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?”
“What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 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. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
There is a marvellous irony about Cleopas’ incredulous response: “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” Jesus was in fact the only one who truly knew and understood what had happened!
But this was not the moment to tell them. Instead, Jesus gave them the opportunity to express where their conversation and thinking had taken them.
“We had hoped…” How these words resonate with any and all of us who have built our hopes on something or someone, only to have them dashed. Their devastation was obvious.
At the same time, they were deeply perplexed by the testimony of the women concerning the empty tomb and their claim to have seen angels who said that Jesus was alive. The women had been proved right about the empty tomb, but Jesus they did not see. Cleopas and his companion at this point had no idea that they were actually looking at Jesus!
Their comments illustrate some of key reasons why the disciples had such difficulty believing that Jesus could be the Messiah or that his resurrection was even a possibility.
In the first place their chief priests and authorities, men who had always exerted enormous influence upon the people, had concluded that Jesus was false and had handed him over to be crucified. These men had weighed the evidence of Jesus’ teaching and his powerful works, but had dismissed it. That was a major blow to the disciples.
Second, Jesus’ death was a major problem. Crucifixion was ugly, brutal, shameful, reserved for the lowest of the low. More significantly, they had no expectation that Messiah would be rejected by his own people and be killed. Their reading of the Old Testament prophets had led them to believe that the true Messiah would free them from their Roman overlords and set up his worldwide kingdom in Jerusalem. The fact that Jesus had willingly allowed himself to be taken, handed over to the Romans and killed, leaving the nation still downtrodden, demonstrated that he couldn’t possibly be the Messiah. What use would a Messiah like that be? And that in turn made any claim of resurrection beside the point: the problem of his rejection and death seemed insurmountable.
So before revealing to Cleopas and his companion that he was risen from the dead, Jesus needed to demonstrate to them from their Scriptures that Messiah had to die. They believed what the prophets had said. They just hadn’t believed ALL that the prophets had said. They had focussed on those statements that talked of the restoration of Israel’s land and kingdom. But the passages that spoke of Messiah’s suffering hadn’t made any sense to them.
Jesus took them through the prophecies and the various pictures God had provided in advance – such as Isaiah 53, no doubt, and the symbolism of Passover and the sacrificial system – to demonstrate that Messiah had to die and through that death enter into glory, for his death would be the basis of true redemption, the forgiveness of sin.
In demonstrating that, he was also revealing to them that their hope in Jesus had not been misplaced. Perhaps, then, what the women had told them wasn’t so far-fetched after all? All was about to be revealed!