The Transitional Chapter (1): Their Eyes Were Restrained

 On the Same Day

As we all know, Luke is the only author in the New Testament who felt it necessary to complete the story of the “hidden” life of Jesus in the Gospel, with the story of his disciples in Acts, openly proclaiming here that Jesus is the Messiah!  Moreover, in his two-volume work, Luke provided us with a wonderful tool for understanding the nature of the abrupt change between the Gospel and Acts: why the messianic status of Jesus, hidden so thoroughly in the Gospel, suddenly begins to be publicly proclaimed in the Acts; why what was spoken in the ear in inner rooms in the Gospel, is proclaimed on the housetops in Acts. The last chapter of Luke’s Gospel serves not only as a wonderful literary transition to the second volume, but also as a spiritual key to the whole story of the messiahship of Jesus and the restricted eyes of Israel in the Luke’s writing.

You remember, of course, this beautiful story of two disciples from the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel—how on the first day of the week, on that very same Yom Rishon,  Sunday,  which began with the astounding tale by the women about how they had not found Jesus’ body, on the same very day, but at a later hour, two of them were traveling … to a village called Emmaus (in Hebrew it is Ammaus — עמאוס), which was 60 furlongs (about seven miles) from Jerusalem. We can imagine what was going on in their hearts and minds. 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 did not 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. Then he said something very remarkable: O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken![1] We have to admit that it is really difficult to imagine an occasional sojourner saying something so harsh—one has to have real authority to say such words—but even after these words, they didn’t recognize Him. Then He began to teach them from Scripture. One would think that should have reminded them of Him teaching them so many times when He was with them, yet even then they were not able to recognize him. Their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know him.[2]

We have already seen that referring to the coming of the Messiah as hidden and revealed could be taken as representative of first century Judaism. The idea of the Messiah being unrecognized by the people Israel was a very common idea in Jewish thought.  In this sense, the story of Emmaus only bears additional proof to this idea. However, through this story Luke shows very clearly how and why they did not recognize him—and that is what we are going to discuss now.

Their eyes were restrained

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 did not depend on themselves. Someone was restraining their eyes until the appointed time came.[3] Then, when the appointed time came, the same someone opened their eyes:  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.[4]  Here again, as in verse 16, the text uses the passive form: their eyes were opened. The Greek verb[5] 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. In almost every 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, in 2 Kings 6:17, Elisha prays 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. That is why Luke’s words at the end of the same chapter: And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures[6], in a sense, is 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 and by no means could they have recognized Jesus until He Himself opened their eyes.

In this regard, I would like to recall the well-known scene in the Nazareth synagogue from the 4th chapter of the Gospel of Luke:  He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read… [7] While reading these verses, Luke 4:16-30, 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.[8]  In other words, Luke shows a picture very similar to the one we will witness on the road to Emmaus: the hearts of those who heard Jesus were burning;  they were clearly 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?  Luke makes it clear that in both cases, the hearts burned, and in both cases the eyes fixed on Jesus were restrained by none other than the Lord Himself (we already know that in the Bible, no one else can restrain or open someone’s eyes).  However, the eyes of the disciples on the road to Emmaus were finally opened,   while the eyes of the people in Nazareth remained restrained…

This is a message  Luke conveys to his reader in  this transitional chapter: no-one but God Himself can restrain or open spiritual eyes. For Luke, it is clealry His decision and His alone, both in the case of the disciples on the Emmaus road, whose eyes were opene in the  end 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.

 To be continued …

(If you are interested to read my book about the Hidden Messiah, or other books, you can get them through my page on this blog,   https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/.)

[1] Luke 24.25

[2] Luke 24:16

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

[4] Luke 24:31

[5] Διανοιγω

[6] Luke 24:45

[7] Luke 4:16

[8] Luke 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. Steve Funck

    Dear Julia, I so enjoy the depth of understanding your present. You reveal there is so much more. Looking at the Emmaus story and pulling in other known information. The two on the road could be Jesus’ aunt and uncle Mary (Mary’s sister Mary) and Clophas (Joseph’s brother), Their children should have been along including the second Bishop of the Church of Jerusalem Simon. From my notes preparing Chapter 8 “The Feast of First Fruits” in the on line book” King of Kings” http://thesignofconcord.com

  2. Jay

    Thanks for the write-up, Julia. Agree that only God can open the spiritual eyes of people but by saying God sometimes restrains the spiritual insight are we saying that God has selective revelation? If so, why did the disciples believe in Him so much that they risked their life to preach the resurrection of Christ? It is God’s will that all should come to know of the knowledge of Jesus Christ (1Tim2:4), then why would God hide his messianic status to some group of people? I think, by saying God restrains the truth that Jesus is the messiah, we are ignoring man’s responsibility in accepting the truth that was right before their eyes. Just some thoughts and love to hear your perspective. Thanks!

    1. Julia Blum

      This is a very profound question Jay. I believe , God can restrain the eyes sometimes for the sake of His plan – exactly like Joseph who loved Benjamin, didn’t let him see this love but instead, put his cup in Benjamin’s sack. I bet when the cup was found in his bag, Banjamin didn’t think that the one who had framed him loved him dearly (whoever he thought it was). But Joseph didn’t let Benjamin see his love because of his plan. You can read my book “If you are Son of God”, it’s all about it (you can get the book from my site . )

      1. Jay

        Thanks, will check the book you suggested.

  3. Mandla

    Thank very much Prof J Blum
    Shalom

  4. Deborah

    Amen, Professor Julia. Jeshua had to fulfill prophesy. His rejection as the Stone that the builders (people of Israel) rejected was part of that prophesy, and the people’s eyes had to be restrained as a result. At the appointed time in which He became the Chief Cornerstone, the people of Israel’s eyes could be opened to recognize, receive, and accept Him as the Messiah.

  5. Francois Aerts

    Shalom Julia, I forgot to mention an important fact in my previous mail : The Hidden Messiah on Earth is also a hidden Messiah in Heaven.
    In the first pseudepigraphical Book of Enoch (16:3), the Fallen Angels are told that “You have been in Heaven, but all the mysteries had not yet been revealed to you, and you knew worthless Ones, and these in the hardness of your hearts you have made known to women, and through these mysteries women and men work much evil in the earth” ( Please consider that the Books of Enoch were not pseudepigraphical, but Jewish “canonical” texts in the 1st century A.D., Yeshua himself should have read and learned these texts.).. Because the Fallen Angels did not tell mankind that the future redemption of mankind was to consist of the preaching and subsequent crucifixion of the Messiah, therefore the Apostle Paul realised and mentioned the following fact ( 1 Corinthians 2: 6-8 ): “Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though IT IS NOT A WISDOM OF THIS AGE or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak GOD’s WISDOM, SECRET AND HIDDEN, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; FOR IF THEY HAD, THEY WOULD NOT HAVE CRUCIFIED THE ADON (LORD) OF GLORY.”.
    These texts really demonstrate that the premature release of Divine Wisdom in Heaven or on Earth could be damaging for Heavenly or Earthly creatures. It could even have prevented the crucifixion of Yeshua, the redemption of the Lord ! The release of this Divine Wisdom AT ITS APPOINTED TIME, according to God’s plan, is the ultimate expression of the Supreme and divine Wisdom of the Lord.
    LeHitraot !

    1. Julia Blum

      You are so right, Francois! The hidden and revealed Messiah occurs many times in the Book of Enoch (amd other Second Temple texts as well ), where we see the heavenly Son of Man being hidden in heaven till the appointed time comes: “For the Son of Man was concealed from the beginning, and the Most High One preserved him in the presence of his power; then he revealed him to the holy ones and the elect ones.” In my book about Hidden Messiah, i have a whole chapter about Book of Enoch, and it’s called “The Hidden Savior in Heaven” – so I agree completely! (you can check out the book here: Julia’s books )

  6. Ellen Sullivan

    May the eyes of our hearts be enlightened in order that we may know the hope to which He has called us, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints! Amen

  7. Dot Healy

    Very thought provoking, thank you Julia. Also taking into account Francois’ comments and the scriptures he cites, it seems clear that God is able to act upon the existing disposition of the heart – to either harden further, or to open more fully. The Emmaus Road disciples were perplexed and searching for answers, so God was able to open their eyes.
    When each of us thinks back to when our ‘eyes were opened’ to recognize Yeshua as Messiah, we might also see that we had been brought on a journey to that point, where God was able to remove the blinders from our eyes, so to speak. Thanks be to God for His amazing grace.

    1. Julia Blum

      A wonderful comment, Dot! Indeed, this whole dynamic, between the disposition of the heart and the opening of the eyes, is very important in the Scripture. I’ve been planning to write about it in my next post, thank you so much for the encouragement and confirmation.

  8. Philip Ittyerah

    Thanks for opening our hearts and eyes to see and realize the Messiah! They were restrained and now freed!

  9. Francois Aerts

    Shalom Julia, I agree completely with your conclusion : “no-one but God Himself can restrain or open spiritual eyes”. This opening of the (spiritual) eyes is shown very clearly in the Torah, in Numbers 22:31 and 24:1-4, in the story of Balaam and Balaak.
    31 -“Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam”, and “he saw the angel of the LORD” standing in the way, with his sword drawn in his hand; and he bowed his head, and fell on his face.
    1 – And when “Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel”, he went not, as at the other times, to meet with enchantments, but he set his face toward the wilderness.
    2 And “Balaam lifted up his eyes”, and “he saw Israel” dwelling tribe by tribe; and “the spirit of God came upon him”.
    3 And he took up his parable, and said: The saying of Balaam the son of Beor, and the saying of “the man whose eye is opened”;
    And the next verse is the summum of the previous ones :
    4 The saying of “him who heareth the words of God”, “who seeth the vision of the Almighty”, fallen down, “yet with opened eyes”:
    If one compares these verses with the ones where the Prophet Isaiah receives his assignment, in Isaiah 6:8-10, one must recognise that the Lord also punishes with (spiritual) blindness and deafness :
    8 And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said: ‘Here am I; send me.’
    9 And He said: ‘Go, and tell this people: “hear ye indeed, but understand not”; and “see ye indeed, but perceive not”.
    10 “Make the heart of this people fat”, and “make their ears heavy”, and shut their eyes; lest they, seeing with their eyes, and hearing with their ears, and understanding with their heart, return, and be healed.’
    In the next verses it becomes clear that the punishment consists of the destruction of the land and the dispersal of its inhabitants all over the world.
    One can even consider the hardening of the heart of the Pharaoh by the Lord (Exodus 7 and 8) as a way to make the Pharaoh spiritually blind and deaf, which should be considered a Divine retribution because of the fact that the Pharaoh had harmed His People in so many ways. One should realise that the Pharaoh had received ample opportunity to improve his behaviour, but since he did not he no longer found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

    Keep inspiring us, Julia. BeHatslachah.

  10. Gay Ford

    This is Beautiful for you to point this out! I had never thought about it this way. I knew from Eph.2: 4-10, and Especially verse 8, “ For by Grace are ye SavedThrough Faith; And That Not Of yourselves; IT Is A Gift Of G- d”. Now it All Fits Together! Thanks, Gay Ford

  11. Roger Culwell

    amen good word, fits right now to.