This resurrection account is one of the most dramatic stories in the Bible. Part of what makes it such an enjoyable story is that the reader knows more about what is taking place than the two disciples who unknowingly encounter Jesus. The British would call such a story "cheeky," because it pokes fun boldly at the doubting of resurrection. The reversal of emotion within the account shows how powerful a truth resurrection is. If God has power over Jesus' life and death, he also has power over all life and death. God is the Creator of life and is sovereign over death. If he points an endorsing finger at Jesus, how can humanity doubt him?
This meeting occurs as two disciples journey to Emmaus. They are sixty stadia, or about seven miles, from Jerusalem (the exact location of ancient Emmaus is not known today). The recent events have given them plenty to discuss, just as a major political event does among us today. In fact, the text portrays their discussion as rather intense, since syzeteo can refer to debating (Mk 8:11; Lk 22:23; Acts 6:9).
As they journey, a man joins them. Now Luke cleverly notes that it is Jesus, but he also mentions that the men cannot recognize him as Jesus. For once the joke is not on the reader but on the participants. Jesus is not being cruel here, but his gradual revelation of himself allows them to learn certain lessons about trusting God's promises. The disciples had been told about these events many times, but they cannot conceive how they could come to pass. The gradual revelation drives the point home vividly and calls on them to remember God's Word while trusting that what he says will come to pass. As we remember God's promise, we should rest in it (vv. 5-7). Luke's detailed account gives the reader an inside glimpse at how events were understood by disciples before they became aware that Jesus had risen from the dead. In all of these encounters, God shows himself to be in total control (note also v. 31).
So Jesus asks the two men about their conversation. Their countenance says it all: they stood still, their faces downcast. For these disciples, hope had been buried in the tomb provided by Joseph. In fact, one of them, Cleopas, is shocked that their new companion is unaware of recent events. His question's irony can hardly be overstated: "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" (so correctly RSV). If anyone knows, it is the One they are speaking to! But to draw them out, he asks them about their discussion.
Reviewing the story of Jesus of Nazareth, they refer to him as a prophet, a popular conception of who Jesus was (4:16-30; 7:16; 9:7-9, 18; 13:31-35). In fact, this view of Jesus, when comparing him to a prophet like Moses, correctly reflects an aspect of his ministry (Acts 3:14-26; 10:38-39). This Jesus was powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. But the leadership, chief priests and rulers, handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him (23:13). The disciples' hope had been different: "We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel." For them, Jesus' death had spelled a seeming end to that hope. The leaders had handed the promise over to Rome, and their persistence had extinguished its flame. Where these disciples place responsibility for Jesus' death is clear, and so is their disappointment.
But the story is not over. Three days have passed, and new events have caused a stir. Some of the female disciples journeyed to the tomb, only to find no body inside. They claimed to have seen a vision of angels. They claimed that he was alive. Still others went to the tomb and found it empty, but they did not see Jesus. This empirical note seems to be key for the two, since it seems they are not yet convinced that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Thomas gets all the contemporary press as a doubter of the resurrection, but Luke 24 makes it clear that he was merely one of a crowd, including these two followers. Like modern people in their skepticism, they will be persuaded only if they actually see Jesus. As readers we almost want to yell at the two, "Take a close look!"
Here is the major lesson of the Emmaus Road experience. Though resurrection is hard to believe, be assured that it took place. Its reality means that Jesus' claims are true. He was more than a teacher and more than a prophet. He was the promised, anointed one of God. A host of skeptics saw that this was so, and they believed. Do not be skeptical as these men were. Remember what God required of his Messiah: suffering, then vindication in exaltation.
Jesus starts to break their misconceptions with a rebuke: "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?" For the second time in the chapter, Luke notes how these events were necessary (dei; compare v. 7). Jesus reviews the rest of the story from the book that reveals it. Events and Scripture together raise the issue of faith in God's promises. The disciples have been slow to believe. They have not read Isaiah 52—53 or Psalm 16 with understanding, not to mention Deuteronomy 18:15, Psalm 2:7, Psalm 110:1, Psalm 118 or Daniel 7:13-14. No doubt when beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself, Jesus used many of the texts that show up in other places in Luke and Acts. By taking them back to the Scripture, Jesus is noting that what took place was part of God's plan and promise. Luke highlights the point by speaking about all the Prophets and interpreting all the Scripture. Scripture's promise centers on Jesus. This text is a primary witness to Jesus. We can rest assured that Jesus is who he claims to be.
The lesson has not ended, but it is getting late. So as they draw near to Emmaus, Jesus pretends (NIV acted as if; Greek prosepoiesato) he would journey on, but the men prevail upon him to stay with them. Since he has revealed the plan, now it is time to reveal the person.
It is in the intimacy of fellowship that Jesus is recognized. This setting is no mistake; it is a major Lukan theme. Many of the resurrection appearances he describes are associated with table fellowship (Lk 24:41-43; Acts 1:4; 10:41; also Jn 21:9-15). As Jesus sits at the table, takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them, their eyes were opened. In a situation that recalls the feeding of the five thousand and the Last Supper, the disciples realize that they have been talking with the Lord himself (Lk 9:22; 22:19). Though not a reenactment of the Last Supper, this meal does show that Jesus is present and is known when his disciples remain close to him. The lack of recognition of verse 16 is reversed. Their perplexity over recent events is removed. It is through sitting with Jesus and listening to him that we get to know him.
After his recognition by the disciples, Jesus disappears. That Jesus is alive is all the disciples need to understand. They can now appreciate that he is with them. All of a sudden the entire discussion on the road makes sense. Like a lost key found or a huge mystery solved, the direction of recent events becomes clear and the way to understand life anew is opened up. Because of this new awareness, the disciples recall their recent scriptural review in a new light: "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" Their words point to how emotional the exposition had been for them, like a message being sown into the soul.
With a flame relit in their hearts, they return to the gathering of disciples in Jerusalem. The news is too good to keep to themselves. To know Jesus is to be thrilled at the prospect of sharing news of him with others.
Good news travels fast, and news of the verification of the resurrection was no exception. Jesus has, in effect, been everywhere. The two returning disciples are greeted with a report like their own: "The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon!" This is a new detail in chapter 24, since earlier all Luke had reported was the empty tomb Peter saw (v. 12). So the message of the Emmaus disciples is preempted. Jesus is among all of them. It is becoming clear to all in the community that the women were right after all. Jesus is alive, and their hope remains as firmly in place as ever. The Emmaus report follows. Luke stresses that Jesus revealed himself to the two disciples during the breaking of the bread. In the quietness of the table Jesus is especially revealed.
We can imagine the flood of emotion in the room as these stories of Jesus' appearances flowed in. It must have been like a newsroom full of reporters collecting facts on a breaking story. The room was probably abuzz.
What is more, though it is late and much has already happened, Jesus' appearances are not over quite yet. Despite his "physical" absence, he has actually been with all of them all along through resurrection—a very crucial message for the disciples to learn about how Jesus will be with them in the future. To say Jesus is risen is to say that he is with us.