Jesus’ Appearance on Easter Afternoon
What does the resurrection of Christ mean to us? It should mean everything, for it is pivotal to the Christian faith, as St. Paul points out so forcefully in I Corinthians 15:14-20. It definitely proves that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (Romans 1:4), who has all power in heaven and in earth (Matthew 28:18). It confirms that His doctrine is the truth (John 2:19) and that what He says in His Word, the Bible, is absolutely true (John 8:31-32). It seals to us the forgiveness of all our sins; for Christ accomplished what His Father had sent Him to do (John 5:36-37; 17:4; 18:11b; 19:30) according to God’s eternal decree of redemption (Acts 2:23; I Peter 1:20), fulfilled the Law in the place of sinful mortals (Romans 10:4), and willingly paid the price for the sins of the world with His suffering and death on the cross (I Peter 1:18-19; I John 1:7b); and God showed His acceptance of His Son’s sacrifice when He raised Him from the dead (Romans 4:25; I Corinthians 15:17). In addition, when Christ rose from the dead, He sealed to all believers their own resurrection to eternal life on the Last Day (John 14:19).
The resurrection of Jesus and almost all of His witnessed appearances that followed happened within a short period of time (Acts 1:3; I Corinthians 15:4-8). And for the true believers who were living at the time these were momentous events. Their faith had been shaken by the trials of Jesus before the Jewish and Roman leaders (Luke 24:20). Doubts assailed them when they witnessed or heard of Jesus’ death (v. 21). And all doubt did not disappear even when they heard that Christ had risen from the grave (vv. 22-24). So what did it take to persuade them? They needed what Christians of all times have ever needed — the Truth of God’s Word (John 8:31-32). The two disciples on the way to Emmaus heard it directly from their Lord and Savior as He instructed them from the Scriptures (Luke 24:27, 32) and then confirmed the prophecies with His personal appearance (v. 35). And since His ascension into heaven, Christians have heard His resurrection preached and taught to them from God’s inspired words in the Bible (Luke 24:45-47; I Corinthians 15:14-15; etc.).
In the tenth chapter of Luke we are told that Christ, besides the smaller circle of “the twelve” apostles, had a larger circle of seventy disciples, whom He had sent out to preach in His name as His advance-men. The two disciples that walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus on the afternoon of the Day of Christ’s Resurrection may well have belonged to this larger circle of Christ’s disciples. The name of the one was Cleopas, while the other is not named in Scripture.
Now these two disciples had left the others in Jerusalem and headed toward the little town of Emmaus, about seven miles away, where they intended to spend the night (Luke 24:29). As they walked, they talked about all the things that had happened in Jerusalem that weekend, especially about the arrest, trials, crucifixion and death of Jesus, and how their hopes that Jesus had been not only a mighty prophet but God’s own Messiah seem to have been dashed by this tragic turn of events (vv. 19-21). They were in a state of confusion, saddened by what had taken place and, at the same time, cautiously curious about a rumor that Christ had risen from the dead, a report that had not been verified except by some women whose words the disciples did not regard as reliable (v. 11).
But while they were walking along, conversing sadly (v. 17), a “stranger” caught up with them and joined them. For all they knew, he could have been an out-of-towner who had attended the feast of the Passover and was now on his way home. At least, he didn’t seem to know much about what had transpired (v. 18); and so they tried to fill him in on the disappointing events they were discussing. But it was Jesus, the risen Lord, whose identity had been withheld from them for the present (v. 16).
“What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?” (Luke 24:17). With this question the risen Lord politely interrupted their conversation and sought to draw them out so that they would share with Him their concerns. “And 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?’” (v. 18). And the two told him all that had happened to Jesus of Nazareth, “which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.” They revealed how the chief priests and rulers had Him condemned to death and crucified three days before, and how certain women had gone to the tomb earlier that day and had found the tomb empty and “had seen a vision of angels which said that He was alive” (v. 23). They also told Him about Peter and John’s visit to the tomb and their investigation, but that they hadn’t actually seen Jesus.
Then the “stranger” suddenly took charge of the conversation and expressed surprise and even outrage that the disciples didn’t see all of this coming according to the Old Testament prophecies: “‘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?’ And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (vv. 25-27). This is very important for us Christians to witness in this Gospel account; for it was not Jesus’ visible appearance that was supposed to convince these disciples, but the written Word of God, “the Scriptures,” which more than adequately testify of Him (John 5:39). In fact, the principle that Jesus Himself stated in His story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
And as they approached Emmaus, the sun was going down; and the disciples were going to find a place to stay the night. Jesus indicated that He would continue on. “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.” (v. 29). The three first sat down for a bite of supper, and something unusual happened. “And it came to pass, as He sat at meat with them, He took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them” (v. 30). Jesus was the guest, and yet He assumed the duties of the head of the home or of the host. For He took bread from the table, pronounced the customary blessing over it, broke it into portions, and distributed it to His dinner companions. He simply did what He was accustomed to doing when He ate with His own band of disciples. There is not the slightest hint in the text that this was a celebration of the Lord’s Supper, as some Roman Catholics have claimed, and that the risen Lord celebrated the Sacrament using only the bread and not the wine. This was simply a light supper, such as the disciples no doubt enjoyed frequently with Jesus during the forty days after His resurrection (Acts 10:41).
But what happened “in [the] breaking of bread” (v. 35) by the Lord Jesus? We don’t know whether He had used a special blessing, or whether He had a certain way of breaking and distributing bread that His disciples easily recognized. In any case, “Their eyes were opened, and they knew Him” (v. 31a). The veil, as it were, dropped from their eyes, and they knew Him at once. They knew that it was the Lord. He had indeed risen from the grave, as He had said He would. The women had told the truth. And the prophecies of the Scriptures that Jesus had pointed out to them had been fulfilled. But before they could communicate further with Him, He vanished out of their sight. He had accomplished His purpose with them. He had removed their doubts about His suffering, death, and resurrection. Looking back on it, they were no doubt surprised that they had not recognized Him earlier, for “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?” (Luke 24:32).
And what further effect did this appearance of the risen Lord produce? Though the two disciples evidently had intended to stay in the village overnight, “they rose up the same hour and returned to Jerusalem” (Luke 24:33a). They were anxious to tell the good news to their fellow disciples, to tell them how the risen Lord was their companion on the way to Emmaus, what all He had said to them and taught them from the Scriptures, and that He had been their guest at supper. And when they arrived at Jerusalem, they “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” (vv. 33b-35).
One of the comforts and blessings of Christ’s resurrection, confirmed by His words to the disciples just before He ascended into heaven, is that He will always be with us, “even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20b); He will always be our guest as He was the guest of those disciples at Emmaus, as He promises to be in the midst of even two or three who are gathered together in His Name (Matthew 18:20). For Christ dwells not only among but in the hearts of all true believers. St. Paul beseeches God that He would grant us the blessing “that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts by faith” (Ephesians 3:17). He enters into our hearts by means of His Word and Sacraments and makes them His holy temple.
It is therefore not in vain that we pray to our risen and ever-living Savior at mealtime and say, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest, and let Thy gifts to us be blest.” It is not in vain that we invite Him, as did the two disciples, to “abide with us” throughout our lives, saying, “Abide, O dearest Jesus, among us with Thy grace, with Thy Word, with Thy Truth, with Thy blessings, with Thy protection, and with Thy love” (TLH 53). And it is not in vain that we sing, “Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide, for round us falls the eventide; nor let Thy Word, that heavenly Light, for us be ever veiled in night” (TLH 292, 1). “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers” (I Peter 3:12). And even when death comes and we confidently yield ourselves into the loving arms of our living Redeemer, we can depend on the never-failing presence of our risen Lord to accompany us safely home to heaven, confessing with David, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
— D. G. R.