Hearing the Gospel from a Fourth Century Pen

Weekend Musings

4th Century Gospel Presentation – Athanasius (c. 295–373)

Bishop of Alexandria (Egypt)

[For forty five years, Athanasius was the key figure in the battle against the heresy of Arianism. It cost him dearly. Five times he was sent into exile. But in the end, his intellectual prowess, personal integrity and passion for truth, won the battle for the uncreated divinity of Christ. In the selection below, he discourses on the greatness of the gospel. Footnotes to the Scripture references and allusions have been added and many more could be listed. Notice how Bible saturated his thinking is. Pray that God would give us such Bible-saturated shepherds in our day.]

For if He came Himself to bear the curse laid upon us, how else could He have “become a curse,”[1] unless He received the death set for a curse? And that is the Cross. For this is exactly what is written: “Cursed is he that hangs on a tree.”[2]

Again, if the Lord’s death is the ransom of all, and by His death “the middle wall of partition”[3] is broken down, and the calling of the nations is brought about,[4] how would He have called us to Him, had He not been crucified?[5] For it is only on the cross that a man dies with his hands spread out.[6] Whence it was fitting for the Lord to bear this also and to spread out His hands, that with the one He might draw the ancient people, and with the other those from the Gentiles, and unite both in Himself.

For this is what He Himself has said, signifying by what manner of death He was to ransom all: “I, when I am lifted up,” He says, “shall draw all men unto Me.”[7]

… For thus being lifted up He … made a new opening of the way up into heaven as He says once more: “Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors.”[8] For it was not the Word Himself that needed an opening of the gates, being Lord of all; nor were any of His works closed to their Maker;[9] but it was we that needed it whom He carried up by His own body.[10] For as He offered it to death on behalf of all, so by it He once more made ready the way up into the heavens.[11]

The death on the Cross, then, … may justly be argued that in no other way than by the Cross was it right for the salvation of all to take place. For not even thus — not even on the Cross — did He leave Himself concealed; but far otherwise, while He made creation witness to the presence of its Maker, He suffered not the temple of His body to remain long, but having merely showed it to be dead, by the contact of death with it, He straightway raised it up on the third day, bearing away, as the mark of victory and the triumph over death, the incorruptibility and impassibility which resulted to His body.

For He could, even immediately on death, have raised His body and showed it alive; but this also the Savior, in wise foresight, did not do. For one might have said that He had not died at all, or that death had not come into perfect contact with Him, if He had manifested the Resurrection at once. … had the interval of His dying and rising again been one or two days only, the glory of His incorruption would have been obscure. So in order that the body might be proved to be dead, the Word[12] tarried yet one intermediate day, and on the third showed it incorruptible to all.

So then, that the death on the Cross might be proved, He raised His body on the third day. … nor did He keep long in suspense those whom He had told about the Resurrection: but while the word was still echoing in their ears and their eyes were still expectant and their mind in suspense, and while those who had slain Him were still living on earth, and were on the spot and could witness to the death of the Lord’s body, the Son of God Himself, after an interval of three days,[13] showed His body, once dead, immortal and incorruptible; and it was made manifest to all that it was not from any natural weakness of the Word that dwelt in it that the body had died, but in order that in it death might be done away by the power of the Savior.

For that death is destroyed, and that the Cross is become the victory over it, and that it has no more power but is verily dead, this is no small proof,  … But now that the Savior has raised His body, death is no longer terrible; for all who believe in Christ tread death under as nothing, and choose rather to die than to deny their faith in Christ.[14] For they verily know that when they die they are not destroyed, but actually [begin to] live, and become incorruptible through the Resurrection.[15]

… For man is by nature afraid of death and of the dissolution of the body; but there is this most startling fact, that he who has put on the faith of the Cross despises even what is naturally fearful, and for Christ’s sake is not afraid of death.

[1] Galatians 3:13. [2] Deuteronomy 21:23; Acts 5:30; Galatians 3:13. [3] Ephesians 2:14. [4] Isaiah 42:6, 49:6, 60:3. [5] Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:19 [6] Cf. Psalm 22:14. [7] John 12:32. [8] Psalm 27:7, 9. [9] Colossians 1:16. [10] Cf. Ephesians 2:5-6. [11] Cf. Titus 2:11. [12] John 1:1-4, 11-13. [13] 1 Corinthians 15:4. [14] Philippians 1:21. [15] 1 Corinthians 15:42-54.

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