If you are ever inclined to doubt that the Word of God continues to show life-transforming power, even in the twentieth century, you ought to read a book by England’s social critic Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990), entitled Jesus Rediscovered. 1 In England, as also to some extent in America, Muggeridge has gained a tremendous reputation, first, as the editor of the satirical weekly news magazine, Punch, and then, more recently, as a television personality. As Britain’s scourge of the Establishment, Muggeridge has taken on the government, the royal family, international politics, even the church. And it is safe to say that in the eyes of most Englishmen there has probably never been a less likely candidate for conversion to Christ or Christianity.
Nevertheless, Muggeridge today gives testimony to the power of Christ through the Scripture to transform his life and the lives of others. He recounts his conversion as something that happened to him when he was in Israel for the British Broadcasting System Although several factors contributed to it, the truth of the gospel and of Christ’s living presence really came to him first when, for the filming of a program of the New Testament, he was walking along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, as those two disciples had done nearly 2,000 years ago on the morning of Jesus’ Resurrection.
I believe that the road to Emmaus is a road that must be walked, in one sense, by everyone who would become a better Christian. And it is in that light that I would like us to study it. The walk started out in disbelief and sadness. It ended in joy, excitement, love, and true devotion. The same can happen to each one of us.
Like all of Christ’s appearances to the disciples after the Resurrection, His appearance to the two Emmaus disciples involves a story. And we must begin by telling it.
To start with: Who were these disciples? The answer to this question is not as uncertain as most people, who are accustomed to referring merely to the “Emmaus disciples,” are likely to assume. For one thing, the story itself gives the name of one of them. If you turn to Luke 24:18, you will find that one of the disciples was called Cleopas. Moreover, if you will then use any good concordance of the words occurring in the New Testament and look up the word “Cleopas,” you will find a second mention of his name in another account of the Resurrection. The reference is John 19:25. There we read, “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene.” It is true that John spells the name a bit differently. But the spelling of names often varied in antiquity, and here the two names undoubtedly refer to the same person. Thus, we learn that the wife of Cleopas was also present in Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion. And we may, therefore, assume that she was the one returning to Emmaus with him on the morning of the Resurrection.
Moreover, I believe that we can know even more than this. For it seems clear to me that John has given us her name when he writes of “his [Jesus’] mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene.” I must admit that because of the way John has written this verse it is not at once obvious whether John is identifying the first Mary he mentions as the sister of the virgin Mary or as the wife of Cleopas. But a little thought shows that the second of these should be preferred.
For one thing, John seems to be distinguishing between two different Marys in the second part of the verse — Mary, the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene. At least this is the most natural way of interpreting the sentence. Second, if this is not the case, then either there is an unidentified Mary in the story (making five persons) or else there is a Mary who is the sister of the Virgin Mary. The first case is unlikely in itself as well as unlike John’s literary style. And the second is unlikely simply because it would mean there were two sisters, both named Mary. These reasons seem to point to the wife of Cleopas being named Mary, a woman who (we are told elsewhere) was also the mother of James the less and Joses and who had been a follower of Jesus as well as a helper of Jesus and His immediate disciples (Mark 15:40,41: cf. Mark 16:1 and Luke 24:10).
The whole of the argument means that, after His appearance to Mary Magdalene in the garden early in the morning, Jesus next appeared (not counting a private, unrecorded appearance to Peter) to a man and his wife, Cleopas and Mary, and this before He appeared to any of the so-called “regular” disciples.
Now someone will no doubt be asking why this should have been so. But the answer is not at all mysterious. It is simply that at this time Cleopas and Mary were among the very few of Christ’s disciples who knew of the Crucifixion and who were therefore ready to learn about the Resurrection.
We must remember at this point that the disciples who were last seen in the garden where Jesus had stopped in the midst of His normal nightly return to Bethany from Jerusalem, had scattered and had no doubt returned to Bethany. The psychology of the situation demands that they would have fled away from Jerusalem, not toward it. And reason dictates that they would have hoped to collect again at the place to which they had been heading. At any rate, with the exception of Peter and John, who followed those who had arrested Jesus, none of the disciples are mentioned as being in Jerusalem until after the Resurrection. They would not have traveled on the Sabbath. And it is likely, therefore, that until the day of the Resurrection the fact of the Crucifixion was known only to Peter and John, the women who were present at the cross, including Jesus’ mother, and whatever other acquaintances of Jesus were present in Jerusalem for the Passover.
Here we must reconstruct what had happened. The wife of Cleopas, we know, had been present at the foot of the cross. She had seen the Lord Jesus Christ crucified, the nails driven into His hands and the cross erected. She saw the blood. She heard Him cry out. She experienced the darkness. Finally she saw the spear driven into His side. Mary would have had no doubt at all that Christ was dead. And neither would Cleopas, who may have witnessed many of these things also.
When the Crucifixion was over Mary went home. The Passover came, and Mary and Cleopas observed it like good Jews. They waited in sadness over the holidays — from the day of the Crucifixion until the day of the Resurrection — for the same restraints that had kept the women from going to the sepulchre to anoint the body would also have kept Cleopas and Mary from returning home to Emmaus. The morning after the Saturday Sabbath came finally. Mary went to the tomb to anoint the body with the other women, leaving Cleopas to get their things together. She saw the angles, returned to tell Cleopas about it, and then — and now look how utterly remarkable this is — joined him in preparing to leave. So far from her thinking was any idea of the literal truth of Christ’s bodily resurrection!
What is more, during the time that Cleopas and Mary were getting ready to leave, the women as a body told Peter and John what they had been told by the angels. Peter and John set out for the garden sepulchre. They entered the tomb. John believed in some sense, although he may not have understood so early what the Resurrection actually was and meant. Peter and John returned, told Cleopas and Mary and the others what they had seen, and then — again it is most remarkable — Cleopas and Mary went right on packing. And, as soon as they were ready, they left Jerusalem. Did this Palestinian peasant couple believe in Christ’s Resurrection? Certainly not! Did they come to believe, as they eventually did, because of their own or someone else’s wishful thinking or an hallucination? Not at all. Here was a couple who were so sad at the loss of the Lord Jesus, so miserable, so preoccupied with the reality of His death, that they would not even take 20 or 30 minutes to investigate the reports of His Resurrection personally.
Now if someone should say, “But surely they must not have heard the reports; you are making that part of the story up,” the objection is refuted by the very words of Cleopas. For when Jesus eventually appeared to them on the road and asked why they were so sad, Cleopas answered by telling Him first about the Crucifixion and then adding, “Yea, and certain women also of our company amazed us, who were early at the sepulchre; and when they found not his body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. And certain of those who were with us [that is, Peter and John] went to the sepulchre, and found it even as the women had said; but they saw him not” (Luke 24:22-24).
What is it that accounts for a belief in the Resurrection on the part of Christ’s disciples? The answer is the Resurrection itself. Nothing but the Resurrection! If we cannot account for the belief of the disciples in that way, we are faced with one of the greatest enigmas in world history. If we account for it by means of a real resurrection, then Christianity is understandable. It is genuine. And it offers a sure and certain hope to us all.
But we are getting ahead of the story. At this point Cleopas and Mary have not yet believed, and they were going home. It was all over. The dream was dead, and they were sad. As they made their solitary way on the road to Emmaus Jesus came, but they didn’t recognize Him. The last time they had seen Him He was beaten, marred, and bleeding. Here He was in a glorified body, and they didn’t know Who He was. So as they went on their way Jesus drew near to them, as He does to all who walk the Emmaus road, and asked them why they were sad.
Now, if there was ever a reply that was filled with misconceptions and misunderstandings it was this one. What did they say? “Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?” Jesus said, “What things?” They answered, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who 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 hoped that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel” (Luke 24:18-21).
He Who should have redeemed Israel! How odd that they should have used that word. For, of course, that was precisely the reason for Christ’s death on the cross. He was redeeming men. However, they were thinking of a different kind of redemption. Jesus Christ was redeeming them from sin, and all they were thinking of was a deliverance from Rome. Redemption means to buy out of slavery and to set free, and they had been hoping that Jesus would be the Messiah Who should make them free as a nation and set them up with an earthly king much the way they had been under the line of David or the Maccabees. Jesus had died to redeem them from sin. But that! Oh, they didn’t care about that. That wasn’t what they were looking for.
And, of course, that is not what men are looking for today. We all want freedom from oppression in order to pursue our own will without hindrance. We would all love to have our problems solved. But we don’t want the problem of our sins solved quite so readily. Because for Christ to redeem us from sin, He must condemn our sin and set us on a path of righteousness that we do not naturally choose for ourselves. Thus, Jesus began with Cleopas and Mary in the same way He must begin with us, with redemption from sin. And He explained it to them beginning with the Old Testament.
When Jesus began to open the Scriptures to Cleopas and Mary, He initiated the first of three openings that are mentioned in this chapter. He opened the Scriptures, He opened their eyes, and He opened their understanding. These are so significant that they would make an outline for a study all by themselves.
The first opening takes place in the middle of the story (Luke 24:25-27), but the phrase itself occurs a bit later, in verse 32, as they reflected on what Christ had said to them. “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us along the way, and while he opened the Scriptures?”
Have you learned that God always works that way when He points a man or a woman to Jesus Christ? How did Jesus begin Himself at the start of His ministry? He went into the synagogue of Nazareth on the Sabbath day and began to read from the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). When He had finished reading these words He sat down and applied them saying, “This day is the scripture fulfilled in your ears” (verse 21). A little while later the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus asking if He were indeed the Messiah, and once again he referred to this passage.
Where are you going to find out the truth about God? Everybody has a different idea about Him. Everybody is writing about Him. Where can you find out the truth? The answer is that you will find out about God as you find out about Jesus Christ. He said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). And you will find out about Jesus Christ only as you open the Scriptures.
The second opening is in Luke 24:31, and it is a consequence of the first. Jesus had taught them on the way. And then, as He sat with them and broke bread with them in their home, “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” This is as true today as it was then. If you will open the Scriptures, God will open your eyes by means of His Holy Spirit so you will recognize Jesus.
The third opening is the one we find at the very end of the story after Cleopas and Mary had returned to Jerusalem and had told the other disciples of Christ’s appearance to them. We are told that as they were speaking Jesus appeared again in their midst and then “opened...their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45). It was the opening of their minds so that they might begin to understand in some depth the things that were written in the Old Testament concerning Him.
Now there is a great deal more to the story of Cleopas and Mary and of their meeting with the Lord Jesus Christ. For each of these three openings had an important consequence in their lives. And these three results should also occur for us when our Bibles, eyes, and minds are opened. When Jesus opened the Scriptures we are told that their hearts burned within them. They were saying, “Isn’t this exciting? Isn’t it thrilling?” And, of course, the opening of the Scriptures should be equally exciting for all who study them today. If this is not true in your life, you are not really opening the Scriptures as you ought.
There was another consequence when Jesus opened the eyes of Cleopas and Mary to recognize Him. No doubt they had arrived in Emmaus toward the end of the day. They were tired. It was dark. The way back to Jerusalem was difficult, long, and dangerous. Nevertheless, they experienced an immediate desire to tell others about the risen Lord. And thus, without any great deliberation, they set out for Jerusalem the same night and there told their story. Perception of the risen Christ always leads to such action. There is always a testimony.
Finally, as Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures they doubtless entered into a phase of their life in which they understood both the Scriptures and the Lord Himself differently. Before, much of the Word of God was a mystery. Hereafter, when they would return to the book of Genesis and read about the seed of the woman who would bruise the serpent’s head, they would know that the seed was Jesus. And thus, Genesis would be new for them. And they would understand the Lord Himself better. They would read a bit further and find that He is not only the seed of the woman, He is the seed of Abraham also, the one who was to bring blessings to the nations. They would recognize the fulfillment of this prophecy in the subsequent proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles. Cleopas and Mary would see Jesus prefigured in the life of Joseph. In Exodus He would be perceived as the Passover lamb. In Numbers He is the rock in the wilderness from Whom we all receive the water of life freely. He is also the cloud Who guides His people and covers them with His protection. Deuteronomy pictures Jesus Christ as the righteous One, and it defines that righteousness. In Joshua He is the captain of the Lord’s hosts. In Psalms and in the prophets we are told of His suffering, death, and Resurrection. In some of them — Ezekiel, Daniel, and some others — we learn of His Second Coming in great power and glory. The last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, portrays Him as the Son of Righteousness risen with healing in His wings.
These three openings — the opening of the Scriptures, the opening of the eyes, and the opening of the understanding — are three great blessings that we should all desire of the resurrected Lord. Because when the Bible is opened and we see the Lord Jesus Christ as He is interpreted to us by the divine operation of the Holy Spirit, we will never be the same again. The Word itself will be different. It will not be a mystery. It will have a theme. It will make sense. And what is more, it will be a great blessing. For it will be the place where we meet with Jesus Who died for us and Who now lives to be known by His followers.
1. Malcolm Muggeridge. Jesus Rediscovered (Fontana, 1969)
Copyright 1975, Evangelical Foundation, The Bible Study Hour.
Revised 2010, Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. All rights reserved.
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