Luke’s Personal Testimony
Luke 24:13 says,
13 And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles [“sixty furlongs”] from Jerusalem.
Luke says that Emmaus was sixty furlongs (KJV) from Jerusalem. A Greek furlong was 660 feet, so sixty furlongs was actually 7½ miles. The NASB rounds off the number to “seven miles.” The Wycliffe Bible Commentary tells us that some old texts read 160 furlongs:
“The distance given by the conventional text is about eight miles, but two of the older manuscripts say 160 furlongs, which would be about 20 miles.”
Panin’s Numeric New Testament agrees with the conventional texts, giving the distance as “threescore furlongs.” Further, Josephus tells us that after the war which destroyed Jerusalem, Vespasian settled a colony of 800 retired soldiers in Emmaus, which “is distant from Jerusalem threescore furlongs” (Wars of the Jews, VII, vi, 6). He says, Caesar had decreed “that all of Judea should be exposed to sale…. And this was the state of the Jewish affairs at this time.”
So we may conclude that those old manuscripts giving the distance as 160 furlongs were incorrect. Furthermore, since Luke and Cleopas walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus and then back again, it is hardly likely that they could have walked forty miles in a single afternoon.
The Journey to Emmaus
Alfred Edersheim describes the journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus:
We leave the City by the Western Gate. A rapid progress for about twenty-five minutes, and we have reached the edge of the plateau… Other twenty-five or thirty minutes—perhaps a little more, passing here and there country-houses—and we pause to look back [looking south], now on the wide prospect [scene, view] as far as Bethlehem. Again we pursue our way. We are now getting beyond the dreary, rocky region, and are entering on a valley… A short quarter of an hour more, and we have left the well-paved Roman road and are heading up a lovely valley. The path gently climbs in a north-westerly direction, with the height on which Emmaus stands prominently before us… What an oasis this in a region of hills! Along the course of the stream, which babbles down, and low in the valley is crossed by a bridge, are scented orange- and lemon-gardens, olive groves, luscious fruit trees, pleasant enclosures, shady nooks, bright dwellings, and on the height lovely Emmaus. A sweet spot to which to wander on that spring afternoon; a most suitable place where to meet such companionship, and to find such teaching, as on that Easter Day (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. II, p. 639, 640).
The journey from the Western Gate northwest to Emmaus started as a dreary path, but soon became a beautiful walk, as Edersheim describes. No doubt Cleopas lived there, and that he had offered his good friend, Dr. Luke, a room as well. Apparently, they were returning home after hearing the bad news from Mary. Later, when Jesus met them, they were still “looking sad” (Luke 24:17). Luke 24:14 says,
14 And they were conversing with each other all these things which had taken place.
Alfred Edersheim identifies Cleopas’ companion as Luke himself:
“Of the two, who on that early spring afternoon left the City in company, we know that one bore the name of Cleopas. The other unnamed, has for that very reason, and because the narrative of that work bears in its vividness the character of personal recollection, been identified with St. Luke himself.” (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. II, p. 638)
Just as John often refers to himself anonymously as “that disciple whom Jesus loved,” so also does Luke remain anonymous in his account. Such literary style (referring to one’s self anonymously) was considered both modest and proper in those days.
Along the road to Emmaus, the disciples passed two towns which were equidistant from the road and opposite from each other. On the right was the ancient town of Nephtoah (on the border of Judah), later known as Lifta. On the left the road led to Kolonieh. The roads leading toward these villages, Edersheim says, formed an arc, one going to the Northwest, and the other to the Northeast.
The roads met about a quarter of a mile south of Emmaus. Perhaps it was at this junction where the disciples met Jesus, who seemed to be coming from one of these villages.
Luke 24:15, 16 says,
15 And it came about that while they were conversing and discussing, Jesus Himself approached, and began traveling with them. 16 But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.
It seems unlikely that Jesus had caught up to them from the rear. Luke says “Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them.” If He had come from Emmaus, as if to go to Jerusalem, then He would have turned around and returned with them. This is unlikely. I have no doubt that Jesus appeared to come from one of the side roads, as if He were walking from Lifta or Kolonieh to go through Emmaus to some point farther up the road. Meeting at the intersection, He joined them in their journey that final quarter of a mile up the hill to Emmaus.
Luke’s statement in verse 16 seems to imply that Jesus’ features had not changed, but that their eyes (perception) could not recognize Him. Luke 24:17 shows how the conversation began as Jesus met them at the intersection:
17 And He said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” And they stood still, looking sad.
Today Jesus might have said, “What are you talking about? It looks serious. Why do you have such long faces?” They stopped to wait for Jesus as He drew near. Luke 24:18 says,
18 And one of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?”
This may imply that Jesus had caught up to them, coming from Jerusalem; however, it is more likely that they assumed the stranger had been to Jerusalem for the Passover feast, since every able-bodied man was supposed to make that journey for the three feasts. Luke 24:19-21 continues,
19 And He said to them, “What things?” And they said to Him, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, 20 and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him up to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. 21 But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened.”
The Third Day
Luke’s testimony says that Jesus had been crucified the previous Friday afternoon, and that it was now Sunday, “the third day.” Such terminology is used in the New Testament twenty times, whereas the idiom “three days and three nights” is used only once (Matt. 12:40). Taken literally, the two terms would be contradictory. “The third day” means that the crucifixion took place on the first day (Friday).
The expression, “three days and three nights” would seem to imply three full 24-hour periods, and many have taken it to mean this. However, as a general rule, one must believe what is stated often, while viewing exceptions more critically. “The third day” was their normal manner of speaking, while “three days and three nights” was a Hebrew idiom for continuous time with no break between day and night.
Only by understanding it in this way can we avoid an obvious contradiction. Jesus was crucified in the day of Preparation and was buried quickly before nightfall when Passover actually began. Jesus rested in the tomb throughout the day of Passover, after which the chief priests sealed the tomb (at sundown). Jesus was then raised “the third day” before sunrise on the day after Passover, which was the day of the wave-sheaf offering. Hence, Ignatius of Antioch, one of the witnesses who saw Jesus after His resurrection, states,
“On the day of the preparation, then, at the third hour, He received the sentence from Pilate, the Father permitting that to happen; at the sixth hour He was crucified; at the ninth hour He gave up the ghost; and before sunset He was buried. During the Sabbath, He continued under the earth in the tomb in which Joseph of Arimathea had laid Him. At the dawning of the Lord’s Day He arose from the dead, according to what was spoken by Himself, ‘As Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of man also be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” The day of preparation, then, comprises the passion; the Sabbath embraces the burial; the Lord’s Day contains the resurrection” (Letter to the Trallians, chapter 9).
Ignatius was about three years of age when he saw Jesus, and he wrote his letter as an old man some time after 100 A.D. It is not likely that his memory had failed him. His view was consistent with all other writings in the early Church. And so Cleopas told the stranger that “it is the third day since these things happened.”
Then Cleopas continued, showing that he and Luke had been present when the women told them of the angelic appearance. Luke 24:22-24 says,
22 But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels, who said that He was alive. 24 And some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.”
It is clear that Luke and Cleopas were among the gathering of disciples at the house when first Mary and later the other women burst in with the news of Christ’s resurrection. Everyone was existemi, “amazed, astonished and astounded.” Luke and Cleopas stayed in the house long enough to hear the good report, but apparently they were still “slow of heart to believe” (Luke 24:25). For this reason, they were “looking sad” when Jesus met them on the road to Emmaus.
Verse 24 (above) seems to imply that some disciples went to the tomb after the good report as well. After all, it was not far. Peter and John, of course, went earlier to investigate Mary’s report of the grave robbery. Luke does not tell us who investigated after the good report, nor does he say what they found. He says only that they confirmed what the women were saying. This implies that they talked with the angels, who confirmed that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
If that is what happened, it is clear that Luke and Cleopas were not among those who went to the tomb, for they were still slow to believe.
Jesus then gave them the Scriptural understanding to answer their questions that the two had been discussing along the way.
25 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.
The fact is that few—if any—truly understood the types and shadows in the law, nor did they truly understand the prophets such as Isaiah 53, which prophesied of the death of the Messiah. But this incident on the road to Emmaus was the turnabout point, where the disciples eyes began to be opened.
In fact, there was divine purpose behind their blindness.
Luke and Cleopas as Prophetic Types
It was necessary for Luke and Cleopas to be blinded to Christ for a season, in order for them to represent all Israel which had been blinded up to that time (Deut. 29:4; Isaiah 29:10). Cleopas was a type of Judah, being of that tribe himself. Luke, being a Greek, was a type of the scattered House of Israel. Both Judah and Israel were partially blind.
Jesus’ resurrection, however, marked the time to begin opening the eyes of the people. So when Jesus began to expound the Scriptures to them, this enlightenment prophesied of a day yet to come, when the Holy Spirit will lead all men into the truth. Luke 24:28, 29 continues,
28 And they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He would go farther. 29 And they urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.” And He went in to stay with them.
There may have been a few hours remaining in the afternoon. They convinced the stranger to stay with them, and then immediately brought out bread to eat. Luke 24:30, 31 continues,
30 And it came about that when He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.
Perhaps they recognized Him from the earlier manner in which He had broken bread and had given it to the disciples. Others say that they saw the nail marks in His wrists. Luke’s intent, no doubt, is to bring the story to a climax, showing how Jesus was the Bread of Life, how He had been like broken bread at the cross, and that by eating from His hands our blind eyes are enlightened to hear and understand the Word of God. When Jesus’ mission was completed, He disappeared.
They Return to Jerusalem
Luke 24:32-35 ends the story this way:
32 And they said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” 33 And they arose that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, 34 saying, “The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon.” 35 And they began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.
They arrived that evening at the house in Jerusalem. They told the disciples that Jesus had appeared to them, and as they told their story, Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst.
Luke’s personal testimony provides us with a proper climax to his letter to Theophilus (Luke 1:3), which has become one of our gospels. He was able to tell Theophilus that he himself was an eyewitness of Jesus’ resurrection.