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109. Appearance on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)
by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Gospel Parallels §Appearances B1
James Tissot, detail from "Pilgrims on the Road to Emmaus" (1884-1896), watercolor on gray wove paper, Brooklyn Museum. Larger image.
"13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He asked them, 'What are you discussing together as you walk along?' They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, 'Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?' 19 'What things?' he asked. 'About Jesus of Nazareth,' they replied. 'He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.'
25 He said to them, 'How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?' 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, 'Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.' So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, 'Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?' 33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, 'It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.' 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread." (Luke 24:13-35, NIV)
It's interesting that Luke doesn't try to describe the resurrection or explain it. Rather his account focuses on what eyewitnesses see. How they react. How they begin to grasp the momentous event that is indescribable.
In this rather long passage, Luke narrates the story of a walk from Jerusalem to the nearby town of Emmaus, culminating in an appearance of Jesus himself. As you read and study this passage, look for what Jesus is seeking to drive home to his disciples, here represented by his two travelling companions.
Walking to Emmaus (Luke 24:13)
"Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem." (Luke 24:13)
The location of Emmaus isn't clear. The name Emmaus may be derived from the Hebrew word hammat, "hot spring." Luke places it about 60 stadia from Jerusalem. At about 607 English feet or 192 meters per stadion, this makes the distance about seven miles. There are several possibilities:
- El-Quebibeh is seven miles northwest of Jerusalem, the site where Crusaders discovered a fort (1099) called Castellum Emmaus and built a church there. Archaeologists have found a first century village on the site, though we don't have evidence that the name Emmaus was used of this site in the first century, nor are any springs found here.
- Qaloniyeh (Colonia) was the site of a military colony of Vespasian which Josephus mentions as Ammaous. It is about 4 miles west of Jerusalem.1222
- Amwas (Nicopolos) is about 19 miles (160 stadia) northwest of Jerusalem on the road to Joppa, famous for a spring with reputed healing qualities. Both Jerome and Eusebius accepted this site as the Luke's Emmaus. One ancient manuscript of the New Testament reads "160 stadia" instead of "60 stadia."1223
Whatever its location, Luke isn't retelling a myth but an actual historical encounter based in time and space. Fortunately, it isn't necessary for twenty-first century readers to know the exact location in order to understand the story.
Cleopas (Luke 24:18)
Of the two disciples, only one is named -- Cleopas -- perhaps, because he would have been well-known to Luke's readers. The name Cleopas ("renowned father") is a Greek name, though was probably used as an equivalent to the Semitic form "Clopas." Clopas is identified in John 19:25 as the husband of one of the Marys who was present at the crucifixion and also the name of a brother of Joseph. If Cleopas/Clopas are the same person, then this resurrection appearance on the road to Emmaus happens to the father of Simeon, who is later head of the church in Jerusalem.1224
Discussing as They Walk (Luke 24:14-19a)
Cleopas and his fellow disciple are deeply engaged in a discussion (Greek syzēteō) when we come upon them:
"They were talking with each other about
everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with
each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept
from recognizing him.
He asked them, 'What are you discussing together as you walk along?'
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, 'Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?'
'What things?' he asked." (Luke 24:14-19a)
Apparently they aren't walking too fast, because Jesus, travelling the same direction, overtakes them (Greek engizō, "draw near, approach") and then slows to walk along with them. "What are you talking about?" Jesus asks. At that, the two abruptly stop, "stand still" (Greek histēmi). Their faces are "downcast." This is the Greek adjective skythrōpos, "pertaining to having a look suggestive of gloom or sadness -- sad, gloomy, sullen, dark."1225 This is too heavy a subject to broach with a stranger while casually walking along. They must explain.
Cleopas is surprised that the stranger hasn't heard about these things that have been going on in Jerusalem. Perhaps he is only a recent visitor to the city and is just passing through, Cleopas suggests. "What things are these?" Jesus asks, prompting these disciples to explain.
Reports of Jesus' Resurrection (Luke 24:19b-21a)
"'About Jesus of Nazareth,' they replied. 'He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.'" (Luke 24:19b-21a)
The disciples describe Jesus as a "prophet, powerful in word and deed" (Luke 24:19b). While we may realize that Jesus is much more than a prophet, in Jesus' day to be called a mighty prophet is high praise indeed. It compares Jesus with Israel's greatest miracle-working men of God -- Moses, Elijah, Elisha, and the like.
These disciples have expected Jesus to be "the one who was going to redeem Israel" (Luke 24:21a). The promised Davidic Messiah is widely anticipated to redeem Israel from her enemies and to set up the Kingdom of God afresh. "Redeem" is the Greek verb lytroō. The basic meaning is "to free by paying a ransom, redeem," but here it has the extended meaning "to liberate from an oppressive situation, set free, rescue, redeem."1226 While we may think of Christ's work as a spiritual redemption from sin brought about by means of the cross, Cleopas and his friend are thinking of a military redemption, setting Israel free from Roman occupation. And, alas, this kind of redemption is impossible since Jesus is now dead.1227 This is why they are so downcast.
The word "had hoped" (NIV) is the Greek verb elpizō, "to look forward to something, with the implication of confidence about something coming to pass, hope, hope for."1228 In the imperfect tense it has the idea of continued action in the past, "were hoping." But now their hopes are dashed. Jesus had been crucified.
Reports of Jesus' Resurrection (Luke 24:21b-24)
They are downcast, but also confused. Part of the day's events include an account from the women about Jesus being alive. They report this to Jesus as a curiosity, but clearly don't give it full credence or their demeanor would have been anything but downcast.
"And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." (Luke 24:21b-24)
Rather than believing, they are described as "amazed" (NIV) or "astonished," Greek existēmi, "to cause to be in a state in which things seem to make little or no sense, confuse, amaze, astound."1229
Prophecies Concerning the Christ (Luke 24:25-27)
But the stranger now rebukes them for their unbelief:
"He said to them, 'How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." (Luke 24:25-27)
He calls them "foolish," using the Greek adjective anoētos, "unintelligent, foolish, dull-witted." It is a compound word, formed from two words meaning "without, not" and "understanding, perception."1230 His other descriptor is "slow of heart to believe." "Slow" is the Greek adjective bradys, "slow, figurative of mental and spiritual slowness." "Slow of heart" means "dull."1231
Jesus is convinced that Scripture teaches two things about the Messiah that they should know and believe:
- The Christ would have to suffer death, and then
- Enter into his glory.
At some point they begin to walk again, and as they journey, Jesus delivers an amazing Bible study, citing from memory passages from Moses and the Prophets, and explaining how each of them pertain to the Messiah. What I would give to have been there! Later they remember:
"Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?'" (Luke 24:32)
Perhaps you've had some experiences where your heart burned (Greek kaiō) within you when God was speaking directly to you with power and immediacy. This was one of those precious times.
I am sure that Cleopas and his friend later relate this Bible teaching to the other disciples.
No doubt his exposition of the Messianic Scriptures form the basis for the Apostles' subsequent teaching and preaching. See, for example, Old Testament quotations and allusions found in the Gospel of Matthew (which was written especially for Jewish readers) and the Apostles' sermon material found in the Book of Acts.1232 The phrase "enter into his glory" refers to the glory of the exalted Messiah.1233
Inviting the Traveler to Dinner (Luke 24:28-29)
"As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, 'Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.' So he went in to stay with them." (Luke 24:28-29)
Jesus would have continued on. The Greek verb is prospoieō, "make or act as though, pretend."1234 You don't just invite yourself for dinner; that is the host's prerogative. But the travelers prevail upon Jesus to stay with them. The verb parabiazomai has the basic meaning of "do violence to," but here is used in a figurative sense: "urge strongly, prevail upon."1235 And so Jesus agrees.
Breaking Bread (Luke 24:30-31)
"When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight." (Luke 24:30-31)
Here, as at the Last Supper, they don't sit in chairs, but recline (Greek kataklinō) around the table.
Up until this time, Jesus' role is as an honored guest. But at the table, Jesus unexpectedly moves from the role of guest to host. Now, as the host would normally do, he takes the bread, offers the blessing, breaks it, and distributes it to the others. This is unleavened bread, since the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread that began with Passover on Friday is still going on.
The King James translation is misleading: "he took bread and blessed it" (Luke 21:30). The NIV rightly translates it, "he took bread, gave thanks...." Jesus does not somehow bless the bread so that it glows with spiritual blessing and experiences sudden freedom from germs. Rather, this Greek verb eulogeō here means "give thanks and praise,"1236 and refers to the Jewish custom of offering a blessing to God before eating. The blessing offered before eating bread -- usually by the host or head of the house -- is:
"Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the world, who has caused bread to come forth out of the earth."1237
Cleopas and his friend had doubtless traveled with Jesus, and had often seen him begin a meal by breaking bread1238 and offering the blessing. Even when they were in private households, as the honored Rabbi he would probably be asked to offer this blessing.
In the intimacy of table fellowship, as Jesus breaks the bread and offers the blessing, they suddenly become aware of who he really is! "Open" in verse 31 and verse 32 is the Greek verb dianoigō, where the phrase "eyes were opened" means "make understanding possible."1239 "Recognize" (Luke 24:16, 31) is the verb epiginōskō, "to connect present information or awareness with what was known before, acknowledge acquaintance with, recognize, know again."1240
But as soon as they recognize him, he disappears. He is gone. "Vanished" (NIV) or "disappeared" (KJV) is the Greek adjective aphantos, "invisible."1241
Reporting Jesus' Appearance to the Eleven (Luke 24:32-35)
Wow! What a jolt they must have received, whipsawed from despair, to learning the Scriptures, and now to recognition of Jesus, followed by his sudden disappearance. They try to process this information by recalling how they had felt their hearts burn within them as he was teaching them on the road.
"They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, 'It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.' Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread." (Luke 24:33-35)
Back they go to Jerusalem, retracing their steps of a few hours earlier. On the way to Emmaus they walked more slowly, dejected, then listening and learning. But now their steps are quickened. They cannot wait to find the Apostles and tell them the news.
But when they find the Eleven and other disciples "assembled together" (athroizō, "to cause to be together in a group, collect, gather"1242), their report is preempted by the news buzzing around the room: "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon."
The phrase "It is true!" (NIV) or "indeed" (KJV) is the Greek adverb ontōs, "pertaining to being actually so, really, certainly, in truth."1243 And now Cleopas and his friend tell their own story to the attentive disciples. "Told" in verse 35 is the Greek verb exegeomai (from which we get the theological terms "exegete, exegesis"), "to relate in detail, tell, report, describe, chiefly narrative."1244
Lessons for Disciples
It is clear that this passage constitutes a continuation of Jesus' discipleship training. There are several points he seeks to get across to his disciples, those in the first century and today:
1. The Messiah must suffer. This is not some convenient rationalization by disciples after the fact. Jesus makes it abundantly clear that the Old Testament teaches it. True, Jewish scholars had not seen it, but it is there nevertheless. Read thoughtfully the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12. When you connect the Messiah with the Servant of Yahweh, it is pretty clear that we are reading a prophecy and interpretation of Jesus' death and resurrection. The meaning of his death becomes obvious as a substitutionary sacrifice for sin. This passage is so compelling that for centuries it was banned from public reading in the synagogues lest any more Jews see the Messiah in it and convert to Christianity.
2. Then the Messiah will enter into his glory. Isaiah 53:11-12 talks about the Servant's glory: "After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied... Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong." The Roman Catholic wing of the Church has portrayed most effectively in the crucifix the agony and suffering of Christ. The Protestant wing of the Church has understood the glory of the resurrection, depicted by the empty cross. Together these truths must both be understood and treasured by the Church.
3. Our unbelief should be our shame, not our pride. I am impressed that Jesus isn't very tolerant of his disciples' unbelief in the face of the Scriptures and the events of the day. "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!" he says. To our shame, there are corners of the Christian movement where unbelief and doubt are points of pride for the "unbiased" scholar and academic. We demythologize and explain away, and are left with little to show for our efforts except a shell of Christian relativism without a core of faith in the Jesus of history, God in the flesh. Jesus expects his disciples to believe what he says.
Though perhaps these are not part of Jesus' direct discipleship teaching to his disciples, I see two additional lessons in this passage:
4. Jesus is revealed in the breaking of bread. Of course, the evening meal that Jesus presides over in Emmaus is not a celebration of the Last Supper. But it recalls vividly to these two disciples times when Jesus would break bread with them, and the intimacy of their table fellowship with him. Rather early in the Church's life, the term "the breaking of bread" comes to mean "celebrate the Lord's Supper" (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 10:16) and in that act reveals his presence in a special way. You don't need to believe in transubstantiation to understand the "special presence" of Jesus with his Church when we break bread together in his name. It is a holy time, a sacred experience of worship, a participation (Greek koinōnia, " communion, sharing") in the body and blood of Jesus himself (1 Corinthians 10:16). It is literally "the Lord's table" (1 Corinthians 10:21). It is a "remembrance" as well as a "proclamation" (1 Corinthians 11:25-26). And yet it is more. In this faith-gathering of the Church, Jesus reveals himself, "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:20).
5. Jesus may walk beside us unrecognized. Just as Jesus isn't recognized by the travelers to Emmaus, he can be with us and even encourage us in our struggles, even though we aren't aware that he is present. The risen Christ is not limited, as we are, by geography or time.
Lord Jesus, forgive me for my unbelief and spiritual dullness. Sometimes I have taken so long to grasp what you have explained so clearly in your teaching. Sometimes I have been prevented from believing by intellectual pride. Other times by my own unwillingness to follow and my subsequent rationalizations. And sometimes by my own lethargy and unwillingness to read and value the Bible. Forgive me -- and my brothers and sisters. We accept your admonishment, and desire to follow after you, chastened but forgiven -- and now obedient. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
"He said to them, 'How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?'" (Luke 24:25-26)
Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions
that follow -- your choice.
- How would you describe the spiritual and emotional temperature of Cleopas and his fellow disciple before Jesus teaches them? (Luke 24:13-24)
- Why don't they seem to believe the women's report of Jesus' resurrection? (Luke 24:22-24)
- Why does Jesus rebuke them? Is his rebuke fair or warranted? Why or why not? (Luke 24:25-26)
- Extra credit: Examine Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12. How could you relate the Suffering Servant (52:13; 53:11) to the Messiah? How could the Jewish rabbis miss this?
- Extra credit: In 52:13 - 53:12 what is the meaning and significance of the Servant's death? What in the passage indicates his resurrection to life?
- Why do some Christians seem to be proud of their unbelief? How should we deal with the doubts we have? Ignore them?
- In what sense is Jesus revealed to us today in "the breaking of bread"? (Luke 24:31, 35)
Lessons compiled in 805-page book in paperback, Kindle, & PDF.
 Josephus, Wars 7:217.
 K.G. Jung, "Emmaus," ISBE 2:76-77. Marshall, Luke, p. 892-893.
 Marshall, Luke, p. 894, cites Hegesippus, mentioned by Eusebius in his Church History 3:11, 32; 4:22.
 Skythrōpos, BDAG 932-933.
 Lytroō, BDAG 606.
 See Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Eerdmans, 1955, reprinted 1972), p. 35.
 Elpizō, BDAG 319.
 Existēmi, BDAG 350.
 Anoētos, BDAG 84.
 Bradys, BDAG 183.
 Some of the Old Testament passages quoted in Acts include: Genesis 22:18; 26:4; Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Psalm 2:1-2, 7; 16:8-11; 110:1; 118:22; Isaiah 53:7-8; 55:3; and Amos 9:11-12.
 Luke 9:26; 21:27; Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 1:11, 18-19, 21.
 Prospoieō, BDAG 884.
 Parabiazomai, BDAG 759.
 Eulogeō, BDAG 408.
 For more on this, see my article, "Don't Ask the Blessing, Offer One," Joyful Heart, November 15, 1999. www.joyfulheart.com/holiday/offer-blessing.htm
 "Broke" (verse 35) is the Greek noun klasis, "breaking," from the verb klaō, "to break" (verse 30). In the New Testament these words are only used of the breaking of bread "by which the father of the household gave the signal to begin the meal" (BDAG 546).
 Dianoigō, BDAG 234.
 Epiginōskō, BDAG 369.
 Aphantos, BDAG 155.
 Athroizō, BDAG 25.
 Ontōs, BDAG 715.
 Exegeomai, BDAG 349.
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