Jesus had just appeared to Cleophas and another disciple at the little village of Emmaus. We know that it was already evening on the first Easter Sunday. These disciples had walked about seven miles. Yet they were so excited about seeing Jesus at the dinner table breaking bread with Him that they had to go back that very hour to Jerusalem. They did this with far more joy than the journey out of Jerusalem.
Exposition of the Text
The Emmaus disciples came back to where they had left the eleven earlier in the day. They left upon hearing what they considered to be a fairy tale from the women that the tomb was empty and that Jesus had risen. The breaking of the bread at the table and the long sermon Jesus preached to them on the way, not then knowing it was Jesus had shown them that this was not just hysteria,
Assuming that they made good speed, they would have gotten back to Jerusalem sometime after dark. I wonder if they left the bread Jesus had broken on the table with the meal. By the time they got there, they received additional news. The eleven had reported that Peter had seen Jesus. We don’t know if one of the eleven, Thomas was there or not at this point. The following appearance of Jesus is certainly the same one that John records in chapter 20 of his Gospel as the first appearance. Thomas was not with them at that time. Did Thomas not believe the report of Peter and the Emmaus disciples any more than the women and leave? All we know is that the report in Luke says that they met the eleven in Jerusalem and John who picks up the account a little later specifically excludes Thomas.
We know from John’s account that the doors were locked for fear of the Jews. This detail explains why Jesus just materialized in the midst of the room. The already skittish disciples were frightened by Jesus’ appearance. No human in their thinking could just materialize from thin air. The same is true for us too I might add. So in both John and Luke, Jesus greets them with the traditional Hebrew greeting “Shalom to you.” But they thought it was Jesus’ ghost and not Jesus.
Jesus addresses their fear with “What ails you, and why are you thinking what you are thinking.” It would seem to us that Jesus was a bit harsh to them. After all, who wouldn’t be in terror? It is true that the disciples had been with Him personally. They had felt His touch, and they had touched Him over three years. They had seen Him, heard His voice, ate with Him, beheld His miracles and listened to His teaching. They had seen many might miracles. But was this really Jesus?
Jesus encourages them to come to their senses and use their senses to verify that it was Jesus in the flesh. He showed them the wounds of His crucifixion and the spear wound to the heart. Then He challenged them to the touch test. The Greek word here is interesting. This is not the word used for a casual touch. It has the idea of “grope”. So here, Jesus is inviting them all to get a firm grasp on Him to show that He was no ghost.
The disciples’ reaction was still one of unbelief. But it is interesting that their fear was turned to joy. Their attitude is one of being reunited with someone after a long absence unexpectedly, saying “I can’t believe it is you!”
Jesus wanted the disciples to be 100 percent certain of His bodily resurrection. After all, He was going to send them out with the Gospel into a hostile world. One day, most if not all of them would die a martyrs death. He asks them for some food to eat. He ate the fish and honeycomb they offered before them. Jesus took great pains to show us that the resurrection is not just of spirit, but is a bodily resurrection. This is something the Greek and Roman world would have a great deal of trouble believing. They thought that the body was an evil prison of the soul which would be freed upon death. The disciples had to be sure, and Jesus accommodated Himself to them.
There is a break somewhere between verse 43 and 49. We don’t know exactly when Jesus said these words, whether on Easter night or 40 days later, just prior to the Ascension. However, it seems more natural to place these words in the Easter context and make the break between verses 49 and 50.
Jesus had earlier in the day spent the afternoon with the Emmaus disciples expounding the Scriptures of what we today call the Old Testament. He wanted them to know the Scripture’s testimony concerning the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He also wanted the Apostles to know this as well. First it said that he opened their eyes to understand what the Scriptures really said concerning Him. The proper interpretation of the Scripture is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is interesting to note that this is where John records that Jesus breathed on them and said “receive the Holy Spirit”
The Scribes and Pharisees had mangled the interpretation of the Scriptures and confused it with their traditions to the point that no one knew what they meant. Jesus restored to his apostles the true understanding of Scripture. The Scripture is not the supporting cast to ministry. It is the Word of God breather by the Holy Spirit. The experience of Jesus the Apostles had was not to be the main means of conversion. The Lord spoke the universe into creation by the Word, sustains it by the same Word, and sent His Son, the Word to live among us. He called preachers to proclaim His Word. Saving faith, according to Paul, comes from hearing the word of the Gospel. Whereas Paul acknowledges from time to time that wonders were wrought and experiences he had used the Scripture as the major force of his evangelism.
So Jesus spent His last days before returning to heaven teaching the Scripture to His Apostles and insuring they knew it well. They needed to know from the Scripture that the suffering, death, and resurrection was part of God’s eternal plan. This would form the basis of the Gospel they were to preach to the nations. From this Scriptural supported foundation, they were to preach repentance and forgiveness of sin in the name of Jesus. They were to start in Jerusalem, but were to go out from there among the nations when they received the “power from on high”. Of these things, the Apostles were to be His witnesses.
The Greek word for “witness” is “martyr”. So many witnesses of Jesus died for their faith that the word has changed its meaning to today’s understanding of “martyr” as one who dies for a cause. They would need the power of the Holy Spirit to give them strength for the mission.
We are not able to see the events that the disciples saw or hear the words of Jesus directly. This is why we need the Holy Spirit within us to assure us that these events are indeed true. Jesus promised that He would not leave us comfortless. We have not seen with our eyes or heard with our ears or handles with our hands the Word of Life. But we have the assured testimony of those who did, who were willing to and did lay down their lives for the Gospel.
Jesus wants us to continue in this mission to the world, the world He loved so much that He lay His life down for it. The world includes us. The witness we are to bear must be centered on the Scripture. For us today, this is both the Old Testament and New Testament. This means we must be students of the Word. This takes time. There is just no shortcut to spending time in the Word and prayer. It seems by hyping some sort of “experience” produces more results. But we must remember that the seed that was sown on shallow soil sprung up first and had the appearance of vigor. But because the plant had no deep roots, it quickly dried up and died.
It seems in the church today, we are chasing after the latest fad to draw people in our declining churches and are wondering why the results don’t last. This is because like the Mars Hill philosophers at Athens that Paul preaches to in Acts 17, they are always eager to experience something new. But new becomes old soon enough.
God’s church is built upon the sure foundation of Jesus Christ, whom we know through the witness of the Bible and of the Spirit. It is meant to last. So we as a church need to repent and start doing things God’s way and not our way. He tells us to proclaim Him by word of mouth. He opened up the Scriptures so that His Apostles would understand it. Isn’t it about time for us to open the Scriptures and read?