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,

[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. Allan Roach

    I have read a couple of your articles for the first time. “Wow!” Love ‘me’!

  2. 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”