In the final chapter of the Gospel of Luke, there appears a beautiful story about two men, distraught over the death of Jesus, who find themselves in deep conversation with the Teacher Himself — only they don’t realize it is Him.
There, as they walk the road to Emmaus, these two men learn about the Christ directly from the source. And when they finally realize who they had been talking with the entire time, they rush to tell the 11 apostles the good news: The Lord had indeed risen!
It’s a powerful tale, one filled with lessons about discernment, hope, and the truth of the Old Testament prophecies.
Here, we explore what is the significance of the road to Emmaus, and how this understanding can help us in our faith journey today.
What Happened on the Road to Emmaus?
The Emmaus story appears in Luke 24:13-35. It occurs days after Christ’s crucifixion, the same day the women brought spices to Jesus’ tomb and found the stone rolled away and Jesus’ body nowhere to be found.
When the women told the 11 apostles what they had found, and that two angels had spoken to them, reminding them of Christ’s resurrection, the apostles did not believe them.
Later that same day, as Luke 24 reveals, two men are walking together on a road going to a village called Emmaus. The men are discussing all the events of the past few days, and we see that they are troubled; Luke’s account tells us their faces are “downcast” (v. 17).
Jesus comes alongside them and listens to their conversation, but these men do not know it is Jesus. This lack of recognition is not necessarily their fault. Scripture tells us they were “kept from recognizing him” (v. 16).
When Jesus asks what they are discussing, the men explain their version of the past days’ events, as well as their disappointment over their hopes, which are seemingly unfulfilled, and confusion about what the women had seen at the tomb.
Jesus expresses gentle rebuke, telling the men, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory” (v.25-26).
Then Jesus proceeds to explain the Old Testament stories, from Moses to the prophets, and how they all fully and completely point to the Christ.
The men still do not realize they are speaking with Jesus, but they eagerly welcome this conversation. When they get to Emmaus, they invite this mystery companion to stay with them instead of continuing on in his journey, and Jesus agrees.
Finally, at the table, when Jesus gives thanks and breaks the bread with them, they recognize Him. Immediately, Jesus disappears, and they rush back to Jerusalem that very evening, find the 11 apostles, and tell them what happened.
What Was Jesus’ Main Message?
It appears the men were debating what was true and why things had happened, for Jesus’ first reaction is to tell them they are “foolish” and “slow” in their belief. Then Jesus teaches them the truth as revealed in the scriptures.
Here, it seems Jesus is attempting to help their unbelief by pointing out the truth has already been revealed to them.
The main point is that all that has happened with Jesus has already been predicted and written down by Moses and the prophets and is now being fulfilled.
Jesus wants them to know that although things look hopeless and they might have doubts, they have to look no further than Scripture to understand what happened and what will happen: First the Christ must suffer, then He is glorified.
It is all part of God’s plan.
Why Does Jesus Not Reveal Himself Until Dinnertime?
Jesus does not reveal Himself to the men while they are on the road. Instead, He waits until they have arrived at their destination and are relaxed, preparing to enjoy a meal, before He allows the men’s eyes to be opened.
Many scholars believe this parallels the discernment process for many of us. Sometimes, when we cannot understand something, we gather information. Then it must settle within our hearts. Only when we have fully “digested” what we’ve learned, allowed it to sink in, does the truth come out.
The men do not seem extraordinarily surprised when they finally realize it had been Jesus that whole time. As they asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (v. 32).
It took a little time for their hearts and their heads to catch up with each other, but they finally did, and they knew the truth completely.
Then, fired up with their new knowledge, they rushed off to tell the apostles the good news.
Why at the Table?
Scholars believe the fact that Jesus chose to reveal Himself at the dinner table also says a great deal.
First, there is something relaxing about the fellowship of the table. There, people are calm, unhurried, there to fill their bellies and rest after a hard day. It’s a place of intimacy and friendship, a place where relationships are strengthened.
Perhaps this is a metaphor for the church and the sort of evangelism Jesus knew would spread best — rooted in relationships, person to person.
Second, the table is a “regular” place, a fixture of daily life. Perhaps this represents the way Jesus wants people to know Him: on a basic, core, everyday level, practical and authentic, not fancy or fussy or only for a certain class or rank.
Why Is Only One of the Men Named?
The men are not named at all until midway through the story, and then only one of them is identified: Cleopas. They are likely not “important” men. They are not among the 11 apostles, not “special” in any significant, apparent way.
And, at this point, the only other people to have had a supernatural encounter were women, who found the tomb empty save for two angels. At that time in history, women were low in status.
That these seemingly unimportant women received a revelation, followed by these two seemingly unimportant men, perhaps signifies the universality of the resurrection message. That is, the message of Jesus is for all people, not just the rich, the Jew, or the “special.”
Jesus was born to a humble woman in humble circumstances. His life was spent in suffering, wandering, and hated as he traveled from place to place, until He was finally arrested, beaten, tortured, nailed to a cross, and left to die a terrible, gruesome death.
And yet through Him, all receive salvation, beggars and kings alike.
The experience of the two men and their encounter with Jesus upon the road to Emmaus is powerful. Not only does it serve as one of many post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, but it shows us how we can look to Scripture — particularly Old Testament prophecies — to see how God’s plan has unfolded.
It also serves as a model for us in our own discipleship: Jesus opened the eyes of these men, steered them to the full truth that is contained in God’s Holy Word, the Bible, and ultimately revealed Himself to them as the resurrected savior.
That is exactly what we are to do in our own faith journey.
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Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Her newest release is an Advent daily devotional for those seeking true closeness with God, which you can find at https://www.jessicabrodie.