Luke’s account of the Resurrection begins the same way as in Mark and Matthew – the three women come to the tomb at dawn on the first day of the week and find it empty and are addressed by an angelic-like person. There are few major differences in Luke’s retelling of this part of the story, or at least issues that Luke brings out that the others do not. First, is that the angelic being does not simply tell the women that Jesus is not here, but he reminds them of Jesus’ teaching that “the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” v.7. This teaching will be repeated to Cleopas in v.26 and to the disciples in v.46. This is the central teaching of the early church. See, 1 Cor. 2:2. Here, Luke emphasizes the importance of the church community to remember the teachings that are being passed down beginning with Jesus. See, 2 Thess. 2:15.
In giving the three women this gospel formulation, the angelic being does not treat these women only as messengers. They were not simply to go and tell, but were instructed in the meaning of what occurred. Earlier in his gospel, Luke had previously told us that these women were disciples of Jesus who also received his teachings. (Luke 8:2-3, 10:39). Unlike in the other gospels, Luke tells that the male disciples did not believe the women. v.12. Luke doesn’t tell us whether this disbelief in the Resurrection was because the messengers were women or because the message itself was unbelievable.
Finally, unlike Mark and Mathew, the angelic being does not mention Galilee. Rather, in Luke (as in John) Jesus appears to the disciples in Jerusalem and Jesus will tell the disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they receive power from on high. v.49. Exactly why Luke differs is unknown. Luke may be familiar with Resurrection appearances in Jerusalem. Luke also wrote Acts (Acts 1:1) and knows that the disciples received the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem at Pentecost. Mark and Matthew have the disciples returning to where Jesus’ ministry began to begin their own ministry whereas Luke has them in Jerusalem where the Resurrection occurred to have the disciples begin their ministry at the new beginning.
In vv. 13-35, Luke gives us the story of the road to Emmaus. In the story, an unrecognized Jesus begins to walk beside two of his followers – Cleopas and his companion – on their journey out of Jerusalem on Sunday morning. As they journey together towards the town of Emmaus, Jesus walks them through the Scriptures (the Hebrew Bible) showing how the Scriptures speak about himself. He remains unrecognized until he sits at the table with them, takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them. At that moment their eyes are opened and they recognize Jesus for who he is. (This is also a reversal of the Fall, where eating led Adam and Eve’s eyes to be opened.) This story of the Road to Emmaus is the story of almost every Christian’s faith journey. We are all on the road with Jesus, walking through the Scriptures with him, and reaching our final destination when we recognize Jesus in the Eucharistic celebration.
In terms of a bible study group, the most important part of this story is that “beginning with Moses (meaning Genesis through Deuteronomy) and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” v.27. Jesus will also do this when he meets the other disciples later. v.45. What Jesus is giving to Cleopas, the other disciples, and to us is the primary lens through which we should interpret the Old Testament. (The technical term for this is hermeneutics.) We can read the Old Testament as a history book, a law book, or a collection of stories about God. What Jesus tells us is that when we read the Old Testament, we must first read it Christologically – as speaking about Jesus Christ. Eternal life only resides in reading the Scripture as a witness to Jesus. John 5:39. As Paul writes, if we read the Old Testament as law or history without recognizing Christ within, we are reading with a mind that is veiled from the light of truth. 2 Cor. 3:14.
What does it look like to read the Scriptures backward – beginning with the Resurrection first? When we begin with Jesus, we will see Jesus throughout. Jesus is the agency of creation and specifically the Light. Gen 1, John 1:1-5. He is the new Adam who reverses the Fall. Rom 5. He is the descendant of Eve who will crush the head of the serpent. Gen. 3:15. He is Able, a shepherd, whose perfect sacrifice leads to his being murdered. Gen. 4. We see Jesus in Noah, a righteous man who through wood (the cross) builds a vessel (the church) that saves those in relationship with him where the raven (death) is expelled but the dove (spirit) returns. Gen. 6-9. He is the promise that God made to Abraham (Rom 4), the Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7), and the rock that gives water to parched souls on a journey to the Promised Land (1 Cor. 10:4). And he is found through the Psalms. Hebrews 1. When we read the Old Testament we should read it as talking about Jesus.
The final section of this Resurrection narrative is Jesus’ appearance to the disciples. As we will see in John, Luke is equivocal as to the nature of the resurrected body. It is unrecognizable (v.16) and can vanish (v.31) but yet is described not as a ghost, but as flesh and bones (v.39). The Resurrected body defies easy characterization because Jesus’ Resurrected body is the first fruits of the new creation.
Like the other Gospels and Paul, Luke describes the disciples as doubtful and disbelieving, even in the presence of the Risen Christ. v.41. But this is a “joyful disbelief and wonderment.” Like the Road to Emmaus, this too is part of our common Christian experience.
As with Cleopas, Jesus “opens the minds” of his disciples (Luke does not limit this term to only the remaining Eleven) to appropriately understand the Scriptures (the law, the prophets, and the Psalms). With their minds opened, Jesus tells them that they are the witnesses to the fulfillment of the Scriptures and that once the power from on high comes (Pentecost) they will be the ones to bear witnesses to him throughout the world. The best example of this witness is Peter’s speech on Solomon’s Portico in Acts 3:11-26, where he, like Jesus, takes his audience through the Scriptures to point out where how they continuously speak of the Crucified and Risen Lord.
I myself have set my king *
upon my holy hill of Zion.”
Let me announce the decree of the Lord: *
he said to me, “You are my Son;
this day have I begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for
your inheritance *
and the ends of the earth for your possession