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The Life of Jesus - Series 14: Episode 3

Jesus appears on the road to Emmaus

| Martin Charlesworth
Luke 24:13-35
Mark 16:12-13

Two disciples walking to Emmaus are joined by Jesus but they do not recognise him until he breaks bread. He teaches them from the scriptures about the Messiah and his need to die.

Two disciples walking to Emmaus are joined by Jesus but they do not recognise him until he breaks bread. He teaches them from the scriptures about the Messiah and his need to die.


Hello and welcome to Series 14 and Episode 3, in which 'Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to the village of Emmaus'. We are going to be following this story from Luke's account, in Luke 24: 13 - 35. 

Introduction and Recap

Series 14 is devoted entirely to the extraordinary story of Jesus' resurrection. In order to remind ourselves of the context, we need to reconsider for a second, the events that led up to his death. It all happened so very suddenly that it was hard to comprehend the transformation that had taken place. On Palm Sunday, the first day of the last week of Jesus' life, he had entered Jerusalem with huge crowds cheering him on, and expecting him to do great things in Jerusalem, to bring in the Kingdom of God in obvious political power, as well as spiritual power. Yet by Good Friday, he was being crucified on the cross. Within that five day period, he had gone from having popular acclaim from huge crowds, to being humiliated and crucified on a cross by the Roman authorities. On Palm Sunday, the Roman authorities were hardly aware of Jesus and little concerned about him. On Good Friday, they were executing him. Something incredible had happened in the middle which caused this transformation of Jesus' life from such popularity to a sudden death. What had happened was the determination of the Sanhedrin - the Jewish ruling council - that they wanted to get rid of Jesus and have him executed. They were very ably assisted by Jesus' disciple, Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him in the middle of the week. On Wednesday, he spoke to the authorities and on Thursday, he led them directly to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, after the Last Supper, where Jesus was arrested. Events moved incredibly quickly. The Sanhedrin gathered in the middle of the night to interrogate Jesus, and to adjudicate against him, which they did, claiming he was a blasphemer and a false messiah. They determined to hand him over to the Roman governor at the earliest possible moment on the Friday morning. This happened, so that Pontius Pilate was forced to make a decision about Jesus very quickly, and under great pressure from the Jewish leaders, who pleaded with him and urged him, and called upon him to crucify Jesus. So it was that Jesus died. His crucifixion took place immediately. It took six hours, from the moment he was nailed on the cross until the moment he died at 3 pm, on Good Friday afternoon, hanging on a cross at an execution site, just outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem, with crowds looking on and jeering, and supporters and disciples bewildered to know what to think, after such traumatic events. In the last episode of Series 13, we told the story of Jesus' burial by two members of the Sanhedrin, who had become secret disciples of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.

In Series 14, we have been following the amazing story of the resurrection. There is a huge amount of material about the resurrection of Jesus and we have been looking at the accounts of John and Matthew, in particular, keeping in mind Luke and Mark, and information that comes from Acts 1 and from 1 Corinthians 15. We have already told two remarkable stories of resurrection appearances and we are now moving to another different one altogether. Each Gospel writer brings a different emphasis to their account. At the point that we come to now, certain things have happened which are going to affect all the people involved in the story that is going to unfold before us as we read Luke's account. There have been two resurrection appearances to female disciples of Jesus, which had taken place early in the morning, near the tomb. One of them is recounted in John 20 and concerns Mary Magdalene, who had a unique and individual encounter with Jesus. The second one, which followed shortly afterwards, was with the rest of the group of women, who came very early on that morning to attend to the tomb. There were probably five or six in that group. We saw, in the last episode, in Matthew 28, as they went from the tomb, back into the city to tell the disciples that the stone had been rolled away and there was no body in the tomb and the grave clothes were lying there. They encountered Jesus and were able to tell the disciples that they had seen Jesus.

Information is spreading around the city amongst the followers of Jesus and different information is coming to different people, and the main group of eleven, out of the twelve disciples, are receiving information from the women about the empty tomb and the possibility of resurrection. What were the disciples to think about this? There was a sense of anticipation, a sense of uncertainty. They had been through very traumatic experiences in the last few days. They were not in a hurry to believe good news because they had had some terribly tragic experiences. They had been there in the Garden of Gethsemane when Judas had come in with the Temple guards armed; and they had seen Jesus arrested and humiliated; they had heard about his trial by the Sanhedrin; they had heard about his trial by Pontius Pilate; and most of them had not witnessed the crucifixion but they had heard the terrible details of Jesus' agonising death on Good Friday; and they had heard about his burial. Here they were in Jerusalem, having had a very strange Saturday - or Sabbath day - a very quiet day - numb, confused - grieving, traumatised. Peter, particularly traumatised by the fact that he had denied Jesus three times. He denied that he was a follower of Jesus when he was in the courtyard of the High Priest's house, during the night between Thursday and Friday morning. What was going to happen next? Something unusual happened, which is told to us in full, in significant detail by Luke. We are going to read the account of the encounter between Jesus and two disciples on the road to the village of Emmaus in Luke 24: 13 - 35. Emmaus was a village about 11 km away from Jerusalem so this was a significant walk which took plenty of time and here is what happened on the road.

The Road to Emmaus

13‘Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles, or eleven kilometres, from Jerusalem. 14They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16but they were kept from recognising him. 17He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" 19"What things?" he asked. "About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus." 25He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” 28As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going further. 29But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" 33They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34and saying, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." 35Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread.’

Luke 24:13-35, NIV

This is a well-known story which features two men, one called Cleopas and another unnamed, who were amongst the wider discipleship group of Jesus. They were not part of the Twelve, now known as the Eleven, because Judas Iscariot had betrayed them. The Eleven were in Jerusalem but here were some followers of Jesus who were living, or staying in lodgings, outside the city. The city was full. Lodgings were hard to find in the city and they were staying in the village of Emmaus, about 11 km away. Cleopas was probably the husband of a lady whose name is in John's Gospel, John 19: 25, says 'Mary wife of Cleopas'. She was part of the group of women who were at the crucifixion, standing at a distance. This suggests to us that this is a husband and wife couple who have come from Galilee, long-term disciples of Jesus, who are both supporting the group of disciples, and eyewitnesses to the events that were taking place at that time.

Their mood was reflective, sombre, sad. Their faces were described as downcast when they entered into conversation unknowingly with Jesus. They were thinking that it was terribly hard to explain what had happened. It went quite contrary to their expectations. They were probably present at the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday, a week earlier, and they saw all the crowds, and all the excitement of Jesus coming into the city. Now here they were, a week later, pondering the sudden death of Jesus and also trying to work out what was actually happening that day because they had heard strange rumours. When another person comes and joins them on the road; they don't recognise who it is. This is similar to what happened to Mary Magdalene because John 20 describes the fact that Jesus appeared to Mary and spoke to her, before she realised who he was. She thought he was a gardener. It appears a characteristic of the resurrected Jesus - that at times he disguised his appearance while he was seeking to reveal himself step-by-step to his followers. They walked along the road and talked together. Many of you will be familiar with this experience - such a common experience in so many cultures, isn't it? You are walking along with somebody, other people come and join you, and you have that wonderful experience of just sharing together, as you are walking along the journey from place to place. Something that I really love doing and I can so easily imagine them welcoming a third person, and very willing to talk about all the things that happened in Jerusalem.

Hopes Dashed

Everybody knew what had happened. There was no one in the area who didn't know that the great prophet from Galilee had come to Jerusalem in a blaze of glory but had ended up five days later, crucified on a cross. The people generally were confused by all this. It was a well-known story. News spread fast and these disciples told Jesus, whom they didn't yet recognise, that they had hoped, ‘that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.’ Luke 24: 19 - 21, describes that part of the story. They really believed that Jesus was going to do something wonderful and everything suggested that now was the time: he had the crowds on his side; he had momentum; and he had opportunity. What sort of things did they expect Jesus to do in Jerusalem at this time? They already knew because they were disciples and followers of Jesus, that the greatest thing he did was providing salvation and forgiveness of sins for people. They had seen him pronounce forgiveness of sins over people many times. I am sure they hoped that Jesus would come to the Temple and restore true worship. For many ordinary Jews, the Temple was not a representation of true worship. They knew that it was controlled by a hierarchy of priests who were making a lot of money out of the process, through their market trading and in other ways. They knew that there was corruption in the religious elite. They wanted a restoration of true worship. They probably expected the Messiah to overthrow the Romans, and their associates - like Herod the Tetrarch, Herod Antipas, and the other rulers. They hoped that this man Jesus, who was biologically related to David and was acclaimed as the Son of David, would restore a Jewish monarchy - the monarchy of David which had lapsed hundreds of years ago, and which they longed to see restored. They wanted to see Israel be a great nation again - Israel prosper under the blessing of God, without the Romans as the imperial rulers. Perhaps, they even hoped for what we described in earlier episodes, as the messianic age.

Jesus Revealed

The disciples described the events of the day, as far as they knew them, to Jesus, who they didn't yet recognise, saying that some women had seen the tomb empty and had seen angels; that some of the disciples had already been to the tomb to check it out, and found that it was empty. Jesus began to speak to them and said, ‘Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory’. He started talking to them about Old Testament Scriptures - Hebrew Scriptures and prophecies - and started going over the prophetic story of who the Messiah would be. They end up in Emmaus and Jesus agrees to stay with them at their request. He breaks bread and suddenly they recognise who he is. As soon as they have that recognition, he disappears.

The disciples rush back to Jerusalem to tell the eleven disciples, and others, who they found gathered together the news that they had encountered Jesus, only to find that the eleven disciples said that he had appeared to Simon; Simon Peter already had an appearance. During the day after appearing to Mary Magdalene, and to the women, Jesus appears to 2 men on the road to Emmaus, and also to Simon Peter. This appearance to Simon Peter is also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15: 3 - 6, Paul describes a series of resurrection appearances.

Jesus Teaches About the Messiah from the Scriptures

Let us focus for a moment on an important aspect of this story and that is the discussion and explanation that Jesus gave to them - while they still didn't recognise him - from the scriptures, about the Messiah and the destiny and ministry of the Messiah. We don't know what texts or Scriptures he referred to. Many Christians, over the years have said, wouldn't it be wonderful to have been in that Bible study with Jesus, and heard him explain how the scriptures all fit together, and point to him. In my mind's eye, I have often gone to that occasion and wish I was there along with those two, listening to the things that Jesus had said. Probably, he would have referred to Genesis 3:15 which speaks of the seed of woman, somebody coming from Eve, from her biological line who would crush the serpent, the enemy of mankind, the devil. Probably he would have referred to Genesis 12: 2 - 3 where God speaks to Abraham and promises, amongst other things, that one day there be a ‘blessing to all the nations of the earth’. He might have gone to Genesis 49: 10 which says, in prophecy, that the tribe of Judah is going to be singled out for some royal power. Probably he would have gone to 2 Samuel 7: 16 which speaks of David who came from the tribe of Judah, being a king whose dynasty would be an eternal dynasty and who would have great successors that followed him. He might have gone to Micah 5: 2, which describes the Messiah as being born in Bethlehem. He might have gone to Psalm 2, which describes the messianic ruler as the son of God. He might have gone to Psalm 16 which describes a Davidic successor, or holy one, who will rise from the dead. He might have gone to Psalm 110, describing a messianic ruler who will also be a priest forever. He might have gone to Daniel 7, describing the vision of the Son of Man sat at the right hand of the Ancient of Days, in power and glory and dominion. These, and many other Scriptures, were ones that Jesus could have referred to.

In order to explain that the Messiah had to suffer these things, and then enter his glory, as he states in Luke 24: 26, almost certainly Jesus would have directed the attention of these two disciples to Isaiah 53. This is a chapter we've spoken of on a number of occasions as a key prophecy, concerning the identity of the Messiah. This prophecy, in Isaiah, is the most decisive, and clearest, and longest prophecy that explains the necessity that the Messiah must suffer, and suffer death on behalf of others. It's quoted a number of times by Jesus. It's referred to a number of times by the Gospel writers. Almost certainly, Jesus would have spoken to them from this text. It is a good exercise to read the whole of the prophecy from Isaiah 52: 13 to Isaiah 53: 12. It is frequently quoted in the New Testament. I am going to read a few sections here because these demonstrate the point that Jesus wanted to make to these disciples: the Messiah had to suffer before he entered into his glory. Verses 4 to 6,

‘Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him and afflicted 5but he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was on him and by his wounds, we are healed. 6We all, like sheep, have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’

Isaiah 53:4-6, NIV

Verse 8, the second half,

‘For he was cut off from the land of the living for the transgression of my people. He was punished.’

Isaiah 53:8, NIV

Jesus here is the substitutionary sacrificial atonement, taking the sins of other people upon himself and dying in the process. Verse 10

‘Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer and though the Lord makes like offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. 11After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied by his knowledge. My righteous servant will justify many and he will bear their iniquities.’

Isaiah 53:10-11, NIV

This passage clearly states that he will die but also rise again. He will come back to life again. That is the part of the story that the disciples have always struggled with. They could see the power of Jesus; they could see the grace of Jesus; they could see the miracles that he could do; but they found it tremendously difficult to understand that he needed to suffer and die. He told them many times; he warned them but they struggled, they really struggled to understand. These two disciples are still wrestling with the same questions in their conversation along the road, until Jesus comes along and illuminates their minds. After Jesus had gone, they had that conversation together when they said that their hearts were burning. Something amazing was happening, as they were beginning to understand things that have been hidden from them. They suddenly began to realise that this death wasn't a disaster; it was a necessary step on the way to salvation. The resurrection would come, would follow it and here, they encounter the risen Jesus on the road.


What an amazing story! Things are really beginning to move in Jerusalem now, because out of the ten resurrection appearances recorded in the New Testament, we have four that have happened in quick succession. First, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, as recorded in John 20. Second, Jesus appears to the other women near the tomb, as recorded in Matthew 28. Thirdly, Jesus appears to these two disciples on the road to Emmaus and fourthly, at a similar time, Jesus has appeared to Simon Peter in Jerusalem. The appearance to Peter is important. We don't have any detail but it is part of helping to prepare him for his central role in the Church that is to come, and to help him recover from the trauma of his denial of Jesus.

Luke's account very much speaks like eyewitness testimony. It almost appears that Cleopas and his wife, who both experience different parts of the story, are telling their story through the pen of Luke. Here again, we see that the resurrection is an utterly physical reality. Jesus walked along the road with them; Jesus held the bread and he ate the bread. Here we see the incredible power of the prophecy of the Old Testament: the prophecy of Isaiah 53 and other similar passages, like Psalm 22, are being fulfilled through the death and then the resurrection of Jesus. Our focus now is returning to Jerusalem: these two disciples are back in Jerusalem; the Eleven are gathered together; others are assembled with them; there had been some kind of gathering together across the city during the course of the day. People began to realise things were happening. Rumours were spreading that Jesus had appeared, that angels had appeared to the women, and the story is gaining momentum. The focus of our next episode will be in Jerusalem, where something wonderful happens that takes the story a stage further.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. Imagine how the disciples felt about the news of Jesus’ resurrection. They had heard about his death and burial and were very upset. What did they do?
  • Discipleship
    1. How does the change from sorrow to joy for the disciples relate to your experience in the 21st century?
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