Solving the Mysteries of Emmaus
Location – The Hill Country of Judea
Map Coordinates - 31.839305, 34.989145
Merged Gospels story - 292
The village of Emmaus was the location for one of the most dramatic stories that occurred after Jesus rose from the dead. According to Saint Jerome this church was built over the home of Emmaus’ most famous resident, a man called Cleopas.
The Biblical Story.
From the Gospel of Luke we learn that there were two disciples who were downcast by learning of the death of Jesus, and that they were confused by reports that his body was missing. On the Sunday of Christ’s resurrection they were walking home from Jerusalem to Emmaus, when they met a stranger along the way who listened to their concerns. He then proceeded to tell them how this Jesus was the Messiah Who fulfilled many prophecies of the Old Testament.
Jesus disappears in front of His disciples.
This stranger was Jesus, but they didn’t recognize Him. Somehow he looked different to them. And as they began to share a meal that evening, their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him for who He really was. Then, instantly, He disappeared from their sight, and they agreed to return immediately to Jerusalem to report these things to the Apostles.
Persecution of the early church was soon coming, and later Christian traditions tell us that Cleopas was stoned to death outside his home in Emmaus for the crime of confessing that Jesus was the Messiah.
The History of the Church.
Most scholars agree that this is the actual site of Biblical Emmaus, with historic identifications going back to the fourth century. In the year 221 AD, the Romans renamed this city Nicopolis, which is why we call it Emmaus-Nicopolis
Over the years, three churches were built on this site, the first one dating back as early as the third century. You can even see the foundation of this early church. It was destroyed, probably in the Samaritan revolt of 529 AD. But this was still the Byzantine era, and Christianity was very strong in the Holy Land. So this small church was rebuilt in the 6th and 7th centuries, as well as a newer, much larger church next to it.
Originally this large church was about twice the size of the current church that visitors see today, and it stood for almost 500 years, until 1009 AD, when many churches in the Holy Land were destroyed by a tyrannical caliph from Egypt, named al-Hakim.
The Crusaders’ response to Al Hakim’s cruelty was swift, and they rebuilt many of the churches in the Holy Land, including the one in this location. They didn’t rebuild the small church, which has been in ruins ever since. The large church was rebuilt to about half its size, and what tourists see now are the ruins of this partial Byzantine, partial Crusader church.
The Emmaus disciples.
Why did Jesus choose to walk with two disciples on their way to Emmaus? Perhaps it’s because of who they were, or possibly it’s because of what He wanted to teach them – and to teach us.
To begin, we aren’t sure about the identity of this man called Cleopas. Some say that he was the brother of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and that he himself was the husband of one of the three Marys who stood beside the cross of Jesus.
The traveling companion of Cleopas, the other disciple in the story, is unnamed. The late second-century scholar, Origen of Alexandria, believes that this other disciple was Cleopas’ youngest son, Simeon, who later served for 43 years as the second Bishop of Jerusalem.
Saint Simeon, son of Clops and second Bishop of Jerusalem.
This is very likely, and here’s why. It could be that by the time Luke wrote his Gospel, Cleopas had already died, but that the second disciple was not only still alive, but he was an important person in Jerusalem. Therefore, for Luke to identify this second person would be to mark him for persecution, especially if this disciple was a prominent figure in the Church. So for the protection of this other person, Luke concealed his identity. Saint Simeon perfectly this description, who was ultimately martyred.
Jesus, Cleopas and probably Saint Simeon (Cleopas’ son) on the road to Emmaus.
It turns out that Luke’s fears were entirely justified, because in the year 117 AD Saint Simeon was crucified on a cross, just like Jesus, under the emperor Trajan, and this probably happened in the city of Jerusalem.
Why didn’t these disciples recognize Jesus?
The answer to that question could be what this entire story is all about. The reason that Jesus concealed His true identity is probably because during His entire earthly ministry these same disciples believed that He would be something other than what He actually was. They saw him as a potential military liberator, through the clouded lens of their limited understanding. But on this occasion, He explained to them how the Messiah would be a spiritual liberator.
By concealing His identity from them, He was enacting in His outward appearance the reality of their own misunderstanding. All during His ministry they really didn’t know who He was, nor what His true mission would be. But when they finally realized that He was the Messiah, God’s only Son, Who fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament, another miracle occurred. God then allowed them to recognize Jesus for who He really was, both physically and spiritually.
Did everyone in Jerusalem know that Jesus had risen from the dead?
One of the most thought-provoking revelations that come out of the story of Jesus’ walk to Emmaus is the strong implication that everyone in Jerusalem was aware of Jesus return to life. Here is what Cleopas said to the resurrected Christ on the way to Emmaus.
“Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, that You do not know the things that came to pass in it during these days?”…certain women of ours astonished us, coming early to the tomb, and not finding His body, they also came, claiming to have seen an apparition of angels, who said, ‘He is alive.’ And certain ones with us went away to the tomb, and found it even as the women said, and they did not see Him.” (LK 22:18,22-24)