Revelation and Recognition
Luke 24 stresses that people need spiritual sight to recognize Jesus’s true identity as revealed in the Scriptures. The disciples’ journey with Jesus on the road to Emmaus poignantly illustrates this crucial point. Even though Cleopas and his companion converse with Christ himself on the road, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16). The passive voice of the Greek verb ekratounto (“were kept”) means that someone or something prevents these disciples from grasping the true identity of their fellow traveler. Earlier in the Gospel, the disciples do not understand Jesus’s predictions about his impending suffering, death, and resurrection because the meaning is “concealed” (Luke 9:45) and “hidden from them” (Luke 18:34). Some interpreters reason that Satan is the cause of the disciples’ incomprehension.1 Certainly the Gospel of Luke speaks of Satan’s hostile aims toward the disciples and his involvement with Judas’s betrayal (Luke 22:3, 31). However, in Luke 10:21–22, Jesus joyously praises the Father because he conceals and reveals according to his gracious will. Thus, when the disciples “were kept” from recognizing Christ in Luke 24:16 (and earlier in the narrative), the “divine passive” construction signals that God is ultimately the one who prevents the disciples from initially grasping Jesus’s true identity.2
These disciples journeying to Emmaus need the risen Lord to remove the blinders, which happens as he reveals himself and the true meaning of the Scriptures. When Jesus breaks bread with Cleopas and the other disciple, “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Luke 24:31).3 They marvel over how Jesus “opened” the Scriptures to them (Luke 24:32). Then, in the next scene with the larger group of disciples, Luke explains that Jesus himself “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45).4 Thus, we see that Jesus brings clarity to the Bible’s central message and gives his disciples the spiritual capacity to grasp his teaching. The word translated as “opened” (dianoigō) is used three times (Luke 24:31, 32, 45) to highlight our dual need for revelation and receptivity. We need Jesus to open God’s word to us and to open us to the word.5
Identity and Empowerment
Jesus also gives his disciples a new identity and promises them divine power to accomplish their mission. Immediately after previewing the disciples’ mission to all nations in accordance with Scripture (Luke 24:47), Christ declares, “You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48). Jesus’s words here likely allude to Isaiah 44:8: “Do not hide yourselves; have you not heard from the beginning, and did I not declare to you? You are witnesses, whether there is any god except me.”6 This anticipates the Lord’s promise in Acts 1:8: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Note that Jesus does not here emphasize their activity of bearing witness but their identity as his witnesses. Peter stresses that he and the other apostles are witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 1:22; 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39, 41). They have seen the risen Christ with their own eyes, and so they act as his “authorized delegates.”7 “Witness” is a legal term in both the Old and New Testaments for someone who testifies in court to what he has seen.8 The disciples are not just spectators to important events but must speak truthfully about what they have seen and heard. As Jesus’s witnesses, the apostles testify to the facts of the Messiah’s life, death, and resurrection, and they demonstrate that these things took place just as God promised in the Scriptures.9
Jesus promises to send the Spirit to empower his witnesses for their mission. Luke 24:49 records his final instructions to his followers: “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Once again, we see that Jesus’s teaching looks back to the Old Testament and looks forward to the book of Acts. Jesus calls the Spirit “the promise of my Father” to stress the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy that God would pour out his Spirit in the last days when he would accomplish salvation for his people.10 Jesus reiterates this command to “wait for the promise of the Father” and stresses again that the disciples will receive heavenly empowerment (Acts 1:4, 8). Jesus’s promise is soon realized at Pentecost, when Peter explains that the coming of the Spirit fulfills prophecy (Joel 2:28–32) and that the risen Lord himself is the one who pours out the Spirit (Acts 2:16–21, 33). Thus, Jesus provides his followers with supernatural power to carry out the mission. He also provides them with a pattern for interpreting the Scriptures.
Message and Model
Jesus’s last words according to Luke are both programmatic and paradigmatic. That is, they express the plan for the disciples’ mission and they offer a new pattern for them to follow. The apostles’ preaching in Acts shows that they teach just what they learned from their Lord. They proclaim a message of salvation in Jesus’s name, and they do so following Jesus’s own model of expounding the Scriptures in light of his saving death, victorious resurrection, and universal mission. For example, in Acts 4:11, Peter boldly identifies Jesus as “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone,” drawing on the same biblical text (Ps. 118:22) that Jesus cites in Luke 20:17. Likewise, Jesus stresses that he fulfills Isaiah 53:12 as he prepares for his arrest and execution (Luke 22:37), and in Acts 8:30–35, Philip proclaims the good news about Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch reading Isaiah 53. Jesus does not simply claim that the Old Testament is about him in Luke 24:25–27 and Luke 24:44–47, but his various appeals to Scripture throughout the Gospel of Luke illustrate a pattern of Bible reading that his disciples imitate in the book of Acts. This leads to a final point about Jesus’s last words in Luke 24.
We need Jesus to open God’s word to us and to open us to the word.
Messiah and Mission
Jesus claims that the Law, Prophets, and Writings find their central focus and climactic fulfillment in his death and resurrection and in his mission. Jesus’s summary of the Scriptures does not stop with the Messiah’s death and resurrection, but also anchors the mission to the nations in what is written.
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus interprets “in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself,” emphasizing that he had to suffer and then enter into glory (Luke 24:27). Then for his gathered disciples he states “that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). Thus, after the divine Son rises, he instructs his followers to see everything in his light.11
Jesus explains, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer” (Luke 24:46). “Suffer” likely serves as shorthand for Christ’s entire passion, including his betrayal by Judas, rejection by the Jewish leaders, shameful treatment and torture by the Romans, and ultimately death by crucifixion, just as he predicted (Luke 9:22; 17:25). This broad interpretation of “suffer” is suggested by the parallel summary of the Lord’s teaching in Luke 24:7 (“the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified”) and Luke 24:26, where “suffer these things” relates to the two disciples’ summary of Jesus’s condemnation and crucifixion in Luke 24:20.
“The Christ should . . . on the third day rise from the dead” (Luke 24:46) again recalls Jesus’s initial prediction of his suffering and resurrection in Luke 9:22. “The third day” also echoes two earlier references in Luke 24 to the timing of the resurrection. The angel reminds the women at the empty tomb that Jesus said that he must rise “on the third day” (Luke 24:7). Next, Cleopas and the other disciple recount to Jesus (whom they do not yet recognize) that “it is now the third day since these things happened” (Luke 24:21).
Jesus continues his summary of what “is written” into Luke 24:47: “and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”12 The first note of hope for the nations in Luke’s Gospel comes when Simeon cradles the messianic child and calls Jesus “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32).13 The closing scene of this Gospel clarifies that this hope is realized by preaching in the Messiah’s name.
This proclamation calls specifically for repentance, which involves not simply a change of one’s mind but a complete change of one’s allegiance and actions—“the true turning of our life to God.”14 Note that the response of repentance leads to “forgiveness of sins.” While John the Baptist preaches a baptism of repentance unto forgiveness in Israel (Luke 3:3; cf. Luke 1:77), the risen Lord explains that his followers’ preaching will now have a Christological focus “in his name” and a universal scope “to all nations” (Luke 24:47). This verse effectively previews the mission of Jesus’s witnesses, who call Jews and Gentiles to repent and believe in the exalted Lord and Messiah. Thus, Jesus explains that his death, resurrection, and universal mission follow the script of the Scriptures, offering a hermeneutical example for his disciples to follow.15
- For example, John Nolland, Luke, 3 vols., WBC 35A–C (Dallas: Word, 1989–1993), 2:514, 3:1201.
- Walter L. Liefeld and David W. Pao, “Luke,” in Luke–Acts, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, EBC 10, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 345; James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Luke, PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 716–17; Darrell L. Bock, Luke, 2 vols., BECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1994–1996), 2:1909–10; and Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel according to Luke, AB 28–28A (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981–1985), 2:1568. For a dissenting interpretation, see Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 390–91, 845n16.
- Luke 24:31 likely alludes to Genesis 3:7 with the similar wording “and their eyes were opened, and they knew” (diēnoichthēsan hoi ophthalmoi, kai egnōsan). For support for this connection and its biblical-theological implications, see Ortlund, “And Their Eyes Were Opened, and They Knew,” 717–28.
- Matthew Bates proposes an alternative rendering of Luke 24:45: “Then Jesus exposited the Scriptures so that the disciples could understand their meaning,” in which the Greek phrase diēnoixen autōn ton noun does not refer to Jesus opening the disciples’ minds but expounding the “mind” of the Scriptures. Matthew W. Bates, “Closed-Minded Hermeneutics? A Proposed Alternative Translation for Luke 24:45,” JBL 129 (2010): 539. However, the traditional interpretation of this verse is preferred based on the natural reading of the Greek word order and Luke’s use of dianoigō to convey divine illumination or enablement in Luke 24:31 (“their eyes were opened”) and Acts 16:14 (“the Lord opened her heart”). For a similar critique of Bates’s reading, see Mark Batluck, “Visions of Jesus Animate Israel's Tradition in Luke,” ExpTim 129 (2018): 413–14.
- For a complementary emphasis, see Johnson, Walking with Jesus, 17–20.
- This is my translation of Isaiah 44:8 LXX. See also Isaiah 43:10, 12. For further discussion, see chap. 6, pp. 136–41.
- Andrew C. Clark, “The Role of the Apostles,” in Witness to the Gospel, ed. I. Howard Marshall and David G. Peterson (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 178.
- See, for example, Deut. 19:15–16; Ruth 4:9–11; Matt. 26:65; Heb. 10:28; NIDNTTE, 3:234–45.
- See Allison A. Trites, The New Testament Concept of Witness, SNTSMS 31 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 144–45.
- “From on high” in Luke 24:49 probably alludes to the restoration prophecy of Isa. 32:15 (“until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high”).
- Here I adapt the closing line of C. S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?,” in The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses, rev. ed. (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1980), 140 (“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else”). Richard Hays similarly writes, “We interpret Scripture rightly only when we read it in light of the resurrection, and we begin to comprehend the resurrection only when we see it as the climax of the scriptural story of God’s gracious deliverance of Israel.” Reading with the Grain of Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2020), 47, emphasis original.
- Cf. Thomas S. Moore, “The Lucan Great Commission and the Isaianic Servant,” BSac 154 (1997): 60.
- Note that “nations” in Luke 24:47 and “Gentiles” in 2:32 translate the same Greek term, ethnē. Simeon’s prophetic words allude to Isa. 42:6 and 49:6, and receive focused attention in chap. 4, pp. 86–89.
- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox, 1960), 3.3.5. See further the recent study by Michael J. Ovey, The Feasts of Repentance: From Luke–Acts to Systematic and Pastoral Theology, NSBT 49 (London: Apollos, 2019).
- See also Wright, The Mission of God, 30.
This article is adapted from After Emmaus: How the Church Fulfills the Mission of Christ.
Acts is the story of God’s grace flooding out to the world, from the cross and resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
We cannot present a reason for Christ to finally close off his heart to his own sheep. No such reason exists.
The gospel of Jesus Christ, by its very nature, refuses to be bottled up. It must be shared.
Jesus has one office, that of Messiah or Christ. He is the anointed one, the one mediator between God and man, the Savior. But this office has three aspects to it: those of prophet, priest, and king.