Emmaus: on the way

he_qi_road_to_emmausCommentary. Luke sets the scene with markers of time (that very day), place (on the road between Jerusalem and Emmaus) and situation – two disciples who earlier had been with the disciples, heard the women’s testimony and apparently discounted their testimony has idle wistfulness. The community of believers has been fractured.

Unable to see. Elsewhere in the Gospel according to Luke “eyes” and “sight” have been correlated with comprehension, faith and salvation (cf. 1:78-79; 2:30; 6:39-42; 10:23; 11:34; 18:35-42; 10:42). For most the gospel referred to as the “Journey to Jerusalem” (9:51 – 18:14) the disciples have witnesses Jesus’ teaching, mighty deeds, and revelation of his heavenly Father. But in the earliest hours of the new world order after the Resurrection, the two disciples do not recognize Jesus. Their eyes are “prevented” from seeing, an expression for spiritual blindness. It ironic that the two travelers consider themselves the truly knowledgeable ones who are shocked that this fellow traveler has no idea of the very public events of the last three days. While they understand the details of the events from a human perspective, they are truly unaware of those event’s meaning.

The passive “prevented” (ekratounto) raises the question, Who or what kept them from recognizing Jesus? Most often the answer lies within our own fast-held preconceptions which blind us to the real Jesus. Perhaps it is a divine passive, i.e., where God keeps them from seeing Jesus – if so, then God created the situation where Jesus could explain scriptures to them. Perhaps it is both. Tannehill (The Narrative Unity of Luke/Acts, 282) combines the divine and human sources of “blindness” when he writes: “God holds human eyes in the sense that God’s ways necessarily appear meaningless to humans who understand events in terms of their own purposes and ways of achieving them. A new vision of how God works salvation in the world must be granted to the disciples before a crucified and risen Messiah can be meaningful for them.”

God may use our inadequate or narrow understandings to blind us so that God might give us a new vision of God’s ways in the world with its related understanding of scripture. Remember that Saul was a very devout and committed believer in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before he was blinded by the light of Jesus. Could his deeply held, devout Jewish beliefs have kept him from seeing the risen Jesus before? If so, what might that imply about us? Whatever deeply held beliefs that we have, we, perhaps, should take less seriously; and recognize that our faith comes as a gift that we can only humbly accept, not proudly claim.

Things Explained The disciples are distressed by the death of Jesus and cannot believe that the event that has shaken their world is not known by another pilgrim. Cleopas is named, but not the other; perhaps because Cleopas later exercised an important role in the Christian community. They describe Jesus as a mighty prophet, the long-awaited prophet-like-Moses (Deut 18:15; Acts 7:22). They had hoped he would be not only a prophet but the messianic deliverer of Israel (see 1:68). Again there is emphasis on the role of the leaders in Jesus’ crucifixion (v. 20). Even the accounts of the empty tomb did not lead them necessarily to conclude that he had risen, because the resurrection expected by the Jews was the general victory of all the just at the end. It was obvious to them that the end and the establishment of a new order had not come. They did not expect an individual resurrection in the midst of history. It seems that the Cross has become a stumbling block.

The revelation of Easter reality begins with the fulfillment of Scriptures – a theme emphasized in the beginning of this gospel. Those who do not see the patterns of this fulfillment are “foolish” and “slow of heart to beleive.” Jesus brings the sad irony to an end and begins the process of revealing himself and the meaning of the resurrection to the disciples through the lens of a suffering Messiah.

Jesus is direct: the suffering of the Messiah was necessary in God’s providential plan for the redemption of Israel and the salvation of sinners. It was necessary that Jesus be about his Father’s business (2:49), and for the kingdom of God to be preached (4:43). It was necessary to set the crippled woman free from her bondage (13:16) and for Jesus to stay with Zacchaeus (19:5). Above all, it was necessary for Jesus to go to Jerusalem (13:33) and there to suffer and die (9:22; 17:25). It was necessary that the Scriptures be fulfilled in Jesus (22:37; 24:44). The fulfillment, however, con­sisted not only in Jesus’ suffering but also in his entering “into his glory” (v. 26). The language of entering into his glory is anticipated by earlier references to Jesus’ “exodus” (9:31), the revelation of Jesus’ glory in the trans­figuration (9:32), and the penitent thief’s anticipation of Jesus’ entry into his kingdom (23:42). The glory of the Lord shone at Jesus’ birth (2:9, 14). The Son of Man will comein glory (9:26; 21:27). The disciples had chanted “glory in the highest” while Jesus rode into Jerusalem (19:38). Now, their hopes were being fulfilled even beyond what they knew to hope for.

Just as Luke introduced the conversation on the road to Emmaus with a summary reference to the conversation between the two disciples before Jesus joined them, so also he brings it to a close by shifting from dialogue to a summary of the rest of the conversation. The summary continues the emphasis on the importance of the fulfillment of Scripture in all that had happened. “Moses and all the prophets” (cf. 16:29, 31) designates the Scriptures in the context of the two great figures of the OT who appeared at the transfiguration when Jesus’ glory was revealed: Moses and Elijah. Now the risen Lord appears and explains how his suffering and entry into glory fulfilled Moses and the prophets (cf. Acts 17:2-3).


Luke 24:13 that very day: this story firmly in with the other happenings on the day of resurrection. seven miles: literally, “sixty stades.” A stade was 607 feet. Some later manuscripts read “160 stades” or more than eighteen miles. called Emmaus: the exact location of Emmaus is disputed. Pilgrims to modern-day Israel are shocked to learn that as many as six sites are identified as “Emmaus.” Here are the four more popular ones (from Pilch, 73-75)

(1)  Latrun. The tradition of identifying this place as Luke’s Emmaus reaches back to the historian Eusebius (330). Christians may have lived here since early times, but the first known Christian is Julius Africanus who in 221 obtained for this village from Rome the rights of a Roman city and a new name, Nicopolis. The Byzantine tradition never doubted this identification, but it seems to have been forgotten when a plague wiped the village out in 639. Modern archaeologists doubt that this is the place mentioned in Luke. It certainly is 160 stadia (31 km) from Jerusalem (see Luke 24:13), but other ancient manuscripts of Luke read 60 stadia, suggesting Abu Ghosh or Qubeiba as the more likely spot.

(2)  Abu Ghosh. This is the village on the Jaffa road where the ark of the covenant rested for twenty years (1 Sam 6:21-7:2), but in Old Testament times it was located atop the hill, not in the valley. The crusaders, our embarrassingly ignorant, Christian, warrior-ancestors in the faith, did not know about Latrun. So in typical crusader style, they measured 60 stadia from Jerusalem and identified the nearest village as Emmaus. When the crusaders were beaten in 1187 at the Battle of the Horns of Hattin, this place lost its importance mainly because travelers to Jerusalem used a different route. The identity of Emmaus was eventually transferred to Qubeiba.

(3)  Qubeiba. Between 1114 and 1164, the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre founded a village here to intensify the agriculture of the region from which they drew sustenance. They named it Parva Mahomeria, perhaps because of a Muslim shrine already here (el-Qubeiba = “a little cupola”). As frequently happens in the Holy Land, later pilgrims assumed this place was related to the life of Christ, and since it was sixty stadia from Jerusalem, they identified it as Emmaus.

(4)  “Most probable” Emmaus. After the Jewish War against Rome in 66-70 C.E., Vespasian assigned eight hundred discharged veterans to live in a place called “Emmaus,” located about thirty stadia, or four miles, from Jerusalem. Their encampment completely overshadowed the little town, and the site was given the name (until recently) Qoloniya. Abandoned in 1948, it was located near contemporary Motza. The round trip between Jerusalem and this place is sixty stadia, or about seven miles, half of this being a very plausible distance allowing the disciples to get up from table right after supping with Jesus and to return immediately to Jerusalem (Luke 24:33).

Luke 24:14 about all the things that had occurred: Luke does not define the subject of their conversation, but all these things must refer to the stories of the empty tomb and of the angels.

Luke 24:15 conversing and debating: homileōsyzētein; the imperfect tense suggests that this is an extended conversation and debate. This same sense is carried in the “discussing” (antiballō) in v.17. This conveys the sense of two disciples, while bewildered, are trying to figure out the meaning of the events.

Luke 24:16 their eyes were prevented from recognizing him: lit. “their eyes were held (krateō) not recognizing (epiginōskō) him.” A consistent feature of the resurrection stories is that the risen Jesus was different and initially unrecognizable (Luke 24:37; Mark 16:12; John 20:14; 21:4). This condition will be reversed in v.31

Luke 24:18 Cleopas: This is the only mention of this name in the NT much like the name of Simon of Cyrene’s sons Rufus and Alexander in Mark 15:21. Are you the only visitor: Cleopas’ questions presents quite an ironic situation. The two disciples nearly rebuke Jesus for not knowing (ginosko) what’s been going on in these days. Yet, we know that they are the ones who really don’t know (epiginosko v. 16 = “recognize”) what’s going on. Their “lack of seeing” involves more than comprehending the resurrected Jesus among them, but also their understanding of the things that have been going on (vv. 19b-24) and their relationship to scriptures (vv. 25-27)

Luke 24:19 What sort of things: To Jesus’ question What things? they gave an illuminating answer. They saw Jesus as a prophet. Jesus referred to himself as a prophet, but in terms of his rejection at Nazareth (4:24); and his death in Jerusalem (13:33). Jesus stresses the persecution of the prophets, which his followers will also face (6:23). Being a “prophet” for Jesus in Luke means rejection, persecution, and death, which is what happened to Jesus. As for the people, they refer to Jesus as a great prophet after raising the widow’s son (7:16), a great act of miraculous power. It is likely they expected some great miracle from this prophet for the “redemption of Israel” (v. 21). Yet they do not seem to make a connection between Jesus’ role as prophet and his violent death; much less a connection between Jesus’ role as redeemer and his violent death.

Luke 24:21 we were hoping: the main problem expressed by the two disciples is the loss of hope. The imperfect of hope (elpizomen) implies that they “were hoping” or “kept hoping” in the past. The crucifixion of Jesus was a loss of hope. The resurrection of Jesus restores hope. He is no longer dead. However, note that just the appearance of the risen Jesus was not enough to restore faith and hope — they don’t even know who he is. Secondly, Jesus’ interpretation of scriptures points to a new understand of redemption; one that involves a suffering Messiah (v. 26). to redeem Israel: The expression mellōn lytrousthai is lit. “be about liberating”, however, contextually the word is used in OT for the redeeming activities of God and men. The root word is derived from an Assyrian word meaning “to wash away” – a particularly appropriate word for the meaning of redemption [TDNT 4:335].

Luke 24:22–24. The travelers single out what they have learnt from the women about the empty tomb and the vision of angels. They do not say who went to the tomb to check, but the plural, some of those who were with us, shows that Peter had not been alone. The women’s story had been verified, at least as far as the empty tomb went. But these two conclude sadly, him they did not see. Apparently those who went to the tomb had hoped to see Jesus; but they did not, and this threw doubt on what the women had said.

Luke 24:25 Oh, how foolish you are! : Perhaps “foolish” is a bit strong for anoētoi which is normally translated as “uncomprehending” [EDNT 1:105]. “How dull you are!” may give the sense better . In either case, the words fall short of being a compliment. slow of heart: many translations give “reluctant to believe” which is a dynamic equivalent which takes advantage of Luke’s writing wherein the heart is the center of the intelligence and the will (cf. 1:17, 51, 66; 2:29 and 21:14).

Luke 24:26 was it not necessary: dei – “it is necessary.” the form of the question demands a positive response. This is a Lucan shorthand for referencing the God’s plan in history. (see 2:9l 4:43; 13:14, 33;21:9; 22:37). that the Messiah should suffer . . . : Luke is the only New Testament writer to speak explicitly of a suffering Messiah (Luke 24:26, 46; Acts 3:18; 17:3; 26:23). The idea of a suffering Messiah is not found in the Old Testament or in other Jewish literature prior to the New Testament period, although the idea is hinted at in Targum Jonathan. glory: One may under­stand either the resurrection or the ascension as Jesus’ entry into his glory. The other evangelists did not separate the two. John treats the cross as already part of Jesus’ exaltation (but see John 20:17). Luke separates the ascension from the res­urrection, but the ascension may simply make clear and visible what is already implicit in the resurrec­tion of Jesus.

Luke 24:27 Moses and all the prophets: This is the same point Jesus made to the rich young man (16:29-31). Moses and the prophets formed the starting-point, but Jesus also went on to the things that referred to himself in all the scriptures. The picture we get is of the Old Testament as pointing to Jesus in all its parts. Luke gives no indication of which passages the Lord chose, but he makes it clear that the whole Old Testament was involved. We should perhaps understand this not as the selection of a number of proof-texts, but rather as showing that throughout the Old Testament a consistent divine purpose is worked out, a purpose that in the end meant and must mean the cross. The terribleness of sin is found throughout the Old Testament and so is the deep, deep love of God. In the end this combination made Calvary inevitable. The two had wrong ideas of what the Old Testament taught and thus they had wrong ideas about the cross.

It is also noteworthy that while some might object to “reading Christ into the OT,” this is essentially what Jesus is doing for the two travelers. This is consistent with the biblical message of the NT gospel writers who saw in Jesus continuity with and the fulfillment of the OT. Thus scripture such as the suffering servant passages in Isaiah (e.g., 52:13-53:12) were mined repeatedly by the church for scriptural warrant for the suffering of Jesus. The christological interpretation of the OT, as practiced by the early church, therefore, is author­ized by the risen Lord himself.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.