Pretend you’re a screenwriter: your hero was just executed. And it wasn’t a backdoor hush job either — this thing was a spectacle, the result of treason, envy, vicious plotting, and sheer bloodthirst. They make sure your guy is dead, even buried. The camera zooms back slowly on the fresh mound of dirt while the screen fades as slowly to black.
But then your hero comes back from the dead. Okay, what’s the next scene?
If you think like me, it’s not even really a question. My hero’s busting boots-first through the swinging double doors of the executioners’ hangout. The background music immediately cuts out. Playing cards freeze mid-deal. And everybody turns, slack-jawed, to look at the hero — back from the dead.
Yeah, it’s cheesy. But it’s what you expect, right? The guy is alive after being dead for days — he’s going to show up big, isn’t he? But it’s not what Jesus did.
Jesus had a Bible study.
The Best Bible Study?
The same day Jesus was raised from the dead, just hours after showing himself to Mary (John 20:14–16), he joined two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Without recognizing their own teacher, Jesus’s followers share the agonizing events of the last few days. The mighty prophet of God was killed by their religious and political leaders (Luke 24:19–20). And not just a spokesman for God, another Isaiah or Elijah — they “had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). But apparently not — because he’s been dead for three days. And now on top of it all, his body’s missing.
In response, Jesus says,
“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” . . . And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25, 27)
Can you imagine this? Jesus himself taught these disciples the Bible from front to back. How could anything ever come close to matching this? I’ve been a part of some good Bible studies. I love my pastors and the way they unfold the Bible week after week. But seriously, these two got to hear Jesus Christ preach about himself from the whole Bible. Isn’t all our Bible reading downhill from there?
Would You Trade Places with Them?
If you had the chance, would you rewind the tape to join those two on the Emmaus road — to hear Jesus explain your own Bible to you? Maybe (if we’re being honest) there’s something like envy of these disciples? Why can’t Jesus interpret the Scriptures to me? Bible reading seems a little tragic now, doesn’t it? We have to scratch away at it when Jesus offered it on a silver platter.
If we envy the disciples, it’s not because we just haven’t learned to be content with our time in Christian history. If we’d rather be sitting at Jesus’s feet listening to him teach us the Bible, our problem isn’t timing — our problem is that we’re ignoring what Jesus himself said. Between learning from Jesus on a mountainside, and hunching over your Bible with fellow Christians in a cramped apartment, Jesus tells us quite clearly which situation is better.
Better Than a Bible Study with Jesus
Jesus knew that his disciples would face many things after he left earth: dismay (John 13:37), disbelief (John 13:19), disillusionment (Luke 24:21), fear (John 14:1, 27). How could they hope to find their way when the light of the world was leaving it (John 8:12)? How could they enter salvation if the door to salvation went missing (John 10:7–9)? Thomas’s simple complaint carries a world of fear and doubt: Jesus, we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way? (John 14:5).
Jesus’s response to the disciples’ fears, to our fears maybe, is not simply, “Toughen up. I’ll be back.” Many parents know this routine from having left their children with a babysitter. “It’ll be okay. I’ll only be gone a few hours.” Maybe some sort of incentive to behave or stop crying. But that’s it. We don’t really have a category for what Jesus tells his disciples: “I’m leaving. And things are going to get even better when I’m gone.”
“It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)
“The Helper” that Jesus promises is the Holy Spirit. It is the mind of God himself poured out on the church, teaching us inwardly “the things freely given us by God” (Acts 2:17; 1 Corinthians 2:10–13). Jesus himself says that “the Holy Spirit . . . will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).
A Helper Fit for Finite Christians
While Jesus was on earth, he could interpret the Bible with 100% accuracy, but because of his humanity, he could not be in Emmaus and Jerusalem at the same time. He could only preach to so many people at one time (Luke 5:3) and only had so much time in the day to do it. There were even times when Jesus made himself unavailable to people (Luke 5:16).
But the Holy Spirit is always with us (John 14:16). The Holy Spirit is specifically given to shine the light of Jesus’s glory in our hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6), to help us understand and remember not only Moses and the Prophets (Luke 24:27), but the significance of all of Jesus’s life and work (John 14:26). Jesus’s gift of the Holy Spirit is a greater gift than his physical presence.
As surprising as it may seem, reading your Bible with the Holy Spirit’s help is better than sitting at Jesus’s feet.
Humble, Hopeful Bible Reading
What should be the effect of this truth on our Bible reading? We should approach our Bibles with humility and hope.
Humility, because apart from God, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Often, our Bible reading and study may seem cold and distant not because our reading is deficient, but because it’s actually prideful. As one theologian says, we sometimes make the mistake of coming to the living word of God as if to perform an autopsy on a dead body. Instead of looking with natural eyes and minds (1 Corinthians 2:13–14), we need to depend instead on the Holy Spirit to open our eyes (Ephesians 1:17–18).
But our reason for humility is also our greatest reason for hope! Understanding the Bible doesn’t depend ultimately on your IQ, your efforts, or how long you’ve been a Christian. Understanding the Bible depends on the Spirit of God in you. Even the lowliest Christian can see more than the greatest Old Testament prophets, because by the Spirit we have seen the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).
The prayer God loves to answer most is also the thing we need most: to see the glory of God in Christ. And this is precisely why the Spirit was given (John 16:14). If your Bible reading seems unremarkable, remember that God’s work always runs deeper than we can see — your Bible reading is never wasted, because the Spirit will not let it return void (Isaiah 55:11).
And it is better for us to have this Spirit now than to sit in a Bible study with Jesus.