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Very few people, even atheists, deny that Jesus Christ existed and was executed by the Romans (see also Ancient Empires - Rome). The historical evidence, Biblical and secular, of Christ's life and death is undeniable by any rational human being. His resurrection from the dead is what is denied, primarily by means of the preposterous contention that His disciples stole His body from the Tomb - a lie that began as an official coverup by the chief priests and Pharisees, and the Roman military, even though the conspirators of the coverup knew that Christ really did rise from the dead.

"He is not here; for He has risen, as He said"

The chief priests and Pharisees knew who Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be, and of His statement that He would rise from the dead after 3 days and 3 nights. So, they went to Pontius Pilate and convinced him that Jesus' disciples were about to steal Jesus' body from the Tomb. Pilate then ordered that they officially seal (see Seals) the tomb themselves, to which Pilate also ordered a Roman military guard added. No one could have stolen the body.

Sabbath Afternoon Resurrection

"Next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while He was still alive, 'After three days I will rise again.' Therefore order the sepulchre to be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples go and steal Him away, and tell the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last fraud will be worse than the first."

Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can." So they went and made the sepulchre secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard." (Matthew 27:62-66 RSV)

When Mary and Mary of Magdala went to the Tomb in the early morning of the first day of the week ("Sunday"), although the Tomb was still closed and sealed, Christ was not there; He had already risen from the dead just before sunset on the afternoon before and passed through the solid stone of the sealed Tomb (see the Fact Finder question below). An earthquake (an aftershock of the larger earthquake that occurred a little over 3 days before, at the moment of Christ's death, i.e. Matthew 27:51) and an angel opened the Tomb that morning, not to let Christ out, not to let people in to steal His dead body, but to let people in to see that Christ was already gone:

"Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre.

And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.

But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and behold, He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him. Lo, I have told you." (Matthew 28:1-7 RSV)

The women weren't the only people to witness that the Tomb was already empty when it was opened. The Roman military guards also plainly saw it. When they thereafter reported to their superiors that the resurrection really happened, the official coverup began. The soldiers were given a large bribe to begin spreading the lie that Jesus' body was stolen while they were all asleep on guard duty (an extremely serious offense for any soldier, then or now; if true, those Roman troopers would not have been around to proclaim their military incompetence, they would have been in a military prison for dereliction of duty, or even executed, as was done to the soldiers who later slept through Peter's escape from prison, i.e. Acts 12:18-19).

"While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place.

And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sum of money to the soldiers and said, "Tell people, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.' And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble."

So they took the money and did as they were directed; and this story has been spread among the Jews to this day." (Matthew 28:11-15 RSV)

Fact Finder: On what day of the week was Christ truly crucified? On what day of the week was Christ truly resurrected?
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