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. Elizabeth Seibel-Ross

    I appreciate your slowing it all down for us and showing us these keys Julia. I love these ideas of God restraining our eyes or not, and developing the depths of our understanding. I’ve felt these things in my own life, so it makes good sense to me. Thank you, your writings are a joy I look forward too!

    1. Julia Blum

      I love hearing from you, Lisa. Thank you for your kind words! I’ve also experienced these things in my own life, so I think I understand what you mean (and can relate to it). Blessings!

  2. Peter K. O. Adeyemi

    Great insight! Their eyes were opened as He broke the bread with them.

  3. Elizabeth V. Kane

    The discussion shows that the Lord reveals things to you when you are spiritually awakened or ready. Only He knows when you have reached the level of understanding. Although we may be able to see and read our minds may not be receptive to the point of understanding. A good metaphor may be “I was blind, but now I see.”
    This is not sightless blind, but spiritually blind, unable to truly understand. When the mind’s eye is opened and receptive to understanding things “hidden” are revealed to us. This enables us to share our witness.

  4. Jo Ann Abreu

    I also beleive that the Holy Spirit opens hearts and eyes for people to accept Jesus Christ. I enjoyed reading your blog today.

  5. Tony Taylor

    I love the correlation between the two scriptures. It has made me very curious about other instances. Thank you.

  6. Henrietta Wisbey

    Dear Julia

    A beautiful thought/ phrase ones to mind from the Song of Solomon.
    …….He shows himself through the lattice. S.of Sol. 2:9
    That to me is the essence
    My Beloved is like are roe or a young hart
    sometimes He stands behind our wall
    sometimes He looks forth through the window
    and then He speaks and says,” Rise up my love my fair one and come away……

    1. Julia Blum

      Dear Henrietta, it’s wonderful to hear from you! And it’s amazing that you are quoting this Scripture, because the same very verse in the context of Hidden Messiah we find in midrash Pesikta Rabbati :
      Piska 15.10 – Another comment : My beloved is like a gazelle. R.Isaac said: As a gazelle appears and then disappears , so [Moses] , the first Messiah, appeared to Israel and then disappeared from them. . Beautiful!

  7. jane z mazzola

    Why would God want “to open the eyes to understanding” of one but not another person or group? I have a little “heartburn” w/that.

    Jane M

    1. Julia Blum

      I might have a little “heartburn “with it myself, Jane, – but such is His plan with Israel: He did restrain the eyes of my people (most of them, at least). Why did He do it? For the same very reason that He sent His Son to the Cross: in order that people and peoples believe in Him, and that whoever believes in Him will not perish .

    2. Dorothy Healy

      We tend to have short term vision, whilst God has long term vision – We have to believe that His ways are higher than our ways. I recommend you read Julia’s book “If you be the Son of God come down from the Cross” – this will answer your question and reveal the suffering heart of God, as He sees those He loves suffer.

    3. Elizabeth Seibel-Ross

      I don’t think it’s to leave anyone out, but that it may be because different people have different roles to play in this development of God’s body of believers over time. (I saw this same pattern in developmental biology. As something grows, many things are changing, and it is highly organized and precise. Some things don’t change, others do – then time passes and you see a new pattern of change – maybe now what didn’t change before shifts slightly, or ….) Since God is the one that opens our eyes or not, and gives us revelation at the appropriate time in our lives according to His plan, He is the one guiding our steps. If we are able to act within the integrity of His guidance according to our faith in Him and the response of our hearts, then we will see His plan unfold as He intended. Does this make sense to you?

  8. Eddie L. Vaughn

    Many think their eyes have been opened and aren’t. My eyes were open to something once and it turned the church’s teachings upside down, meaning the teachings had to be emptied out so that God could refill the vessel. I had spent several years reading Scripture to find proof of something I suspected to be true and couldn’t find it. Only when I told God I gave up and would accept tradition did God open my eyes to see what he had plainly written. But I have yet to convince anyone of what I know. I, too, believe we cannot know what God wants us to know unless he reveals that knowledge to us simply by letting us see what the Bible so plainly says. Nearly everyone, or so it seems to me, interprets the Bible when they should be accepting what the Bible says. I suggest a close reading of Matthew 13.

    1. Dorothy Healy

      Ah Eddie! Matthew 13! Some years ago I felt to do an in depth study of Matthew 13 and I was amazed as every parable in that chapter was turned on its head when I looked more deeply (v.52 is key to understanding). I prepared a Bible Study on it and people can receive it if their hearts and minds are open. However, if people “know” that they “know” what certain scriptures mean, it is a barrier that cannot be broken down. Humility provides the open door.

  9. Ruth Brooks

    How does the idea of seeing God fit in with the shema and it’s emphasis on hearing a God who is not seen. See Rabbi Sacks article below

    1. Julia Blum

      You are right, Ruth, of course, there is a mystery that we can’t comprehend – but it’s not only New Testament mystery. How about Abraham who was standing before the Lord and arguing with Him (it’s written “and Abraham was still standing before the LORD” )? How about Jacob who said: “I have seen God face to face”? I personally don’t think one can grasp this mystery without New Testament.

  10. Sheila Dale

    Julia, once again God has used you to open our eyes to the depth and beauty of the scriptures. Thank you!

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Sheila! It is such a blessing to hear from you!