The Road to Emmaus

by Mary E. Stephens
April 2017

The account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and their meeting with Jesus is one of my favorite parts of the events surrounding His resurrection. It has drama, mystery, humor, and pathos. It is beautiful. Let's take a closer look.

Luke 24:13 And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs.

On the first day of the week, the day that Jesus rose from the dead, two of His disciples headed to their home at Emmaus in the afternoon. Sixty furlongs is about 10-12 kilometers or 7 miles, depending on how you measure it. So, it was a bit of a walk. At a moderate pace it would take them close to two hours, longer if they went slower.

Many of the paintings and illustrations of this story have shown two men walking with Jesus or sitting at the table eating with Him. If a woman is present, it's usually in the eating scene and she is usually a background figure serving the food or merely an onlooker. But is that really how it was?

We know that one of these disciples is Cleopas because he is named in verse 18. The other person is not named, but we do know some things that point to the possibility that it was his wife.

First of all, we read in John 19:25, Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. The spelling is only slightly different, but John mentions Mary and her husband as if they should be known disciples. Assuming that it is the same Cleopas that we read about in Luke, it is very likely that he and his wife, Mary, were returning from observing the Passover in Jerusalem (something that faithful Jews would have done), and that at least Mary had been present at the crucifixion.

Secondly, we have the fact that they lived in the same house. Since Cleopas did have a wife and she had been in Jerusalem as well, it makes sense that they would be traveling back together to their own home. That they invited Jesus in to stay with them also tends to imply that this was a matter of joint hospitality.

Some few artists have picked up on this, the most notable painting probably being the one by Robert Zand (below). He has painted the figure on the left with a more feminine look, no beard is visible, and I've been told that the fact that this person is barefooted may indicate that it was intended to be a woman.

Luke 24:14-15 And they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them.

This is a lovely picture. A husband and his wife are returning home, having experienced some very unusual events. As they travel they are talking over all the amazing things that have happened. And there was much to discuss - the amazing ministry of this prophet, the sorrow of the tragic ending, the unaccountable reports of resurrection, the confusion due to the misunderstanding of prophecy, and so much more. I love that Cleopas was discussing this all with his wife and that she was part of the discussion when Jesus showed up.

There is also something very reassuring yet mysterious about how Jesus came to these two, traveling alone on the road toward home. The fact that He would go out of His way, as we would put it, to walk and talk with them is beautiful and comforting. Now He is no longer limited by a physical body and He has promised to never leave nor forsake us.

Hebrews 13:5 Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

But, have you ever wondered why He chose to go talk with these two particularly? Were they the only ones who left Jerusalem prematurely? He had told His disciples that He would go before them into Galilee and the angel specifically said He would meet them there (Matt. 26:32, Matt. 28:7). Were these two supposed to be part of that group and He was making sure they returned? We don't know, but it's interesting to think about.

Luke 24:16-17 But their eyes were holden that they should not know him. And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?

When we read that "their eyes were holden that they should not know him" this means that they were held back from recognizing Him. Obviously, these two people knew Him well. They would have recognized Him instantly if the Lord had not kept them from it. This is again a mystery, although we will perhaps see the solution for this one.

It is interesting to note that Cleopas and (presumably) his wife, Mary, were recognizably sad. Their conversation and manner was such that an apparent stranger might notice it and comment on it.

Luke 24:18 And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?

The response Cleopas gives indicates that this was no small matter. Even a stranger should have known about that series of events that had led to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Cleopas is saying, "How could have missed this??" It is very interesting because it clearly tells us that anyone who was in Jerusalem at that time likely heard something about it. We all know how "news" spreads when there is some shocking, dramatic event. This one was obviously well known, as other scripture attest, particularly Paul in the book of Acts.

Luke 24:19-24 And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people: And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done. Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre; And when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive. And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not.

To this stranger's question, Cleopas tells the whole story in a nutshell. Jesus of Nazareth was certainly a prophet, and He was mighty in deed and word before God and man. This was absolutely true. Cleopas also had grasped the point that it was the leaders of the Jews who had crucified Him, even though they had handed Him over to the Romans for the actual process.

But, in verse 21, he tells why all this is so terribly sad and tragic for them. They believed that He was the Messiah who would redeem Israel. This He was in truth, but they had missed the point of how that redemption was going to happen. It is hard to imagine the pain and sorrow that they would have felt in this situation. The Jews had been expecting their Messiah for thousands of years and these disciples had believed that this amazing miracle had happened in their lifetime, that they were going to see Israel redeemed, the Romans evicted from their land, and the Kingdom restored to the house of David as God had promised. What they didn't understand was how God intended to do this.

They remembered the importance of the third day, and had even heard the astonishing reports from the women who had seen the angels and Peter and John who visited the tomb and found it empty. According to verse 11 in this chapter, the women's story had been viewed as the silly tales of hysterical women and they didn't believe them. Luke 24:11 And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not. But, as we know from John chapter 20, Peter and John both ran to the sepulcher and saw that it was empty also. This verified the women's story to the doubters, but they still doubted because they could not believe such a thing to be so - despite the fact that Jesus had told them it would happen. Apparently Cleopas and his wife had left the company of the other disciples before any of the reports came in that He had been seen, or Cleopas simply didn't believe it.

How often are we this way, though? The Lord has told us things in His word clearly and plainly but we don't believe it, even when others witness to us that it is true. It is a cautionary note to us! No matter how impossible it may seem to our feebly, finite minds, if God said it would happen or that it is so, it will happen and it is so!

Luke 24:25-26 Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?

First of all, I'd like to give a sidelight here. Some people have made a big deal about Matthew 5:22, claiming that we should never call anyone "fool" - But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. If this claim were true, then the Lord Jesus and God the Father would be guilty as sinners. So, that can't be the right answer. I think that in the context it means being angry without a cause and the situation flowing into the final judgment.

Here in Luke 24, Jesus did have some reason to be frustrated with His disciples. They had heard the prophets. They had heard Him. They really were without excuse as far as believing the resurrection had taken place as He said. They also should have been able to realize that Christ was prophesied to suffer before He entered into His glory.

I suspect that one of the main reasons they didn't understand or believe is because they had listened to the wrong teachings for so long. The religious leaders of the Jews had doubtless been misinterpreting the prophecies about the coming Messiah for years. But, based on what Jesus said to Cleopas and Mary, this was no excuse in the sight of God. He still expected them to believe His word, even when the teachers were off base. In fact, Jesus Christ Himself was a prophet, as Cleopas had said, but they had not believed Him even when He told them the truth about these things. (Matt. 9:31-32, Matt. 10:33-34)

This is something we need to think about today. There are plenty of teachers and preachers who are not teaching the whole counsel of God, or are giving false interpretations of His word. Being after the cross, we now have the indwelling of the Holy Ghost if we are born again, so we have even less excuse than those before for following false teachings.

John 16:13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.

1 John 2:27 But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

If those who were believers before the Holy Spirit was given were without excuse for believing the truth about Jesus Christ, how much more are we now that we have the Spirit of truth within us?

Luke 24:27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

What an amazing conversation that must have been! To have Jesus Christ walking with you in the flesh telling you everything about Himself from the beginning of scripture through the Old Testament prophets would be exceedingly wonderful! And, He expounded all the scriptures to them that concerned Him. It is no wonder that they said their hearts burned within them during this. I also kind of think that they were probably not walking terribly fast, and perhaps they paused at times along the way just to listen to Him.

Luke 24:28-29 And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further. But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.

As they came near Emmaus where their house was and He made it seem that He intended to go on further. If they had not invited Him in I suppose He would have vanished then and returned to Jerusalem. But, He knew they needed Him and would want Him to stay. He always does know those who truly want Him.

Luke 24:30-31 And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.

This is a beautiful little situation. Here is the Lord Jesus whom they had been grieving as dead, sitting down at their very own table with them to eat. How many times had they seen Him break bread before? How many times had they eaten with Him? We don't know, but they would have been very familiar with this little ritual.

Some people of that time would break the bread and looking up to heaven bless it before they handed it around. It was common enough, and yet, with one's own friends and family one would be very intimately acquainted with each man's way of doing this. And, it was in this deeply personal and familiar moment that the Lord chose to open their eyes to who He was. This is so moving. And, no doubt it was at this moment that they also noticed for the first time the prints of the nails in His hands.

No, there could be no doubt as to who this was with whom they had been walking and talking that afternoon. What a warm, heart-stopping moment that must have been; to realize that the One for whom they had been sorrowing was alive, really and truly alive, and was breaking the bread for them once again in their own house. It is hard to imagine how they must have felt. The things He had taught them about Himself were fresh in their minds and they must have been wondering what they should believe, when there before them is Jesus Christ Himself, alive and well and risen from the dead!

And then He vanished out of their sight. You know, I think He had given them the pieces of bread of placed them on their plates before He left. What a strange feeling that must have been. To receive the bread from His very hands and then in an instant He was gone and they two were alone again - holding the bread He had just broken. I think one would tend to feel giddy with the excitement of it.

Luke 24:32 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?

Yes, one's heart would surely burn hearing the Lord Jesus Himself teaching the scriptures. What an experience that must have been. We sometimes are stirred greatly through the preaching of men who are filled with the Spirit, but how wonderful it must have been to hear Christ teach about Himself.

One side note here that should be mentioned is that the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) have used this passage to try to convince people that if they feel a "burning in the bosom" or heart when considering the teachings of that church, that this "proves" that they are "the true religion" and the person should convert. That is not what this verse is about. The LDS religion is not Jesus Christ in the flesh teaching a person the truth concerning Himself from the scriptures (being only the Bible, not the Book of Mormon or any of their other many alleged "revelations"). Also, the devil is very talented in producing counterfeit signs and experiences to "prove" that his false prophets are "genuine."  2 Corinthians 11:13-15 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.

Luke 24:33-36 And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon. And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread.

Cleopas and Mary (presumably), did not wait around very long. That very same hour they headed back to Jerusalem. This shows their excitement and desire to tell their story because by this time it must have been dark or nearly so. The report there coincided with theirs - the Lord was risen indeed!

I know that my Redeemer lives!
What joy this blest assurance gives!
He lives, he lives, who once was dead;
He lives, my everliving head!

- Samuel Medley

Revelation 1:18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.


I would like to go further with this chapter, but this has gotten rather long already, so I will just encourage you to go and read the rest of it. Read the whole chapter. It is so interesting.


Photos, watercolor, and graphics by Mary E. Stephens
Vintage art: unknown
Updated 2022; CA