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The Naked Man

September 11th, 2013 by Oleg Kostyuk

 

A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind. – Mark 14:51-52

Pavel Popov - Judas Betrays Christ With a Kis

Pavel Popov – Judas Betrays Christ With a Kiss

Recently, we received a question from a viewer regarding the passage above. Baffled as to its meaning, she asked why it was included in Mark’s Gospel, saying “I do not understand it’s purpose.” If you have a similar reaction to this passage, I don’t blame you; it is truly one of the most mysterious passages in all the Gospels. It seems so random and out of place. To add to the confusion, Mark provides no clue as to the identity of the young man. Tradition has assigned him all kinds of different identities: as John son of Zebedee, as John Mark (who in turn has been identified as the author of the Gospel of Mark), as James the brother of Jesus, and so on. However, these are only speculations on the identity of this “certain young man” who followed Jesus. This passage in Mark is the only reference to this incident in the entire Bible.

So why on Earth would Mark include this detail in his Gospel? Thankfully, the answer to this question is easier to determine than the identity of the young man. One thing we must understand first is that the Gospels are a very special and unique genre of literature. In the Gospels, history meets with theology; just as Earth meets with heaven in Jesus. The Gospel writers were presenting a history, but they were doing so to make a theological point. That means that they would not include a historical detail if it did not advance the theology that they were presenting.

So, what theological point is Mark presenting when he writes about a young fellow who ran away naked? There’s a key detail we need to notice in order to find the answer: Mark 14:51 says that this young man wore “a linen cloth thrown around his naked body.” This is significant because linen was an expensive material that only the wealthy could afford. In addition to that, the detail that the “young man” lacked an undergarment – that he was essentially naked underneath his linen garment – suggests that he dressed hastily to follow Jesus. In this young man, we see someone who had material wealth and was eager to follow Jesus when things were going well; he was so eager, in fact, that he did not have enough time to put his undergarment on when Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem. But the moment trouble arrived – when the arresting party approached – the followers of Jesus fell into panic and disorder. One swiped at the high priest’s servant with his sword, all of them fled, and this young man narrowly escaped, fleeing naked in utter disgrace. All of this underscores the stunning accuracy of Jesus’ prediction that they would all fall away (Mark 14:27). In stark contrast to his disciples’ failure of nerve, Jesus stands his ground, ready to drink the cup.

So what we see in the strange story of this naked young man is actually something quite remarkable. Just as Adam and Eve fled from God after they sinned in the Garden of Eden, this young man runs away from the Son of God in the Garden of Gethsemane.

How often do we find ourselves in this situation? It’s easy to follow Jesus when things are going well for us and when it’s popular to do so. But if we run away from Jesus when trouble comes, we find that we are naked, in disgrace.

The Gospels are the central part of Scripture and belong to a genre all their own. As we see in the example of Mark 14, they present historical details, but always with the intention of presenting a theological point. By including this peculiar incident, Mark is encouraging all of us to be bold to the end, even when we see “the arresting party approaching.” Because, in the end, it’s always so much better to stand with Jesus than to run away naked and alone.

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6 Responses to “The Naked Man”

  1. On September 13, 2013 at 3:39 pm Renae S responded with... #

    I have also found Mark’s mention of the naked man puzzling, but the connection you made between the Gardens of Eden and Gethsemane has shed some light on this mystery. However, I still wonder just why he was naked. Was he deranged? I won’t leave anymore of my crazy ideas, but I would like to add a point. I have noticed that covering is very important to God. A man was prevented from entering the wedding in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 22 because he was not appropriately attired for the occasion. In the same way, maybe the man was eager to follow Jesus, but the lesson could be that we cannot follow Jesus wearing the linen cloth of our own works. Just like the fig leaves used in Eden, it will never be enough to cover the nakedness that sin exposes. Only when we are covered by the bloodstained robe of Christ’s righteousness will we be able to follow Him all the way. Only in His strength will we be able to stand, and not run, when trouble comes. Thanks for writing on this not so popular part of the story. It’s finally beginning to make sense.

    • On September 13, 2013 at 5:47 pm Sergio Gonzalez responded with... #

      Renae, you make an excellent point. As the article says, only the rich could afford a linen garment but, in the end, that didn’t do him any good. As you say, only the Robe of Righteousness – which is given by Christ to all – will allow us to stand to the end. Awesome, thanks for that.

  2. On April 4, 2015 at 9:21 pm Charlie K responded with... #

    This passage has for years confounded not only me but countless others who have studied these accounts of the passion week events. The young man’s identity is not thoroughly revealed in any way, fashion, or form. In my best educated guess I can see all of Christ’s followers pictured here in this young man’s actions. When our feet are held to the fire we will run. Naked in the act, we are willing to walk boldly into ridicule and embarrassment just as all deciples and especially as Peter did in totally absolving himself of even knowing Christ. We are sure that if we ourselves are put to the test we will be bolder and even walk quietly into the Lion’s den. Not one of us is sure exactly what we each will do given similar events. We can at most pray for a strength from God our Lord that will be witness enough to show those from whom we run, our faith in Christ and his forgiveness for our abandoning him. So I ask you all, will you stay or will you run naked away from the one who has given you life.

  3. On April 8, 2015 at 8:35 pm Kenneth Mourino responded with... #

    I have a theory. Because Mark is the only writer of the Gospels to mention this historical incident at Gethsemane Garden, I can only suggest that he is speaking about himself as a young teenage follower of Jesus and His disciples. A young Mark who would be seeking every opportunity he could to be with them at all times possible in order to hear the voice and witness the miracles of Jesus. It may have been a very warm Wednesday or Thursday evening when Mark may have been in bed sleeping without clothes at his family’s home when he heard shuffling of feet outside his bedroom window and noticed it was his good friend Jesus with his disciples on their way to the garden late that night. Without a second to lose, he rushed out of his home with the only thing he had on, his sleeping blanket in order not to miss his friends on the street. Back then, he was perfectly well dressed by draping himself with that linen garment like socialite Romans of the day did. If this theory is correct, this would very well put Mark as an eyewitness (along with Matthew and John) of these events and many others told in that gospel.

  4. On August 3, 2015 at 8:57 pm Jeff Potter responded with... #

    Could it potentially be the angel?

    • On November 20, 2015 at 11:20 am Jill W. responded with... #

      I agree with Jeff Potter that the young man is an angel. Read Mark 16:5-7.

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