To some Christians, typology is at best ornamental, pretty and cute, but irrelevant to the serious business of the church, irrelevant to the church’s mission. Some Christians have similar views of the Lord’s Supper: Inspiring and helpful, but hardly essential.
To such skeptics, I say: “Luke 24. Tolle lege.”
The story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus continues the journey theme that takes up so much of Luke-Acts. After the transfiguration, Jesus sets His face toward Jerusalem, where He will face arrest, trial, death.
Acts, of course, moves in the opposite direction. The apostles begin in Jerusalem and spread out from there. Paul makes a long journey to Jerusalem, but, unlike Jesus, he doesn’t stop there. He goes on to Rome.
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus are taking a journey, but it’s in the wrong direction. They’re taking an “Acts” journey from Jerusalem before the Spirit comes. In all likelihood, they are fleeing in fear of Jesus’ Jewish enemies or of a Roman sweep to eliminate Jesus’ followers.
As they walk, Jesus joins them and they begin to explain their sorrow. They tell Jesus about Jesus, implicitly comparing Jesus to Moses, a prophet “mighty in deed and word” who, they hoped, would liberate Israel.
It didn’t happen. Instead of liberating Israel from its new Egypt, Jesus became a victim. He didn’t save Israel from Rome but submitted to a Roman execution.
They even tell the Risen Jesus about His resurrection. A few women and others have been to the tomb and found no sign of Jesus. This only confuses the disciples further. Though followers of Jesus, they’re as flummoxed as Pilate and Herod and the Jews.
Jesus is with these two disciples, and yet they’re dejected. They know the entire gospel story from Jesus’ wonder-working through the cross to the resurrection. And yet they’re dejected and defeated. Something is still missing. They continue their flight.
Jesus knows they need a Bible study, but not just any Bible study. They need to understand that the Scriptures are all about the Christ, His suffering and glory, and the proclamation of forgiveness and life to the nations. They need a lesson in typology.
Later, they remember that their hearts burned while Jesus taught them. They sense something strange and deep about their Teacher, but still they don’t recognize Him.
That happens at the table. Having delivered the Word, Jesus breaks the bread. Instantly, their eyes are open and they see Jesus, just before He disappears. Once they see Jesus, everything goes into reverse: They return to Jerusalem, rejoin the eleven, and become the first humans to echo the angel’s Easter proclamation: “The Lord has risen indeed” (v. 34; cf. v. 6).
Jesus’ presence and the gospel story isn’t enough. To see Jesus, they need to see Him as the fulfillment of the Scriptures. To see Jesus, they need to join Him at table.
There’s another layer. As many commentators note, their “open eyes” allude back to Genesis 3. God always planned to open Adam and Eve’s eyes, so they could share His throne as King and Judge.
In the event, the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened prematurely, in rebellion. They seized a royal privilege they couldn’t handle. The disciples at Emmaus receive the same gift, but justly. They aren’t just made witnesses. They reach a new stage of human maturity.
They grow up; they’re ready for solid food, because by Word and Bread Jesus has trained their senses to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14).
Now: What happens in churches that don’t read the Scriptures as Jesus read the Scriptures? What happens to churches that don’t gather regularly with the Word at the Table?
Jesus is with them, but remains wispy, invisible. He never becomes solid, 3D. And their witness is truncated at best. They can retell the gospel story, but they don’t see it clearly because they don’t see the Scriptures as the story of the suffering and glory of Jesus the Christ. They remain immature, their eyes closed and undiscerning, their senses untrained.
Typology and table aren’t baubles or curios. They provide the light and life and power that drives the church’s mission.
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