On the Incarnation of the Word 23 – Public Death Necessary

In this section of On the Incarnation of the Word, Athanasius specifically addresses the necessity of a public death in order to support the Resurrection.

But even if, without any disease and without any pain, He had hidden His body away privily and by Himself “in a corner,” or in a desert place, or in a house, or anywhere, and afterwards suddenly appeared and said that He had been raised from the dead, He would have seemed on all hands to be telling idle tales, and what He said about the Resurrection would have been all the more discredited, as there was no one at all to witness to His death.

A similar objection could have been made if there were just a few witnesses. But Jesus was crucified near a main entrance to Jerusalem right before the Passover with thousands aware of his execution. Of all the objections that were raised against the Resurrection in the early centuries, nobody tried to assert that Jesus hadn’t died.

Or how were His disciples to have boldness in speaking of the Resurrection, were they not able to say that He first died? Or how could they be believed, saying that death had first taken place and then the Resurrection, had they not had as witnesses of His death the men before whom they spoke with boldness? For if, even as it was, when His death and Resurrection had taken place in the sight of all, the Pharisees of that day would not believe, but compelled even those who had seen the Resurrection to deny it, why, surely, if these things had happened in secret, how many pretexts for disbelief would they have devised?

Even with the evidence and witness at hand, more did not believe than believed. How much easier it would have been to disbelieve absent the public nature of his execution. The Christian proclamation of Jesus as Lord always includes both Cross and Resurrection, never one without the other. They are intricately and inextricably interwoven.

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