Appearances, pt.1

As we draw ever closer to the end of Luke’s gospel, we are reminded in vivid fashion that there is a one key element to the gospel narrative oft overlooked in our telling of the good news story: the appearances. The necessity of the appearances of the resurrected Lord is captured by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 where he details how the gospel he preached consisted of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection (v.3-4) and the appearances Jesus made to Cephas (or Peter), then the twelve, to more than 500 at one time, to James, and all the apostles (v.5-7). In other words, this was not a silent and secret resurrection; many people saw Jesus dead one day and three days later (and for forty days) alive again. In Luke 24.13-35, we have one of the appearances of Jesus recorded by Luke in great detail. This appearance account is peculiar to Luke, although Mark does mention it near the end of his gospel (Mark 16.12-13).

The Reunion with Jesus

It is still resurrection Sunday (“that very day”) when two disciples of Jesus who are not members of the Twelve (now eleven since Judas has hanged himself, see Acts 1.18-19) are traveling to Emmaus, a town six and a half to seven miles from Jerusalem. Their conversation is morose and melancholy as they recall the events of the past three days, especially, it seems, the crucifixion (see v.20) but also the various reports they have heard about the empty tomb. There is probably some confusion and questioning as they “communed” with one another as they walked. And as they communed (KJV), “talking and discussing together,” Jesus shows up. What a beautiful picture depicting exactly what Jesus has stipulated elsewhere: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt 18.20, ESV). Here are two disciples communing and conversing, questioning back and forth, and Jesus “drew near and went with them.” It is interesting, though, that they could not identify Him. Mark tells us that He appeared in another form (16.12) when he discusses this same appearance account in brief. There was something about His physical appearance which was different.

The Request from Jesus

Jesus interrupts their conversation by asking a question of His own. In essence, He wants to know what they are talking about. It is interesting the word Jesus uses when describing their “conversation” (ESV) for it is word which means to throw back and forth as people would do with a ball. They are volleying these questions back and forth between them as they go and Jesus wants to know what has their attention so rapt. Conversation stops. The disciples stop walking. Sadness fills the air.

The Reply to Jesus

Luke identifies one of the disciples as Cleopas. Speculation abounds concerning the other disciple – one says Nathanael, another Simon (probably because of the context, v.12), still others contend the second disciple is Luke himself. Again, all this is speculation; whoever he is, he is unindentified. But Cleopas speaks up to answer Jesus’ question. His response is somewhat intriguing because in essence he asks “Have you been living under a rock these past three days?” In other words, where have you been? How could you not know what’s been going on in Jerusalem? What is communicated here is the publicity and notoriety of the crucifixion of Jesus; everyone knew about the man from Nazareth and about His execution. Much like Joseph in the Old Testament, Jesus refrains from revealing Himself to his disciples and simply asks, “What things?”

Cleopas then tells Jesus about, well, Jesus. He explains that, first, Jesus was a prophet, mighty in word and work, before God and man. Second, Jesus was condemned and crucified by the religous leaders and authorities. Third, Jesus was the hope of Israel, the one whom people trusted would be the deliverer of God’s people. Fourth, all this took place about three days. Fifth, there has been a firestorm of amazing accounts from people who followed Jesus. Some women have been to the tomb and found it empty early in the morning. They also had seen an angel who said Jesus was alive. In addition, some of the company of the followers (Peter and John) have also been to the tomb and found it just as the women did – open, empty, and the grave clothes laying there.

In Cleopas’s account, there seems to be a glimmer of the flame of faith. But it is so weak and nearly extinguished. “We had hoped” but now that hope has faded; it has, after all, been three days. The story from the women seems too fantastic. And even the disciples who went to the tomb and saw with their own eyes the empty tomb is not enough; they did not see him. Mixed with the confusion is, perhaps, hopelessness and frustration. What now?

The Rebuke from Jesus

In somewhat strong language Jesus rebukes these disciples for their lack of faith. He calls them fools or those lacking in understanding or thought. Also, He calls them “slow in heart” which is a phrase used to describe someone as dull and lacking in comprehension. What they have failed to comprehend and believe are the prophets and everything that God spoke through the prophets. And by their own admission of Jesus as a “prophet mighty in deed and word” that means they have not believed Him.

And so Jesus asks yet another question of them: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (v.26). It’s rhetorical. Of course it was because the prophets, indeed, the Prophet had predicted these things should happen. So Jesus takes these two doubtful disciples on a jet tour study of the Christ from Moses to Malachi concerning what the Scriptures say about Himself. Notice Jesus does not “proof-text” them to death; rather, He “interpreted” or explained or exegeted the Scriptures for them, clearly communicating what the prophets about the Christ. We would do well to note that the doctrine of Christ saturates the pages of the Old Testament Scriptures. It really is all about Him. As J.C. Ryle has written, “The key of Bible knowledge is Jesus Christ.”

The Recognition of Jesus

We don’t know how long they walked with Jesus, but in that time span He had captured their hearts and minds so much so that as they drew near to Emmaus, they “urged him strongly” to stay with them. The language is such that they forced Him to stay with them even though He pretended like He was going further. It was late in the day and evening was coming on. And so He did go to their lodging place. We would do well to note that Jesus will not stay with us if we do not strongly desire His presence in our lives. He would have gone on further had these two disciples not compelled Him to stay with them.

Remember, they do not know this is Jesus (v.16). As far as they know, this is just another man who knows His Bible. Its meal time and Jesus takes the lead in taking, blessing, and breaking the bread. Now consider that you have walked all this way with this “stranger” and perhaps there is something familiar about Him; you just can’t put you finger on it. Then He does this. And it clicks: “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” Interpretations abound as to why Jesus “was known in the breaking of the bread.”

Some point to the upper room scene when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. However, it would not make sense that these disciples, who were not present for that upper room scene, would be aware of this. Coincidently, those who advocate this position from the Catholic Church also use this passage as validation for administering the bread without the wine to laity. But, again, this does not seem to be a Lord’s Supper context and if it were it would be the most bizzare account of that meal since Christ interrupts it midway through. Some say that when the disciples saw Jesus’ nail scarred hands they knew. But it is not in the seeing of His hands that they knew it was Him but in the breaking of the bread. And some see no particular significance. But clearly there was some significance to this whole event since it stimulated these disciples minds to remember something and so identify Jesus.

There is an account in Luke which uses nearly the exact same language as verse 30. In Luke 9 there is the account of the feeding of the five thousand. In verse 16, Jesus takes the bread (the five loaves), blesses it (while looking toward heaven), breaks the bread, and distributes it to His disciples. This was a very public miracle which literally thousands of people had experienced. Perhaps Cleopas and also this other disciples had been there for it. At least they had heard of it, if nothing else. This seems to be the occasion which these disciples recall here in Emmaus which identifies Jesus to them. And when they recognize Him, Jesus vanishes. It is beyond a doubt that the resurrection body of Jesus was real and material; it was a body of flesh. But the form was different and of such a difference that it could move, appear, and disappear as cannot be explained by this writer (nor by any writer I could find). Blessed is the one who can accept this by faith!

Once He had vanished, the disciples had time to meditate following the meal. First, while the text does not say this, I would assume there was silence for some time; just thoughtful quietness as they reflected upon what just happened. It had been Jesus the whole time! O foolish ones, indeed. But once they had thought about it…”Did you feel it, too?” “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” They asked each other this question but they spoke of their one heart (singular noun in Greek). This seems to back to their communing together. Their one heart which was frozen by faithlessness was not melted by the exposition of the Scripture of God, which is like a fire in the bones (Jer 20.9) and from God who is a consuming fire (Heb 12.29; cf. Dt 4.24; 5.25; 9.3). The flickering flame of faith has been fanned into a full fledged fire.

Renewed by this meditation, these men now have a mission. “That same hour” they made the same trek of nearly 7 miles back to Jerusalem to track down the eleven and tell the good news. It should be noted that although Luke calls them “the eleven,” both Judas and Thomas are not present. The terms “the eleven” and “the twelve” are titles for the group and may represent the group in part or in total. The disciples find “the eleven” (behind locked doors, no doubt) and announce that “The Lord has risen indeed.” How simple and yet profound is the gospel! But also, there is proof: Jesus “has appeared to Simon!” They also recounted everything Jesus had said while walking to Emmaus and how they had fully recognized Him when He had broken the bread.

(Outline taken from The Outline Bible by H.L. Willmington)