Luke 24 Bible Commentary

John Lightfoot’s Bible Commentary

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5. And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?

[Why seek ye the living among the dead?] "A parable. A certain priest (who had a foolish servant) went somewhere without the city. The servant seeking about for his master, goes into the place of burial, and there calls out to people standing there. 'Did you see my master here?' They say unto him, 'Is not thy master a priest?' He said, 'Yes.' Then said they unto him, 'Thou fool, who ever saw a priest among tombs?' So say Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh; 'Thou fool, is it the custom to seek the dead among the living? (or perhaps the living among the dead?) Our God is the living God; but the gods of whom thou speakest are dead,'" &c.

13. And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs.

[And behold two of them were going, &c.] One of these was Cleopas, verse 18, whom we have elsewhere shewn to be the very same with Alpheus, both from the agreement of the name, and also by comparing John 19:25, with Mark 15:47, and Matthew 27:56. That Peter was the other, I do not at all question, grounding my confidence upon verse 34 of this chapter; and 1 Corinthians 15:5. This Cleopas or Alpheus, we see, is the speaker here, and not Peter, being older than Peter, as being the father of four of the apostles.

15. And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them.

[Jesus himself drew near, and went along with them.] "After that, he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country." But what form that was, it would be something bold to determine. But it seems to be different from the form of a gardener, and indeed not the form of any plebeian; but rather of some scholar, because he instructs them while they were upon the road, and giveth thanks for them when they sat at meat. So Beracoth; "If two eat together, the one of them a learned man, the other of them an unlearned man, he that is the learned man gives thanks." Hence that passage: "Janneus the king calls out Simeon Ben Shetahh, vice-president of the Sanhedrim, and a doctor, to say grace after supper: and thus he begins; 'Blessed be God for the meat which Janneus and his guests have eaten.' To whom the king, 'How long wilt thou persist in thy frowardness?' Saith the other, 'Why, what should I have said? Must we bless God for the meat that we have eaten, when as I have eaten none at all?'"

21. But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, today is the third day since these things were done.

[We trusted, &c.] "We trusted it had been he that should have redeemed Israel": viz., in the sense that that nation had of a redemption, which they hoped for from the Gentile yoke. But the poverty and meanness of Jesus gave them no ground to hope that any such thing should be brought about by arms, as that people had generally dreamed; they hoped, however, it might have been miraculously accomplished, as their first redemption from Egypt had been.

[Today is the third day, &c.] It is worthy our observation what notice the Rabbins take of the third day: "Abraham lifted up his eyes the third day, Genesis 22:4. It is written, After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight, Hosea 6:2. It is written, concerning the third day of the tribes, Joseph said unto them, The third day, Genesis 42:18. Concerning the third day also of the spies: Hide yourselves there three days, Joshua 2:16. And it is said of the third day of the promulgation of the law, And it came to pass on the third day, Exodus 19:16. It is written also of the third day of Jonas, Jonas was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, Jonah 1:17. It is written also of the third day of those that came up out of the captivity. And there abode we in tents three days, Ezra 8:15. It is written also of the third day of the resurrection from the dead, After two days will he revive us, and the third day he will raise us up. It is written also of the third day of Esther, And on the third day Esther put on her royal apparel, Esther 5:1. The Targumist adds, On the third day of the Passover." And that indeed is the day we are at present concerned in, namely, the third day of the Passover. If these things were taken so much notice of concerning the third day, at that time, in the schools and synagogues, (as I see no reason why it should be denied), then these words of Cleopas may seem to look a little that way, as speaking according to the vulgar conceptions of the Jews. For whereas it had been plain enough to have said, today is the third day, but he further adds, beside all this, and the word this, too; there seems a peculiar force in that addition, and an emphasis in that word. As if the meaning of it were this: "That same Jesus was mighty in word and deed, and shewed himself such a one, that we conceived him the true Messiah, and him that was to redeem Israel: and besides all these things which bear witness for him to be such, this very day bears witness also. For whereas there is so great an observation amongst us concerning the third day, this is the third day since he was crucified; and there are some women amongst us, that say they have been told by angels that he is risen again."

30. And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.

[He took bread, and blessed it, &c.] It is strange that any should expound this breaking of bread of the holy eucharist, when Christ had determined with himself to disappear in the very distribution of the bread and so interrupt the supper. And where indeed doth it appear that any of them tasted a bit? For the supper was ended before it began.

"If three eat together, they are bound to say grace"; that is, as it is afterward explained, "One of them saith, 'Let us bless': but if there be three and himself, then he saith, 'Bless ye.'" Although I do not believe Christ tied himself exactly to that custom of saying, 'Let us bless'; nor yet to the common form of blessing before meat; yet is it very probable he did use some form of blessing, and not the words, 'This is my body.'

32. And 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?

[Did not our hearts burn within us?] Beza saith, "In one copy we read it written, Was not our heart hid?" Heinsius saith, "It is written hidden, in the best copies." Why then should it not be so in the best translations too? But this reading favours his interpretation, which amounts to this: "Were we not fools, that we should not know him while he was discoursing with us in the way?" I had rather expound it by some such parallel places as these: "My heart waxed hot within me, and while I was musing the fire burned," Psalm 39:4; "His word was in mine heart as a burning fire," Jeremiah 20:9. This meaning is, That their hearts were so affected, and grew so warm, that they could hold no longer, but must break silence and utter themselves. So these, 'Were we not so mightily affected, while he talked with us in the way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures, that we were just breaking out into the acknowledgment of him, and ready to have saluted him as our Lord?'

That is a far-fetched conceit in Taanith: "R. Alai Bar Barachiah saith, If two disciples of the wise men journey together, and do not maintain some discourse betwixt themselves concerning the law, they deserve to be burnt; according as it is said, It came to pass, as they still went on and talked, behold a chariot of fire, and horses of fire," &c. 2 Kings 2.

34. Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.

[Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.] I. That these are the words of the Eleven appears from the case in which the word the eleven is put. They found the eleven and them that were with them, saying. They having returned from Emmaus, found the eleven and the rest, saying to them, when they came into their presence, "The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared unto Simon." But do they speak these things amongst themselves as certain and believed? or do they tell them to the two disciples that were come from Emmaus, as things true and unquestionable? It is plain from St. Mark, that the eleven did not believe the resurrection of our Saviour, till he himself had shewed himself in the midst of them. They could not, therefore, say these words, "The Lord is risen, and hath appeared unto Simon," as if they were confidently assured of the truth of them: but when they saw Simon so suddenly and unexpectedly returning, whom they knew to have taken a journey towards Galilee, to try if he could there meet with Jesus, they conclude hence, "Oh! surely the Lord is risen, and hath appeared to Simon," otherwise he would not have returned back so soon.

Which brings to mind that of the messenger of the death of Maximin: "The messenger that was sent from Aquileia to Rome, changing his horses often, came with so great speed that he got to Rome in four days. It chanced to be a day wherein some games were celebrating, when on a sudden, as Balbinus and Gordianus were sitting in the theatre, the messenger came in; and before it could be told, all the people cry out, 'Maximin is slain'; and so prevented him in the news he brought," &c.

We cannot well think that any worldly affairs could have called away these two from the feast before the appointed time, nor indeed from the company of their fellow-disciples, but something greater and more urgent than any worldly occasions. And now imagine with what anguish and perplexity poor Peter's thoughts were harassed for having denied his Master: what emotions of mind he felt, when the women had told him, that they were commanded by angels to let Peter particularly know that the Lord was risen, and went before them into Galilee, and they might see him there, Mark 16:7: that it seems to me beyond all question, that one of these disciples going towards Emmaus was Peter, who as soon as he had heard this from the women, taking Alpheus as a companion of his journey, makes towards Galilee, not without communicating beforehand to his fellow-disciples the design of that progress: they, therefore, finding him so suddenly and unexpectedly returned, make the conjecture amongst themselves, that certainly the Lord had appeared to him, else he would never have come back so soon. Compare but that of the apostle, 1 Corinthian 15:5, he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve; and nothing can seem expressed more clearly in the confirmation of this matter.

Object. But it may be objected, that those two returning from Emmaus found the eleven apostles gathered and sitting together. Now if Simon was not amongst them, they were not eleven. Therefore he was not one of those two.

Ans. I. If it should be granted that Peter was there and sat amongst them, yet were they not exactly eleven then; for Thomas was absent, John 20:24. II. When the eleven are mentioned, we must not suppose it exactly meant of the number of apostles then present, but the present number of the apostles.

37. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.

[They supposed they had seen a spirit.] Whereas the Jews distinguished between angels and spirits and demons; spirits are defined by R. Hoshaniah to be "such to whom souls are created, but they have not a body made for those souls." But it is a question, whether they included all spirits or souls under this notion, when it is more than probable that apparitions of ghosts, or deceased persons who once had a body, were reckoned by them under the same title. Nor do I apprehend the disciples had any other imagination at this time, than that this was not Christ indeed, in his own person, as newly raised from the dead; but a spectrum only in his shape, himself being still dead. And when the Pharisees speak concerning Paul, Acts 23:9, "That if an angel or a spirit had spoken to him," I would easily believe they might mean it of the apparition of some prophet, or some other departed just person, than of any soul that had never yet any body created to it. I the rather incline thus to think, because it is so evident, that it were needless to prove how deeply impressed that nation was with an opinion of the apparitions of departed ghosts.

44. And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.

[In the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms.] It is a known division of the Old Testament into the Law, the Prophets, and the Holy writings.

I. The books of the law and their order need not be insisted upon, commonly called by us, the Pentateuch; but by some of the Rabbins, the Heptateuch; and by some Christians, the Octateuch. "R. Samuel Bar Nachman saith, R. Jonathan saith, 'Wisdom hath hewn out her seven pillars.' These are the seven books of the law." But are there not but five books only? "Ben Kaphra saith, The Book of Numbers is made three books. From the beginning of the book to And it came to pass when the ark set forward [chap. 10:35], is a book by itself. That verse and the following is a book by itself: and from thence to the end of the book is a book by itself"...

Eulogius, speaking concerning Dosthes or Dositheus, a famous seducer of the Samaritans, hath this passage: He adulterated the Octateuch of Moses with spurious writings, and all kind of corrupt falsifyings. There is mention also of a book with this title, The Christians' Book, an Exposition upon the Octateuch. Whether this was the Octateuch of Moses it is neither certain nor much worth our inquiry; for Photius judgeth him a corrupt author: besides that it may be shewn by and by, that there was a twofold Octateuch besides that of Moses. Now if any man should ask, how it come to pass that Eulogius (and that probably from the common notion of the thing) should divide the books of Moses into an Octateuch; I had rather any one else than myself should resolve him in it. But if any consent that he owned the Heptateuch we have already mentioned, we should be ready to reckon the last chapter of Deuteronomy for the eighth part.

Aben Ezra will smile here, who in that his obscure and disguised denial of the books of the Pentateuch, as if they were not writ by the pen of Moses, instances, in that chapter in the first place, as far as I can guess, as a testimony against it. You have his words in his Commentary upon the Book of Deuteronomy, a little from the beginning, But if you understand the mystery of the twelve, &c., i.e. of the twelve verses of the last chapter of the book (for so his own countrymen expound him), "thou wilt know the truth"; i.e. that Moses did not write the whole Pentateuch; an argument neither worth answering, nor becoming so great a philosopher. For as it is a ridiculous thing to suppose that the chapter that treats of the death and burial of Moses should be written by himself, so would it not be much less ridiculous to affix that chapter to any other volume than the Pentateuch. But these things are not the proper subject for our present handling.

II. There also was an Octateuch of the prophets too: "All the books of the prophets are eight; Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the twelve." For the historical books also were read in their synagogues under the notion of the prophets, as well as the prophets themselves, whose names are set down. You will see the title prefixed to them in the Hebrew Bibles, The former prophets, as well as to the others, The latter prophets. The doctors give us the reason why they dispose the prophets in that order, that Jeremiah is named first, Ezekiel next, and Isaiah last, which I have quoted in notes upon Matthew 27:9: and let not the reader think it irksome to repeat it here.

"Whereas the Book of Kings ends in destruction, and the whole Book of Jeremiah treats about destruction; whereas Ezekiel begins with destruction, and ends in consolation; and whereas Isaiah is all in consolation, they joined destruction with destruction, and consolation with consolation."

III. The third division of the Bible is entitled the Holy Writings. And here also is found an Octateuch by somebody (as it seems), though I know not where to find it.

"Herbanus the Jew was a man excellently well instructed in the law, and holy books of the prophets, and the Octateuch, and all the other writings." What this Octateuch should be, distinct from the law and the prophets, and indeed what all the other writings besides should be, is not easily guessed. This Octateuch perhaps may seem to have some reference to the Hagiographa, or Holy Writings: for it is probable enough that, speaking of a Jew well skilled in the Holy Scriptures, he might design the partition of the Bible according to the manner of the Jews' dividing it: but who then can pick out books that should make it up? Let the reader pick out the eight; and then I would say, that the other four are all the other writings. But we will not much disquiet ourselves about this matter.

It may be asked, why these books should be called the Scriptures, when the whole Bible goes under the name of the Holy Scriptures. Nor can any thing be more readily answered to this, than that by this title they would keep up their dignity and just esteem for them. They did not indeed read them in their synagogues, but that they might acknowledge them of most holy and divine authority, out of them they confirm their traditions, and they expound them mystically: yea, and give them the same title with the rest of the Holy Scriptures.

"This is the order of the Hagiographa, Ruth, the Book of Psalms, Job, the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Canticles, the Lamentations, Daniel, the Book of Esther, Ezra, and the Chronicles." It is here disputed, that if Job was in the days of Moses, why then is not his book put in the first place? the answer is, They do not begin with vengeance or affliction; and such is that Book of Job. They reply, Ruth also begins with affliction, viz. with the story of a famine, and the death of Elimelech's sons. "But that was (say they) an affliction that had a joyful ending." So they might have said of the book and affliction of Job too. We see it is disputed there, why the Book of Ruth should be placed the first in that rank, and not the Book of Job. But we might inquire, whether the Book of Psalms ought not to have been placed the first, rather than the Book of Ruth.

IV. In this passage at present before us, who would think otherwise but that our Saviour alludes to the common and most known partition of the Bible? and although he name the Psalms only, yet that under that title he includes that whole volume. For we must of necessity say, that either he excluded all the books of that third division excepting the Book of Psalms, which is not probable; or that he included them under the title of the Prophets, which was not customary; or else that under the title of the Psalms he comprehended all the rest. That he did not exclude them, reason will tell us; for in several books of that division is he himself spoken of, as well as in the Psalms: and that he did not include them in the title of the Prophets reason also will dictate: because we would not suppose him speaking differently from the common and received opinion of that nation. There is very little question, therefore, but the apostles might understand him speaking with the vulgar; and by the Psalms to have meant all the books of that volume, those especially wherein any thing was written concerning himself. For let it be granted that Ruth, as to the time of the history and the time of its writing, might challenge to itself the first place in order (and it is that kind of priority the Gemarists are arguing), yet, certainly, amongst all those books that mention any thing of Christ, the Book of Psalms deservedly obtains the first place; so far that in the naming of this the rest may be understood. So St. Matthew, chapter 27:9, under the name of Jeremiah, comprehends that whole volume of the Prophets, because he was placed the first in that rank: which observation we have made in notes upon that place.

45. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,

[Then opened he their understanding.] When it is said, that by the imposition of the hands of the apostles the gift of tongues and of prophecy was conferred ("they spake with tongues, and they prophesied," Acts 19:6), by 'prophecy' nothing may be better understood than this very thing, that the minds of such were opened, that they might understand the Scriptures: and perhaps their 'speaking with tongues' might look this way in the first notion of it, viz., that they could understand the original wherein the Scriptures were writ.

50. And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them.

[As far as Bethany.] How many difficulties arise here!

I. This very evangelist (Acts 1:12) tells us, that when the disciples came back from the place where our Lord ascended, "they returned from mount Olivet, distant from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey." But now the town of Bethany was about fifteen furlongs from Jerusalem, John 11:18, that is, double a sabbath day's journey.

II. Josephus tells us that the mount of Olives was but five furlongs from the city; and a sabbath day's journey was seven furlongs and a half. "About that time there came to Jerusalem a certain Egyptian, pretending himself a prophet, and persuading the people that they would go out with him to the mount of Olives, which, being situated on the front of the city, is distant five furlongs." These things are all true: 1. That the mount of Olives lay but five furlongs' distance from Jerusalem. 2. That the town of Bethany was fifteen furlongs. 3. That the disciples were brought by Christ as far as Bethany. 4. That when they returned form the mount of Olives they travelled more than five furlongs. And, 5. Returning from Bethany, they travelled but a sabbath day's journey. All which may be easily reconciled, if we would observe that the first space from the city towards this mount was called Bethphage, which I have cleared elsewhere from Talmudic authors, the evangelists themselves also confirming it. That part of that mount was known by that name to the length of about a sabbath day's journey, till it came to that part which was called Bethany. For there was Bethany, a tract of the mount, and the town of Bethany. The town was distance from the city about fifteen furlongs, i.e., two miles, or a double sabbath day's journey: but the first border of this tract (which also bore the name of Bethany) was distant but one mile, or a single sabbath day's journey only.

Our Saviour led out his disciples, when he was about to ascend, to the very first brink of that region or tract of mount Olivet which was called Bethany, and was distant from the city a sabbath day's journey. And so far from the city itself did that tract extend which was called Bethphage: and when he was come to that place where the bounds of Bethphage and Bethany met and touched one another, he there ascended; in that very place where he got upon the ass when he rode into Jerusalem, Mark 11:1. Whereas, therefore, Josephus saith that mount Olivet was but five furlongs from the city, he means the first brink and border of it: but our evangelist must be understood of the place where Christ ascended, where the name of Olivet began, as it was distinguished from Bethphage.

And since we have so frequent mention of a sabbath day's journey, and it is not very foreign from our present purpose to observe something concerning it, let me take notice of these few things:

I. The space of a sabbath day's bound was two thousand cubits. "Naomi and to Ruth, 'We are commanded to observe the sabbaths, and the feasts, but we are not to go beyond two thousand cubits.'" "It is ordained by the scribes, that no man go out of the city beyond two thousands cubits." Instances of this kind are endless. But it is disputed upon what foundation this constitution of theirs is built. "Whence comes it to be thus ordained concerning the two thousand cubits? It is founded upon this, 'Let no man go out of his place on the seventh day,'" Exodus 16:29. "Where are these two thousand cubits mentioned? they have their tradition from hence, Abide ye every man in his place, Exodus 16:29. These are four cubits. Let no man go out of his place: these are two thousand cubits." It is true, indeed, we cannot gain so much as one cubit out of any of these Scriptures, much less two thousand; however, we may learn from hence the pleasant art they have of working any thing out of any thing.

"Asai Ben Akibah saith, 'They are fetched from hence,' in that it is said, Place, place. Here place is said [Let no man go out of his place]. And it is said elsewhere, I will appoint thee a place, Exodus 21:13. As the place that is said elsewhere is two thousand cubits, so the place that is spoken of here is two thousand cubits." But how do they prove that the place mentioned elsewhere is two thousand cubits? "I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee that kills a man unawares: this teaches us that the Israelites in the wilderness" (i.e. those that had slain any one) "betook themselves to a place of refuge. And whither did they flee? To the camp of the Levites."

Now, therefore, when the Israelites' camp in the wilderness was distant from the tabernacle and from the Levites' camp that was pitched about the tabernacle, two thousand cubits, which thing they gather from Joshua 3:4; and whereas it was lawful for them at that distance to approach the tabernacle on the sabbath day; hence they argue for the two thousand cubits as the sabbath day's journey, which we are now inquiring into. But, by the way, let us take notice of the "four cubits," which they gathered from those words, "Abide ye every man in his place." Which must be thus understood: "If any person through ignorance, or by any accident, had gone beyond the limits of the sabbath, and afterward came to know his transgression, he was confined within four cubits, so that he must not stir beyond them till the sabbath was done and over."

They further instance in another foundation for the two thousand cubits: "'Ye shall measure from without the city on the east side two thousand cubits,' Numbers 35:5. But another Scripture saith, 'From the wall of the city and outward ye shall measure a thousand cubits': the thousand cubits are the suburbs of the city, and the two thousand cubits are the sabbatical limits." Maimonides very largely discourseth in what manner and by what lines they measured these two thousand cubits from each city: but it makes very little to our purpose. Only let me add this one thing; that if any one was overtaken in his journeying in the fields or wilderness by the night, when the sabbath was coming in, and did not exactly know the space of two thousand cubits, then he might walk "two thousand ordinary paces: and these were accounted the sabbatical bounds."

So far from the city was that place of mount Olivet, where Christ ascended; viz., that part of the mount where Bethphage ended and Bethany began. Perhaps the very same place mentioned 2 Samuel 15:32; or certainly not far off, where David in his flight taking leave of the ark and sanctuary, looked back and worshipped God. Where if any one would be at the pains to inquire why the Greek interpreters retain the word Ros, both here and in chapter 16:1; and David came unto Ros; and and David passed on a little way from Ros; he will find a knot not easy to be untied. The Talmudists would have it a place of idolatry, but by a reason very far-fetched indeed. The Jewish commentators, with a little more probability, conceive that it was a place from whence David, when he went towards Jerusalem, looking towards the place where the tabernacle was seated, was wont to worship God.