Athenagoras of Athens (fl. ca. 177) in his treatise On the Resurrection of the Dead argues that the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day is necessary because man was created for eternal life.
First, he establishes that He Who has the power to create life must also have the power to resurrect the dead to life: “That His power is sufficient for the raising of dead bodies, is shown by the creation of these same bodies. For if, when they did not exist, He made at their first formation the bodies of men, and their original elements, He will, when they are dissolved, in whatever manner that may take place, raise them again with equal ease.” (3)
Athenagoras lists several purposes for which man was not made: “God can neither have made man in vain, for He is wise, and no work of wisdom is in vain; nor for His own use, for He is in want of nothing. . . . Neither, again, did He make man for the sake of any of the other works which He has made. For nothing that is endowed with reason and judgment has been created, or is created, for the use of another, whether greater or less than itself, but for the sake of the life and continuance of the being itself so created.”
Then he deduces the purpose for which man was made: “Therefore, if man has been created neither without cause and in vain (for none of God’s works is in vain, so far at least as the purpose of their Maker is concerned), nor for the use of the Maker Himself, or of any of the works which have proceeded from Him, it is quite clear that . . . God made man for Himself.”
Consequently, every human person conceived shall henceforth live forevermore: “To those who bear upon them the image of the Creator Himself, and are endowed with understanding, and blessed with a rational judgment, the Creator has assigned perpetual duration. . . . The being so created must be preserved for ever, doing and experiencing what is suitable to its nature.” (12)
Since the human body is corruptible in its earthly life, it is necessary that it be resurrected in the next life: “If, therefore, the Maker of this universe made man with a view to his partaking of an intelligent life, and that, having become a spectator of His grandeur, and of the wisdom which is manifest in all things, he might continue always in the contemplation of these; then, according to the purpose of his Author, and the nature which he has received, the cause of his creation is a pledge of his continuance for ever, and this continuance is a pledge of the resurrection, without which man could not continue. So that, from what has been said, it is quite clear that the resurrection is plainly proved by the cause of man’s creation, and the purpose of Him who made him.” (13)
Quotations from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867).