Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

247. To Emmaus (Luke 24:13-33)

It was somewhere about mid-afternoon when the risen Jesus next manifested himself to any of his followers — that is, unless the appearance to Peter (1 Corinthians 15:5) came in before this. Perhaps there is something of special significance in the fact that the Lord was seen that day first by a woman - Mary — and then by two disciples neither of whom was an apostle! One is reminded of how the sons of Zebedee sought a promise of chief places in Christ's kingdom, but the one whom Jesus chose to "set by him" was a little child (Luke 9:47).

What two disciples?

One of the two walking to Emmaus was named Cleopas. If this is the Clopas whose wife Mary was not only at the crucifixion (John 19:25) but who also visited the tomb of Jesus with Mary Magdalene and the others, then it may be inferred that his companion was neither his wife nor his son, the apostle James (James the less, the son of Alphaeus). Mary, the wife of Clopas, is ruled out by the reference to "certain of our company which were early at the sepulchre" (Luke 24.92; The words imply no personal participation in that sublime experience of seeing angels at the empty tomb. And James, son of Alnhaeus, is similarly eliminated bv the fact that these two, returning from Emmaus to Jerusalem, found "the eleven gathered together" and Judas Iscariot for certain would not be one of that number. (For some of the details in this paragraph, see ch. 42.)

Before proceeding with the details of the story it may be useful to consider two alternative suggestions about the identity of the second disciple.

Is this unique record , Luke’s "signature" to his gospel, like Mark's mention of the young man with the linen wrapping (14:51) , and Matthew's details of the feast at his house (9:9ff) and John s references to "the disciple Jesus loved. (13:23; 21:7)

Attractive as this idea might be, it is surely vetoed by Luke 1:2 - Luke could not write out of continuous personal experience, but had to depend on those who were 'eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word."

It has also been eloquently argued that Cleopas colleague was Peter. This is too much to let go – for these reasons:

  1. It depends on a reading in the Greek text which is found in one manuscript only (Codex D), out of hundreds. A theory which picks and chooses the evidence in this way is on a wrong foundation from the start.
  2. If Peter were one of the Emmaus two, why should his name be so pointedly excluded?
  3. Returning from Emmaus, the two "found the eleven gathered together." If Peter was one of the two, then the "eleven" must have included Judas Iscariot! is that likely, or even possible?
  4. If indeed they were Cleopas and Peter who said to the eleven: "The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared unto Simon," isn't that a strange way of telling their experience? Wouldn't they say: "He hath appeared to us"? Wouldn't Cleopas think it only right that Peter, chief apostle, should take the lead on this highly important occasion?
The narrative seems to imply that this Cleopas and his companion had their home at Emmaus: "the village, whither they went... Abide with us . . . he went in to tarry with them... as he sat at meat with them..."

Yet since the most probable assumption is that these two were man and wife, and all the apostles (except Judas?) were Galileans (Acts 2:7), it seems most likely that this Cleopas is not to be identified with any other individual of similar name mentioned in the gospels.

Discussion, uncertainty

They had just nice time to reach their destination before sun-down. There was no prospect of boredom as they walked. All the vivid soul-searing sights and experiences of Passover day were still racing through their minds and were still being discussed from every angle even though they had already talked them over all through the Sabbath to the point of weariness and tears. And now, on top of all this nerve-jangling experience, there had come not only the exciting report that the Lord's tomb had been found empty but also the altogether incredible story that angelic messengers declared their Jesus to be alive again.

What were they to make of it all? Hopes sprang into flame, flickered momentarily, and died. The dependability of the women bringing the news was considered from every angle. Other possible explanations of their strange convictions were coined one otter another. But, alas, one thing was deai enouah — dead men do not come to life again. Even miracies of this sort which Jesus himself had been credited with, somehow began to look less convincing now. Bewilderment reigned in the minds of both — but there was no agreement.

Luke uses three very expressive words about their discussion. One describes the vague murmur of a crowd, thus indicating that their talk never ceased, and maybe that they both talked at once. Another word suggests argument, disputation, whilst a third conveys a vivid impression of assertions and objections thrown backwards and forwards between the two. But blanketing all the vigour of their talk was o dejection of spirit which declared itself in every look and every tone of voice.

An unrecognised stranger

They were so wrapped up in their talk and their sorrow that very soon after leaving Jerusalem, the approach of a stranger along a converging path was not noticed until he invited himself into their confidence. From anyone else the action might have been received as an impertinence, and rebuffed as such, but there was something so sympathetic and helpful about the demeanour of this stranger that, when they had got over their surprise, they were only too glad to tell him everything.

Why was it that Jesus went unrecognized? Even if it be conceded that the risen Master, experiencing all the power and vigour of immortality, was now much changed from the utterly worn-out Jesus they had known in the week before Passover, they must surely have noted much resemblance. And why did they not recognize his voice? The same problem arises regarding the lake-side appearance of Jesus to the seven disciples who were granted a miraculous catch of fish (Jn. 21:4).

Mark explains: "He appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country." But what do the words "another form" really signify? If there was a distinct difference in personal appearance, there must also have been a change of voice. Or were the minds of these two so completely shut to the possibility of their Lord rising again that they were altogether blind and deaf to that which was evident enough?

Instead of the glad amazement of recognition, these two disciples showed a different surprise response to the question: "What words are these ye exchange?", they first stopped dead in their tracks: "They stood still, looking sad" (RV). Then- 'You must surely be the most solitary man lodging in Jerusalem, this Passover, not to know what we are talking about!' The words imply that that week-end Jews in Jerusalem had talked about nothing else but the crucifixion of Jesus and the remarkable events associated with it.

Hope and despair

To their utter astonishment, their new friend — for he already seemed like that — apparently knew nothing of it. Yet the question: "What things?", did not involve even a white lie! He allowed them to assume his ignorance.

Now with the eagerness which responds to kindly sympathy they told him. First one then the other took up the story. Time and again they interrupted each other in their excited anxiety that the story — the whole story, with all its overtones — should be fully and properly told. It needs no imagination to trace in this section of the record the ports of *he narrative supplied by the down-hearted Cleopas and the interruptions of his more hopeful wife

"Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in word and in deed before God and all the people." Any confidence in Jesus as their Messiah was now gone. Prophet like unto Moses, no doubt — "mighty in word and in deed" was to be Stephen's description of Moses (Acts 7:22) - but like Moses his work appeared to have stopped short of giving Israel the kingdom

"But" interrupted the other, "we trusted that it was he which should have redeemed Israel" from the thraldom of Rome. Yet how could he be the Messiah? He was dead and buried, and today the third day since these sickening disappointments broke their spirits. The third day! In the journey up to Jerusalem, Jesus had more than once spoken strangely about what should transpire on the third day. It was a parable, doubtless. How often they had misunderstood the figures of speech he used! Anyway, the third day was now come and almost gone, and they were without help or comfort to their souls

But again there came the more hopeful interruption: "How can you say that? Did not some of the women - disciples - go to his sepulchre early this morning, and then return with the story that angels had told them he was risen again? So perhaps even now they might hope!

"But him they saw not," came the devastating matter-of-fact rejoinder. Their dejection was not to be dispelled bv absurd stories about angelic appearances, but only by the sight of Jesus himself — that was what their crushed spirits needed.

At last their story was told. It was, in a way, a relief to them to get it all said, yet the telling of it only-served to underscore in their minds the final hopelessness of their cause. What a contrast with the eager expectations created by their Master's triumphal entry into Jerusalem and by his vigorous cleansing of the Temple courts only a week ago .

"Fools, and slow of heart!"

As their minds dwelt longingly on what might have been, they were brought up short by the stranger's utterly unexpected reaction *o their story Using perhaps the very reproach which Mary Magdalene and the others had used when their stony was not received, he rounded on them- "O fools and slow of heart to believe! On the basis of all that the prophets have spoken ought not the Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?' (The form of the Greek expression here suggests a possible re-punctuation. If not this, then the idea is: "slow of heart to rest your faith on all that the prophets have spoken.")

They stared in amazement. This new-found friend somehow blended a note of sharp authority with his kindliness. And how came it that he had more definite ground for confidence than they had?

They soon found his confidence came from the Scriptures. Quickly, with a rapid allusiveness which was all that was necessary when one devout Jew-spoke to another, he took their minds to the inspired Word - to Joseph, the beloved son, rejected by his brethren, yet exalted to honour before them and before all the world; to David, first outlaw and fugitive, and then royal hero leading the nation in praise of God; to Isaiah's peerless descriptions of a Suffering Servant of Jehovah who yet must "see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied"; the poignant phrases of Psalm 22 which they themselves had heard on the lips of their Master as he hung on the cross. Why had they been so slow to recognize this double element of suffering and glory in so many of the familiar Scriptures? And all that then Lord had endured in his rejection and death chimed in perfectly with these well-loved parts of their Bible Why had they failed to discern these things? Fools indeed!

But fools no longer. It was as though a mental block had suddenly been taken away. Instead they were all at once like men endowed with a sixth sense. It was as though a new dimension had been added to their living. With almost frantic eagerness they deluged their friend with questions. Hungrily they clamoured for more on the same theme.

Emmaus Bible Class

So in response to their pathetic gladness he began again, this time going through the Scriptures systematically, throwing a searchlight on many an ill-understood phrase and quoting passage after passage with unerring accuracy and emphasis. Often it needed only the stressing of a key phrase and they saw at once the shouting truth of a Scripture they had read a hundred times. Now and then, in response to a look of puzzlement, he settled down to expound in greater detail, linking up with that which was more familiar. Through all the five books of Moses they went. Promise, prophecy, and type all made their heart-warming contribution to a gargantuan feast of divine knowledge. The familiar stories of ancient national heroes were heard again as though for the first time — they were the saviours God had raised up to shadow forth the work of a greater Saviour. Prophets and psalms and even proverbs were combed over. Scores of hitherto unappreciated details turned to pure gold under the skilful touch of this alchemist. Sometimes it needed only the addition of a brief explanatory phrase, sometimes merely a greater stress on a specially significant word, and a Scripture which hitherto had carried only a simple surface meaning was suddenly seen to flash with hidden fire. Never was such a Bible Class. It had begun with an audience of two dispirited bewildered people who would fain believe but couldn't. It left them eager, hopeful, re-assured.

For over two hours they walked with Jesus in The Way. Little wonder their heart burned within them as he opened to them the Scriptures (Psalm 119:130 RV), for the heart of the modern reader burns within him from the mere reading of it (if he have any imagination at all and any zeal for the Word of God. Thus the opening of their minds to the Old Testament became the best possible preparation for the opening of their eyes. And so, in a sense, it is unto this day.

One may be fairly confident that many of the seemingly unusual (or even unnatural) applications of the Scriptures in the speeches and writings of the Apostles had their roots in that prototype of all Bible Classes. It was in all the Scriptures that Jesus expounded the things concerning himself. And long before he was done, those two disciples would be echoing his reproach of themselves, but with less tolerance or patience: "Fools, fools, fools!"

All too soon they were at their journey's end. These were the shortest miles they had ever walked. The two paused within sight of their own home whilst their Friend spoke of going further. But neither of the disciples would have it so. At all cost they must retain the company and help of this unknown stranger who could so magically banish their doubts and help them see in Scripture the fullness of God's Purpose with their Jesus.

So they pressed their humble and not altogether unselfish hospitality upon him with an insistence not to be gainsaid. The sun was already on the horizon, the ways were dangerous by night, the miles already covered must have left him in need of rest — yet how they were hoping secretly that he would not be too tired to talk yet more Bible truth with them by lamplight.

Another 'Breaking of Bread'

In days to come these two would never cease from gratified satisfaction that they had overborne the expressed intention of their Friend to go on beyond Emmaus. Inevitably they would match this experience with that of the storm-tried disciples to whom Jesus came walking on the water and "would have passed them by," had not they detained him by their cries. And there was also the brusque reception he had given to the Canaanitish woman desperately pleading on behalf of her stricken daughter. Yet how graciously he had blessed her when she would not be said nay.

To this day he is the same. He comes in to lodge with those who will not let him go. And it is to those who pore long and reverently over the story of his words and works that he most fully reveals himself. "He will ever have us thus restrain him with an effort and an entreaty,- or he will pass on" (Burgon; compare also Genesis 18:1 - 14 and 1 9:1-3; Judges 6:1 7, 1 8 and 13:1 5-20; Acts 16:15,40).

With as little delay as may be, a meal was prepared, but first before they sat down at table together, almost certainly an effort was made to wash the feet of their guest but he discouraged the courtesy— for a very obvious reason. When the host was about to offer thanks for the food, he found himself forestalled. The guest pulled the plate of matzoth, the unleavened Passover cakes, towards him, and himself proceeded to seek the blessing of heaven on their food. The prayer concluded, he broke off pieces from the brittle cake in his hand, and gave to each of them in turn. Then, in a flash, came recognition. Yet, as they instinctively leaned across to grasp his hand or arm, seeking to reinforce one sense with another, he was gone. (The Greek phrase is literally: "he became unmanifest") — and thus, with every last doubt routed, conviction was turned into certainty.


What was it that brought recognition? Four other people sat at another supper table discussing this very question, and in quick succession each propounded his own suggestion.

The first observed: "There must have been something impressive, something unique, about the way in which Jesus gave thanks at the table. It was altogether different from the rather uninspired formality that saying 'grace' often is with us"; and this speaker proceeded to cite the way in which the miracle of the multiplying of the loaves and fishes is referred to (John 6:23) as "the place where they did eat bread after that the Lord had given thanks."

The next suggestion was: "Jesus, although a guest invited to share their meal, assumed the position at the head of the table as though He were the Host. Wouldn't he immediately be recognized by this?

The third pointed to the deliberate imitation of the Last Supper — "he took bread, and blessed and brake, and gave to them."

The fourth briefly: "They saw the marks of the nails in his hands, of course."

Perhaps it was the accumulation of all these facts that brought conviction of the stranger's identity. The suffering and risen Christ had been made known to them first in the Old Testament Scriptures and now in the Breaking of Bread. The one was the best of all possible preludes to the other, as of course it still is. And both are necessary now as then.

Without a moment's hesitation or a moment's delay these privileged two were speedily on the road back to Jerusalem, ejaculating glad self-reproaches at their own incredible blindness. Mark's explanation on their behalf is that Jesus "appeared to them in another form" — an explanation which itself calls for explanation. Is the reader intended to understand that the Jesus of the Emmaus road bore no physical resemblance at all to the Jesus whom they had followed from Galilee? Today are we as blind as they in our mystification over this detail of the story?

Whilst there may have been differences of outlook when these two set out from Jerusalem, there was certainly none as they hurried back thither by the light of the Passover moon. And again it would be a wondrously short walk. How beautiful upon the mountains were the feet of these that published the gospel of their Lord's resurrection. And as mile after mile was covered they would comb over yet again the marvellous prophecies concerning Messiah, which Jesus himself had opened their eyes to only an hour or two earlier.

Isaiah and the Emmaus Road.

Isaiah 35 has long been read as a prophecy of the blessings and happiness of Christ's kingdom — and rightly so. Its vivid figures of speech, which have a surprisingly literal basis in the experience of God's people in the reign of Hezekiah, are eloquent of the redemption which is yet to be. But when the two Emmaus disciples met their Lord again on the day of his resurrection, that amazing experience was, for them, a rich foretaste of the joys of kingdom happiness. Accordingly, the following phrases from that prophecy take on a new relevance:

v. 8.
And he shall be with them, walking in the way {see RVm), and fools shall not wander (any longer). (O fools, and slow of heart to believe...).
v. 3.
Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. (Here the Hebrew word for "confirm" sounds almost exactly like "Emmaus." Accident?)
v. 4.
Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold your God will come raised up (the Hebrew word only needs re-pointing to give this reading), even your God rewarded; he will come and save you.
v. 5.
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. (First the Lord opened their eyes and ears to the meaning of Scripture and then to recognition of his own person and voice).
v. 6.
Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing.
v. l0.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

What a picture is this of the two disciples returning to tell their story to the rest in Jerusalem!

The future holds a yet greater fulfilment of this prophecy and of the Emmaus experience.

NOTES: Lk. 24:13-33.

Behold. Lk. uses Mt's great "surprises" ejaculation.
Communed. The talk of a crowd (2 of them!) s.w. Acts 20:1 1; 24:26.

Reasoned; Argued, disputed; s.w. Acts 6:9; 9:29
Their eyes were holden. A divine control of their perception until the appropriate moment; cp. Dan. 10:7; 2 Kgs. 6: 16,17 (Num. 22:23-27,31); Jn. 20:1 4: This explains Mk. 1 6:1 2. It was because their eyes (and ears) were "held" (kroteo) that he seemed to be "in another form". Compare the "opening" of eyes; v.31 ,45: Gen 3:7; 21:19; 2 Kgs 6:1 7.
RVm: "Exchange" The word means: throw backwards and forwards.

and are sad; s.w Ps. 43:2 (and note v.3a).
Cleopas possibly from Hebrew chalaph changed, renewed, as in Is. 40:31; 41:1.

A stranger- A Diaspora Jew? See on v.20
What things? Jesus wanted their reaction to these events, and this was the only way to get it.

Before God e.g. nis baptism and transfiguration. Like Elijah, as well as like Moses. 1 Kgs. 1 7.1.

All the people An inditect testimony to the Lord's nation-wide campaign
Our rulers. Here our shows that they assumed this "stranger" to be a foreigner. They put the blame on the shoulders of the Jewish rulers and not on Pilate. The Gk. text links this closely with v. 19, as though implying that the Lord's good works and his preaching were what brought about his crucifixion: the best of men treated as the worst by the self-styled best who were the worst!
But we were hoping. Gk. suggests a sad irony about this contrast - the Hope of Israel brought to nought.

Should have redeemed Israel could read "he was about to redeem..." (Gk. mello), with reference to the Triumphal Entry; 19:11,35ff.

Beside all this. The Gk. phrase is untranslatable. Rather like a Scot saying: "But och...!"

Today is. Gk. ago implies: the day is driving on to its close.

Today is the third day. By itself this phrase is completely against the popular theory that our Lord was three full days and nights in the tomb.
To some extent they credit what was reported by the women, and by the apostles, and by the angels, but not by the Scriptures!
Saying ... angels which said. A double hear-say! Could it be trusted?

A vision of angels; words chosen to imply the experience was not real.
Ought not: Was it not necessary — because the prophets had so spoken (v. 15).

Enter surely implies entering into heaven and sharing the glory of the Father as plainly foretold in Dan. 7. This also was necessary.
Expounded. In Acts 9:36; 1 Cor. 12:30, translation from an unknown language.
The Gk. word means 'a lot further': Then, where?
Constrained; cp. Gen. 19:3; Acts 16:15 s.w. and see Gen. 18:1-8

The lateness of the hour was not their real reason.
Gave. The continuous form of the verb, although giving to only two persons. But Luke uses this form of the verb so as to repeat exactly Mt. 26:26 (Lk. 22:19b).
But not in the drinking of the wine. Mt. 26:29.
Did not our heart burn. An emphatic form of the continuous tense. It was a non-stop excitement.

While he talked with us. Gk: While he was speaking to us. After the opening exchanges, practically all the talking was done by Jesus.
Gathered together. The word has an official or military flavour. Someone among the twelve had taken the initiative in calling the disciples together to pool experiences and sort out truth from rumour. They also had a meal together: v.41,42.

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