LUKE 24:13-35. AN OVERVIEW
This Gospel was written toward the end of the first century. By that time, most of the church was composed of Christians who had not witnessed Christ in the flesh. This story connects them (and us) with Christ, who is still revealed through the reading and interpretation of scripture (v. 27) and the Lord’s Supper (vv. 30-31). Later disciples are not at a disadvantage because they have not seen Jesus (Madsen, 66).
This story echoes the story of the angels’ appearance to Abraham and Sarah at Mamre (Genesis 18:1-15). In both stories, the hosts fail to recognize the significance of their guests, but extend hospitality nevertheless. In both stories, hospitality leads to revelation—to blessing.
This story involves highly liturgical language, including” he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them” (v. 30); “The Lord has risen indeed” (v. 34); and “the breaking of the bread” (v. 35). The risen Christ is revealed through the telling of the story, the interpretation of scripture, and the breaking of bread.
LUKE 24:13-16. TWO OF THEM WERE GOING TO EMMAUS
13Behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was sixty stadia from Jerusalem. 14They talked with each other about all of these things which had happened. 15It happened, while they talked and questioned together, that Jesus himself came near, and went with them. 16But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
“Behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was sixty stadia from Jerusalem” (v. 13). “Two of them” refers back to “the eleven and all the rest” (v. 9). Cleopas is never mentioned in any list of the apostles, so these two are among “the rest” rather than among the eleven apostles. Bergant suggests that they are husband and wife, in part because they offer hospitality jointly as would a husband and wife (Bergant, 170).
“That very day” refers back to “the first day of the week” in verse 1. This is Easter afternoon—just hours after Jesus rose from the dead.
We know little about Emmaus, which was 60 stadia from Jerusalem (a stadium is 607 feet or 184 meters, so 60 stadia would be about 7 miles or 11 km). All of Jesus’ resurrection appearances take place near Jerusalem.
The story does not tell us why the travelers were going to Emmaus, although their hospitality to Jesus—their invitation to stay with them—makes it likely that Emmaus is their home.
“They talked with each other about all of these things which had happened” (v. 14). “All these things” would certainly include the witness of Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women who sought out the apostles to tell them about the empty tomb—and the angels—and the angel’s words, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again” (vv. 5-7, see also v. 10). But “all these things” would probably include their earlier hopes and aspirations as they followed Jesus—and their dashed hopes at the place called the Skull (23:33).
“It happened, while they talked and questioned together, that Jesus himself came near, and went with them. But their eyes were kept (ekratounto—held) from recognizing him” (vv. 15-16). The problem is not that Jesus’ appearance has changed or that the Emmaus disciples are distracted. The verb is passive, indicating that these two disciples are being acted upon. God is preventing them from seeing what would otherwise be obvious.
LUKE 24:17-24. ARE YOU THE ONLY STRANGER WHO DOESN’T KNOW?
17He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk, and are sad?” 18One of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things which have happened there in these days?”
19He said to them, “What things?”
They said to him, “The things concerning Jesus, the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people; 20and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21But we were hoping that it was he who would redeem Israel.
Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22Also, certain women of our company amazed us, having arrived early at the tomb; 23and when they didn’t find his body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24Some of us went to the tomb, and found it just like the women had said, but they didn’t see him.”
“What are you talking about as you walk, and are sad?” (v. 17a). In spite of the fact that these are two of Jesus’ disciples (see the notes on v. 13b above), Jesus neither identifies himself nor expects to be recognized (see the comments on v. 16 above). In verse 31, their eyes will be opened, and they will recognize him.
Jesus hasn’t caused their sadness by asking his question. They are sad because of their memory of the events of the past few days.
“One of them, named Cleopas, answered him” (v. 18a). This is the only mention of Cleopas in the New Testament. We know nothing more about him or his companion.
This passage is heavy with irony. Cleopas assumes that Jesus is “the only stranger in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things which have happened here in these days” (v. 18b) when, in fact, Jesus is the only person who truly understands those events. Cleopas is himself ignorant.
In response to Jesus’ question, “What things?” (v. 19a), Cleopas neatly summarizes the Gospel in these verses, saying that:
• Jesus was “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (v. 19b). This is true. Jesus is a prophet and spoke of himself as such in 4:24 and 13:33. He is a prophet like Moses. Acts 7:22 (also written by Luke) describes Moses as “mighty in his words and works.” Now Cleopas describes Jesus as “a prophet mighty in deed and word” (v. 19). But this description of Jesus as a prophet is inadequate. He is a prophet, but he is also the Son of God (1:34, 49; 3:18; 5:25; 11:4, 27; 20:31).
• The “chief priests and our rulers delivered (Jesus) up to be condemned to death, and crucified him” (v. 20). No mention is made of the Roman authorities or crowds. Luke holds the Jewish leaders responsible for Jesus’ death.
• “But we were hoping that it was he who would redeem Israel” (v. 21a). “We were hoping.” These are sad words—hope in the past tense—hope turned hopeless. For these disciples, “the redemption of Israel meant Israel’s liberation from their enemies, i.e., the Romans. For Luke, however, Jesus did in fact redeem Israel and brought the kingdom of God. Yet it was by his death that Jesus accomplished this redemption and sealed this new covenant (Luke 22:20)” (Stein, 611).
• “It is now the third day since these things happened” (v. 21b). The irony is that, although each passing day has deepened their despair, Luke’s readers know that Jesus predicted his resurrection on the third day (9:22; 13:32; 18:33; 24:7). The mention of the third day is itself full of hope to those who know how the story ends.
• “Also, certain women of our company amazed us” (v. 22a) by reporting that “they had also seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive” (v. 23b). The women’s testimony is found in Luke 24:8-10. That account names three women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, but it also says that other women with them also bore witness. But women were not permitted to be legal witnesses, and the words of these women seemed like idle chatter to the apostles.
• “Some of us went to the tomb, and found it just like the women had said, but they didn’t see him” (v. 24). We must admire these two Emmaus disciples. The Jewish leaders killed Jesus, and the disciples went into hiding for fear that they might be next. The Emmaus disciples could be expected to be close-mouthed about their relationship to Jesus—except, perhaps, in the company of trusted friends. Here, however, they talk openly about Jesus with a person whom they believe to be a perfect stranger.
LUKE 24:25-27. BEGINNING WITH MOSES AND THE PROPHETS
25He said to them, “Foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26Didn’t the Christ have to (Greek: dei) suffer these things and to enter into his glory?” 27Beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he explained to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
“Foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” (v. 25). Jesus reprimands the two disciples for failing to believe the prophets (v. 25).
“Didn’t the Christ have to (Greek: dei) suffer these things and to enter into his glory?” (v. 26). This little word, dei, suggests a divine imperative—something ordained by God. Jesus is implying that God ordained the Messiah’s suffering prior to his entering into his glory. While this was not self-evident to the first disciples, the Emmaus disciples have identified Jesus as a prophet, reminding us that prophets were persecuted (6:23-26) and killed (11:47-49; 13:34)—Jesus’ own words. God’s ways are not our ways. God chose the foolishness of the cross, because “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25). We should not be surprised that God—who chose young David and Gideon’s tiny army and little Israel—would also choose a cross.
“Beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he explained to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (v. 27). Jesus begins by revealing himself through the scriptures, but Luke doesn’t tell us which scriptures. Some possibilities include Deuteronomy 18:15; Psalm 2:7; 16:10; 110:1; 118:21-23; Isaiah 53; Daniel 7:13-15; Hosea 6:2; and Amos 9:11.
We are left to wonder whether Jesus explicitly connected the suffering and death of the prophets with his own suffering and death. Certainly the prophets served as a model for the crucifixion—and for the humble, sacrificial service that God expects of us.
Scripture is a powerful vehicle for revealing Christ. Scripture guides and strengthens Christians. Scripture has the potential to convert unbelievers. Gideons tell true stories about people whose lives have been changed by reading the Bible. We give the reading of scripture a prominent place in our worship, because it witnesses powerfully to Christ.
LUKE 24:28-32. THEN THEIR EYES WERE OPENED
28They drew near to the village, where they were going, and he acted like he would go further. 29They urged him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is almost evening, and the day is almost over.” He went in to stay with them.
30It happened, that when he had sat down at the table with them, he took the bread and gave thanks. Breaking it, he gave to them. 31Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished out of their sight.
32They said one to another, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us, while he spoke to us along the way, and while he opened the Scriptures to us?”
“They drew near to the village, where they were going, and (Jesus) acted like he would go further” (v. 28). This sounds as if the Emmaus disciples have reached their home. Jesus proceeds to leave them. Custom requires them to invite Jesus to dinner, and custom requires Jesus to decline unless they insist.
“They urged him, saying, ‘Stay with us, for it is almost evening, and the day is almost over.’ He went in to stay with them” (v. 29). As noted above, this story reminds us of Abraham at Mamre, entertaining angels unaware (Genesis 18:1-15).
“It happened, that when he had sat down at the table with them, (Jesus) took the bread and gave thanks. Breaking it, he gave to them” (v. 30). These are almost exactly the words that Luke used to describe Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper (22:19). Note especially the four verbs: took, blessed, broke, and gave. Jesus took these same actions at the feeding of the five thousand (9:12-17). Normally, the host would perform these actions in a home and the celebrant would perform them in a worship service. Jesus, the guest, becomes both host and celebrant at this table.
“Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (v. 31a). Earlier, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (v. 16). Now their eyes are opened. The exposition of the scriptures prepared them for recognition, which comes with the breaking of bread. It was God who veiled their eyes, and it is God who unveils them.
“and he vanished out of their sight” (v. 31b). Jesus had come into their presence unbidden and suddenly in verse 15—”but their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (v. 16). Now, when they recognize him, he vanishes from their sight.
Culpepper says that this story is a counterpoint to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31). In that parable, Lazarus lay outside the rich man’s gate, but the rich man neither acknowledged him nor shared his bread. In death, their situations were reversed, and the rich man begged God to send Lazarus with a drop of water. The irony was that, by failing to help Lazarus, the rich man deprived himself of blessings (Culpepper, 482). By contrast, the Emmaus disciples show hospitality to Jesus, and are rewarded with a private audience with the risen Lord. We never know what blessings we might receive by giving hospitality or what blessings we might lose by foregoing it.
“Weren’t our hearts burning within us, while he spoke to us along the way, and while he opened the Scriptures to us?” (v. 32). At the time, these two disciples did not understand what was happening, but Jesus was preparing them for the revelation that would come with the breaking of bread—preparing them to recognize him.
LUKE 24:33-35. THEY ROSE UP AND RETURNED TO JERUSALEM
33They rose up that very hour, returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and those who were with them, 34saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35They related the things that happened along the way, and how he was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.
“They rose up that very hour, returned to Jerusalem” (v. 33a). The Emmaus disciples hasten to share their story with the disciples in Jerusalem.They had to walk seven miles to get to Jerusalem, and the hour was late, but their good news energized them for their journey.
“The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon” (v. 34). Once the Emmaus disciples arrive in Jerusalem, they find the eleven apostles and their companions discussing Jesus’ appearance to Peter.
“and found the eleven gathered together” (v. 34b). We are accustomed to thinking of twelve apostles, but after Judas betrayed Jesus, he killed himself, leaving only eleven. Dale Bruner, a Christian writer, says of the eleven apostles, “The number ‘eleven’ limps.” That’s true, isn’t it! After Judas’ death, we occasionally hear of “the eleven” in the New Testament. Each time we hear “the eleven,” we are reminded that there should be twelve.
“and those who were with them” (v. 34c). Presumably these include the women and others, totaling about one hundred twenty, mentioned in Acts 1:14-15.
“They related the things that happened along the way, and how he was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread” (v. 35). The Emmaus disciples share their testimony only with other disciples. In due time, they will share it in a public setting (Acts 2:1-42).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2012, Richard Niell Donovan