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.

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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. Anita Tadeuszow

    How would you account for the dichotomy that they sensed the proximity of God, yet desired to kill him? 28 “And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; 29 and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff.”

    1. Julia Blum

      This is exactly the point, Anita: their hearts felt the proximity of God – like the hearts of two disciples on the road to Emmaus; but their eyes were restrained – again, like the eyes of the disciples. In the end, the eyes of the disciples were opened – by God Himself; and the eyes of the people in the synagogue were not . If you keep reading these Keys and Locks articles (5 keys and then 5 locks) , you will see the whole picture. Maybe, you will be interested also to check out my books on (especially “If you are the Son of God, ….”, it’s all about God’s plan with Israel and Yeshua). Blessings and Happy New Year!