All the Way to Calvary: An Unexpected Roundtrip

Apart from the Lord’s appearance to the disciples in Galilee (Joh 21), the Emmaus journey (Luk 24:13-35) is the longest post-resurrection narrative. There is something sweet about the fact that Christ revealed Himself to these lesser-known followers of His in such dramatic fashion. The Savior’s loving concern for all His own was impartial. And it still is.

We only know the name of one of these travelers, identified in Luke 24:18 as Cleopas. Although some seek to identify him as the same person named in John 19:25 (“Mary the wife of Clopas”), the names are slightly different. Attempts to identify the wayfaring couple as Clopas and his wife, Mary, the earthly uncle and aunt of the Lord Jesus, are not very persuasive. Luke’s aim is to shine the spotlight on the unrecognized traveler, not the unnamed one.

Back to Emmaus

The two were headed “to a village called Emmaus” (Luk 24:13).1  The fact that they later returned to Jerusalem (v33) indicates that their journey began from Jerusalem. As they made their way back to Emmaus, about a seven-mile trek, they had no idea just how quickly they were about to retrace their own steps.

It was still the first day of the week, Easter Sunday, since Luke mentions the “same day” (v13, see v1). With heads hung low, the companions were dejectedly rehearsing all the events of the last few days. They could not believe how wrong they had been about Jesus of Nazareth. Then suddenly, “Jesus himself drew near, and went with them” (v15). But they had no idea who their fellow traveler was. Luke informs us that “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (v16 NET). The verb “kept” is in the passive voice, likely a divine passive, meaning that God kept them from recognizing Christ.2

At this point, Jesus asked them His first question, “What are these matters you are discussing so intently as you walk along?” (v17 NET). It was a question so jarring that it stopped them in their tracks: “And they stood still, looking sad” (v17 NET). Cleopas chimed in, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn’t know what happened there in the past few days?” (v18 ISV). Where had this Man been? How could He be so uninformed? The Savior’s second question, “What things?” (v19), led His co-travelers to take Him back to the beginning.

Back to the Beginning

“And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (v19). It must have been heartening for the Lord Jesus to hear their assessment of His ministry and impact from its inception to the present moment. But their focus then turned to the last few heartbreaking days. “The chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel” (vv20-21). The verb “trusted” (or better, “hoped”) is in the imperfect tense; they were hoping Jesus of Nazareth would be the long-promised Redeemer, who would grant Israel’s political release from Roman oppression. But their hopes were shattered at the cross. The words “death” and “redeemed” did not connect in their Messianic theology.

The travelers added, “And beside all this, today is the third day since these things were done” (v21). Why did they reference “the third day”? Since they proceeded to mention that women in their group told them they had seen and heard from angels at the tomb (vv22-23), and since Luke records earlier that the angels told the women that Christ would rise again on “the third day” (v7), this detail was likely shared with the two travelers. It was now the third day. Where was He? His body was missing from the tomb, but apparently no one had seen Him. Of course, “the irony of the narrative is that they are in the midst of what they desired and what the others had not experienced [seeing the risen Lord].”3

We cannot help but be touched by the followers’ disappointment, disillusionment and despair. In the presence of their unknown companion, they let it all out. And their spiritual transparency was about to be rewarded. But first, a rebuke.

Back to the Bible

“Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” (vv25-26). The rebuke centers on the word “all” in Christ’s reference to their failure to believe “all that the prophets have spoken.” They certainly believed the prophets, but not “all” that the prophets had said about the coming Messiah. They would be happy to assert those Old Testament texts predicting the Messiah’s sudden coming to smash the nations and establish His kingdom. But that is not “all” that the prophets had written. They foretold not only a ruling Messiah but a suffering One. There is always the danger of reading the Scriptures selectively or partially.

The Savior told them here that Christ’s sufferings were a must. “Ought” (v26) is the Greek dei, meaning “it is necessary.”4  Before entering into His glory, Christ must suffer the very things these travelers were discussing, and that so disheartened them. They needed to get back to the Bible, which is where the Savior took them. “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (v27). In all their conversation, they never referred to the Scriptures. The Lord took them there, expounding things they had never understood before. It is more important for Christ’s followers to recognize Him in His Word than to recognize Him in the flesh. And learning Christ is more valuable than erasing sorrow. So here we begin to see why they were kept from recognizing Him (v16). Their understanding of the resurrection would need to be based on Scripture, not experience. So the Lord gave them a firm foundation in this unforgettable Bible study.

We are not told which Scriptures He referenced, but another “all” grabs our attention in verse 27: “all the scriptures.” The theme of all Scripture is Christ Himself. Although we cannot be sure, the Savior may have taken them to the Bible’s first prophecy (Gen 3:15), which indicated some sort of suffering to come for the Promised Seed of the woman. The slaying of the Passover lamb, the upraised bronze serpent in the wilderness, the piercing of Messiah’s hands and feet in Psalm 22, the Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah, Zechariah’s mention of Him being pierced and smitten – all may have been part of Christ’s marvelous explanation as to why He must first suffer.5  And there is not a saint on earth who would not have loved to have been there to hear it!

As the truth of God’s Word about the Messiah sank into their souls, their despair began to melt like snow before the blazing sun. They did not see the full picture until now. Yes! Christ had to suffer. And He did suffer, fulfilling Scripture perfectly. How crucial it is for us to interpret God’s Word accurately. “If we find ourselves hurting and despairing and do not find that Scripture speaks to our condition, it is not because the Bible has failed us, but because we do not know it well enough.”6

Their trip went by much faster than they expected. “And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further” (v28). Likely testing their desire for His company, Christ continued walking. But having so enjoyed His fellowship, they dared not let Him go. “They constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them” (v29). It is always wise to allow Christ’s presence to fill our homes.

The meal began, but the guest strangely became the host. “And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them” (v30).7  Perhaps the hosts asked the Lord Jesus to give thanks (i.e., the blessing) out of respect for His knowledge of the Scriptures. Whatever the case, it was at this point that they finally recognized their traveling companion. “And their eyes were opened, and they knew him” (v31). Some suggest that the reason for their recognition of Him was the visibility of the nail prints in His hands as He broke the bread, but the text states the reason: “their eyes were opened.” Had they not been kept from realizing who He was, they doubtless would have already. But as in verse 16, here we have another divine passive (the verb “opened” is in the passive voice). The God who conceals is the God who reveals. God is the Revealer of the risen Christ.

No sooner were their eyes opened than a seat was empty – “and he vanished out of their sight” (v31). Notice the absence of the spectacular here. No trumpet sounded; no heavenly light blinded them; no voice thundered from the skies. He was with them and then He was gone. What fascinated them was not the manner in which He appeared nor the manner in which He vanished. Rather, “they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (v32). It was His exposition of the Word that lit a fire under them, and now they could not wait to tell the others.

Back to Jerusalem

They certainly did not expect to be making another trip that evening, but “they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem” (v33). Their friends had to know what they now knew, not only that Christ was risen, but that His sufferings were necessary and predicted in their own Scriptures.

Although they had a big surprise to share, they were about to be surprised themselves. Luke tells us they returned “and found the eleven8  gathered together, and them that were with them, Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon” (v34). They were not the only ones to see the risen Savior. The appearance to Simon Peter, although noted here and in 1 Corinthians 15:5, is not detailed anywhere. But it was evident that Christ was seen now by multiple witnesses. Notice also that their report was that “the Lord is risen,” emphasizing His authority. Not only is He alive but He bears authority.

At last, it was their turn to share their news. “And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread” (v35). No doubt, their hearts were not the only ones now burning within them. What they did not realize was that everyone in the room was about to become an eyewitness to the glorious fact that “the Lord is risen indeed.”

1 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.

2 Such concealing is noted elsewhere by Luke (9:45; 18:34).

3 Darrell L. Bock, Luke: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996), 2:1915.

4 Dei is one of Luke’s key words (2:49; 4:43; 13:33; 18:1; 19:5; 21:9; 22:7,37; 24:7,44).

5 The sermons in Acts refer to many OT texts which were fulfilled in the Lord Jesus (e.g., Deu 18:15; Psa 2:7; 16:8-11; 110; 118; Isa 53). These passages and others were likely those Christ expounded to these travelers and later to the whole group in the upper room (Luk 24:44-46).

6 R. Kent Hughes, Luke Volume 2: That You May Know the Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998), 410.

7 The language recalls Luke’s account of the feeding of the 5,000 (9:16) and of the last supper (22:19).

8 Note that these two are distinguished from “the eleven.” The unnamed traveler could not, therefore, have been one of the eleven.