Two disciples see Jesus at Emmaus

On the road to Emmaus, Helge Boe

On the road to Emmaus, Helge Boe

Something happened at Emmaus that no-one could explain. Two disciples saw, talked with and shared a meal with Jesus, whose dead body had gone missing that morning. How was this possible?

On the road to Emmaus

Map of incidents in the life of Jesus, including EmmausThe resurrection occurred very early on Sunday morning.

On this same day, two disheartened people were walking along the road that led to the town of Emmaus, about 7 or 8 miles north-west of Jerusalem (see the remains of the original road leading towards the town of Emmaus below right).

One of them was called Cleopas, and may well have been the husband of the faithful women, ‘the wife of Cleopas’, who stood at the cross, watching as Jesus died.

They were joined by a man they did not recognise. It was Jesus, but they failed to perceive his identity, which suggests he appeared in a form that was different to the one they were used to. Mark’s gospel says that ‘Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. They returned and reported it to the rest, but they did not believe them either… (Mark 16:12-13).

What this different form was, we do not know. All we know is that ‘their eyes were kept from recognizing him’.

Remains of the original road leading towards the town of Emmaus

The two travellers were talking about recent events in Jerusalem – the death of Jesus of Nazareth and the fact that Jesus’ tomb had been found empty. There was a report from women disciples that they had seen angels, but this was dismissed as improbable.

When the male disciples had checked, there had been no sign of Jesus, whose body had disappeared.

See the blue text in What The Gospels Say at end of page

Jesus guides their understanding

As they walked on, the unrecognised figure of Jesus chided them for rejecting the words of the prophets, who had foretold the wretched treatment that awaited the suffering Messiah. He went through the main books of the Jewish Scriptures and pointed out that suffering was a prelude to the glorious arrival of the Messiah.

The disciples and Jesus on the road to Emmaus If they knew their Scriptures, why would they be surprised at what had happened to this Jesus of Nazareth?

In essence, the mysterious stranger

  • walked the road with them
  • listened to them
  • and searched the Scriptures with them.

Without realizing it, they began to understand.

See the green text in What The Gospels Say at end of page

The Birth of Jesus 2There was a more civilized alternative to death by stoning: a quiet divorce. This is what Joseph decided to do.

Something now happened in the story that changed world history. Joseph had a dream, a very powerful one, in which he was guided by God to take Mary as his wife.

The text describes the message as coming from an ‘angel’, without going into details of what it meant by ‘angel’. Biblical writers seemed to have used the word as a sort of code: the message of an ‘angel’  meant that a deep conviction settled on a person that God had a particular purpose or plan, and that they were part of it. They must follow this purpose through to the end, even if it did not seem to make sense to them. They must simply trust in God.

The dream/angel told Joseph to marry Mary, even though he knew the child would not be his. This he did. Then, awed by the dream and God’s message, he decided to abstain from sexual relations with her until after the baby was born.

Read the blue text at end of page

And their eyes were opened

When they arrived at Emmaus Jesus made as if to go on further, but the two disciples held him back. They insisted he stay with them, share a meal, and presumably spend the night at the inn they had chosen (or their home? the location is not clear).

Open hearth with blazing fireJesus agreed, and went in to share the evening meal with them. He was their guest, but instead he assumed the position of host.

  • He took up a piece of the bread
  • blessed the morsel
  • gave thanks to God
  • and shared it with them.

As he did so, the truth hit home. They recognised the gestures and words as the same that Jesus had used, and what is more they recognised this man for who he was: Jesus of Nazareth, the Risen Christ.

At the moment of recognition, Jesus vanished from their sight.

See the red text in What The Gospels Say at end of page

They proclaim the risen Christ

The two people sitting at that table must have been frozen with astonishment, but they soon realized what this extraordinary experience meant. There had been a strange exhilaration when Jesus spoke to them, and his gestures as he broke and blessed bread cemented their certainty. Emmaus, Painting by Caravaggio

This was Jesus of Nazareth in a form they had not recognized.

They lost no time, but set out immediately to proclaim the Risen Christ to the eleven disciples waiting, too stunned for action, in Jerusalem. The women had seen Jesus, but their story had been discounted. Simon Peter had spoken with Jesus; this was now given more credence. The two men from Emmaus provided backup up for these earlier sightings, and at last the disciples began to hope.

See the black text in What The Gospels Say at end of page

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What  the  Gospels say

1. On the road to Emmaus. Read the blue text

2. Jesus guides them. Read the green text

3. And their eyes were opened. Read the red text

4. They proclaim the risen Christ. Read the black text.

Luke 24:13-35

13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning 23 and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.”

25 And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, 29 but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?”

33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, 34 who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

You might like to compare the parallel accounts of the births of Jesus and John the Baptist in Luke’s gospel. You can find the gospel texts at http://www.womeninthebible.net/Elizabeth_bible_text.htm

Notice especially statements about

the pregnancy reaching term, Luke 1.57 and 2.6

the birth statement, Luke 1.57 and 2.7

marvelling onlookers, Luke 1.63 and 2.18

the taking to heart of what had happened, Luke 1.66 and 2.19

circumcision and name-giving, Luke 1.59 and 2.21

John’s birth is clearly a prelude to the birth of Jesus.

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Jesus' story
Black silhouette of a man against a fiery background
Peter's story