The Road to Emmaus
By Rynna Ollivier
One of my favorite scriptural accounts of the resurrected Lord is found in Luke, Chapter 24, known to most as The Road to Emmaus. However each time I read it, I end up pondering the same nagging question … how is it possible that two of Jesus’ disciples––who walked by His side daily for three years––did not recognize Him when He joined them on the journey to Emmaus? This year I decided to try and find the answer.
For years Christian scholars have searched Holy Writ trying to explain this mysterious encounter, but the scriptures are fairly silent. The only clue that sheds any light at all is found in verse16, “But their eyes were holden that they should not know him.”
Yet for me, this statement raises more questions! Why were their eyes held from seeing? Why would Jesus not want them to recognize Him? Why would He appear to His beloved brethren as a stranger (see Luke 24:18), especially knowing their deep despair and how His presence would relieve their confusion and suffering? After all, hadn’t He already appeared earlier that morning to Mary, so why not them (see Luke 24:10)?
In my search for answers, I found some interesting articles attempting to explain this Divine blindness. For example one author suggests that the disciples needed to witness Christ spiritually before witnessing the resurrected Christ physically. Another states that Jesus needed to teach them faith in Him––and all things concerning Him––from the words of the prophets without relying on physical evidence (see Luke 24:27), for their time to take the Gospel into the world had come.
These perspectives are very insightful and well worth thinking about, but I would like to suggest yet another possibility.
After reviewing this account in greater depth and pondering it at length, I believe that Luke 24 is trying to convey a more personal message––actually, a “life changing” message––one for all of us, not just the Lord’s disciples. And that is, in order to find Jesus and recognize His presence, we must believe in Him, have faith enough to look for Him and fervently seek Him with all of our heart.
Seek and Ye Shall Find
Scriptures tell us “But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deut. 4: 29; bold added). “And I say unto you if ye seek me, ye shall find me…” (Luke 11:9; bold added). “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all of your heart” (Jer. 29:13; bold added).
Thus according to the Lord, if we want to find Him and be able to recognize His presence, we must fervently seek Him.
So does this mean that the reverse holds true? If we cannot find Him, or discern His presence in our lives, is it because we are not seeking Him––not because the Savior doesn’t want us to know that He is with us?
Could this be the reason that the two disciples did not recognize Jesus; they did not expect Him (in their minds He was dead) nor were they seeking Him? Let’s take a closer look at a few things and see.
A Case of Divine Blindness
The road to Emmaus is a long walk … about 12 kilometers, 2-3 hours on foot. The scriptures tell us that two of Jesus’ disciples were on their way to Emmaus, talking and reasoning together about everything that had happened (see Luke 24:14-15), when the resurrected Lord––whom they did not recognize––suddenly appeared and walked with them.
The dialogue with the unknown traveler, reveals that their deep sadness was physically evident in their faces (see Luke 24:17) surely from having recently witnessed the inhumane crucifixion of their beloved Master, Jesus of Nazareth, whom they believed to be the prophesied Messiah––the one to redeem Israel (see Luke 24; 19-21)!
However, in our empathy for them, let’s not overlook the fact that earlier that morning, in the depth of their sorrow and suffering they had been told by certain women of their company that Jesus was not dead, that He was alive, that angels had born witness unto them of His resurrection (see Luke 24: 6-9, 22,23) … but the disciples believed them not (see Luke 24:11). To them Jesus was dead, no matter what the women claimed they had seen.
Therefore if we take into account this absolute unwillingness to believe the women––“Their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not” (Luke 24:11)–– who included Mary, Jesus’ own mother, and that they walked with Jesus for a very long time, giving them plenty of opportunity to discern it was Him; it seems very likely that the reason these two disciples did not recognize Jesus was because (unlike the women) they were not seeking Him … the prerequisite to finding Him.
Thus it was virtually impossible for them, because of their doubting minds, to recognize that the “perceived” stranger, who walked by their side, was the resurrected Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Consequently “their eyes were holden,” because of their unbelief!
Liken the Scriptures Unto Ourselves
If we follow counsel to liken the scriptures unto ourselves, what is it we are to learn from Luke 24?
As I read these verses with new insight, I see an important similarity between their situation then, and ours today.
Aren’t we too on a journey (an earthly journey), hearts laden with sadness, uncertainty and fear? Aren’t our minds filled with unanswerable questions? Are there not times when we wonder “What now?” Don’t we long for the companionship of Jesus, our Savior, yet how often do we recognize His presence as He walks with us? Haven’t we too received testimony from witnesses declaring that God is not dead … that He lives, and yet there are many who find this hard to believe?
You Never Walk Alone
My witness––born from severe challenges and experiences in my own life–– is that our Lord and Savior lovingly attends us during our long dusty journey called mortality, especially in our darkest hours, just as He did with the two disciples traveling to Emmaus.
He does not … nor will He ever, leave us alone in our time of need. We may not have eyes to behold Him, or the slightest desire to seek Him, or believe that He is truly there, but I testify with all the fervor of my soul that He is!
And in spite of the fact that we too are prone to suffer from Divine blindness––or lack of faith––as did the disciples on the road to Emmaus, if we invite the Lord and His Word to abide with us in our lives, our hearts and homes, as did these two good Brethren (see Luke 24:29), the time will come when we will reflect back and say “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures” (Luke 24:32)?
Thus our eyes will be opened, as were theirs (see Luke 24:31); and we shall see, believe and testify with certainty of heart “Saying, The Lord is risen indeed…”(Luke 24:34)!