1. And on the first [day] of the week, early in the morning, they came to the sepulcher, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain [others] with them.
2. But they found the stone rolled away from the sepulcher.
3. And entering in, they found not the body of the Lord Jesus.
4. And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed about it, behold, two men stood by them in shining cloaks.
5. And as they were in fear, and inclined [their] faces to the earth, they said to them, Why do you seek Him that lives, among the dead?
6. He is not here, but is risen; remember what He spoke to you [when] He was yet in Galilee,
7. Saying, The Son of Man must be delivered up into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.
8. And they remembered His sayings.
9. And returning from the sepulcher, they reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.
10. But it was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary [the mother] of James, and the rest [of the women] with them, who told these things to the apostles.
11. And their sayings appeared before them as idle tales, and they believed them not.
12. But Peter, standing up, ran up to the sepulcher, and stooping down, he looked at the sheets laid out alone; and he came away, marveling to himself at what had come to pass.
The significance of Joseph and the women
Jesus’ crucifixion appears to be the end of everything—the end of the people’s hope for a Messiah, the end of the disciples’ dream to “sit on thrones,” and the end of Jesus’ life on earth. But the story is far from over.
Before the day had ended, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for Jesus’ body. In accordance with the law that dead bodies had to be buried before nightfall, Pilate granted Joseph’s request and gave him permission to take Jesus’ body down from the cross. Joseph then wrapped Jesus’ body in linen cloths and laid it in a tomb.
Although Joseph is a member of the Sanhedrin, the council that convicted Jesus of blasphemy, Joseph had not consented to the verdict. As we mentioned in the previous episode, Joseph is described as “a good and just man” who represents our higher understanding (Luke 23:50). This is the part of us that is not only able to understand the things of this world (science, mathematics, literature, etc.), but rises higher to receive spiritual light. In that higher light, the understanding can make decisions that are both good and just. This is a God-given quality. 1
Along with the ability to raise our understanding into spiritual light, we have the possibility of receiving another God-given quality. Referred to as the gift of perception, it quietly flows in whenever we are connected to the Lord through love. This connection gives us the ability to perceive goodness and truth. In biblical symbolism, this kind of perception is represented by pleasant fragrances and sweet-smelling spices. Therefore, as the next episode begins, it is written that “On the first day of the week, early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and came to the tomb” (Luke 24:1). 2
Like Joseph, who took Jesus’ body down from the cross and wrapped it in linen cloths, these women also continue to care for Jesus’ body. Taken together, both Joseph and the women represent two different, yet united, aspects of the human mind. In Joseph’s case, he represents the higher understanding, the rational conviction that what Jesus teaches is true. It is the sight of truth from the understanding. In the case of the women, it is the perception that what Jesus teaches is true because it is good. This is the perception of truth from love. The sweet-smelling spices that the women bring represent this perceptive gift. 3
The empty tomb
In those days, tombs were hollowed out places in solid rock. The entrance to the tomb was sealed by rolling a large stone over the opening. But when the women arrive, they see that the stone has been rolled away. And when they enter the tomb, seeking to anoint Jesus with spices, they are unable to find His body. Instead, the women meet two angels in shining garments who say to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here; He is risen” (Luke 24:5-6). The angels in shining garments represent the radiance of divine truth, especially the truths that shine forth from the inner meaning of the Word. 4
Symbolically seen, when the Word of the Lord is devoid of its inner meaning, it can be compared to an empty “tomb.” This is especially the case when the letter of the Word is used to support a false belief. For example, when the letter of the Word is separated from its inner meaning, it can appear that God is filled with wrath, harbors hatred, and is filled with vengeance. In addition, it can appear that those who strictly obey His teachings will be rewarded with material prosperity, and those who disobey will be destroyed. This is a material idea of God which amounts to “obey and prosper, disobey and perish.” 5
When these appearances are confirmed from the literal sense of the Word, without understanding the spiritual meaning within them, they cannot reveal the essence of the Lord. It is like seeing a person apart from that person’s true character and making judgements based on externals apart from internals. When this is the case, the Lord will not be seen in His Word, nor will His voice be heard. The literal sense of sacred scripture, separated from the inner spirit that gives it life, is a dead letter—an empty tomb. This is why the angels say to the women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here; He is risen.” 6
Taking the news to the disciples
After telling the women not to seek the living among the dead, the angels continue to instruct them. “Remember what He said to you when He was in Galilee,” say the angels to the women. And then the angels bring Jesus’ words to their remembrance, saying, “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again” (Luke 24:7).
Even though Jesus had predicted His death and resurrection several times, the people have been so focused on His death that they have forgotten the part about His resurrection. This time, however, it is different. Jesus’ words have now become a living reality, especially for these women who have seen the angels and heard their message. When the angels remind them that Jesus said He would be crucified and rise again, it is written that the women “remembered His words” (Luke 24:8).
Deeply affected by the remembrance of Jesus’ words, the women hurry off to carry the news to the disciples (Luke 24:9). No longer are these women nameless people in the crowd. They now become unique and significant individuals: they are “Mary Magdalene,” “Joanna,” and “Mary the mother of James” (Luke 24:10). Their response to the angels and their immediate decision to carry the message to the disciples pictures the way true perceptions and good affections in us respond to the inner truths of the Lord’s Word. 7
When the women bring the joyful news to the disciples, telling them that Jesus has risen, the disciples are reluctant to believe them. To these grieving men, the report of the women seems to be no more than an “idle tale” (Luke 24:11). Peter, however, has a different response. When he hears the news, he immediately rises up and runs to the tomb (Luke 24:12). This is the same Peter who had wept so bitterly when he realized that he had denied Jesus for the third time (Luke 22:62). But now, feeling hope rising within him, Peter rushes off to see the tomb for himself.
When Peter arrives at the tomb, he stoops down and sees that the linen cloths in which Jesus had been wrapped are lying in a pile (Luke 24:12). But there is no sign of Jesus, nor does Peter see the angels. Unlike the women who preceded him, Peter’s spiritual eyes have not yet been opened. Peter, however, is not dismayed. As this episode concludes, Peter departs “marveling to himself at what had come to pass” (Luke 24:12). Although Peter does not fully understand, slowly but surely a resurrection of faith is taking place within him. 8
A practical application
When the women remembered Jesus’ words, they immediately rushed off to tell the disciples. When Peter heard from them that the Lord had risen, he immediately arose and ran to the tomb. In both cases, they realized that the story wasn’t over. Each of us can do something similar. When something happens that has the potential to bring you down or cause you to doubt the Lord’s presence, remember that the story isn’t over and that the Lord has the power to lift you up. This is the resurrection of faith. It is the faith that you are not alone. It is the faith that the Lord will provide comfort, protection, and guidance as you move through your situation. And it is the faith that no matter how difficult the situation might be, the Lord can bring good out of it and lead you to a good end. 9
On the Road to Emmaus
13. And behold, two of them were going in the same day to a village which [is] named Emmaus, away from Jerusalem sixty stadia.
14. And they conversed with one another about all these things which had happened.
15. And it came to pass as they conversed, and were disputing, Jesus Himself, drawing near, went with them.
16. But their eyes were held so that they did not know Him.
17. And He said to them, What words [are] these which you exchange with one another, while you walk and are sad?
18. And one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said to Him, Art Thou only a sojourner in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which have come to pass within her in these days?
19. And He said to them, What things? And they said to Him, The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Man, a Prophet, powerful in work and word before God and all the people;
20. And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him up to the judgment of death, and have crucified Him.
21. And we hoped that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. But yet with all this, today brings the third day since these things were done.
22. But also, certain women from [among] us amazed us, who were early in the morning at the sepulcher.
23. And not finding His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels, who say that He is alive.
24. And certain of those that were with us went to the sepulcher, and found [it] even as the women had said; but Him they saw not.
25. And He said to them, O thoughtless, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!
26. Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things, and to have entered into His glory?
27. And beginning from Moses, and from all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
As the next episode begins, two of Jesus’ disciples are traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem (Luke 24:13). Although they are called “disciples,” they are not from the original twelve. One of the disciples is named Cleopas and the name of the other is not mentioned.
It has been three days since the crucifixion, and these two disciples have heard about the empty tomb, the visit of the women, and the appearance of the angels. It is easy to imagine that they are perplexed about the recent events—especially the news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. While they are talking, it is written that “Jesus Himself drew near and went with them” (Luke 24:15). Like, Peter, who was unable to see the angels in their shining garments, these two disciples also have limited spiritual vision. Although they can clearly recognize that a stranger has joined them, they do not see that it is Jesus. As it is written, “Their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him” (Luke 24:16). Once again, Luke provides words that relate to the understanding: they did not know Him.
Jesus, who has “risen from the dead,” is with them in spirit, but they are not yet aware that the person walking with them is Jesus. Nevertheless, Jesus will gradually help them to open their spiritual eyes. In much the same way, after being in darkness, our eyes must gradually adjust to the light. There is a difference between a flash of insight and the much longer process of developing our understanding of spiritual reality. While a flash of insight can take place in a moment, our understanding of spiritual truth takes place gradually and continues throughout eternity. 10
Jesus, who is gradually opening their understanding, begins with a question. He asks, “What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?” (Luke 24:17). This pictures those times when we are saddened by a recent occurrence, perhaps discussing it with a friend, unaware that God is by our side, even speaking with us. More often, like these two disciples, we continue in our sadness. We are, so to speak, “in the dark” about spiritual reality. The one named Cleopas speaks first. He asks Jesus, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?” (Luke 24:18).
Jesus, still concealing His identity, asks, “What things?” (Luke 24:19). And they tell Him about a man named Jesus. They say that “He was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God, and all the people.” And they add that “the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death and crucified Him” (Luke 24:19-20). Then they share with Jesus the main reason for their sadness. As they put it, “We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Even though these two disciples have heard the news about a possible resurrection, they are not convinced. They seem certain that Jesus has died and that it is all over. At this point, their hopes have died as well. Therefore, they add, “Today is the third day since these things happened” (Luke 24:20-21).
As they continue to speak to Jesus, still not recognize Him, they describe how some women had gone to the tomb early in the morning and did not find Jesus’ body. Instead, they saw “a vision of angels” saying that Jesus is alive (Luke 24:23). They also tell Jesus that some of the disciples, after hearing the report of the women, went to the tomb and found that the women’s report was true. As it is written, “And certain of those that were with us went to the tomb, and found it even as the women had said; but Him they saw not” (Luke 24:24). The significant detail, “Him they saw not,” is recorded only in Luke, the gospel that relates to the opening of the understanding. In other words, they did not see Jesus. Neither do these two disciples see Jesus. Even though Jesus is walking with them, and talking to them, they do not see Him, recognize Him, or know Him.
It is at this point that Jesus chooses to open their eyes so that they might recognize Him. Bringing their minds back to the scriptures, He says to them, “O thoughtless ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to have entered His glory?” (Luke 24:25-26).
The words, “thoughtless” and “slow of heart to believe,” point, once again, to a central theme in Luke—the gradual reception of God in the understanding. As we have already mentioned, the understanding develops slowly. Again and again, Jesus had taught about the nature of spiritual reality and the kingdom of heaven. But the disciples, whose minds were fixed on things of this world, had difficulty raising their minds into spiritual light. Because of this, they could not understand the nature of Jesus’ coming, nor His desire to establish a new kingdom based on a new understanding of God. Therefore, Jesus refers to them as being “thoughtless,” a Greek word meaning sensual-minded, and “slow of heart to believe.”
Like the two disciples that Jesus met on the road to Emmaus, our understanding also opens slowly, but Jesus is ever-patient with us. Through the medium of His Word, He shows how the story of redemption is contained in the scriptures, “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets” (Luke 24:27). It is a simple and straightforward story, not just about Jesus’ inner journey but about ours as well. Of central importance in this journey is the opening of our understanding, especially our understanding of Jesus and the nature of His mission. Therefore, it is written that “He expounded to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27).
28. And they drew near to the village whither they were going, and He made as though He would go farther.
29. And they pressed Him, saying, stay with us, for it is toward evening, and the day has declined. And He came in to stay with them.
30. And it came to pass, as He reclined with them, taking bread, He blessed [it]; and breaking, gave [it] to them.
31. And their eyes were opened, and they knew Him; and He became invisible to them.
32. And they said to one another, Was not our heart burning within us, while He spoke to us in the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?
33. And standing up in that same hour, they returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven assembled, and those that were with them,
34. Saying, The Lord has truly risen, and was seen by Simon.
35. And they explained the things [done] in the way, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.
As they continue their journey, the two disciples and Jesus are approaching the village called Emmaus. Apparently, this is where they live. It is here that Jesus indicates that He will keep on walking. But they beg Him to stay with them, saying “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent” (Luke 24:29). Because of their urging, Jesus accepts their invitation. As it is written, “He went in to stay with them” (Luke 24:29).
Moving from the road to the home symbolizes a deeper entrance of God into our life. As Jesus goes in to stay with them, He initiates the most intimate act of fellowship—sharing the communion meal. As it is written, “Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them” (Luke 24:30).
In performing this well know ritual, Jesus is giving a silent lesson about His identity, suggesting that He is not just a stranger on the road, but more like a father in the home. The lesson is a profound one which opens their spiritual eyes to the reality of Jesus’ presence. As it is written, “Then their eyes were opened, and they knew Him” (Luke 24:31). This is another incident that is only recorded in Luke. In the language of sacred symbolism, the opening of their eyes refers to the opening of their understanding so that they might know Jesus.
It is important to note that the conversation on the road, when Jesus opened the scriptures for them, prepared the disciples for the opening of their spiritual eyes. But their eyes were more fully opened when Jesus blessed the bread in their midst and shared it with them. Bread, because it is so central to life, has always been a universal symbol of God’s love for humanity. It is in this moment, when the disciples sense something of God’s love in the breaking of the bread, that their eyes are opened, and they know that Jesus is in their midst. 11
This experience does not last long. Just as quickly as the moment of recognition flashes across their consciousness, Jesus vanishes from their sight (Luke 24:31). Nevertheless, the divine encounter has made a lasting impression upon the two disciples. Amazed by what has just taken place, they turn to each and say, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24:32). The disciples were feeling the blazing heat of the Lord’s love when He opened their understanding to the inner meaning of His Word. That is because the divine truths in the Word contain the burning heat of the Lord’s love. 12
Jesus appears to Simon
Amazed by their experience of meeting Jesus on the road, the two disciples rise up immediately and return to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples about what has happened. When they arrive, and tell them about their experience, the disciples in Jerusalem have their own exciting news to report. “The Lord is risen indeed,” say the disciples who have gathered in Jerusalem. And then they add, “He has appeared to Simon” (Luke 24:34).
Significantly, Peter is here referred to as “Simon.” We recall that Peter was the first of the disciples to run to the tomb, but once there he found only Jesus’ linen clothes. Apparently, “Peter” did not see Jesus, but “Simon” did. “He has appeared to Simon,” they say. The significance of this important detail is found in an understanding of the difference between the name “Peter” and the name “Simon.” As pointed out earlier, the name “Simon” means “to hear.”
Whenever the Biblical names “Peter” and “Simon” are used in contrast to each other, “Peter” stands for a shallower faith—a faith based on the things of memory, and “Simon” stands for a deeper faith—a faith based on the ability to hear and do what God commands. Therefore, it is written that “The Lord is risen, and He has appeared to Simon.” 13
Jesus Appears to His Disciples
36. But as they spoke these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and says to them, Peace [be] to you.
37. But being terrified and in fear, they thought that they beheld a spirit.
38. And He said to them, Why are you disturbed, and why do reasonings arise in your hearts?
39. See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; feel Me and see, for a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you behold Me having.
40. And having said this, He showed them [His] hands and [His] feet.
41. But while they yet believed not for joy, and marveled, He said to them, Have you here some food?
42. And they gave Him a part of a broiled fish, and of a honeycomb.
43. And taking [it], He ate before them.
Handling Jesus’ “bones” and “flesh”
The two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus have now returned to Jerusalem to join the eleven disciples, While they share the news about meeting Jesus and breaking bread with Him, suddenly Jesus appears in the midst of them and says, “Peace to you.’”(Luke 24:36).
It is as if the mere mention of the breaking of bread is enough to invoke Jesus’ presence. As Jesus said Himself, on the night before His crucifixion, when He broke bread and gave it to His disciples, “This is My body which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). This most important sacrament contains a powerful teaching about the way God is with us, even in the most physical acts of daily life, when done in a reverent way. To put it differently, God’s love and wisdom become most fully present to us when we experience them simultaneously on both a natural and a spiritual level.
We can do this whenever we eat the bread of the holy supper, thinking about the reception of the Lord’s love. Similarly, when we drink the wine, we can think about the reception of the Lord’s wisdom. Only a little reverent reflection on our part transforms this simple, physical activity into a most holy act of worship. In this way, we can gain a sense of the spiritual world flowing into the natural world. This is why the Holy Supper is referred to as “communion.” It is a communion of the spiritual with the natural, the eternal with the temporal, and the Lord with a person, in one holy act. Even if we have no perceptible experience of the Lord’s inflowing love and wisdom, we can still know that divine love and divine wisdom constitute the very essence of God and that He is truly present in the Holy Supper. 14
In the Holy Supper, then, we are palpably reminded that God alone nourishes both our bodies and our souls. Physical bread and wine are for our bodies; spiritual bread, which is love, and spiritual wine, which is wisdom, is for our souls. To remember this as we take the Holy Supper opens us to experience God’s presence. After all, in the spiritual world, thought brings presence. We can understand, then, how even a reverent thought about breaking bread may invoke Jesus’ very presence. 15
Jesus knows, however, that His presence will be terrifying to the disciples, for they are frightened of ghosts and spirits. Therefore, He attempts to calm their fears by saying, “Peace to you.” It is written, however, that they remained “terrified and frightened and supposed they had seen a spirit” (Luke 24:37). Continuing to calm their fears, Jesus says to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:38). To take away all doubt that it is really Jesus, and not a spirit, He says, “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:38-39).
When Jesus tells His disciples that He is not a spirit, and that a spirit does not have flesh and bones as He has, He means something very specific. He means that He has become a “body” of love and wisdom—not a material body, but a divinely spiritual one. His “flesh” is the divine love that He endeavors to give to all humanity, and His “bones” are the divine truths through which the divine love can be expressed. In this way, Jesus became divine love and divine wisdom in human form—visible to our spiritual eyes. 16
This is not a mere abstraction. Through taking on a body of perfect love and wisdom, Jesus Christ became the perfect embodiment of what it means to be a divinely human being. In so doing the invisible soul of God, called the Father, and the visible body of God, called Jesus, became one, even as the soul within the body of a human being are not two, but one. 17
This process of becoming one with the Father, or the reunion of soul and body, was gradual, continual, step by step, throughout Jesus’ entire life, right up to His death on the cross. When Jesus uttered His final words, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” He was announcing the final victory. He had not only subjugated the hells, but He had also become one with the divinity that had been within Him from His birth—the inner divinity that was called, the “Father.” 18
The cross, however, was not the end. It was the beginning of the resurrection. When they came to anoint Jesus’ dead body, it was nowhere to be found. He had simply left the tomb, leaving nothing behind except His linen garments. While there are many explanations as to what happened in the tomb, the simplest is that Jesus’ had glorified His body and made it entirely Divine. He did this by expelling everything of the merely human nature that He had inherited from Mary, His human mother, while simultaneously taking on everything of the divine nature that was within Him from the Father. This enabled God to be closer to us than ever before. We can now have an idea of God that is based on the love and wisdom made visible in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 19
Eating fish and honeycomb
All of this, however, is far beyond the understanding of the disciples. They need a simpler explanation—one that appeals to their material way of thinking. Therefore, Jesus tells them to go ahead and touch His hands and His feet, to actually handle Him and see that He is not a spirit. All of this happens because Jesus has opened their spiritual eyes and allowed them to experience Him on the level of spiritual awareness. The disciples are under the impression that His manifestation to them is on the material plane. It is what they need for now—a seemingly material proof.
But even then, they are still not convinced. As it is written, “But they still did not believe for joy” (Luke 24:41). Perhaps it is too good to be true. Therefore, to put the matter beyond question, Jesus asks them whether they have any food. When they give Him a piece of broiled fish and some honeycomb, He takes it and eats it in their presence (Luke 24:43). In the language of sacred scripture, the broiled fish represents nourishing truth—truth that feeds the soul. And the sweet honeycomb represents the pleasure one experiences in living according to those truths. 20
For the disciples, touching Jesus’ hands, feet, and body is very convincing; but even more convincing is watching Him eat fish and honeycomb. In doing this, Jesus is demonstrating that God is no longer to be regarded as a distant, invisible, unknowable essence that pervades the universe in an abstract way. Rather, God could now be seen in His resurrected glory as an approachable Divinely Human Person, ready to engage in a reciprocal relationship with all who are willing to receive Him. In brief, a vague, distant, faraway God had become visible, substantial, and as real as the love and wisdom He came to share. 21
A practical application
The nature of Jesus’ resurrected body has long been a matter of debate. Was it a vision or was He truly there in the flesh? Even if we don’t know the answer, we can know that Jesus was visible to His disciples. They saw Him. The importance of having a visible idea of God cannot be overestimated. It is difficult to pray to or love an invisible abstraction. But a visible, divinely human idea of God is different. While we cannot expect a vague idea to open our eyes to understand spiritual truth, or fill us with the power to forgive enemies, or enable us to overcome in temptation, a divinely human God can do this. Therefore, as a practical application, keep in mind the idea of God as manifested in the life of Jesus. This is a visible idea of God who says, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions (Luke 12:15). This is a visible idea of God who says, “Forgive and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). This is a visible idea of God who walks among us, healing, blessing, and saving. This is a visible idea of God who says to each of us, “I am among you as One who serves” (Luke 22:27). 22
Jesus Opens Their Understanding
44. And He said to them, These [are] the words which I spoke to you while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and [in] the Prophets and [in] the Psalms concerning Me.
45. Then He opened their mind to understand the Scriptures,
46. And He said to them, For so it is written, and so the Christ ought to have suffered, and to rise again from the dead the third day;
47. And that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
48. And you are witnesses of these things.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus had often told His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, be crucified, and on the third day He would rise again. He knew they had little understanding of what He meant. This was plainly evident in the way they continued to hope He would become their worldly king—a king who would give them seats of honor and authority in His kingdom.
All of that has changed now. Jesus has been crucified, as He said. And He has risen again, as He said. He has followed the course set out for Him, fulfilling all things that were said about Him in scripture. He therefore says to His disciples, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44).
The disciples are now open and ready to receive what Jesus is saying. As it is written, “He opened their understanding that they might comprehend the scriptures” (Luke 24:45). Although we are not given specific information about what Jesus told them, it may have included some of the prophecies concerning His advent, life, crucifixion, and resurrection. As we enter more deeply into the historical and prophetical parts of the Hebrew scriptures, removing layer after layer, we discover that, in some way, everything we read relates not only to the life of Jesus Christ but also to our own reformation and regeneration. 23
The words, “He opened their understanding,” is a culmination of all that has gone before. Until now the disciples had been caught up in their own ideas: for example, they had their own understanding of what it would mean to have the Messiah in their midst; they had their own understanding of what the redemption of Israel would look like; and they had their own understanding of “greatness,” including the positions that they would occupy in the coming kingdom. Jesus had to teach them otherwise. In fact, He had to completely reverse their thought process, teaching them that the first shall be last, the last shall be first, and that the greatest are not those who are served, but rather those who serve (see Luke 13:30 and Luke 22:26).
Like the disciples, we each begin our spiritual journeys with our own understanding of what it means to be successful or happy. Just as the disciples needed to have their understanding opened, we, too, need to have our spiritual eyes opened so that we can truly comprehend the scriptures. While there are innumerable things to understand, Jesus selects just a few to focus on in the closing words of this gospel. He begins by reminding His disciples that the way to salvation is through the gate of crucifixion. As He puts it, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day” (Luke 24:46).
This is a lesson about the necessity of temptation. Without temptation, without spiritual struggles, without the willingness to take up our cross and follow Jesus, there can be no spiritual growth. Jesus did this throughout His whole life and finally on the cross. In our own lives we go through a similar process. In every temptation, we are faced with a choice: we can lean on our own understanding and follow our own will, or we can trust in God and do God’s will. If we overcome in temptation, it is only because we have recognized our selfish inclinations, and have turned to God for help in overcoming them.
The next lesson is about repentance and the forgiveness of sins. As Jesus puts it, “It was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47). It should be noted that “repentance” is immediately followed by the phrase “forgiveness of sins.” The key idea is that once we recognize and acknowledge our sins, pray for the Lord’s help, and then desist from our sins, as if of ourselves, we are held back from them and kept in a state of good. This is part of the wondrous process of reformation through which the Lord withholds us from evil and keeps us in good, constantly withholding us from sins and constantly inspiring goodness. This is how sins are forgiven (Luke 24:47). 24
Begin at Jerusalem
The idea that this process of repentance and forgiveness of sins should “begin at Jerusalem” is a familiar one. Jesus had already taught His disciples to first remove the plank from their own eye, and then they would see clearly to remove the speck that is in their brother’s eye (see 6:42). This is where everything begins: with oneself. Nothing opens the understanding more fully than honest self-observation, and the willingness to shun evils as sins against God. The moment we make an attempt to desist from or shun a lower desire, higher light flows in. But if we refuse to do the work of repentance, evil desires and false thoughts will remain with us. They cannot be remitted, forgiven, or sent away, simply because we choose to remain in them. 25
Therefore, the exhortation to “preach repentance and remission of sins beginning at Jerusalem” means that they should begin with a focus on studying the Word with the idea that they first need to remove the speck from their own eye before they can go out and preach to others. The truth that Jesus taught would provide the light in which they could see their own evils and strive to shun them. Eventually, they would become “witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48). They would be able to boldly testify about the wonderful changes that occurred in their own lives as they took on the work of repentance and remission of sins in the light of the Lord’s truth. As it is written in the Hebrew scriptures, “Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth.” 26
Tarry in the City of Jerusalem
49. And behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you; but sit ye in the city of Jerusalem, until you put on power from on high.
50. And He led them out even into Bethany, and lifting up His hands, He blessed them.
51. And it came to pass, with His blessing them, [that] He stood back from them, and was brought up into heaven.
52. And they, having worshiped Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
53. And they were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen.
The disciples had come a long way. They had been with Jesus for three years; they had witnessed His many miracles and healings; they had heard His discourses and listened to His parables; they had eaten with Him and prayed with Him; they had witnessed His trial and crucifixion; and they had seen Him in His resurrected form. Though their faith had often wavered, it had grown stronger and more certain. Soon they would go forth to proclaim the gospel and lead others, but for the time being they would need to stay in Jerusalem. Jesus put it like this: “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
We have already pointed out that the command to “begin in Jerusalem,” suggests that the disciples still had work to do before taking the gospel to others, especially the work of repentance and the remission of sins. But there is more. Jerusalem was the center for worshipping God and studying the scriptures. The temple was there; the priesthood was there; the high holidays were celebrated there. And so, the mention of the city “Jerusalem” signifies the study of the Word with a specific focus on how it might apply to oneself.
In telling the disciples to “Tarry in Jerusalem,” Jesus defers their wider missionary work until they can develop a deeper understanding of scripture, and use that understanding to do the work of repentance. Only then will they be “endued with power from on high.” For without a proper understanding of the Lord and His Word, they would not be able to receive such power. Before they can teach others, they must learn about themselves; before they can truly love others, they must learn how to love. Before they preach the gospel, they would have to understand it well. All of this would be about the development of a higher understanding. Only then would they be prepared to receive “the promise of the Father and be endued with power from on high.” They must first know truth before they are able to will it and do it. 27
Interestingly, both Matthew and Mark end with a direct commission to “go out into all the world to make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) and “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). But when we get to the end of Luke, there is a difference. They are to first “tarry in Jerusalem” until they are “endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). This is a different focus; it is an appeal to a different level of the mind. As we have pointed out from the beginning of this gospel, the focus in Luke is upon the way God is received in the understanding. We noted that the first verse of Luke begins with a reference to “those things which are most surely believed”; in the second verse we read of “eye-witnesses”; in the third verse, Luke speaks of having had “perfect understanding”; and in the fourth verse, Luke says that he is writing these things so that his reader “may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (Luke 1:1-4).
All these terms and phrases suggest the intellect—the knowing, thinking, understanding aspect of human nature. Even the opening scene of this gospel, describing a priest offering incense in the temple, calls to mind the intellectual side of religion—the life of prayer and worship, the single-minded devotion to reading, understanding, and being instructed in the scriptures. Therefore, it is fitting that Luke closes where it begins, with an exhortation to the disciples to “tarry in Jerusalem”—to develop their understanding of doctrine, and to learn how to apply it to their own lives.
In the final scene of Luke’s gospel, Jesus leads His disciples to Bethany where “He lifted up His hands and blessed them” (Luke 24:50). And even as He is blessing them, He is parted from them and “carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:51). This scene, known as “the Ascension,” is a most significant moment for the disciples. For three years they have been uncertain about Jesus, not knowing the extent of His power or the depth of His love. But this is before the resurrection. Now they truly know. For them Jesus is no longer a religious teacher or a worldly Messiah; He is their Lord. The idea of Jesus has ascended in their mind. We read, therefore, that “they worshipped Him” (Luke 24:52).
Then they do exactly as Jesus has bidden them. As it is written, “They returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:52-53).
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The Gospel According to Luke begins and ends in the temple. More than any other gospel, Luke deals with the opening of the understanding. As we read the joyous conclusion, we sense the excitement of the disciples as they return to the temple, praising and blessing God. While this is the end of Luke, the process of human regeneration does not end in the temple. True religion involves more than a highly evolved understanding. It also involves the willingness to live according to that understanding, that is, to do God’s will, not just to know it. This is what is meant by “the promise of My Father” and being “endued with power from on high.”
It is, of course, necessary that our understanding first be opened so that we may be able to comprehend the scriptures, repent of our sins, and begin the process of reformation. In a sense this is our “first birth”—just as Genesis begins with the words, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). But something else must follow. In our first birth we pray that our minds might be opened so that we might comprehend the scriptures; in our second birth we pray that our hearts might be opened so that we might live according to them. And so, the Gospel According to Luke is a record of how a new understanding is born in us. It is a first birth. “He opened their understanding.” It follows, then, that the next gospel in the divine series will record that other essential birth that must take place in us: the birth of a new will.
For a detailed description of how that process takes place in every human heart, and how we receive “power from on high,” we now turn to the final gospel—the Gospel According to John.