Luke 24:1–35: The Resurrection, On the Road to Emmaus
One of the most important events in the history of the world isn’t explicitly described in the Gospels: the details of Jesus’ resurrection are never called out. Instead, the story picks up when the women come to the tomb to prepare his body for a proper burial, and find out after the fact that he’s gone. (Joseph’s placing of Jesus’ body in the tomb either wasn’t an adequate burial, or was just the first step in the process, I’m not sure which.)
But let’s get into it…
The women who want to prepare Jesus’ body for proper burial show up on the first day of the week (the day after the Sabbath), but when they arrive the find the stone rolled away and a total and complete lack of Jesus’ body. This perplexes them, but while they’re still trying to puzzle it out two “men” show up, in “dazzling apparel” (verse 4). (Later on in verse 23 these “men” are specifically called out as angels.)
As usually happens when humans encounter angels the women are frightened, but the angels speak to them in spite of their fear:
… the men said to them, “Why do you seek 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 delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” (verses 5–7)
Upon hearing these words from the angels, the women do remember what Jesus had said. So they rush back to tell the rest of the disciples what happened, and when the others hear it they rejoice and celebrate! No, I’m kidding; when they hear it, they assume the women are telling “an idle tale” (verse 11), and ignore them. Except for Peter who runs to the tomb, sees Jesus’ linen cloths still lying there, and goes home “marveling at what had happened” (verse 12).
Later that day, Jesus appears to a couple of the disciples. They’ve left the house where the women told them about the resurrection, and are on their way to a village named Emmaus (which I always hear pronounced something like a-MAY-us), and talking about everything that’s happened. Jesus appears, but “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (verse 16). He asks what they’re talking about, and they’re surprised he hasn’t heard about everything.
And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 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.” (verses 19–24)
His answer, however, probably surprised them:
And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (verses 25–27)
When they get to Emmaus Jesus acts as if he’s going to continue on, but the disciples—who still don’t recognize him—convince him to stay with them for the night. Later on, at dinner, he breaks the bread and blesses them, and then they recognize him: It’s Jesus! But at that point he disappears. In retrospect, they’re not surprised to discover it was Jesus:
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?” (verse 32)
Then, despite the late hour—the very reason they’d used to convince Jesus to spend the night—they rush back to the rest of the disciples in Jerusalem and explain everything that happened.
As mentioned above, Jesus’ resurrection is one of the most important things that has happened in history, but the event itself isn’t described in the text, we only get told of Jesus’ resurrection after the fact. I think this leads a lot of Christian “laypeople” to view the crucifixion/death of Jesus as being more significant (i.e. that’s the sacrifice), while I’ve heard preachers trying to emphasize the importance of the resurrection.
If Jesus had never resurrected—if he’d just died, and that was it—he’d have been just as much a failure as his disciples temporarily thought he was. It was through the resurrection that He triumphed over death; He resurrected Himself because his sacrifice for our sins really did meet all of God’s requirements, really did make us right with Him, and really did allow us to enter God’s presence, so that death had no hold on him.
One minor proof I’ve heard offered that the Gospels are recounting real history, and aren’t just made up stories, is the fact that it was women who discovered the empty tomb, and not men. In those days women weren’t considered to be reliable witnesses—just look at the disciples’ reaction as proof!—so if the Gospels were made up, the authors never would have made it up that way, they would have had men discovering the tomb. The only reason they wrote down that it was women who discovered the tomb is because that’s what actually happened.
It’s only a small footnote in the narrative, but the one disciple who doesn’t completely dismiss the women is Peter; he hears about the empty tomb and immediately rushes there himself. Is this a sign that Peter is growing as a Christian? Is it simply another instance of Peter’s impetuous nature? Something in between—an impetuous act prompted by growing faith? I don’t know, but I am struck by the fact that, once again, it’s Peter who acts while the other disciples don’t.
“On the Road to Emmaus”
I’ve heard at least one preacher I respected—and perhaps a few—saying that they would have loved to have been with these disciples, listening to Jesus as He opened up all of the Old Testament Scriptures and explained how they pertain to Him. And that does sound like it would be fascinating! Imagine the things we would learn, if we’d been there for that conversation. It obviously isn’t knowledge that’s necessary to our salvation, or it would have been included in the Bible for us to read, but still, having the opportunity to hear Jesus explaining about himself from the Scriptures would have been wonderful. (Actually, maybe some of the things He explained did make it into some of the later letters of the New Testament. Surely the disciples would have discussed all of these things!)
That being said, sometimes the specific words or the specific teachings are not the important thing; sometimes the important thing is that it’s just time, in God’s providence, for a person to understand and believe. It’s possible Jesus didn’t say anything earth-shattering to these disciples, but it was time for them to understand, so they did.
This passage makes it impossible for us to judge those who don’t accept Jesus as Lord, however. I mean “judge” as in to feel morally superior. I accept Jesus as Lord because He first opened my eyes to see, not because I’m smarter or better or more faithful than anyone. These two men were disciples who’d spent many hours in Jesus’ company, had heard from the women that Jesus had been resurrected, and their hearts were burning within them when he was talking to them, yet they still didn’t recognize him, because “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” until “their eyes were opened.”
So what do we do with this? We preach the Gospel to anyone who will listen, and pray that God will open their eyes. Maybe He’ll do it immediately, maybe He’ll do it later, maybe He’ll never do it—but we preach, and leave it in His hands.