Who Was Cleopas in the Bible?
The importance of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances cannot be overstated. The Apostle Paul said, “and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances provided the disciples with the testimony they needed to proclaim the Gospel to the world (1 John 1:1-3), and Cleopas was among those to whom Christ appeared. There has been some speculation, trying to connect Cleopas from Luke 24 with the Clopas referenced in John 19:25. Whether there is a connection or not, what is important is Cleopas was from “all the rest” of the disciples mentioned in Luke 24:9. Cleopas was a follower of Jesus.
What Do We Know about Cleopas—before and after Emmaus?
Luke’s account of Cleopas is one of enlightenment. This encounter with Jesus took place on Resurrection Sunday. Luke focused on Cleopas’ transformation of faith while Christ revealed what the Scriptures taught about the Messiah. During His earthly ministry, Jesus’ teachings and miracles raised much speculation and controversy among the Jews, who held a mixed view regarding Jesus. Even His close followers didn’t grasp His true identity. Cleopas revealed his own misunderstandings about Jesus during their conversation on the road to Emmaus.
Verse 17 reveals Cleopas’ unbelief, because he, …stood still, looking sad.” The sadness proves an unbelieving heart because Jesus attested His death would not be the end; however, Cleopas seemed to be under the impression that it was. Jesus spoke on multiple occasions regarding His own resurrection (Matthew 12:38-40; Luke 9:22). As we will see, Cleopas’ hopes in Jesus were misplaced. When he recounted the recent events of Jesus’ crucifixion, Cleopas showed he believed Jesus to be sent from God. He described Jesus as a prophet, “in the sight of God” (Luke 24:19, and he was not alone in this understanding. Nicodemus also expressed belief in Jesus, as One who was sent by God (John 3:2). However, they understood neither Jesus nor His purpose for coming.
Like many others, Cleopas had a political understanding of the Messiah which blinded him from Jesus’ true purpose for coming. He had hoped Jesus would, “redeem Israel” from its Roman oppressor (Luke 24:21). In this passage, the word used for redeem is the Greek word lytroo, which means to liberate or set free. In the mind of the average Jew, the redemption promised by the Messiah would replicate the redemption Israel experienced from Egypt. They expected Israel to dismantle the Roman authorities and ascend once more to its Golden Age as seen in the days of David and Solomon.
Cleopas then admitted to hearing the testimonies of both the women and some disciples who reported Jesus’ tomb was empty, but again he did not seem to understand Jesus had indeed risen from the dead just as He said He would. He expressed sorrow, “…besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened” (Luke 24:21). What Cleopas meant was Jesus had not risen on the third day like He said He would. The irony in this passage cannot be overlooked since he was speaking to Jesus! This is proof God has a sense of humor.
After Cleopas finished speaking during their travel to the village, Jesus explained the Scriptures concerning His death and resurrection (Luke 24:25-27). He then revealed His identity after they had settled in the village of Emmaus and broke bread together (Luke 24:28-31). Cleopas completely changed after his encounter with Jesus in Emmaus. His despair turned to hope, and his ignorance transformed into true faith. His doubt changed into certainty. He was a new man because he now possessed a true understanding of Jesus.
Why Didn't Cleopas Recognize Jesus?
Cleopas did not recognize Jesus because God prevented him from doing so (Luke 24:16). But what was the purpose? As mentioned, when we examine the account Cleopas provided regarding Jesus, we find he had a false understanding. If Cleopas had recognized Jesus immediately, he would have clung to the same misperceptions about Him. Our Lord waited to reveal Himself so He would have an opportunity to correct the false beliefs of Cleopas. This enabled Cleopas to believe in Jesus for who He truly is (Luke 24:34).
5 Important Lessons from the Life of Cleopas
Jesus is not defined by cultural expectations or desires. Jesus is not some idea or abstract theory which changes from time to time. He is God eternal, and He never changes (Hebrews 13:8). Scripture informs us it pleases God to use what the world considers foolish to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:25-29). The Jews were looking for a strong military leader to crush their Roman opposition and restore power to the nation of Israel. A suffering, dying Messiah was far from their expectations. How could God bring anything good out of such a thing? Yet, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross offers redemption to all who believe. Through His death, Jesus offered something better than liberation from Rome. He opened the gateway to eternal life. We should never look to the world for help understanding Jesus. There are many false beliefs that paint a portrait of Jesus based on a worldly understanding. God is countercultural. Only His Word reveals the truth about our magnificent Lord and Savior.
We know the Lord through fellowship. A possible teaching to glean from this passage is we come to know our Lord through fellowship. Jesus revealed Himself to the two disciples while they were eating. This may not be a coincidence. Family supper time seems to be on the decline these days, but in those days, eating was a social event. Conversation was expected and cherished. Sometimes we need to be reminded we are in a relationship with the Lord. Love is relational, and God calls us to love Him with all our heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5). When we obey His commands, it’s not about checking off religious tasks on a religious checklist. Jesus told His disciples, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). The commands God gives us are the genuine expressions of love by which He wants us to abide. God loves His children, and He delights in us when we walk in obedience.
Yes, we have an obligation to obey God. However, the commands found in Scripture are about more than obedience; they are about loving communion with God.
God calls us to have faith. Jesus’ rebuke of the two disciples should give us pause to examine the condition of our own faith. He called the two disciples “foolish” and “slow of heart to believe” (Luke 24:25). Our Lord expressed frustration and displeasure at the unbelief of the two disciples. It can be easy to scoff at the unbelief of the disciples, but the truth is we are not much different. God has spoken to us through His Word, but how often do we fail to believe what He says? We may never express our lack of faith in words, but we express it through our lives. Faith always produces works. That is why James tells us, “I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18). The author of Hebrews tells us it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6). In our prayer, we should echo often the words of the man found in Mark chapter 9, “I do believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
Scripture cannot be broken. When Jesus addressed Cleopas’ doubt, He said, “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory” (Luke 24:26. emphasis mine). Jesus referred to all the prophecies in the Old Testament which spoke of His coming, suffering, death, and resurrection. God’s Word never fails, we need to stand on it with the utmost confidence.
Never give up hope. Life is a struggle. If we’re honest, there are times we feel God has forgotten about us. It’s vital to remember God is faithful (2 Timothy 2:13). He will never change character. The God of the universe is for us, and He works all things for the good of those who are His (Romans 8:28). He can bring the most unlikely blessings out of the ugliest of situations. Just because God doesn’t fit your understanding or work in the way you would like Him to, that doesn’t mean all is lost. God has something better in mind! He knows what we need far better than we know ourselves. When we find ourselves without hope, it’s because we’ve taken our eyes off Christ and the eternal promises we stand to inherit. God has given us an unfading hope which will far surpass the difficulties we face in this life (Romans 8:18).
Photo credit: © Pexels/Andrea Piacquadio
Stephen Baker is a graduate of Mount Union University. He is the writer of a special Scripture study/reflection addendum to Someplace to Be Somebody, authored by his wife, Lisa Loraine Baker (End Game Press Spring 2022).
He attends Faith Fellowship Church in East Rochester, OH where he has given multiple sermons and is discipled by pastor Chet Howes.
This article is part of our People from the Bible Series featuring the most well-known historical names and figures from Scripture. We have compiled these articles to help you study those whom God chose to set before us as examples in His Word. May their lives and walks with God strengthen your faith and encourage your soul.