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The Old Testament Reveals Jesus - Luke 24 and the Road to Emmaus

The Bible tells one story that points us to Jesus.

Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Luke 24:18-31

Instead of rushing to comfort His disciples, Jesus spent Easter Sunday walking with two disciples to Emmaus during which He explained how the Old Testament points to Him. Salvation in Jesus Christ has always been God's plan, and it's still the most important thing we can talk about today.

He interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures. Luke 24:27

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Getting Started: Things to Think About

The One-Sentence Summary Challenge

You can approach this a couple of ways:

  1. Say a one-sentence summary of a famous book or movie and challenge group members to identify it (divide into teams).

  2. Say a title of a famous book or movie and see who can come up with the best one-sentence summary (again, divide into teams).

I didn't come up with that first activity (I found it on Buzzfeed of all places), but it sounds like fun. It would take some prep on your part. Here are some examples from that Buzzfeed article (with the answers in white text) to get you started.

  • An angsty teen who hates everyone wonders why nobody likes him. The Catcher in the Rye

  • Unsupervised children cope with severe PTSD. Lord of the Flies

  • A teenager attends a boarding school where someone tries to kill him every year. Harry Potter

  • A man wastes his life because he can't accept that he is bad at fishing. Moby Dick

  • A grifter catfishes a whole town to win back his ex. The Great Gatsby

  • Teenage girls try to keep it together while their parents work out of town. Little Women

  • Two friends do their best to stay out of trouble, but ultimately one of them murders the other. Of Mice and Men

Changes things, doesn't it?

The second activity is what I originally thought about. There are tons of websites with such summaries (if you need help), and here are a handful of examples:

  • Don Quixote: An insane 50-year-old Spanish nobleman can’t discern the chivalric novels he reads from reality and asks a fat farmer to join him as his dutiful sidekick, and the two go on to fight windmills and get beat up until Quixote is so embarrassed by his past that he forbids his niece from marrying a man who reads chivalric novels.

  • Gulliver's Travels: An erstwhile surgeon takes to the sea and is either attacked by pirates or shipwrecked on every excursion, stumbling upon islands of miniature people, islands of giants and flying islands, an island that pretty much only houses magicians, and also Japan, before finally settling down on an island governed by highly intelligent horses.

  • The Brothers Karamazov: Four Russian brothers argue about the meaning of life and women, and one of them murders their father.

  • The Sun Also Rises: A group of listless lost-generation-ers mill around Europe, drink and fight bulls.

  • Jane Eyre: Orphan Jane falls in love with employer Mr. Rochester while working as governess to his ward, but it turns out he's got a crazy wife locked in the attic.

Of course, the shorter the summaries get, the more humorous and less-helpful they get. (They're not entirely wrong, though.)

Did You Ever Read a CliffsNotes Instead of the Actual Book?

If you actually like the idea of the one-sentence challenge, you might as well take its logical conclusion. When I was in high school, we had Cliff's Notes available at our local bookstore. It was amazing. It gave a summary of the book, chapter by chapter, a summary of major themes, a summary of major characters (and a summary of anything else you the English teacher might ask on a test).

(Btw, if you're out of the loop, today they have SparkNotes and eNotes and JiffyNotes and Schmoop and BookRags and TheBestNotes and PinkMonkey. Kids these days.)

Look - there's nothing wrong with using such a resource as a study supplement for the actual book. In fact, that's the actual point of the resource: to help you learn the original book! But that wasn't my question. Have you ever read such a resource instead of the book? Why did you do it, and how did it go for you? I did it twice in high school, and I still feel rotten about it. (One was Great Expectations, which I hated.) And I have absolutely no memory of how I did with whatever quizzes.

In our passage this week, we learn about two men who got a CliffsNotes version of the Old Testament. And what did that do for them? It opened their eyes to the full meaning of the book! It equipped them to share that meaning with the people around them (which was the first mission of the church, in a nutshell) so that the Jews and Gentiles could see how Jesus was the answer to all of their questions.

That's the purpose of small group Bible study -- to give the tools Christians need to study the Bible for themselves. I guess we're kind of like a CliffsNotes of each week's passage. But that's not so our people don't have to read the Bible for themselves -- it's so they will.


This Week's Big Idea: What Jesus Shared on the Road to Emmaus

This week is one of the very rare situations in which I think it might be just as important to cover what the passage refers to as the passage itself. Our passage this week includes the phenomenal line:

Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures.

Luke doesn't tell us what Jesus said to those disciples, but don't you want to know?

Jesus essentially gives those two disciples a personalized crash course on the Old Testament and Christian theology. He had several hours of walking time, and He was also a unique expert in the Old Testament, but I think you're going to want to spend a little time in your Sunday morning discussion trying to unpack what Jesus might have said to them. This would probably happen during part 2 of the lesson, but let me give you an overview now so you can be ready whenever it comes up.

Topic 1: The Facts of the Gospels

Jesus probably filled in a lot of the details that we can read in the Gospels today.

The first verse of Luke's Gospel makes me think that Luke used these guys as a source:

Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us.

We have four Gospels telling us the story of Jesus. And they clarify extremely important bits of information that we take for granted today -- like Jesus being born in Bethlehem, like Jesus being targeted by a deplorable plot of Jewish religious leaders, like Jesus performing all of these definitely-of-God miracles. But the disciples didn't have all of that information yet! Jesus might have explained part of His own biography to help them connect the dots with the Old Testament (and again, I find it likely that these guys were an important resource in the writing of the Gospels).

Topic 2: The Story of the Bible

Jesus probably helped the disciples understand the central message of the Old Testament.

Jesus hinted at this in John 5:39:

You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me.

The entire Bible (Old and New Testaments) tells one coherent story -- the story of God's plan of salvation for humanity. That's what I love so much about The Bible Project; they are committed to explaining clearly and succinctly how each part of the Bible fits into the whole story of Jesus. And here's their take on the story of the Bible in 5 minutes:

If you want to continue the challenge from the earlier topic, you might do something crazy like try to summarize the entire Bible in one sentence.

[Aside: Trained scholars who have studied the Bible their entire lives have tried to do that, and they've found it extremely difficult. A friend of mine wrote a book with the promising title, The Whole Message of the Bible in 16 Words -- End, God, Creation, Covenant, Kingdom, Temple, Messiah, Israel, Land, Idols, Judgment, Exodus, Wisdom, Law, Spirit, Mission. Of course, he then took an entire book to explain what those words meant :) ]

**Topic 3: The Messiah in the Old Testament**

Jesus definitely explained exactly how the Old Testament pointed uniquely to Him.

This is what I think the key topic was for Jesus. He explained to His disciples what the Old Testament said about the Messiah, and particularly how all of it pointed to Him. This is one of the key motivations for Matthew's Gospel, so if you are familiar with that, you've already got a pretty good idea of where this is probably going.

A great resource for everyone to have is called the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. It gives you just a little information on just about any biblical topic you can think of -- just enough to get started on further research. Anyway, you can look up "Messiah" and find a three-page chart of Messianic Prophecies of the Old Testament with almost 150 entries. And believe it or not, that's just scratching the surface. Some scholars have found more than 400 references to the Messiah in the Old Testament. Here's a website with a list of 351 Old Testament prophecies; I went through it and found it helpful (if repetitive). You can go to the website for the whole thing, but let me copy a portion:

  • 2. Gen 3:15 -- He will bruise Satan’s head -- Heb 2:14; 1 John 3:8

  • 5. Gen 12:3 -- Seed of Abraham will bless all nations -- Gal 3:8; Acts 3:25-26

  • 22. Ex 12:5 -- A Lamb without blemish -- Heb 9:14; 1 Pet 1:19

  • 33. Lev 16:27 -- Suffering outside the Camp -- Matt 27:33; Heb. 13:11-12

  • 38. Num 21:9 -- The serpent on a pole-Christ lifted up -- John 3:14-18; 12:32

  • 44. Deut 21:23 -- Cursed is he that hangs on a tree -- Gal 3:10-13

  • 49. 2 Sam 7:12 -- David’s Seed -- Matt 1:1

  • 52. 2 Sam 7:16 -- David’s house established forever -- Luke 3:31; Rev 22:16

  • 55. 1 Chr 17:12-13 -- To reign on David’s throne forever -- Luke 1:32-33

  • 70. Psa 16:10 -- Was not to see corruption -- Acts 2:31; 13:35

  • 74. Psa 22:1 -- Forsaken because of sins of others -- 2 Cor 5:21

  • 81. Psa 22:14 -- His blood poured out when they pierced His side -- John 19:34

  • 96. Psa 31:11 -- His acquaintances fled from Him -- Mark 14:50

  • 99. Psa 34:20 -- Not a bone of Him broken -- John 19:31-36

  • 104. Psa 38:12-13 -- Silent before His accusers -- Matt 27:12-14

  • 110. Psa 41:9 -- Betrayed by a familiar friend -- John 13:18

  • 125. Psa 69:21 -- Given vinegar in thirst -- Matt 27:34

  • 132. Psa 78:1-2 -- He would teach in parables -- Matt 13:34-35

  • 150. Psa 110:1 -- David’s son called Lord -- Matt 22:44-45

  • 154. Psa 118:22-23 -- The rejected stone is Head of the corner -- Matt 21:42-43

  • 170. Isa 7:14 -- To be born of a virgin -- Luke 1:35

  • 174. Isa 9:1-2 -- His ministry to begin in Galilee -- Matt 4:12-17

  • 187. Isa 11:1 -- A rod out of Jesse-Son of Jesse -- Luke 3:23-32

  • 194. Isa 11:10 -- The Gentiles seek Him -- John 12:18-21

  • 205. Isa 35:5-6 -- To have a ministry of miracles -- Matt 11:2-6

  • 251. Isa 53:5b -- His sacrifice provides peace between man and God -- Col 1:20

  • 252. Isa 53:5c -- His sacrifice would heal man of sin -- 1 Pet 2:24

  • 262. Isa 53:9a -- Buried in a rich man’s grave -- Matt 27:57

  • 312. Mic 5:2a -- Born in Bethlehem -- Matt 2:1-6

  • 318. Zech 6:12-13 -- Priest and King -- Heb 8:1

  • 324. Zech 9:9f -- Presented to Jerusalem riding on a donkey -- Matt 21:6-9

  • 335. Zech 11:12-13a -- Betrayed for thirty pieces of silver -- Matt 26:14-15

  • 347. Mal 3:1a -- Messenger to prepare the way for Messiah -- Mark 1:1-8

Listed like that, how did anybody misunderstand Jesus? It's so clear! Well, just remember, we have the benefit of 2,000 years of study, going all the way to this road to Emmaus. We understand because someone helped us understand (like Jesus helped these guys). How many times during Jesus' ministry did He lament the people's lack of understanding!

Here's a challenge: go through a list of Old testament prophecies (like the super-long one I linked above) and try to create a "profile" of the Messiah. Based on that abbreviated list above, here's what I came up with (as an example):

An Old Testament Profile of the Messiah. The Messiah would be a descendant of Abraham and David. He would be preceded by a messenger. He would be humble, born to a virgin in Bethlehem, but He would launch His ministry in Galilee. He would teach the wisdom of God with the power of miracles, but He would be rejected. Ultimately, He would be killed by His own people, betrayed by His own friend, but His death would be a sacrifice to bring the healing of many, and He would rise from the grave to reign forever.

Not coincidentally, Matthew and Luke structured their Gospels to picture Jesus as that Messiah (the Messiah the Bible actually prophesies).

A closing question for this topic (whenever you address it during the lesson): why do you think it was so important for the disciples to clearly understand the Old Testament?


Our Context in Luke

We only have two lessons left in Luke. We covered the previous section out of order (on Easter), but the resurrection story should be pretty familiar to you :). This passage is a direct continuation of our Easter lesson.

This week's passage immediately follows Peter leaving the empty tomb in confusion. But instead of going to the Upper Room to see the disciples, Jesus instead took a walking trip with two non-apostles (one of which wasn't even named!). Why would Jesus do that? My guess is that Jesus wanted to give His followers time to process what had happened. But here's my fun, unprovable theory: these two disciples walking to Emmaus had a unique role to play that no one else could play. Maybe they knew the Old Testament really well. Maybe they were good teachers. Whatever the reason, Jesus chose them to learn the lesson of the Old Testament and pass that lesson on to others. That makes them builders of the church -- just as important as the "named heroes" like Peter and James.

Like Bethphage, we don't know anything about the village of Emmaus other than how far it was from Jerusalem -- about 7 miles. Using "normal" pace, it was probably about a two-hour walk. Then, the disciples broke bread with Jesus (after which He vanished; I would really, really love to know more about that) and returned to Jerusalem, after which Jesus appeared to the disciples. According to the next verse, this last part happened late afternoon, so they were definitely taking their time (but more on the timeline below).


Part 1: Questions (Luke 24:18-24)

18 The one named Cleopas answered him, “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he asked them. So they said to him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet powerful in action and speech before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. 21 But we were hoping that he was the one who was about to redeem Israel. Besides all this, it’s the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women from our group astounded us. They arrived early at the tomb, 23 and when they didn’t find his body, they came and reported that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they didn’t see him.”

It's not a complicated passage, and it gives us a neat look into what else was going on in Jerusalem. I don't understand why the lesson didn't just start with verse 13, but whatever. We learn that two disciples are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus on Resurrection Morning. They were not cowering in fear with the other disciples (which might indicate that they weren't "persons of interest"). One of them is unnamed. The other, Cleopas, is only mentioned here in the Bible. But they were very important to Jesus! He spent most of His "first day back" with them, after all. We know that they were close enough with the core disciples that they already heard the reports from earlier that morning.

Jesus starts walking with them and asks them questions. You might be tempted to think "Undercover Boss" here, but the difference is that Jesus knew exactly what they were talking about, and He knew exactly what they needed to hear. Of course, Jesus was able to get through this entire conversation without betraying His identity or breaking character. That's amazing.

What's even more amazing is that these disciples had all of the facts right, and they still didn't get it. They even connected the empty tomb with the third day! Come on, guys -- do we have to spell it out for you? Sadly, yes. How many times in our study of Luke has Jesus reprimanded the disciples for not understanding what He was saying, like, for example, in Luke 18:

32 (Jesus said,) "For he will be handed over to the Gentiles, and he will be mocked, insulted, spit on; 33 and after they flog him, they will kill him, and he will rise on the third day.” 34 They understood none of these things.

It's a great reminder and warning to us: it is absolutely possible to have all of the facts about Jesus and not understand or believe. That's why we can't take anything for granted when explaining these gospel matters!


Part 2: Answers (Luke 24:25-27)

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Wasn’t it necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures.

You're the best judge of the time you have available for group discussion, but I would suggest that this is the place to inject a summary of what the Old Testament says about the Messiah. For your part, the question you want to focus on is why was it so important for Jesus to explain this?

Back in 2019, when we covered Ephesians 3 (where Paul explained that the cross was God's plan for salvation all along),

I used the idea of "shocking twists" in tv and film. A good twist, like in The Sixth Sense or Planet of the Apes (the Charlton Heston one), makes you go back and watch the whole thing again in a new light. That's kind of the twist that's going on here -- once you realize that all of these Old Testament verses are talking about a single Person and the eternal plan of God, the whole Old Testament changes. How do we try to describe that today?

  • "It's not about rules, it's about a relationship."

  • "We didn't need freedom from tyranny; we needed freedom from sin."

  • "It's not about the physical descendants of Abraham but the spiritual descendants."

What other such quotes can you think of?

As trite as some of those quotes are, they're still accurate. When we understand that the Old Testament points us to the human need for salvation in Jesus, it makes a whole lot more sense. That's what Jesus offered to these disciples.


Aside: Progressive Revelation

Scholars and skeptics will argue about anything. Some people have tried to say that we no longer need the Old Testament now that we have the New Testament. Others have tried to say that God is continuing to reveal new things (i.e. the New Testament is now out-of-date). What Jesus said to these disciples explains what we believe about the Bible as the sufficient revelation of God.

Here are some summary truths:

  • The New Testament fulfills the Old Testament; it doesn't abolish it. See Matt 5:17.

  • The New Testament sheds new light on the Old Testament. God did not change His plan -- He simply revealed more of it to us. See 1 Pet 1 and Eph 1.

This is what we call "progressive revelation" -- the New Testament complements and supplements the Old Testament. Throughout the Old Testament, we see more and more of God's plan, and then in Jesus, we see all of God's plan revealed. The Bible Project summary of the Old Testament does such a good job of explaining this:

There's a lot I could say about the doctrine of illumination (and how it's being distorted today), but there's no time. Know this: Jesus helped these disciples understand the Old Testament, and today the Holy Spirit helps us understand the entire Bible.


Part 3: Recognized (Luke 24:28-31)

28 They came near the village where they were going, and he gave the impression that he was going farther. 29 But they urged him, “Stay with us, because it’s almost evening, and now the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 It was as he reclined at the table with them that he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight.

There's nothing strange about these disciples wanting to spend more time with secret-Jesus. Don't you love to spend time around a truly mature Christian? I sure do -- it lifts me up and raises my spirit. Well, take that experience and multiply it by Jesus Himself. That's what these disciples experienced.

Some scholars say that the disciples were exhibiting normal near eastern hospitality by inviting secret-Jesus to stay with them. (The roads were dangerous at night for someone traveling alone.) But let's be honest -- they just wanted to spend more time with this incredible Stranger. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Let's analyze this timeline. John 20:19 makes it clear that when Jesus appears to the disciples in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, it's the evening of Easter Sunday. So, that would mean that all of this happens in one day. Early in the morning are the resurrection appearances. But when the disciples return to the Upper Room in bewilderment, Jesus walks to Emmaus with these two disciples. They got there sometime mid-to-late afternoon ("almost evening" could have been an exaggeration to convince secret-Jesus to stay with them) and had supper with Him (maybe they got there at 4:00?). Then, Jesus disappeared from them and they walked back to Jerusalem (probably faster than on the way out). They easily could have been back in Jerusalem by 7:00, after which they tell their story to the other disciples, and then after which Jesus appears to them all.

(The only thing I don't fully get is how long it took them to arrive at Emmaus. Note: I tend to walk slower when I'm talking -- maybe that's what was going on?)

Note that Jesus' identity was finally revealed to them with the breaking of bread. This is the same pattern Jesus used at the Last Supper (Luke 22:19) and also in the feeding of the 5,000 (Luke 9:16), meaning this isn't a mystical reference to the Lord's Supper. Table fellowship was important to Jesus. Catch the role-reversals. The disciples invited Jesus to join them in their home, but Jesus immediately takes on the role of the host.

I don't know what to do with the "Jesus disappeared" comment. Did He physically disappear? Did He teleport to the Upper Room? Clearly, things like walls and gravity didn't get in His way in His glorified body, but the Bible doesn't explain. There could be a perfectly natural explanation, of not. Either way, that wasn't the point of the story.

Putting It All Together

There are many directions this lesson could go. Remember that the point of the passage is how the Old Testament reveals Jesus -- don't let this get too wibbly-wobbly-spiritual (see the ending for an example of what I mean). This is an invitation for us to read the Old Testament with new eyes, and every Baptist church member should know the Old Testament. So, whatever happens, make that clear. (Please continue to verse 32 and see my "Closing Thoughts".)

This passage encourages us to spend time with people who know Jesus. If these disciples were uplifted by their conversation about Jesus, we would be too. We need to spend time with strong, spiritually-minded Christians. And if you've had that come-to-Jesus encounter, you need to make yourself available to others in need of this kind of encouragement. Don't keep your relationship with Jesus to yourself (remember that Jesus blesses you so you can bless others).

All of that said, it's okay for us to make some personal applications of the more spiritual nature. These two disciples were in a rough place -- Jesus had died, they were confused and sorrowful. But Jesus didn't walk up to them and say, "Hey guys, it's Me and everything's okay!" He took them on a journey through the Old Testament. Through the story of human grief and sorrow and rebellion and failure. Why? Because they needed to know that God had everything under control the whole time -- He was in control then, and He is in control now. And then they could share that message with others. I believe that these guys contributed to the Gospels, which means that what they learned from Jesus still helps us today. Jesus was the answer to their sorrow and confusion, and that's still true today.


Closing Thoughts: The Program "A Walk to Emmaus"

You might have heard of this. It's a weekend retreat program sponsored by the United Methodist Church (leave on Friday night and come back on Sunday night). From it's title, it sounds like it would be an amazing opportunity to dig into the Bible and learn the story of Jesus on a much deeper level, but that doesn't seem to be how they actually handle it. Instead, it's a "spiritual renewal retreat" focused on singing, praying, and small group discussion of 15 topics that the retreat leaders choose. Unfortunately, the retreat participants are encouraged to secrecy about what they talked about, so I really don't know how to evaluate it (which is a red flag). The anecdotal evidence is that it's a very emotional event focused on personal experience. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, but that's not what happened on the road to Emmaus.

Let's close with verse 32:

They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us while he was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?”

The retreat leaders focus on the "hearts burning" part and try to stir hearts. But read the whole verse -- what led their their burning hearts? It was spending time learning from Jesus! And what was Jesus teaching them? The Bible! The Bible is God's Word; it's been breathed into by God's Spirit and it tells us the story of Jesus. When you learn the Bible from someone who knows Jesus, it changes you, it makes you want to follow Jesus more closely and serve Him more deeply. That's the power of God. And that's why we focus on studying the Bible in our Sunday School.


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