Redeeming Israel? Confused on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24)

If you went in search of the village of Emmaus today, you would not find it. This Sunday, literally hundreds of millions of Christians around the world will hear the Easter story of the encounter between two disciples and the risen Lord Jesus on the Road to Emmaus. Few however, will hear mention of Emmaus today, or what has happened there in our lifetime. In an article published by If Americans Knew,  Sacred Christian Site Emmaus Destroyed by Israel, Alison Weir writes,

“In 1967, after Israel launched its Six Day War, Israel expelled the inhabitants of Emmaus and obliterated almost all traces of the village, along with two other Palestinian villages nearby. This was part of the Israeli strategy, in the words of an Israeli historian, “to take over as much of Palestine as possible with as few Palestinians as possible” Israeli journalist Amira Hass describes Emmaus before it was levelled:

“Schools, mosques, an ancient church, olive presses, paths to fields and orchards, bubbling streams, mountain air, sabra bushes, carob and olive and deciduous trees, harvested fields, graves, water cisterns.” Israel then “brought in the bulldozers and destroyed and detonated and trampled. Not for the first time, not for the last. And the owners of all that beauty – the elderly, the children, the infants – heard and watched the explosions from a kilometre or two away.”

The villages’ inhabitants then “trekked for days through the mountains to Ramallah, leaving their belongings behind. Four seniors and a one-year-old baby died along the way. The elderly and disabled residents who were unable to leave their homes had their houses demolished on top of them. Eighteen were killed, buried underneath the rubble.” As author Grace Halsell wrote in a powerful essay, most Christians are unaware of what they don’t know about Israel.

“They were indoctrinated by U.S. supporters of Israel in their own country and when they travelled to the Land of Christ most did so under Israeli sponsorship.”

But what is both so ironic as well as deeply tragic is the fact that many contemporary Christians share the same false expectation of Jesus as did the two disciples walking on that road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, just a week after the resurrection.

Let us explore Luke 24 together and note first of all,

Confusion About the Redemption of Israel

“Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.” (Luke 24:13-24)

What do we learn about these two disciples? They are depressed and confused. Why? Because of their answers to the two most important questions in life. Who is Jesus and why did Jesus come? Who did they think Jesus was? Verse 19,

“He was prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him.” (Luke 24:19-20) 

They saw Jesus as a prophet – and now a dead prophet. Second question: Why did they think Jesus had come?

“we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body.” (Luke 24:21-22)

Lets their answer sink in. Think about it. If Jesus was not redeeming Israel on the cross, what on earth was he doing? They were looking for a political Messiah, a prophet who would liberate Israel politically from their Roman occupiers. But now Jesus was dead and so their hopes were shattered. Because they did not know who Jesus is, they could not understand why Jesus had come. They were confused and depressed because they were ignorant of the scriptures and had forgotten the promises Jesus had made. They knew about Jesus but they did not know Jesus, even though he was walking beside them.

Now these two were not alone. Many of Jesus followers, it seems, perhaps even some of the apostles shared these aspirations. In the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 1, after recognising Jesus as Lord and King, and just as he is about to ascend to heaven, they ask, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ (Acts 1:6). In his commentary, John Calvin writes, ‘There are as many mistakes in this question as there are words.’ John Stott, in his commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, appraises the errors they made:

“The mistake they made was to misunderstand both the nature of the kingdom and the relation between the kingdom and the Spirit. Their question must have filled Jesus with dismay. Were they still so lacking in perception?… The verb, the noun and the adverb of their sentence all betray doctrinal confusion about the kingdom. For the verb restore shows they were expecting a political and territorial kingdom; the noun Israel that they were expecting a national kingdom; and the adverbial clause at this time that they were expecting its immediate establishment. In his reply (1:7-8) Jesus corrected their mistaken notions of the kingdom’s nature, extent and arrival.”

Since the Holy Spirit had not been given, the disciples may be forgiven for still holding to an Old Covenant understanding of the Kingdom with the re-establishment of the monarchy and liberation from the brutal colonialism of Rome. Had they been present at Jesus’ trial they might have understood things differently. There Jesus had explained,

‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place’ (John 18:36).

Jesus repudiated the notion of an earthly and nationalistic kingdom on more than one occasion, least of all one based on ethnicity or race (see John 6:15). This is why, in reply to the disciples, Jesus says that he has another agenda for them:

“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”. (Acts 1:8)

The kingdom which Jesus inaugurated would, in contrast to their narrow expectations, be spiritual in character, international in membership and gradual in expansion. And the expansion of this kingdom throughout the world would specifically require their exile from the land. They must turn their backs on Jerusalem and their hopes of ruling there with Jesus in order to fulfil their new role as ambassadors of his kingdom (Matthew 20:20-28; 2 Corinthians 5:20-21).

If we are looking for contemporary application, on the basis of these passages we can say with conviction that Jesus repudiates all forms of racialised nationalism, whether manifest in white supremacism, segregation, or apartheid. Christian Zionism is just one further example of a false theology, based on ignorance of scripture and confusion about the redemption of Israel. The Church has not replaced Israel. They are one and the same. God’s OT people and God’s NT people are made up of all languages, tribes and nations on the basis of grace through faith, not law, race or works.

People misunderstand why Jesus came because they remain ignorant of who Jesus is. Jesus answers that question in his reply.

Centrality of Jesus Christ in all the Scriptures

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)

Jesus gently rebukes them for their foolishness. They were foolish because they clearly did not believe what God had promised in the scriptures. They had an Israel centred view of scripture. And so to remedy this, Jesus gives them a unique Bible overview.

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

Jesus walks them through the Hebrew scriptures to show them that He not Israel is central to God’s redemptive plan for the world. The golden thread running through the entire OT centres on the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, from his conception, his birth, his life, his teaching, his claims, his miracles, his betrayal, his torture, his crucifixion, his death, his resurrection, his ascension and his return were all prophesied hundreds of years before they happened. Jesus coming was no accident but central to God’s redemptive plan for the world. If you would like to explore this further, I recommend A.M. Hodgkin’s classic book Christ in all the Scriptures.

You may also like to explore a teaching series I undertook when vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water. They show how every central character in the Old Testament, every key event, every prophecy, every Feast and Festival reveals ever more brightly the person and work of God’s anointed Son.  The Lord Jesus is revealed to be the Passover lamb, the scape goat, our atonement, the bronze serpent, kinsman redeemer, Suffering Servant, Bridegroom, Prince of Peace, Son of David, Lord of David, Messiah, High Priest, Temple and God’s anointed Son. (There are hyperlinks to the sermon series in the text of this exposition).

Malachi and the Lord Jesus (Malachi 2:17-3:5)
Haggai and the Chosen Servant of the Lord (Haggai 2)
Zephaniah and the Name of the Lord Jesus (Zephaniah 3:17)
Micah and Jesus the King (Micah 5:2-4)
Jonah, Jesus and the Whale (Jonah)
Amos: Jesus and David’s Fallen Tent (Amos 9)
Hosea: Jesus the Bridegroom (Hosea 1)
Daniel: Jesus the Son of Man (Daniel 7)
Ezekiel: Jesus the Good Shepherd (Ezekiel 34)
Jeremiah: Jesus and the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31)
Isaiah: Jesus is the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53)
Psalms: Jesus is Lord of all Creation (Psalm 24)
Psalms: The Cross of Christ (Psalm 22)
Psalms: The Lord of Time and Space (Psalm 8)
Psalms: Jesus, God’s Anointed Son (Psalm 2)
Esther: The Providence of God (Esther 4)
Kings: Solomon, Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 4)
Samuel: The Son and Lord of David (2 Samuel 9)
David, Goliath and Jesus (1 Samuel 17)
Ruth: Jesus and a Timely Redemption (Ruth 1-4)
Judges and the Angel of the Lord (Judges 6)
Joshua: Joshua and the Commander of the Lord’s Army (Joshua 5)
Deuteronomy: Moses and the Prophet (Deuteronomy 18)
Numbers: The Bronze Serpent (Numbers 21)
Leviticus: The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)
Exodus: The Passover Lamb (Exodus 12)
Genesis: The Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22)
Genesis: Abraham, Melchizedek and Jesus (Genesis 14)

What a Bible study Jesus must have given these two men on the road to Emmaus. And it could be summarised in one sentence.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)

On the road to Emmaus we have seen their confusion about the redemption of Israel. We have discovered the centrality of Jesus Christ in all the Scriptures, Finally, we see that

Conviction comes from the Word and Spirit

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 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?” 33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.” (Luke 24:28-35)

What is your image of Jesus? Can you imagine him laughing at a joke, or playing one on his disciples? Is there space for humour in your image of Jesus? Look at the text. I suggest Jesus is being playful with his disciples. Pretending that he was going further, they plead with him to stay. They want more of him. They are hungry for more. So he feeds them. Then, at the meal he takes the bread and I imagine spoke the words from the Last Supper “This is my body which is given for you, do this in remembrance of me…”

But at that very moment when they recognised him, he disappears! Garth Hewitt in one of his songs describes the Lord as a ‘Fast God… a fast God, always leaving just when we are arriving.” Or as C.S. Lewis describes God, in his book, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, “Aslan is on the move.” That is what we see here. Just as they understand, Jesus leaves. But notice the lasting impact of their encounter with Jesus. First, there is the internal impact: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).

When the scriptures are expounded, when we realise the scriptures centre on the cross, on Jesus our Lord and Saviour, what happens? God’s Holy Spirit brings not just clarity, but also conviction and confirmation, He will not allow us to get comfortable or complacent. Conviction can be unsettling and this is intentional. “For the Word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double edges sword” (Hebrews 4:12).

First there will be  inward transformation but that is not all – an encounter with Jesus impacts our relationships also. When the truth of the Word of God captivates our hearts, we can’t keep it to ourselves, we have to share it. An hour earlier, they had persuaded Jesus to stay with them because it was evening. Now, it is after bed time, but they are impelled to return to Jerusalem to share the good news that they have encountered the risen Lord Jesus. The internal and external work of the Spirit – to know Jesus and make Jesus known.

In our passage today we have observed: Confusion about the redemption of Israel, the centrality of the Lord Jesus in all the Scriptures and how conviction comes from the Word and Spirit.

What about you? Can you relate to these two disciples? Where are you on your road to Emmaus? Before or after an encounter Jesus? And in which direction are you headed? Walking away from or toward your destiny? Are you filled with confusion or with clarity? Jesus is with you today. But, do you recognise him? One way to tell is to reflect on how you are feeling? Are you discouraged? Confused? Is it because the Jesus you thought you knew has not fulfilled your hopes or answered your prayers? Is it because your understanding of ‘redemption’ is deficient? Because there are many false gospels in circulation today – from the prosperity gospel promising health and wealth, to a white or black gospel fusing faith with race, the flag and nationalism.  Christian Zionism is another popular but deviant gospel.

Has this exposition made your heart burn as the Holy Spirit has opened up today’s gospel reading to you? That is my hope and prayer. Life is a journey and we are all travellers on a road. The scriptures assure us that Jesus is travelling with us by his Spirit. “Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).

Like these two disciples, God speaks to us today from his word.  May he bring you clarity of who Jesus is and why Jesus came.

May he encourage and motivate you to share with others what he has shown you, what he is accomplishing in and for you.

This is our purpose for we are Easter people – to know Jesus and make Jesus known. God bless you.  Christ is Risen – he is risen indeed. Allelujah!

Questions for personal reflection or small group discussion

  1. Why did the two disciples fail to recognise Jesus?
  2. How does Jesus respond to them?
  3. In what way did Jesus want them to recognise him?
  4. What does Jesus’ use of the Old Testament here and in verses 44-47 teach us about its importance and reliability?
  5. Why did the disciples feel their hearts “burning within us.”?
  6. Contrast the attitude and actions of the disciples before and after their meeting with Jesus.
  7. In what ways is their experience a lesson for our instruction?
  8. Can you think of times when the words of Jesus touched you as deeply as this?