought to react to suffering and persecution is the Theme of the letter. The president of the church was forewarning the members that there was yet to be a “fiery trial” wherein they would be classed with murderers, thieves, and evil doers. The letter constituted a warning and a preparation for ominous days ahead.

(50-2) Place and Date of Writing of First Peter

This letter was probably written at Rome, inasmuch as “Babylon” (5:13) is a scriptural designation for the wickedest city in the empire (Revelation 18:10, 21).

The date of writing was sometime before the Neronian persecutions in A.D. 62 or 63.

(50-3) Background Information for First Peter

As noted in chapter 1, the Roman government displayed a general tolerance toward all religions, Christianity not excepted. As long as the church posed no threat to Rome, the state ignored the church.

The priesthood leadership of the church, however, was under divine commission to preach the gospel “unto all the world” (Mark 16:15). This meant, of course, a peaceful penetration of the gospel message into and throughout the Roman Empire. It was not a message that could or would long remain ignored by the Roman government, for the gospel messengers were making bold assertions that Jesus of Nazareth, who was rejected by his own nation and crucified under Roman edict, was now risen from the dead. A message that proclaimed a risen Christ, a coming judgment, and an eventual return of Christ to establish his universal kingdom on earth was not a message to be favorably regarded by power-obsessed earthly monarchs.

Under the emperor Nero, misunderstanding, hatred, and accusations toward the saints in Rome and throughout the empire were actively fostered. The change from tolerance to hostility toward the church provoked apprehension among the saints throughout Asia. What should be their attitude, in turn, toward the state? How ought they to regard this unjust persecution? They looked to the prophet for answers.

(50-4) 1 Peter 1:2. Who Are the “Elect According to the Foreknowledge of God”?

“To bring to pass the salvation of the greatest possible number of his spirit children the Lord, in general, sends the most righteous and worthy spirits to earth through the lineage of Abraham and Jacob. This course is a manifestation of his grace or in other words his love, mercy, and condescension toward his children.

“This election to a chosen lineage is based on pre-existent worthiness and is thus made ‘according to the foreknowledge of God.’ (1 Pet. 1:2.) Those so grouped together during their mortal probation have more abundant opportunities to make and keep the covenants of salvation, a right which they earned by pre-existent devotion to the cause of righteousness. As part of this election, Abraham and others of the noble and great spirits were chosen before they were born for the particular missions assigned them in this life. (Abra. 3:22–24; Rom. 9.) …

“Actually, if the full blessings of salvation are to follow, the doctrine of election must operate twice. First, righteous spirits are elected or chosen to come to mortality as heirs of special blessings. Then, they must be called and elected again in this life, an occurrence which takes place when they join the true Church. (D. & C. 53:1.) Finally, in order to reap eternal salvation, they must press forward in obedient devotion to the truth until they make their ‘calling and election sure’ (2 Pet. 1), that is, are ‘sealed up unto eternal life.’ (D. & C. 131:5.)” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, pp. 216–17.)

(50-5) 1 Peter 1:9. What Is Salvation?

“Salvation is nothing more nor less than to triumph over all our enemies and put them under our feet. And when we have power to put all enemies under our feet in this world, and a knowledge to triumph over all evil spirits in the world to come, then we are saved, as in the case of Jesus, who was to reign until He had put all enemies under His feet, and the last enemy was death.” (Smith, Teachings, p. 297.)

(50-6) 1 Peter 2:9. What Is the Meaning of the Phrase “a Peculiar People”?

Each of the titles used here by Peter is a title formerly used to refer to the covenant people, the house of Israel. He therefore seeks to call to their minds that by virtue of their embracing the gospel they are now the new Israel. They are the chosen nation (see Isaiah 43:20), a royal “kingdom of priests” and a “holy nation” (Exodus 19:6) and a peculiar people. The word peculiar as used in the King James Version comes from the Latin peculium, meaning “private property.” Though today it has come to mean “strange or unusual,” it really carries the same idea—a characteristic or quality belonging to something. The marginal reading is “purchased” and means that the saints are God’s own, private people, a people for God’s own possession. This title too is suggested in the Old Testament when Isaiah says, “This people have I formed for myself.” (Isaiah 43:21.)

President Joseph Fielding Smith added this: “And we will be peculiar because we will not be like other people who do not live up to these standards.” (CR, Apr. 1971, p. 47.)

(50-7) 1 Peter 2:9. What Is a Royal Priesthood?

“Whenever the Lord has a people on earth he offers to make them a nation of kings and priests—not a congregation of lay members with a priest or a minister at the head—but a whole Church in which every man is his own minister, in which every man stands as a king in his own right, reigning over his own family-kingdom. The priesthood which makes a man a king and a priest is thus a royal priesthood.” (McConkie, DNTC, 3:294.)

Christ is the king of all those kings who he calls his own—those who are made royal by virtue of holding and honoring his priesthood.

(50-8) 1 Peter 2:18–26. Patience in Suffering—Peter’s Profound and Beautiful Analogy

In this section, Peter addresses specifically those who are in servitude. The Greek word means “household servant,” which in the Roman Empire were almost always slaves. Peter encourages them to remember the suffering of their Savior during his period of trial and execution as they seek to endure patiently their own trials and sufferings. The whole passage carries a vividness and peculiarity of language that suggests Peter was remembering in all of its clarity the night he was an eyewitness to the Savior’s hour of trial. He uses the word buffeted (vs. 20), which means literally “to be struck with fists” and is the term used by both Matthew (Matthew 26:67) and Mark (Mark 14:65) to describe the treatment of the Master. He hints at the contemptuous scorn of the high priest and Christ’s silent acceptance of it (vs. 23). Peter mentions the stripes, using the word which means “bruise” or the “bloody welt which results from lashing with a whip,” exactly the result of a Roman scourging.

Also remarkable in this passage are the parallels between it and Isaiah 53.

1 Peter 2

Isaiah 53

vs. 21

“… Christ also suffered for us. …”

vs. 4

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows. …”

vs. 22

“Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:”

vs. 9

“… he had done no violence [sin], neither was any deceit in his mouth.”

vs. 23

“Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again. …”

vs. 7

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. …”

vs. 24

“Who his own self bare our sins. …”

vs. 12

“… and he bare the sin of many. …”

vs. 24

“… by whose stripes ye were healed.”

vs. 5

“… and with his stripes we are healed.”

vs. 25

“For ye were as sheep going astray. …”

vs. 6

“All we like sheep have gone astray. …”

(50-9) 1 Peter 3:15. “Be Ready Always to Give an Answer”

Members of the church should be prepared at all times to give their testimony “with meekness and fear” to every person who asks them. (1 Peter 3:15, Inspired Version.)

(50-10) 1 Peter 3:18–20. What Was the Fate of the People Who Ignored Noah’s Warning?

“They were drowned in their sins. Their marriages were for time. They reveled in worldliness. They were possibly like many in the world today who place no curb upon their eating, drinking and licentiousness. Their ignoring the laws of God and the warning of the prophets continued until the very day when Noah and his family entered the ark. Then it was too late. Too late! What finality in that phrase! Following their eternal history, we find Peter telling of them more than two millennia later: (Read 1 Peter 3:18–20.)

“And last, they had a chance in the spirit world to hear the voice of missionaries and prophets again. But so late! What sad words! Nearly a further two millennia passed into history and we hear of them again in modern revelation. Of the vision given to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in 1832, the Prophet writes:

“‘And again, we saw the terrestrial world, and behold and lo, these are they who are of the terrestrial. …

“‘… They who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh;

“‘Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it.’ (D&C 76:71, 73–74.)

Too late! The terrestrial for them! It could have been the celestial, and it could have been exaltation! But they procrastinated the day of their preparation. The same lamentable cry of ‘Too late!’ will apply to many of today’s Church members who did not heed the warning but who proceeded—sometimes carelessly, sometimes defiantly—to bind themselves through mortality to those who could not or would not prepare for the blessings which were in reserve for them.” (Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 248–49.)

(50-11) 1 Peter 4:1. How Do You “Arm Yourselves … with the Same Mind”?

“Gain the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), thereby thinking what he thought, saying what he said, and doing what he did—which course of life will stand as a defense against the evils of the world.” (McConkie, DNTC, 3:315.)

(50-12) 1 Peter 4:6. Is Salvation for the Dead Intended for All Who Did Not Accept the Gospel in Mortality?

“Salvation for the dead is limited expressly to those who do not have opportunity in this life to accept the gospel but who would have taken the opportunity had it come to them.

“‘All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel,’ the Lord said to the Prophet, ‘who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God; also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom, for I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.’ (Teachings, p. 107.)” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 686. Italics added.)

(50-13) 1 Peter 4:8. “Charity Shall Cover the Multitude of Sins”

The Prophet revised this verse to read: “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves; for charity preventeth a multitude of sins.” (Inspired Version.)

It is clear that only repentance truly covers or takes away sin because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

(50-14) 1 Peter 4:11. What Is Meant by the Injunction to “Speak as the Oracles of God”?

The Inspired Version renders this as “speak as an oracle of God.” Elder McConkie said:

“‘Speak by inspiration, not of yourself, but simply as a medium through whom the mind and will of the Lord is revealed.’ This is an absolute requisite of a true minister. They must preach by the power of the Spirit. … Unless they do so they cannot minister life and salvation to the children of men. Hence the divine counsel that the Lord’s servants are to treasure up in their minds continually the words of life; to rely upon the Holy Spirit; and then, without taking thought beforehand, to speak forth what the Lord wants them to say, at the very moment of their preaching. (D. & C. 84:85.)” (McConkie, DNTC, 3:317.)

(50-15) 1 Peter 4:12. What Was the “Fiery Trial”?

The “fiery trial” probably refers to the Neronian persecutions against the church. Every saint, however, faces his own “fiery trial” as a part of his experience in the second estate.

“… the greatest trials of life are reserved for the saints. They are the ones whom the world hates (Matt. 10:22), and they must overcome the world, if they are to gain the Lord’s approval. They face all that the world faces in the way of mortal difficulties—sickness, disease, calamities, famine, pain, sorrow, death—and in addition their faith in Christ and his work is tested to see if they will serve the Lord at all hazards.” (McConkie, DNTC, 3:318.)

(50-16) 1 Peter 4:17. Judgments to Begin at the House of God

Notice the close relationship between Peter’s comment and a revelation given for Thomas B. Marsh, president of the Quorum of the Twelve, in 1837. (See D&C 112:24–26.)

Points to Ponder

Jesus Christ Began the Glorious Work for the Dead during His Visit to the Spirit World

(50-17) Jesus Made Available to the Dead the Blessings of the Gospel

“Why did he [Jesus] preach to these disobedient spirits? Surely not to increase their torments, to taunt them for not accepting of his truth in the days of the prophets! …

“… He took the glorious message of the gospel and proclaimed it to the dead with the promise that they, if they would obey it, should partake of its blessings.” (Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:159–60.)

One of the most important teachings of the gospel is that of work for the dead.

Consider the following questions: You may wish to look up the scriptures to check your answers.

What special promise concerning the dead did Jesus make during his mortal ministry?

John 5:24, 25.

How and when was this promise fulfilled?

1 Peter 3:18–20; 4:6.

What did Jesus do during his visit to the spirit world?

Doctrine and Covenants 138:1–19.

Did Jesus visit the wicked spirits?

Ibid., verses 20–32.

What exactly is being taught in the spirit world?

Ibid., verses 33–37.

What happens to the dead who repent?

Ibid., verses 57–60.

It Takes Love to Do Work for the Dead

I joined the Church at age sixteen. Because I was young, I thought that genealogy work was not for me. Anyway, I was a new convert, and there were so many other things to learn and do. It was two years after my conversion that I finally saw the light. I was in our young adult Sunday School class when our instructor, Brother Parsons, asked: “How many of you love your family?” It was such an obvious answer that every hand went up. He continued by asking, “Now, how many of you have a book of remembrance with at least four generations of genealogical work completed?—that is, family group sheets and pedigree charts? Only about three of the thirty young adults raised their hands. Needless to say, I was one of those who didn’t respond in the affirmative. “But what do group sheets have to do with loving your family?” I asked. I guess Brother Parsons was waiting for that question, because I shall never forget his answer. He said, “Bob, your ancestors who died without a knowledge of the gospel are probably being taught the truth right now in the spirit world. Many of them are probably just as anxious to be baptized and receive the blessings of the Church as you were two years ago. But without you they will have to wait. How would you have felt two years ago if your parents had not given their permission for you to be baptized? What would you have said if they had told you not to bother them about joining the Church, that maybe someday they’d get around to giving you permission? You are in that same position as far as your ancestors are concerned. They are waiting for you. When I asked the class how many of them love their families and then asked about the pedigree charts, I was serious. Genealogical research and temple work are works of love. Those who really love their families will do all they can to save them. Those who do for their dead what the dead cannot do for themselves are called saviors on Mount Zion.”

I left that class with an empty feeling. I was sad that I had not caught the vision of this great program before. I went home and got out a dusty pedigree chart. Where would I begin? I went to my mother and began asking questions. We talked for two hours! I learned things about my family that I had never known before. I soon found my love and concern for my ancestors growing to depths I had never before experienced.

Now I know that what President Joseph Fielding Smith said about genealogical and temple work is true:

“… younger people must not get the idea that this is only an old person’s work. It is for all the Latter-day Saints, and young people can attend to these matters and get the spirit of this work just as much as those who are advanced in years.” (Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:130–31.)

As you think of your specific responsibilities and opportunities in relation to your dead ancestors, what should you do to make the blessings of the gospel available to them? What do you need to do to become a savior on Mount Zion?