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Mark alone of the four Gospels tells of a young man who fled naked when Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane. Mark 14:51 states,

A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.

Why does Mark tell his audience about this event?

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with the young mans naked departure, his weakness "flesh of the world" ignorace, lack of faith, fear, etc. abandoned Christ leaving behind his true form (as we all are) protective "symbolic spirit" linen covering identifying him as a member of and thus denieing, leaving behind courage of faith. –  Garry Apr 23 at 14:44

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The Rev. William E. Flippin Jr. - Naked Young Man and the Easter Angel in the Gospel of Mark - Mark 14:51-52

"And a young man followed [Jesus], with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked."

Jesus had no help at the cross from his followers. Only he could bring about our salvation, and so he had to work alone. This view of disciples abandoning Jesus at his loneliest hour is affirmed in all the Gospels. However, I believe, in looking closely at some Greek words, that Mark's intention as a Gospel writer, showing that this man dressed in a white robe had a secret message -- a prevalent theme in Mark of the rebirth of humanity that was naked in sin.

Mark describes the young man in question as a neaniskos, meaning he was in the prime of his life, perhaps 15 to 25 years old. The verb that is used, sunékolouthei, means "was following as a disciple" or "was accompanying." Since no one evinces any surprise at the young man's presence, he was probably a disciple.

(Fascinatingly, the word neaniskos, which is rare in the Christian Testament, crops up a second time in Mark, to describe the young man in the long white robe who tells the women disciples that Jesus has been raised and they will see him again in Galilee.)

In verses 14:51-52, Mark tells us that "A young man was present who was wearing nothing but a sindon. The posse caught hold of him, but he left the sindon and ran away naked."

Here's the big discovery I stumbled over by accident: A sindon was a linen cloth used for clothing or burial. The word is used exactly four times in the Christian Testament: in the three synoptic gospels to describe the cloth in which Jesus' dead body was wrapped for burial... and here. This to me is the connection of the naked young man and the burial of Jesus and the proclamation of the Easter Angel. In Mark's Gospel, he explicitly says that the person that proclaimed to the confused women present at the tomb was a young man, not an angel wearing a white robe. For him to be wearing a sindon, which is very specifically used for burial clothing, has some deliberate correlations by the Gospel writer Mark in identifying the significant transformation of the death and rebirth of humanity as found in the Resurrection. The motif of the clothing reinforces the impression that the two episodes form a coherent whole. Mark often mentions clothing with strong symbolic overtones so that it has special significance for him. Consequently the clothes of John the Baptist in Mark 1:6 identify him as a prophet, and, therefore, as an important figure at the beginning of the gospel. The clothing of Jesus in the episode on the transfiguration in Mark 9:3 becomes dazzling white, 'whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.' The nature of the clothing underlines the mysterious significance of the event. In Mark 14:30" 33, the High Priest tore his clothes after Jesus' pronouncement about the Son of Man at the right hand and coming with the clouds.

These references to exceptional clothing are found at crucial points at the beginning and at the turning point of the narrative where important revelations are given. In the episode on John the Baptist in Mark 1:7 there is a reference to the coming one and in the transfiguration narrative in Mark 9:7 the voice from the cloud reveals Jesus as the divine Son to whom his followers should listen. The action of the High Priest also takes place at a seminal moment in the trial of Jesus. In all of these cases, the significance of Jesus is highlighted through the narrative detail of clothing.

The clothing of the young man in Mark 14:51-52 and in 16:5 should be understood against this background. The young man in Gethsemane, according to Mark, is dressed in a linen cloth. How important this was to the author is clear from the fact that he repeats the reference in the following description of how the young man, having fled naked, left behind. This focus on the clothes is not merely a report of an event, but is also an indication of the significance of the event. In a Jewish context nakedness would be regarded as a shameful state. Mark is implying that the young man, eager to follow Jesus after others fail him, also falls into shame. His leaving behind his clothes is stressed also by the ensuing and explicit reference to his nakedness.

Exegetes who identify the two young men use this motif of clothing to point to the complete reversal of his condition. If the previous dress (in the garden) was the linen cloth, this one in the tomb, however, is white. Though he is dressed in both cases, the difference in dress expresses the development within the narrative. The portrayal is therefore characterized by closure: the shameful condition of the young man as he flees the scene of Jesus arrest in the nude is replaced by his restoration. What would otherwise be an incomplete narrative if the coherence between two episodes is not understood becomes a coherent picture because of the motif of clothing.

One may even take the comparison further by analyzing the type of dress mentioned by Mark. It is often noted that Mark spoke of a linen cloth in which Jesus was buried (Mk 15:46). The linen cloth is mentioned twice in Mark 14:51-52 and in 15:46. In Mark 15:46 Mark again repeats the motif of the linen cloth, emphasizing to his readers in what cloth Jesus was buried. In this way Mark's description of clothing reflects the dress of Jesus before his resurrection. Taken together, Mark associates linen clothing with shameful betrayal and with death. The young man in the empty tomb is said to wear a white dress to indicate that he is not simply resuming his earlier lifestyle.

The young man in the tomb also has a special place in the narrative in another sense. He is, namely, the first to give witness to Jesus' resurrection. He is well informed about the whereabouts of Jesus and reveals the coming appearance of Jesus to his disciples. He relates what has happened to Jesus, points out the empty tomb and sends a message to the disciples that Jesus has gone to Galilee. He is, moreover, an important figure as a messenger who explains the significance of the empty tomb to the women. Witnessing to Jesus is of seminal importance to Mark. The young man in the tomb gives witness to Jesus in the sense of Mark 1:2. Mark ends his gospel in the same way he began it in Mark 1:2, where he refers to Isaiah's description of the messenger who will prepare the way of the Lord. His appearance, though described rather cursorily, has, explains, apocalyptic features, which befits his important role. He is a herald of the end-time "of the final moment of triumph.

The effect of Mark's location of the young man's character is to create an inclusio. The last one who has been with and who then abandons Jesus is also the first one to announce his resurrection.

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Is there any parallel of the shame of disobedient man in the Garden of Eden to the nakedness in the Garden of Gethsemane? In other words, is the introduction of shame somehow relevant to the Garden of Gethsemane? Within the Garden of Gethsemane is the obedience of Jesus to die on the cross somehow emphasized when drawn in contradistinction to this shamefulness (uncovering of nakedness)? The contradistinction of shame versus obedience in both gardens is found in Rom 5:18-19. Is the parallel relevant? –  Joseph May 9 '13 at 13:58
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Mark never calls the place where Jesus was arrested a garden. We call it the Garden of Gethsemane because John calls it a garden but the synoptics only ever call it Gethsemane - which means "olive press." I think John intends us to see it as the garden of Eden but Mark not necessarily. But I do believe he wants to see in this young mans nakedness the shame of the first couple. –  Matthew Miller May 9 '13 at 15:39
    
+1 and Answered! I would say the young man is more than an historic individual, he is a symbol of disciples and their call to follow Jesus in death. –  Matthew Miller May 9 '13 at 15:44

I love Ann's answer. Here's another thought, from Halden Doerge

The Formerly Rich Young Man by Halden Doerge

In a previous post about the story of the rich young man (Mark 10:17-21) I suggested that there’s no reason to think that the man did not indeed go away intending to do as Jesus commanded, by selling all his possessions and following him. In the comments someone suggested that there is a tradition that suggests Barnabas may be the rich young man in question here. I did some digging and couldn’t find much of anything on that point, but I did find another possibility that actually has support from the text of Mark itself.

Could it not be that the young man in question is simply Mark himself? I think we may catch a hint of this conclusion in Mark 14:51-52 where the narrative tells us that “A certain young man was following [Jesus], wearing nothing but a linen cloth.” This unidentified young man is generally thought — at least in all the commentaries I’ve come across — to be Mark.

Now, it could be that Mark just wanted to throw in some superfluous information by describing the nature of the young man’s (lack of) clothing, but given the intentionality that characterizes the narrative patterns of Mark I’m inclined to doubt it. Why tell us that the young man was dressed only in a sheet that he had wrapped around himself? Why make a point of the fact that he was following Jesus? Could it be that the complete lack of possessions, even clothing, his young age, and his description as actively following Jesus are meant to point us back to the story of the rich young man? Seems like a pretty valid connection to me. I don’t think there’s anyone else mentioned in the gospel of Mark who might qualify for this. Let us follow this line of thought. . .

Symbolically, this event is the culmination of the story of the rich young man. Unlike the others who desert Jesus and flee immediately (vs. 50), he continues to follow, to the point of being seized, at which point he makes his escape by leaving the very last of his possessions behind. His journey of discipleship is complete, he has been utterly dispossessed by following Jesus, right down to his clothing. And finally he has been driven into exile by the powers that set themselves against the mission of Christ.

The rich young man has been dispossessed of everything in following the Messiah, and is left scattered, naked in the dark. The only thing that can make this come out right is a hope beyond hope, a veritable new creation. Discipleship brings the young man to a null point, a point that can only be rendered meaningful by a radical disruption of the status quo. Only resurrection can make dispossessive discipleship of this sort anything more than a pathetic joke.

[Halden Doerge is an editor with Wipf & Stock Publishers. Apparently Douglas Wilson has also referred to this possibility, so it’s nothing new. It certainly supports James Jordan’s claim that the disciples were not uneducated but people of means.]

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Thanks @MikeBull. I don't think there's enough textual support to suggest that this young man is the rich young ruler. I agree that both men are described as young and that is interesting. But Mark only says that the rich young ruler went away sad. And Jesus statement on the difficulty of the rich entering the kingdom also suggests that the rich young ruler was not about to give up his possession. The disciples on the other hand do state that they have left everything to follow Jesus (10:28-31). That's why I think the young man in Gethsemane is more a symbol of the disciples in general. –  Matthew Miller May 9 '13 at 21:42

The textual evidence (information) is mixed with relation to the character of the "young" man who is Matthew's "someone", Mark's "runner/kneeler" and Luke's "ruler". They are all young.

I think there is more a case of Mark identifying with the young man rather than being him. In Matthew the man could easily, from the description (and lack of empathy) Matthew gives, be a tax collector. In Luke's the man is described much like the crowd he and Theophilus (his reader) would have chummed with as rich men both.

Mark seems to be seeing a reflection of himself much as Matthew and Luke see reflections of themselves or their crowd in the man who questions Jesus. That said, it is hard to justify Mark's (Jesus looked at him and loved him) comment unless this was something personally felt or deeply discussed.

Maybe, maybe, maybe...but not nearly anything more than maybe!


No external research. Just thinking about this idea for a Sunday message!

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Hi Dan, these are interesting thought but the answer would really benefit from a bit more joining the dots if you have the time to review it? –  Jack Douglas Sep 15 '13 at 20:36

There is another way of explaining this. Jesus had a successor, James the Just, who is hidden under about a dozen overwriting characters, including Judas and naked young man. It is the mystic appearance of the successor, James, that is shown here. He flees (UP) when they try to "seize" him ('lay hands on' as in spiritually connecting) because he feels unworthy. ("I am not worthy to loosen the shoe latchet" is same idea.) He was clad in Nazirite linen, and could also have been symbolizing the succession motif with the "sindon" reference. "Paradidomai" is Greek for "to deliver" as well as the pejorative "to betray", and was used knowingly by gospel authors to construct a ruse to hide James in an inversion of the Mastership succession event (known in India as "the Gaddhi").

The entire 'Betrayal' scenario this is embedded in is a cover for James' coming as Master. This was the entire reason for the writing and collating of the NT. The details are extensive, in all four gospels, and fascinating. I wrote a book on it, which I give away, and can be seen in excerpt at judaswasjames dot com.

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Shortly before this, when asked if he was Jesus, the Lord replied "I AM he" and the soldiers fell backwards at the proclamation of His true identity. Is it not possible, since the scriptures indicate the young man was wearing what could be called a burial cloth, that he was resurrected when Jesus said "I AM"? If so, would not his resurrection have been a further embarrassment to those seeking arrest him? Just a different take on it, I am in no way certain about this view.

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