Luke 24:13-35, On the Road to Emmaus

[April 7, 2013] In Luke’s account of the resurrection, a group of women discovered the empty tomb early in the morning when they had arrived to prepare the body and were met by two men—messengers—in dazzling clothing who told them that Jesus had risen, and to remember that Jesus had told them this would happen when He was still in Galilee (9:22). Unlike Matthew’s account, Luke does not report that the women then met Jesus along the way (Matthew 28:9), but tells us how they went to the eleven “and to all the rest” and told them about the empty tomb and the appearance and words of the two men. Except for Peter, who ran to check out the tomb for himself, they all considered their words as nonsense and did not take them seriously.

After Peter returned (verse 24), two of their number (included in the “all the rest” of verse 9) left and were on their way, walking to the village of Emmaus, about seven miles (literally, sixty stadia) from Jerusalem. We are told that one of them was Cleopas. The name of the other is unknown. The fact that Cleopas is named might mean that at the time in which Luke wrote (twenty-six years later), Cleopas was still available as an eye-witness.

Who Was Cleopas?

This Cleopas might also have been the same Clopas (slightly different spelling) mentioned in John 19:25, whose wife (or possibly daughter; the Greek is ambiguous) was named Mary and was the “sister” of Mary the mother of Jesus. Hegissipus—a church chronicler in the second century—says that Cleopas was the brother of Mary’s husband Joseph, or in other words, Jesus’ paternal uncle. Cleopas’ wife was probably “Mary the [mother] of James” in Luke 24:10 and Mark 16:1, or “James the Less and Joses” in Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40, who not only witnessed the crucifixion (Matthew 27:56 and John 19:25) and the burial (the “other Mary” in Matthew 27:61 and “Mary the [mother] of Joses” in Mark 15:47) but was among the women who told the “eleven and all the rest” about the empty tomb and the messengers.

Their son, James the Less, was also known as James the son of Alphaeus (Matthew 10:3; Luke 6:15 and Mark 3:18), one of the Twelve. Alphaeus and Cleopas may be two different Greek spellings of the Aramaic name Hilfai (possibly Hilfi in Hebrew), it being common to drop the “H” in translation or alternately to render it as “K.”

Who Was the Second Person?

It is possible that the second person may have been Cleopas’ wife, Mary, though, in that case Cleopas’ words in verses 22-23 would be awkward (though maybe only to modern sensibilities), since he would have been speaking about his wife in the third person (his “we” refers to the men; the women are “they”). One also wonders why they both looked so sad in verse 17 if the Mary of verses 8 and 9 was one of them. Perhaps Mary “remembered” but did not yet understand what it would actually mean in terms of Jesus’ living Presence among them (see below). Also, if this person was Mary, why was she not named? Nevertheless, this is an interesting suggestion.

They Did Not Recognize Jesus

In any case, as they (these two men or this husband and wife) were walking, “they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place,” namely, the crucifixion (and the days preceding it) and the report of the women about the empty tomb and the messengers who said that Jesus was alive, in other words, everything Luke had been telling the reader about. “While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began travelling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.” It is truly amazing that they did not recognize Him in spite of their preoccupation and grief (see John 20:14). The addendum to Mark’s gospel (which I have no problem attributing to Mark himself, who added it to Peter’s testimony) solves the problem by saying that “He appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking along on their way to the country” (16:12).But one wonders what that means. It was obviously not that they thought they were seeing a ghost (as in Luke 24:37), for they simply accepted Him into their company as a Man. We are left supposing that it was the hand of God that “prevented” them from recognizing Him, that is, a sort of miracle. In this case, they were prevented from recognizing Him “as if their spirits had in love (vs. 19a) been held for a moment trembling on the brink of an unbelievable gladness. Until at last, as in sudden lightning, the whole landscape came alive” in the breaking of the bread. [The Interpreter’s Bible , volume VIII (New York: Abingden Press, 1952), page 422].

Their Sadness

When Jesus joined their company, He overheard what they had been talking about, though perhaps now that He has joined them it has become awkward for them to continue, being that they are so sad. Jesus, however, does not want them to stop; He wants to join in. “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” He asks. Luke tells us that “they stood still, looking sad.”

They know however that He had heard them talking. “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem” for the Passover festival “and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” This (su monos paroikeis Ierousalēm) could be translated otherwise. The word monos means “alone” as well as “only,” and the word paroikeō means to dwell temporarily someplace, as a stranger. It could be paraphrased, “Are You staying somewhere by Yourself so as not to have heard from others what has happened”? Jesus asks them to tell Him: “What things?”

They tell Him, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened.” We read in Luke 19:11 that when Jesus was approaching Jerusalem, the people “supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately.” When Jesus entered the city on Palm Sunday, riding a donkey as in the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 (“Behold, your King is coming to you … mounted on a donkey”), the crowd of disciples shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the Name of the Lord!” as they carpeted the way ahead of Him with their cloaks. They were not mistaken about who He was—Jesus allowed and encouraged their acclamations—or even about the coming of the kingdom, but they had fixed ideas about what they expected would happen, and these ideas were crushed when Jesus was arrested and put to death on a Roman cross.

The two people with whom Jesus speaks, speak of Him as a Prophet, a Prophet Who they had hoped was the Messiah “Who was going to redeem Israel.” He was a Prophet, for He was mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people. And they had acclaimed Him as their King. But were they wrong about that? They blamed not the Romans (and certainly not the Jewish people) but rather the chief priests and certain rulers on the Sanhedrin who handed Him over to the Romans. This was how Pilate had framed it, so that it would appear that it was the Jewish leaders who did not want any rebellious contenders for Roman jurisdiction (Jesus was acclaimed by the crowd as the “King of the Jews”; technically they called Him the “King of Israel”), and so he would appear innocent (coerced). He even washed his hands of the matter, a Jewish ritual, to make his point. His diversion succeeded, as we see in Luke 24:20 and in the Acts of the Apostles (though Luke had also apologetic reasons not to blame the Romans directly). Of course, historically, Pilate was not coerced and in fact manipulated the Jewish leaders to do his will. But it was also true that the Jewish leaders feared and despised Jesus, and went along.

“We were hoping,” Cleopas says to Jesus. The events of Friday destroyed all their expectations and they felt as if they were left with nothing, only the memory of the deeds and words of a mighty Prophet. Yet, as hopeless as the men felt, there was the report of “some women among us” that amazed us. They said, “they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body,” and “they came to us, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive.” Some of those who were with them, namely Peter (and the disciple John; see John 20), “went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said.” This could have raised their hopes, but it seems to have only confused them.

The tomb was empty exactly as the women had said, and Peter even saw the linen wrappings left by themselves, “but Him they did not see.” Many Jews believed in the resurrection of the body (the Sadducees did not). This belief meant that the dead would be re-embodied, even while their former body remained in the grave. Their spirit would return and their souls would be reclothed with a new body. It was the opposite in the case of Jesus. The body is gone, but no one had seen Him, living. So what does it mean?

It seems to me that it must be very significant that the body was not longer in the grave. His physical body was resurrected—even if it was recreated, it was recreated in the physical realm out of physical substance. It is the physical realm that is being transformed in the resurrection. This is frequently contested. The misunderstanding probably has to do with 1 Corinthians 15:42-50. The body is sown a “natural” body and raised as a “spiritual” body. But the word “natural” here (psychikos) does not mean physical. It means soulical. The psychical body is a physical one. So also will be the pneumatic (pneumatikos, spiritual) body. Adam was a living soul; Christ became a life-giving Spirit. Just as Adam was not a disembodied soul, neither is Christ a disembodied spirit. That Christ became a life-giving Spirit, refers to how He became the Holy Spirit (not in the sense that He was no longer His own distinct hypostasis, but in the sense that through the divine co-inherence, the Holy Spirit now shares everything that Christ had become in His human nature; similarly in John 1:14 the Word became flesh without ceasing to be divine). In the resurrection we will bear not the physicality of Adam (verse 47-50) but physicality of Christ—a spiritual and heavenly physicality. Nevertheless, physical—and earthy—it shall be. What is earthy will become heavenly without losing its earthiness. Jesus’ body did not remain in the tomb. It was transfigured by His divine nature; it was divinized so that physically it shares the perfections of His divine nature. Even as a physical and biological body, it now transcends space and time, even while capable of manifesting in space and time.

“But Him they did not see.” Not yet. They are not expecting to. The messengers—in Luke’s account—did not say they would; and this is why they are so sad. But the messengers did say to the women, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead?” Seek Him among the living!

The disciples could not take this step without divine help. Their souls were such that they still sought for the divine in the things of the soul, things within the soul’s own self-referring feelings, its own self-enclosed understanding, and its own self-constructed ideas—or in the collective manifestation of our souls, the “world.” This is seeking Him among the dead. If we look there, we can only find what we expect. But He is among the living—not in the sense of the illusion of life that the soul has but in reality, among the living of living things. He is the Firstborn of the creation, becoming now in His body what He already was hypostatically, the source of all life in the universe, and thus possessing the promise of eternal life for all that is. But we cannot find Him on our own, for we are trapped in the hermetic bubble of our souls, unless divine grace breaks through to us, the grace of the divine revelation of Christ.

A Little Enlightenment

Jesus says to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explains to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” Jesus, by His resurrection, has already entered into His glory; this did not need to wait for His ascension. That He appears (manifests Himself) to people in resurrection in an ordinary form means He condescends to still hide His glory in humility for their sake—but is He no longer “emptying” Himself as He did before His resurrection (Philippians 2:7). He is no longer physically bound to space and time (indeed, the divinization of His humanity applies retroactively to when He had taken on the limitations of human flesh—He is now, always, everywhere, what He was then).

The Scriptures are both read and interpreted. “All the Scriptures” (the Old Testament) speak of how Christ had “to suffer these things and to enter into His glory.” We are familiar with the prophecies that seem to explicitly refer to Jesus (such as Isaiah 53, or Psalm 22). We are also familiar with the typology of the Old Testament (for example, the Lamb of God, the sacrificial system, the Temple, the kingship, etc.). But it goes further to include all the Scriptures. This is something we discover as we go along. For example, I suspect that all the Psalms are Christological. Is it not Christ praying them as we pray them? Some 91 speaks of how the angels will keep the psalmist from striking his foot against a stone. Satan tempted Jesus with this image. Yet in Luke’s gospel Jesus entrusts Himself completely into the hands of the Father, and recommends for us to do the same, even saying that when we are put to death, “not a hair of your head will perish” (21:16-18). It is by our endurance (faithfulness under trial) that we are delivered, even should we die. If the righteous one who suffers and dies is to be vindicated, it is in resurrection. “Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him … with a long life I will satisfy him and let him see My salvation” (Psalm 91:14-16). Jesus’ experience (and our experience in Him) makes sense of these Scriptures when otherwise we would have to question them. Psalm 90 also makes sense in the light of Jesus’ intercession for us and bearing the judgment of God on our behalf. I offer these as simple examples.

When we come together in the Christian assembly to hear the Scriptures read and interpreted, we are like these two people on the road to Emmaus. We start out sad with our hope shaken, forgetful and confused, but as the Scriptures are read to us and the Holy Spirit breathes life into them by their Christological interpretation, our hearts begin to burn within us (verse 32). We are remembering Him. We then approach the Lord’s Table to receive the Lord.

What do they mean when they say that their hearts were “burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us.” Jeremiah says, “If I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart [the word of YHWH] becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it” (20:9; see Psalm 39:3). On the Day of Pentecost “there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak …” (Acts 2:3-4). Jesus said, “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49). Perhaps this refers to the fire that we see kindling here, and that continues to kindle in our midst when the Gospel (Christ) is brought forth through the Old Testament, and the testimony of the gospels and the insight of the apostolic writings.

The Lord’s Supper

It is not an accident that Luke’s gospel reflects the order of the Christian assembly on the Lord’s Day (the day each week when we commemorate the Lord’s resurrection): first the Scriptures are read and explained and then we break bread. By the operation of the Holy Spirit we remember Him through the testimony of the Scriptures, and—lo and behold—He is present among us, so that when we break bread in His Name, He gives Himself to us, and we receive Him. What we call “faith” was granted to them when “their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.” Remembrance leads to recognition (epignosis), which implies presence. We are reconstituted every Lord’s Day when we break bread in remembrance of Him. This has been the Christian life from the very beginning. Jesus Himself gave us the means when He instituted the supper and told us to do this in remembrance of Him (intentionally modeling it on the memorial of the Passover).

Jesus would have kept going, but they constrained Him to stay with them. Perhaps it should not be taken for granted that He will stay. We need to let our desire be known and constrain Him. He does not stay where He is not appreciated, where He is not loved.

Yet though Cleopas and his partner had to constrain Jesus to stay, when they reclined at table, Jesus presumed the role of Host. Though He was thought to be a guest and a stranger, Luke says, in the formal language of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus “took the loaf and blessed it, and having broken it, He began handing it to them.” Perhaps they recognized Him by His presumption. Perhaps they were there at the Last Supper. Perhaps they were there when He fed the multitude (9:16). Or perhaps it was by the moving of the Holy Spirit within their spirits, the Spirit having already warmed their hearts by His opening up the Scriptures to them.

He came into the midst of their lives as they walked along the way, they bared themselves to Him, He opened the Scriptures to them so that they could begin to see Him in all of them, they invite Him to be with them, and then He feeds them. By their remembering Him, God grants them afresh the faith that they once had and they discover His risen presence among them—as they eat the bread that recalls how only a few days earlier He had said over such bread, “This is My body which is being given for you; do this in remembrance of Me”—and they recognize Him.

The Gospel

Then He vanishes from their sight. Literally, Luke says “He became invisible from them.” It is not the case that He was no longer with them. He continued to be with them, but He was no longer manifesting Himself to them. It is not as though the Lord’s Supper makes Him present for a moment. It is that it is the means for us to recognize His presence and to take Him to ourselves afresh by faith.

They rose up at once and returned to the gathering in Jerusalem where the eleven told them that the Lord really has been raised and has appeared to Simon. One testimony confirms the other. Perhaps the Lord was in two places at once, visiting with the two on the road to Emmaus and at the same time visiting Peter; or perhaps He went from one to the other without having to cover the distance. This is the nature of His resurrected body: it transcends space. Indeed, though substantial and physical, His body is now everywhere. During the window of the forty days (Acts 1:3), however, He will continue to manifest His—very real and biological—presence to His believers to teach them that He is and will continue to be with them. If His time and body has indeed become eternal and ubiquitous, the creation can no longer exist without Him (and never has). He is its origin and its goal, and in a mysterious way accompanies its present moment (when the presence of the present transcends time).

Believers want to share the Gospel with others, even with each other. It is the good story (Old English: gõd-spel; Greek: eu-angelos) that we are now participants in, and it wants to be told. Cleopas and his partner ran because they could not wait until the next day; they could not wait to tell others. And when they found the others, the others anticipated them with the news, for they too could not wait to tell what happened. May this enthusiasm affect all believers. He is risen indeed! The Lord’s Name be praised.

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