The Keys Of The Transitional Chapter: Key Number One

Somebody wrote in the comments to my last post: “We await with expectation the ‘key’”.  Well, not just one key – but the set of keys to the whole story of the hidden messiahship of Jesus, is provided for us by Luke.  As far as we know, Luke was the only author in early Christianity who felt it necessary to complete the story of the “hidden” life of Jesus with the story of his disciples openly proclaiming the secret things of the Gospel, and in His two-volume work Luke provided us with wonderful tools for understanding the nature of this abrupt change between the Gospel and Acts.  The last chapter of the Gospel serves not only as a wonderful literary transition to the second volume, but also as a spiritual key – or set of spiritual keys – to the theme of “hidden and revealed Messiah”.

In Luke 24 we read the story about two disciples traveling … to a village called Emmaus on the first day of the week. They were greatly perplexed about everything that had happened to their Teacher, and were talking between themselves about these events.  Now, on the way Jesus himself… went with them  – but they didn’t recognize Him. They kept talking; they answered Jesus when he asked about the latest news from Jerusalem; they were puzzled that He alone did not know what had happened – but they did not recognize Him.   He began to teach them from the Scriptures, and that should have reminded them of Him teaching them so many times – yet, even then they were not able to recognize him.  Their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know him.[1]  

We have seen in the previous articles that the idea of the Messiah living unrecognized among the people Israel, was a very common idea in Jewish thought.  We have seen that this manner of referring to the coming of the Messiah as hidden and revealed could be taken as representative of first century Judaism.  In this sense, the story of Emmaus only bears additional proof to this idea.  The difference is that Luke shows very clearly how and why they didn’t recognize him – and that is what we are going to discuss today.

* * *

Let us try to comprehend what happened to the disciples’ eyes on the road to Emmaus. We read that their eyes were restrained. In English, as in Greek, the verb restrained is the passive form of the verb restrain. Essentially, it means that whatever happened to the disciples, their inability to recognize Jesus absolutely did not depend on themselves. Someone was restraining their eyes until the appointed time came.[2] Then, when the appointed time came, the same someone opened their eyes:  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.[3]  Here again, as in the verse 16, the text uses the passive form: their eyes were opened.  The Greek verb[4]  used here means “to be opened completely, fully“  and it occurs several times in the Septuagint. The use of the active form of this verb is remarkable: For example, in the book of 2 Kings 6:17, Elisha is praying that the Lord would open the eyes of his servant: LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw.

In every almost place in the Septuagint where this verb is found in the active form, the subject of the sentence is God Himself, which leads us to a very important conclusion: God is the only one who can open our spiritual eyes! For example, Luke’s words at the end of the same chapter: And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures[5], should be read as a statement of faith: Luke evidently believes that Jesus is God and that is why He has God’s authority to open. According to Luke, the Lord, and only He, has the authority to restrain the understanding and the eyes – and He is the only one who can open, unlock the understanding and the eyes. The eyes of the disciples on the road to Emmaus were restrained in a sovereign way by His hand alone – by no means could they have recognized Jesus until He Himself opened their eyes.

In this regard, I would like to recall the scene that we discussed in the last post: the well-known scene in the Nazareth synagogue from the 4th chapter of the Gospel of Luke. In reading these verses, one is invariably astounded at the incredibly tense atmosphere that fills the synagogue when Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah. What is the source of this tension, and to what does it testify? And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him…  So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.[6]  In other words, the hearts of those who heard Jesus were burning, they were obviously sensing the proximity of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit – clearly they were sensing that the One who was standing before them had a special, extra-human authority. The eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him in an intense desire and expectation to see in Him the one whom they felt in their hearts He was. I believe, they desperately wanted to obey the voice of their hearts and to recognize the Messiah – and yet, they could not. Why? What was the difference between the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and Jesus’ townsfolk from Nazareth? In both cases, hearts burned – and in both cases, the eyes fixed on Jesus were restrained by none other than the Lord Himself.  (we know already that no one else can restrain or open someone’s eyes).  However, the eyes of the disciples on the road to Emmaus were finally opened in the breaking of bread (once again, by none other than the Lord Himself) – while the eyes of the people in Nazareth remained restrained.

This is our key for today – Key Number One – a crucial key for understanding the story of Israel and Jesus:  no one but God Himself can restrain or open spiritual eyes. It was His decision and His alone, both in the case of the disciples, whose eyes He opened and who finally did recognize Him, and in the case of the synagogue, where the eyes of people remained restrained, and they did not recognize Him.

[1] Lk. 24:16

[2] In Greek, exactly as in English, here we have the passive form (εκρατουντο) of the verb to restrain (Κρατεω).

[3] Lk. 24:31

[4] Διανοιγω

[5] Lk. 24:45

[6] Lk. 4:20, 22

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. premkumar samuel

    Agreed it is God who opens or shuts both physical and spiritual eyes.
    In the Nazareth Synagogue a familiar crowd in a familiar setting is surprised by a Carpenter who proclaims He is the Messiah and the congregation was not upset ,they knew for well that if the person standing before him is a blasphemer then the most High would have struck him dead but nothing happened. Only when Jesus starts saying that no prophet is honoured in his hometown they become upset ,When Jesus explained many are called but few are chosen ,they wanted to get rid of Him.
    In the case of Cleophas and his companion they knew the scriptures but couldn’t comprehend and therefore Jesus has to explain what Moses and the Prophets wrote relates to him and then their eyes were opened ,When he broke the bread, they would have seen His nail pierced hands.
    In both the incidents the truth was revealed or eyes were opened but even with open eyes in Nazareth there was rejection and in emmaus there was acceptance.
    Even if God opens our spiritual eyes it is for us to respond .

    1. Julia Blum

      I agree, Samuel. Definitely, after God opens spiritual eyes, it’s still for us to respond (and I will talk about it in one of my coming posts) – the point is, however, that we can’t recognize Him before He opens our eyes.

    2. Dorothy Healy

      Samuel, you have brought up an interesting detail here, it was only when Jesus says that “no prophet is honoured in his hometown” they become upset. One of the biggest stumbling blocks in human nature is to take offence. It seems that is exactly what happened here – “how dare he suggest …! Who does he think he is?” Their stirred hearts were blanketed at that point, and replaced with religious zeal to do away with this blasphemer. As soon as we take offence, we effectively close our ears/eyes to be able to receive truth.

  2. Jay Watchman

    Any reason why all of you still call him the messiah by a nick name instead of the name given to him by the messenger which is Yahshua and means exactly Yah saves as spoken by the prophets

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Jay, I personally call Him Yeshua , – but most of the readers of this blog know Him as Jesus, and I’ve decided to use the name that my readers would know.

  3. Jerry S.

    • The Sheppard’s were made known of the Messiah and “widely publicized it”.
    • Shim`on: “For my eyes have seen your yeshu`ah, which you have prepared before the face of all peoples; A light for revelation to the Goyim, and the glory of your people Yisra’el.”
    • Hanah: “and spoke of him to all those who were looking for redemption in Yerushalayim.”
    These at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, before Jesus was more than eight days old and before Acts chapter 2.

    • Yeshua said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with you and me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever he says to you, do it.”
    Mary knew who he was. Throngs of Israelites followed him recognizing who he was. What “hour” was he speaking?

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Jerry, great comment and great question. I am publishing it now, for the sake of discussion, but I will reply after Shabbat.

    2. Julia Blum

      Jerry, in order to answer you, I would quote a few sentences from my “Hidden messiah” study (of course, here I can publish only some short pieces from it): “In the first chapters of the Gospel the “hidden” motif is unfolding according to the “secret place” pattern. The author of the Gospel seems to show that when God is going to do something, when something of the heavenly importance is going to take place on this earth, He is revealing it just to the chosen one (ones) and hiding it from everybody else: angel and Zachariah, angel and Mary, angels and the shepherds, the baby in the womb of Mary and the baby in the womb of Elizabeth, the baby in the Temple and Simeon, the baby in the Temple and Anna. Of course, there are always some others present, some witnesses of the events: people see or hear and they marvel – but the only ones who know the true meaning of these events are those chosen for the revelation of the inner room. Remarkable, that during the baptism of Jesus the voice of God from the heaven – batkol – is turning to Jesus only, unlike the scene in Matthew, for instance. God is revealing His message to Jesus only: You are My Son (and not: This is My Son, as in Matthew). The heavenly message in this Gospel is always delivered only to the chosen one (ones). Luke is very consistent in his following this pattern in the first chapters of his Gospels.”
      So of course, there were those who knew He was: “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but to them, it has not been granted” (Mat.13:11) – but precisely because of that He is saying to His mother: “My hour has not yet come”. “You know who I am – but the hour to reveal Myself to everybody else, has not come yet”

    3. Dorothy Healy

      Jerry you rightly point out that 3 particular certain revelations were given to the shepherds, Anna and Simeon, but
      of course Yeshua was a mere infant at that time – soon to be taken to Egypt and thence Nazareth to live a seemingly ordinary life – it would be 30 years before he was baptized by John and began his ministry. Meanwhile, Anna and Simeon would have been long dead, and the shepherd’s early euphoria would presumably have waned as they lost track of this special child.
      On another point, we need to be cautious in reading English translations. In Luke 2:17 the Greek word used here does not necessarily mean they “widely publicized it” and not all translators use this emphasis. According to the root words in Gk., it could equally mean that they ‘declared’, they ‘made known with certainty’ what had been told them to those present with the child.
      Certainly Mary knew who he was, but she kept these things in her heart.

  4. Paul Fricker

    Do you think these two were husband and wife? I have heard it taught this way and i am curious as to the truth of such teaching

    1. Julia Blum

      I’ve never heard it taught this way. I don’t think so .

  5. Isabel

    שלם said it beautifully:

    … To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: …

  6. Elizabeth (Lisa) Seibel-Ross

    This is a wonderfully enlightening key! They found the afikomen – the bread of life.

  7. Nick Edwards

    Great insight into hidden/revealed Messiah-makes perfect sense! There seems to be a Biblical pattern of a bright but brief moment of inspiration followed by a period of what seems like aloneness. God works in mysterious ways-maybe so we will constantly seek Him??
    Thanks again for this blog!

  8. greg rucoba

    Why did the Lord restrain the eyes of the people of Nazareth, didn’ t The Lord want the people to know who He was?

    1. Julia Blum

      Greg, I would refer you to my previous posts here on this blog, I do explain it there. As Messiah, Jesus had been hidden from Israel – till the appointed time came. That’s the reason why He restrained the eyes of His people.

  9. Ikechukwu J.

    I agree with the article. it was the Holy spirit that opened the eyes of Peter to answerecorrectly when Jesus asked his followers who do people say iam? then Peter replied thou are Christ the son of the living God.

  10. Dorothy Healy

    How interesting to see these two familiar scriptures juxtaposed like this. Something we cannot fail to recognize here is that the Emmaus Road incident happened after the resurrection, in the transition period before the ascension. It was no longer necessary for the LORD to keep the eyes restrained, because victory had been won.

    1. Julia Blum

      Exactly! That’s why Luke is putting it in the end of his Gospel – that we would understand when exactly the eyes would be opened (the breaking of the bread- the suffering) and why they had been restrained before. Thank you Dorothy, for the wonderful comment.

    2. Dorothy Finlay

      Thank youJulia for these profound comments-I had been aware of the significance of their eyes being opened but linking it with Elisha’s servant is a very fascinating understanding when you understand the Greek tenses. How wonderful that the Lord opens our eyes to understand His Word, not just as facts but our understanding of who and what He is saying. I link it with 2 Corinthians when Paul speaks of the veil over the eyes of unbelieving people when the Holy Spirit reverals Yeshua to them.