And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked. (Mark 14:51-52 KJV)
These two short verses in the Gospel of Mark are intriguing, to say the least. Why are they there? Is there some doctrinal significance? And, of course, the question on everyone’s mind: who was that naked man?
Commentaries run the gamut of craziness attempting to put some spiritual significance to this event. Unfortunatly, in doing so, they quickly fall into the trap of spiritualizing and mysticism. One of my cardinal rules of Biblical interpretation is this: do not make a doctrine out of an historical account. This simple rule has saved me, and will save you, from many doctrinal errors.
All Scripture is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16, KJV), but not all scripture passages have a doctrinal lesson. In this case, I believe, we have an historical lesson: a young man was there who nearly got arrested with Jesus.
I think that the historical significance of the story rests in the fact that the guards who were arresting Jesus also “laid hold on him.” That is, this young man in a linen cloth was almost arrested along with Jesus.
Why? What crime had he committed? Why did they want this man in custody?
It is seriously doubtful that, on a busy holiday night, a band of soldiers sent from the high priest would have interest in arresting a young man simply for being there, scantily clad or not. The text clearly shows us that they were after Jesus alone. Judas would give positive identification of Jesus, who would be arrested under the darkness of night, and the chief priests would have their man. Nobody else was under investigation, it appears.
After all, even Peter, James, and John, if not all of the 11, were with Jesus when He was arrested. And Peter, “having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear” (Jn. 18:10, KJV). Why would the guards not arrest Peter, who was both a ringleader and had committed a violent crime? It is clear that the band of soldiers, sent from the high priest, was only interested in arresting Jesus.
Well, Jesus, and the man in the linen cloth.
Which forces us to say, who was that naked man?
The “standard evangelical answer” is that the man is John Mark, author of the Gospel, and that this is simply his signature to say, “I was there.” This answer has been given so many times that it is almost recited without question. It fails in one key point, however: why would they want to arrest John Mark when they didn’t want to arrest any of the other eleven?
As we consider the options, they are few. We are looking for a young man who would have been so much a part of Jesus’ ministry that he wasn’t just a random passerby, caught at the wrong time and wrong place. This young man needs to be of some apparent wealth (neither then nor now would a linen cloth be inexpensive). Our suspect would also need to have had a reason to (presumably) get out of bed and go looking for Jesus. And, most importantly, we need a young man whom the authorities would want arrested.
Let’s consider a very prominent figure in the ministry of Jesus: Lazarus.
While we do not know his age, we could easily presume him to be a young man. He and Jesus (a young man Himself) were best of friends (John 11:36). Every appearance is that Lazarus was a man of wealth, for it was his sister Mary who took “a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus” (Jn. 12:3, KJV). Furthermore, it seems that Jesus was staying at the home of Lazarus during the final week leading up to the arrest, so Lazarus could have easily become concerned that Jesus had not yet arrived, left his home in his linen cloth, and headed to the nearby Garden of Gethsemane.
But would the chief priests have wanted to arrest Lazarus?
At the raising of Lazarus, the chief priests became verbally concerned about the work of Jesus. “Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles” (Jn. 11:47, KJV). In fact, it was the raising of Lazarus that caused Caiaphas to say, “it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not” (Jn. 11:50, KJV).
Furthermore, we are told in John 12:, in the context leading up to the arrest of Jesus —
Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus. –John 12:9-11, KJV [emphasis mine].
It seems to me that Lazarus is the only person of interest.
- He is likely young.
- He would have been expecting Jesus and have gone looking for Him when He didn’t arrive.
- He was of the financial means to have a linen cloth.
- He was the only person of whom the Scripture tells us that was under consideration by the chief priests for arrest.
It would make perfect sense that, during the arrest, one of the servants of the chief priests sees Lazarus. Knowing that he is a person of interest in the “crime” at hand, the servants instructs the young guards to arrest Lazarus as well. In the scuffle, Lazarus escapes sans cloth and runs home naked.
But if this is the case, why wouldn’t Mark have just mentioned his name? My best guess is that his name was omitted for his own safety. At the time of the writing of Mark (some say as early as 50 AD), Lazarus would have likely still been alive. To protect his identity and the fact of his almost arrest, Mark omitted the name.
Will We Ever Know?
We cannot ever know for sure. One thing is for sure, however. We should question the assumptions on standard evangelical answers, and always try to build a solid case based on solid assumptions, always recognizing where the weak points of the argument are found. As for me, I think Lazarus was that naked man in the garden.