As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going further. 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.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. 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?”
They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread.
What a fascinating conversation it must have been! I for one would love to have witnessed it, to hear what Jesus said.
Luke doesn’t provide us with detailed content of Christ’s presentation, much of which is provided for us in any case throughout the New Testament (see verses 45-47 of this same chapter), including by Luke himself in his follow-up volume, the Book of Acts. What matters here is the central point: to demonstrate to the two men from the Old Testament Scriptures that Jesus’ rejection and death were not barriers to his being Messiah. In fact, they served to strengthen his claim to be Messiah since they were exactly what the Old Testament had predicted would happen.
So, what now? Did that mean that Jesus was actually alive? They probably could hardly dare to ask the question. And then, if he was alive, where was he and how would they know it was truly him? Since the tomb was obviously empty, what was to stop anyone who even vaguely resembled Jesus from dressing as he used to dress and claim that he was the risen Messiah? What would prevent the disciples from being deceived by an imposter?
Throughout the entire conversation Cleopas and his companion had been prevented from recognising that it was Jesus who was walking with them. But the conversation had moved and excited them. As they later expressed it, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They didn’t want the conversation to end. So they invited the stranger to stay the night with them.
It was now the moment to reveal his identity to them. How did he do it? Not by simply saying, “I am Jesus.” Anyone could have said that. He did it in a way that no imposter would or could have thought up. He took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them.
Perhaps as he broke the bread, they noticed the nail prints in his wrists. Luke doesn’t say. And when the two men were later explaining to the disciples how they knew it was Jesus, they did not say anything about marks on his body. It was in the gesture of breaking bread itself that they recognised him.
This is something Jesus had done before. On one memorable occasion he had taken bread, blessed it and passed it to his disciples who then were able to feed a crowd of over 5,000 as the bread multiplied in his hands. On that occasion he had explained the significance of what he was doing. He was the bread of life. He was going to give his flesh and his blood for them.
And then he had done the same at his final Passover meal. He broke bread and gave it to his disciples: “this is my body that is given for you.” Christ chose to reveal his true identity to them through that simple action that expressed the heart of what he had come to do: to give his body, his life in sacrifice for the sin of the world.
That is one of the main ways we recognise him still, for it is in this that we see the uniqueness of Jesus. No one else in world history has laid down his life for the forgiveness of our sin.
The two men could not rest. They had set out for Emmaus, dejected and confused. But their journey could not end there! Jesus himself had disappeared from their sight. There was no time to lose. They needed to get back to Jerusalem and tell the disciples the good news that Jesus was indeed Messiah, risen from the dead.