With confusion, emotional turmoil and burning doubts Cleopas and his travelling companion walk the dusty, well-worn path.
Conversation was intense and confused as they reflected on the emotional rollercoaster of the past week. Euphoric highs were shattered by an excruciating low—hollow, empty, full of doubt with hope dashed on the jagged rocks of circumstance leaving the future looking bleak and meaningless.
So intense was their attention that they failed to discern the presence of an additional westbound Traveller. It wasn’t long before the apparent Interloper interrupted their forlorn exchange with a question: “What on earth are you talking about?”
Incredulously Cleopas responds, “Seriously! Your ignorance is astounding. You must be the only person around here who has no idea what’s going on . . .”
“What things?” responds the Stranger . . .
What things indeed . . . The story of the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24 offers a unique insight into how heaven responded to the shattered church struggling to come to terms with an event so radical and a calling so high it would result in a message that would change history and destiny for intelligent creation throughout the universe—throughout eternity.
The longest post resurrection narrative in the Gospels, Emmaus reveals one of the most important encounters with Jesus in the New Testament. As we attempt to plumb the depths of that encounter, we are left with two significant questions that may offer insights into our own place in history:
1) Under the circumstances, why did these disciples leave Jerusalem?
2) Under the circumstances, why did Jesus go to so much trouble to get them back?
The context for the Emmaus journey is full of comings and goings to an empty tomb and reports of strange apparitions bearing unexpected messages. The events of the day appear to have had an impact on our travellers as evidenced by the exasperated response to Jesus’ probing question on the road:
“. . . 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” (Luke 24:22-24).
Does it not seem strange that these disciples, on hearing this report, still left Jerusalem? Fear aside, wouldn’t basic curiosity raise some level of interest that would delay departure long enough to find out what was happening? Culture aside, were their expectations so grounded in what they had witnessed that they were blinded to the previously revealed reality of the resurrection when it was reported to them by the women? What was so important in Emmaus that under these circumstances they still felt compelled to leave Jerusalem?
While the Bible appears to be intentionally silent on the reason why they had to get to Emmaus, one salient point that is often overlooked is the effort heaven undertook to get them back, which brings us to the second question.
One of the most intriguing details of this encounter is that the disciples did not immediately recognise Jesus.
This temporary blindness provided an opportunity for our risen Saviour to explore the Scriptures with them in a calm, reasoned and logical way, highlighting and establishing the authority and importance of trusting the written Word.
Of significance is that Jesus started with “Moses and all the prophets” explaining “to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
This was clearly a prophetic message that at its centre revealed Jesus and His work on behalf of humanity and the universe in revealing the character and government of our God. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were given a revelation of a prophetic message they knew but failed to fully grasp.
The result of this divinely ordained encounter was twofold: Their hearts were burning within them, and they went back to Jerusalem. Now that we have the result, let’s consider more fully the context.
Early that fateful morning, Jesus came forth from the tomb a conqueror. While the embryonic Christian church was in confusion and mourning, heaven was celebrating. Into this heavenly scene of unbridled joy, after appearing briefly to Mary, walks Jesus—the rightful centre of true celebration. However, instead of joining the celebration, Jesus, after receiving assurance from the Father, comes back. Apparently, there was something more important that required His attention on earth!
While the Saviour that day appeared briefly to Mary, the other women and even Peter, Jesus—the resurrected Saviour who could take a cosmic jaunt to heaven and back in what may have been a split second—walked for likely several hours with our Emmaus-bound friends. The fact that heaven would invest such time and effort in these two disciples on their way to Emmaus is strange indeed given the circumstances. Wouldn’t Peter and the other disciples have benefited from such a visit? Surely, a lecture presented by the resurrected Jesus on prophecy would have greatly benefitted the church at that time.
While it could be argued that the strange happenings of the day may have compelled our Emmaus-bound friends to leave, there is little doubt that if Jesus wanted them to stay, He could have arranged circumstances so they would have stayed. But He didn’t, and we are left considering the possibility that heaven wanted them to leave.
Given Adventism was raised as a prophetic movement and the message to our Emmaus-bound friends was prophetic, might there be some parallels worth exploring?
As a prophetic movement, Adventism was born from the Historicist understanding of prophecy1. This understanding places our current church in the historical position of being the Laodicean church (Revelation 3:14-22). While it is true that the Laodicean church—from a historical perspective—will be the church that finally enters the heavenly Canaan, it will not do so in its Laodicean condition. Indeed, the Bible describes the Laodicean condition as sickeningly “lukewarm” and delusionary in believing itself to be “rich, and increased with goods” and having “need of nothing”, when in reality it is “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked”.
The solution to the Laodicean condition is provided by the same Individual who walked with our friends on the road to Emmaus, Jesus Himself, the “faithful and true Witness” who later in vision to John walked among the seven candlesticks, or seven churches of prophetic time (Revelation 1:12–20).
The net result of this encounter with the divine Emmaus walker or “faithful and true witness” is repentance—turning back to God. Indeed, the injunction is to “be earnest and repent”. The Greek word for “earnest” basically means to “burn with zeal”. In other words, don’t be lukewarm, be hot!
Which brings us back to our Emmaus-bound friends and that “burning” question—why did heaven go to such lengths to bring those disciples back to Jerusalem?
These disciples were on a journey away from Jerusalem to a place called Emmaus. Would it surprise you to learn that there are suggestions that the word Emmaus may be derived from the Semitic word for “warm spring”2! In other words, they were metaphorically heading to “lukewarm Laodicea”, and it took an experience with the “faithful and true witness” through a prophetic message that caused their hearts to “burn” within them to bring them back, to turn them around, which is basically what it means to repent.
Could it be that hidden in this story from Luke’s Gospel is a message to our Laodicean church for this time? Is it possible that we as a church have failed to fully grasp the prophetic message we know so well? Might it be that the church—which is us—in its Laodicean condition, needs a prophetic encounter with Jesus so that our hearts, as inspired and directed by the Spirit, will burn within us, and turn us back? But back where? What was so important about Jerusalem that heaven expended such efforts in what could only be described as a divinely orchestrated performance to centralise the church during that time? As we consider Jerusalem both historically and especially prophetically one thing stands out: Jesus is in Jerusalem. Indeed, what would the New Jerusalem be without Jesus? As we present our heaven directed and timely prophetic message to the world, we have been instructed to magnify Jesus. “Let Daniel speak, let the Revelation speak, and tell what is truth. But whatever phase of the subject is presented, uplift Jesus as the center (sic) of all hope.”3
Jesus, the centre of all hope.
The same Emmaus Walker, who walked among our prophetic church, stands at the door of our hearts and gently knocks (Revelation 3:20), calling us individually and corporately to join Him in the written Word where with Spirit-inspired burning hearts, we will be empowered to do the impossible—reveal Jesus.
As Jesus walks the well-worn path to the door of our hearts and knocks, all we need to do is open the door . . . or open it wider.
1. Historicism is a method of biblical interpretation that associates prophetic symbols with historical events, nations or persons.
2. <biblewalks.com/emmausvalleysprings>, (July, 2017).
3. White, EG. Testimonies for the Church, Vol 6, p62.
Randall Ibbott is a freelance IT consultant living in the Central Coast of NSW.