Abide with Us: The Road to Emmaus in the Gospel of Luke

by Paul Gerhardt

“Abide with us, for it is toward evening and the day is almost over.” The Emmaus disciples plead with the God of the Universe, their Risen Savior, and their dear friend to remain with them as day turns to dusk. And they have good reason: This particular day is the most important day in the history of the world. Without this day, the events of Good Friday and Christmas, the history of the nation of Israel, and the testimony of the prophets are completely meaningless. The story of the Road to Emmaus occurs on the first Easter. On this day, Jesus Christ defeated death by laying it in the grave forevermore, and emerging as but the first fruit of the Resurrection of all the dead. Being among the first people to discover this glorious truth, and seeing fellowship with Jesus as an incomparable priority, the Emmaus disciples ask Jesus to remain with them at the close of the day. Within the Gospel of Luke, there are several ways in which this theme is manifested. Along with the Emmaus disciples and Christians of all ages, we too pray, “abide with us.”

As Jesus approaches the Emmaus disciples, they are at first unable to recognize who he is. This is remarkable when one considers the amount of time the disciples, even those outside the inner twelve, had spent with Jesus. It is not as if he was a long-forgotten acquaintance who had been cast to the periphery of their minds. This was the man for whom they had abandoned their previous lives, and in whom they had placed their hope and trust. He was the foremost person on their minds as they headed toward Emmaus, yet they could not recognize him, even as they spoke to him. Luke writes in verse 16, οἱ δὲ ὀφθαλμοὶ αὐτῶν ἐκρατοῦντο τοῦ μὴ ἐπιγνῶναι αὐτόν, “But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” The word ἐκρατοῦντο is an imperfect passive which may be translated “were kept,” “were held,” or “were prevented.” The text suggests that the disciples were not willingly ignorant of who Jesus was, but that something beyond their control was preventing them from seeing him for who he was. I argue that ἐκρατοῦντο, in this case, constitutes a divine passive, thereby indicating a situation in which God is the primary active agent, and the disciples are passive recipients of God’s action. In other words, it’s possible that God himself is hiding Jesus’ identity from the disciples so that Jesus might be revealed to them in a specific way, which we observe in verse 31. There, the divine passive appears again, and the eyes of the disciples are opened to Jesus’ identity, specifically through the breaking of bread. The aorist passive διηνοίχθησαν is used to emphasize God’s action within the disciples to reveal Jesus’ identity to them. God closed their eyes, and he opened their eyes despite themselves. 

If this is true, it implies that catechesis is to precede the participation in the breaking of bread with Jesus. As they walked along the Road to Emmaus, the anointed Messiah explained to the disciples the connections between the Old Testament Scriptures and himself. He taught them how to properly understand God’s Word, so that they might believe the promises that lie therein. By believing such promises, they were admitted to the fellowship table of the Lord on that first Easter evening.

In a very real sense, we encounter the same “eye-opening” experience that the Emmaus disciples encountered on the first Easter. We also undergo a period of catechesis before we participate in the breaking of bread, so that we know what we are receiving, and to what ends we receive it. Every time we partake of the Lord’s Table, God opens our eyes to who he is and what he has done for us. When we break bread at the Altar of the Lord on Sunday morning, he opens our eyes and strengthens our faith in the promises he has made to us. Following in the footsteps of the Emmaus disciples, we receive such promises passively.

One of the promises Jesus makes to his disciples, and to us, is the promise to abide with us. In verse 29, the aorist imperative μεῖνον (“remain,” “stay,” or “abide”) is used to illustrate the disciples’ pleading with Jesus to stay with them. The aorist implies a sense of continuity longer than a mere few moments. In one sense, the disciples’ request is that of a student to a mentor, or of one friend to another friend—man to man. But in another sense, their request is an earnest prayer from creation to Creator, from clay to Potter—man to God. Their eyes have been opened to Jesus’ divine identity in the breaking of bread, and they do not want want to say goodbye. They do not want to see the end of the fellowship they share with him. 

Variations of μένω (“I remain”) found elsewhere in Luke’s Gospel can key us in to the implications that the term itself carries. In Luke 10:7, at the sending of the seventy-two, the present imperative μένετε (a command to “remain”) is accompanied by ἐσθίοντες and πίνοντες, “eating” and “drinking.” According to Jesus’ command, when the disciples remain at a particular house as guests, they are to eat and drink what is given them. They are to remain and break bread

Another form of μένω is used in chapter nineteen’s account of Jesus’ interaction with Zacchaeus:

When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay in your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” (Luke 19:5-7)

Jesus says to Zacchaeus, σήμερον γὰρ ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ σου δεῖ με μεῖναι, “Today, I must stay in your house.” In 19:5, Luke uses the aorist infinitive μεῖναι to describe how Jesus intends to remain with Zaccheus. Again, the use of the aorist over the present tense suggests that our Lord will remain, not merely for a punctiliar moment, but for an extended period of time.

In the case of Zaccheus, Jesus remains with the sinful tax collector, and is then derided by hypocrites who would argue that he ought not be dwelling in the midst of such sinners. It is more than likely that, as his houseguest, Jesus broke bread with Zacchaeus, thereby signifying and participating in fellowship with the sinner. In the same way, he broke bread with the (sinful) Emmaus disciples, and continues to share the bread of communion with us sinners, as he bids us partake of his body. That bread and that body are manifestations of God’s abiding with us. As the man Jesus dwelt in the homes of tax collectors and sinners, the second person of the Trinity was dwelling (and continues to dwell) in human flesh so that communion between God and us might be restored. Just as he remained with Zacchaeus and the Emmaus disciples, so he also promises to remain with us. He promises to do so not for a brief moment, or even just for dinner, but for all eternity.

The final manifestation of Jesus’ “abiding” in the Gospel of Luke occurs at the conclusion of chapter twenty-four, where Luke records these words of Jesus:

“And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)

Jesus says that he is sending the ἐπαγγελίαν, the “promise” of the Father to the disciples. In a clear reference to Pentecost, Jesus is describing one of the ways in which God promises to abide with us. From Pentecost onward, the work of the Holy Spirit sustains and strengthens our faith.

As we now experience a foretaste of the Feast to come, we look forward to seeing Jesus face-to-face as the Emmaus disciples did. At the End of Days, our Lord will be recognizable to us and remain with us unto eternity. As that day draws near, we look toward the full realization of the communion we now enjoy with him.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of other authors at Cogent Christianity.

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