Articles Archive -- Topical Index -- Textual Index

by Al Maxey

Issue #786 ------- October 29, 2019
Life is a dream in the night, a fear among fears,
a naked runner lost in a storm of spears.

Arthur Symons [1865-1945]
In the Wood of Finvara

Case of the Gethsemane Streaker
An In-Depth Examination of Mark 14:51-52

The sacred Judeo-Christian Scriptures can, at times, be a most curious collection of compositions. One can find just about anything within these sixty-six separate documents we collectively call the Bible. There is history, poetry, theology; there are love stories and accounts of war, some of which are extremely gruesome in their detail; there are biographies of both good and bad people, and tales of great heroism as well as great cowardice. There is also a powerful thread of eternal redemptive Truth that runs through them all, uniting these writings in a common theme and purpose. Far too often we humans fail to perceive that divine message, for we tend to become "lost in the details" of the individual narratives. We are so busy looking for law that we fail to see Love; in our pursuit of patterns to impose as precepts we overlook the very Person to whom these writings point and about whom they speak. Jesus informed the rigid religionists of His own day (and by extension ours as well), "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have this life!" (John 5:39-40). It is a fact, to which these sacred Scriptures clearly attest (cf. 2 Timothy 3:15), "that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son" (1 John 5:11).

With all the above noble aspects of these writings in mind, we nevertheless must acknowledge there are parts of Scripture that leave us both puzzled and befuddled, and even at times not a little troubled. Stated rather plainly and bluntly: there's some weird stuff in the Bible. I have dealt with a number of these in the past several years. Here are just a few examples: 1) "Case of the Flung Foreskin" - Reflections #34 ... 2) "Five Golden Emerods: A Tale of Rodents and 'Rhoids" - Reflections #135 ... 3) "Jephthah's Reckless Vow: A Reflective Analysis of Judges 11" - Reflections #224 ... 4) "Pondering Polygamy: Seeking the Biblical Perspective" - Reflections #604 ... 5) "Peculiar Tale of Two Prophets: A Reflective Examination of 1 Kings 13" - Reflections #624 ... 6) "The Hand-Under-Thigh Oath: Pondering Puzzling Patriarchal Pledges" - Reflections #632 ... 7) "King David and the Diatherapist: Strange Account of Abishag the Shunammite" - Reflections #733. Many more could be listed, but I think you begin to get the point: there are indeed some strange tales related within the pages of the Bible. One of the weirdest by far, however, is an incident recorded in the gospel narrative of Mark, and it is this bizarre occurrence that will be the focus of this week's Reflections. In the latter part of Mark 14 we are told of Jesus being arrested and His disciples fleeing. We then find this statement which is related only by Mark (it is mentioned nowhere else in the NT): "A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind" (vs. 51-52, NIV).

The scene was "a place named Gethsemane" (Mark 14:32). Jesus had completed His observance of the Passover meal with His disciples, and had also instituted, within the context of that meal, what we today call the Lord's Supper. In the hours that would follow (this was late at night), Jesus would become increasingly "distressed and troubled" (vs. 33). He repeatedly asked His close companions to keep watch and to pray while He went off by Himself to pray to the Father. Yet time and again He would return to find them sleeping. Judas then arrives, "accompanied by a crowd with swords and clubs, who were from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders" (vs. 43), and Judas identifies Him to the crowd by means of a kiss. Jesus is seized, and Peter tries to defend Him by striking the servant of the high priest with a sword, severing his ear. As the Lord is led away to His predetermined fate, His disciples "all left Him and fled" (vs. 50). Peter would not flee far, for vs. 54 states he "followed Him at a distance." Later he would deny Jesus three times, just as Jesus said he would (vs. 66ff). It is in the midst of this narrative that we find the story of an unnamed "young lad" who would soon be streaking through the night stark naked. WHY is this story here?! What possible purpose could the relating of this bizarre incident serve? Is this really something you and I need to know? Well, so it would seem. Yet few passages in the Bible have caused as much confusion as this one. But, since it is here, apparently by divine design, it behooves us to take a closer look.

I suppose the very first question in most people's minds is, "Who is this person?" The answer, of course, is: We don't know! The identity of this youth is not provided in the text, although there are a few clues that have led most scholars to speculate rather confidently that it was John Mark himself (the author of this gospel account - although we should point out that this too is speculative, for nowhere in this book is the author named; it is simply assumed to be John Mark). Carl Crouse, a pastor of a large church in the state of Washington, in a sermon titled "When You Are Overwhelmed," which he preached on September 17, 2009 as part of a series he was doing called "Nobodies of the Gospels," said, "I believe this is Mark. It's Mark's way of embedding himself in the story: 'I was there.' Maybe a little bit like Alfred Hitchcock who has a brief appearance in every movie." Stephen King likes to do the same thing in his movies, and Clive Cussler will often make a quick appearance in his novels, both of which embeddings I have enjoyed seeking out over the years. The NT Greek scholar Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest is of the same opinion as the pastor in Washington: "On the whole, one feels inclined to acquiesce in the judgment of Hahn, that in this curious incident we have 'the monogram of the painter (Mark) in a dark corner of the picture'" [Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 1, p. 269]. "Who was this young man? Mark the evangelist, say many, arguing: since the story was of no interest to anyone but the hero of it, therefore the hero was the teller of the tale" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 1, p. 441]. The Expositor's Bible Commentary suggests it makes sense that Mark was the youth in question: "Why else would he insert such a trivial detail in so solemn a story? Was this Mark's way of saying, 'I was there'?" [vol. 8, p. 766]. The Pulpit Commentary states, "There seems good reason for supposing that St. Mark here describes what happened to himself" [vol. 16: Mark, pt. 2, p. 236].

As just noted, there are a number of good reasons for supposing that this individual was Mark. He is the only one of the four gospel writers who mentions the account, suggesting he had both a knowledge of and interest in the incident that seemingly was not shared by the other three (Matthew, Luke and John). Would Mark have been in a position to have known about the events transpiring at Gethsemane? Acts 12:12 may provide some insight here. After Peter was miraculously delivered from his prison cell, we are told that "he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying." Mark was still a youth living with his mother, and the family was somewhat wealthy, as they had a large house where "many" could comfortably gather. Thus, Mark would have often been in the company of both Jesus and His close disciples, "for Acts 12:12 tells us that his mother's house served as the Jerusalem headquarters for the apostles and, by inference, may have been the site for the Last Supper" [Dr. David L. McKenna, The Communicator's Commentary: Mark, p. 298]. "It was at the house to which John Mark belonged that our Lord celebrated the Passover, and from whence He went out to the Mount of Olives" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16: Mark, pt. 2, p. 236]. The NT Greek scholar Dr. A. T. Robertson writes, "It is usually supposed that Mark, son of Mary in whose house they probably had observed the Passover meal, followed Jesus and the apostles to the Garden. It is a lifelike touch quite in keeping with such a situation" [Word Pictures in the New Testament, e-Sword]. Quite a few biblical scholars concur that it is at least a very strong possibility that the Lord's last Passover meal may have been in an upper room on this estate owned by Mary. Many even believe that estate may have been nearby to the area where Jesus often went to pray, which would have been very convenient for Him when staying in Jerusalem.

That the young lad in question was apparently wealthy is also suggested by the fact that he was wrapped in "a linen cloth" (which is stated twice in our text - Mark 14:51-52). The Greek word for this is "sindona," which was "a fine linen cloth, indicating that he belonged to a family in good circumstances. It is an unusual word. In every other place of the NT where it is used, it refers to the garment or shroud used to cover the bodies of the dead" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16: Mark, pt. 2, p. 236-237]. Most people of that time and place could not afford such fine linen cloth, and many would save up for years so that they might have their bodies wrapped in this fabric. Usually, one's bedsheets or night garments were made of wool. This youth, however, was wrapped in linen, "an expensive material worn only by the rich" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 767]. The rich "avoided wool, due to the belief that it tended to breed worms" [Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, vol. 2, p. 35]. As already noted, when this word is used in the NT writings, it everywhere else refers to the burial shroud of the dead, and was so used of the shroud that covered the body of Jesus (Matthew 27:59; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53). Since such linen material was available to the wealthy, it was not uncommon for such families to make garments of them (usually a nightshirt), as it tended to keep the wearer cooler at night in a hot climate. Dr. Alfred Edersheim suggests it might be such a "night-dress" that this youth was wearing, rather than a bedsheet [The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, book 5, chp. 12, p. 545]. Although most scholars believe Mark to be this youth, there is a strong case also for this person being Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, whom Jesus had raised from the dead (John 11). Thus, this "linen cloth" is said to be the burial shroud of Lazarus that he kept, and that he slept in, as a reminder of the fact that the Lord Jesus had raised him from the dead [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6, p. 229]. This is an interesting theory, but it is not endorsed by very many scholars.

Another fascinating theory, which also centers around both the "young lad" and the "linen" cloth/garment worn by him, suggests that this individual who fled naked from his would-be captors is the same person that was found in the tomb after Jesus had been raised from the dead. Early on the first day of the week, as the sun rose in the east, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and a woman named Salome came to the tomb. They found the stone had been rolled away, "and entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe, and they were amazed" (Mark 16:5). Although the traditional understanding of this verse identifies this being as an angel, it is interesting to note that the Greek word for "angel" is not used here. Instead, it is the word "neaniskos," a fairly rare word meaning "a young man, youth; one in the prime of life" [The Analytical Greek Lexicon, p. 276]. This word is only used ten times in the NT writings, three of which are used by Mark. It is the very same word that is used of the "young man" who fled naked from those who sought to detain him. Why would Mark choose to use this word to describe the person in the tomb? Interesting also, is it not, that he also makes a point of describing the garment this "young man" was wearing, just as he did with the "young man" in chapter 14. This has led many scholars to wonder if there was some intended connection between the two! Was the youth in the tomb John Mark? Or, was the youth at Gethsemane an angel of God? Or, were they two separate beings? It is hard to discount the fact that in both cases Mark uses a rather rare descriptive ("young man"), and in both cases he stresses the garment being worn.

It has been suggested by some scholars that Mark has included in these two passages (which are presumed to be autobiographical) a "hidden testimony" to his own redemption. He had fled that fateful night due to fear, leaving behind the linen covering, naked and exposed; he had abandoned the Lord, as had all the others. Now, we find him at the site of the resurrected Messiah, and he is wearing a "robe of white," the very garb our Lord promised the redeemed that they would wear (depicting the fact that they had been "washed clean in His blood"). Was this a testimony, although veiled, by Mark that the Lord Jesus had forgiven him of his fears that led him to flee? Was Mark now, as he sat in the tomb, a living testimony to the redeeming power of the Risen One? He had shed the garment the world highly valued (linen), casting it aside, and he now was clothed in the garment most prized in the heavenly kingdom! Pastor William E. Flippin, Jr. wrote an article in March, 2013 titled "Naked Young Man and the Easter Angel in the Gospel of Mark." This is a fascinating article in which the author states the following: "The motif of the clothing reinforces the impression that the two episodes form a coherent whole. ... The nature of the clothing underlines the mysterious significance of the event. ... This focus on the clothes is not merely a report of an event, but is also an indication of the significance of the event. ... What would otherwise be an incomplete narrative if the coherence between the two episodes is not understood, now becomes a coherent picture because of the motif of clothing." In other words, the two "young man" accounts, with the focus on the garb of the young man in both accounts, when examined together, form a powerful message, one that is missed if the two events are not taken together. It is felt by those who accept this theory that not only is this a testimony to the redemption of Mark, but it also represents the redemption of humanity: we have tended to clothe ourselves in the finery of this world, and too often flee from our Lord into the darkness with our spiritual nakedness evident for all to see. Jesus told the church in Laodicea that their wealth was a delusion which hid from them the reality that they "were wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked" (Revelation 3:17). Yet, to those in Sardis Jesus said, "You have a few people who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white; for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments" (Revelation 3:4-5a). Again, this is all a matter of speculation, but as the old country pastor opined, "Now brethren, that will preach!!"

Another question that quickly comes to mind as we read the account of the young man in the linen wrap is: "Why was he out there in such an unclothed manner?" What would motivate someone to run out of his house in the middle of the night with virtually nothing on and approach an obviously unruly crowd? Matthew Henry (1662-1714) believes that there were dwellings very nearby to the site of this crowd arresting Jesus. "The noise disturbed the neighborhood, and some of the neighbors were brought into danger by the riot" [e-Sword]. Henry believes that this young lad, whoever he might have been, "was frightened out of his bed," and then later, when the soldiers tried to arrest him, "was frightened back into his bed" [ibid]. "It seems that a young man living in one of the houses of the neighborhood had been awakened by the noise, and, hastily throwing a linen cloth about his naked body, went out to see what the trouble was about" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: the NT, vol. 1, p. 246]. Albert Barnes (1798-1870) believes this person "may have been the owner of the garden, and that he may have had an understanding with Jesus that He could visit it whenever He withdrew from the city" [e-Sword]. Hearing a commotion in the garden he owned, he may have made haste to get out there and "render any aid in his power in quelling the disturbance" [ibid]. One can't help but think of a line in the play "The Spanish Tragedy" by Thomas Kyd (1558-1594), one of the most popular dramas of its time: "What outcries call me from my naked bed?!" [act 2, scene 5, line 1]. {NOTE: With regard to the identity of this young man, and the odd state of his undress, there is another theory that I debated even listing in this study, for it is disgusting and blasphemous. Yet, if one does enough research into this story found in the gospel account of Mark, one will eventually come across it. It suggests the naked youth, wrapped in a bedsheet or night shirt, was a lad Jesus was "seeing" (sexually) in the garden, which is why, they say, He went away by Himself from the other disciples. Similar charges are brought against David and Jonathan, and also Jesus and the apostle John; we could even add Jesus and Mary Magdalene, for that matter. This theory, of course, is ridiculous, and mentioned only to show the depths to which some will go to try and discredit, diminish and destroy the message and ministry of Jesus.}

The view I personally accept, after much study of this account, is that the young man was most likely John Mark. His actions on that fateful night are somewhat consistent with what we know later of his character. There was a degree of immaturity in this youth that could be seen in his near nude rush outside to see what was going on. One also sees the fear and flight factors kick in as he sheds his linen garb and runs naked for a place of safety. Joseph did much the same when Potiphar's wife tried to seduce him: "She caught him by his garment, saying, 'Lie with me!' And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside" (Genesis 39:12). Although the flight of Joseph was noble in character, the flight of Mark (as well as the other disciples) was ignoble. They gave in to their fears. "The pressure of trials shows us our true character" [Dr. C.E.W. Dorris, A Commentary on the Gospel According to Mark, p. 345]. "This somewhat ignominious flight is characteristic of what we know of St. Mark" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16, Mark: pt. 2, p. 237]. Mark had a tendency to run away when the going got tough, and this would be seen again: Paul was on a missionary journey, and "John (Mark) left them and returned to Jerusalem" (Acts 13:13). Later, when Paul was preparing to set out again on a missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take along his younger relative John Mark. "But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work" (Acts 15:38). This young man would mature spiritually over the years; he would become more courageous and focused. In fact, when Paul was in prison, he indicates Mark was there with him! "Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions - if he comes to you, welcome him)" (Colossians 4:10). Several years later, as Paul awaited execution, he wrote the following to Timothy: "Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry" (2 Timothy 4:11). Mark was also very close to the apostle Peter, who referred to Mark as "my son" (1 Peter 5:13). Mark may have had a rather shaky beginning to his walk with the Lord (and who among us hasn't?!), but to his credit he pressed forward and he matured, and as the Lord welcomes this "Gethsemane streaker" into His warm embrace on that great resurrection morning yet to come, I have no doubt Mark will hear, as I pray each of us will, "Well done, My good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Master" (Matthew 25:23).


All of my materials (books, CDs, etc. - a full listing
of which can be found on my Web Site) may now
be ordered using PayPal. Just click the box above
and enter my account #:

Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Florida:

For quite a few years (since I was in my early 40's, and I'm now approaching 4 score years) I have thought that 50 was about the age at which a man should be selected as an elder. Part of my reason for thinking this was a bad experience I had with elders who were near my own age. Another reason was based upon the very passages you cited in your article "Message of a Middle-Aged Messiah: The 'About Thirty' - 'Not Yet Fifty' Dilemma" (Reflections #785). It appears likely to me that this was the approximate age that a Jewish man would take a place as one of the elders of his city. The final reason for my understanding is that in my own life experience it was when I was 30 years old that I realized for the first time that my image of myself was that I was now a man and not a boy. And it was when I had turned 50 years old that I felt I had finally grown in the wisdom that comes through life experiences enough to consider accepting a role as an elder in the church. Strangely, it was about that time that I was first approached to consider becoming an elder. Coincidence? Or, the work of God's Spirit?!

From a Reader in California:

Brother Al, I completely appreciated your consideration of Jesus' age during His earthly ministry! I have an interesting story: About ten years ago I attended a stage production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" starring Ted Neely, the man who played Jesus in the original Broadway production and subsequently in the movie. He was 65 at the time I saw him. Although his voice was in fine form, it was a bit disconcerting to see a 65 year old Jesus!! I think there is something within us that needs Jesus to be "about thirty," as Luke said in his gospel account. Keep up the great work, and may God Almighty continue to hold you in His great favor!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Al, keep up the good fight for Truth! The Churches of Christ in Alabama have come a long way from the old super restrictive days, and they will change even more in the future as we study and think more. We are currently having a problem, however, with "clapping" (which is being taught as forbidden by God), and I used your study titled "Applause in the Assembly: Ultra-Liberalism's 'Strange Fire'" (Reflections #139) to address this view. I have a related question: what about "rejoicing & joy" in the assembly? I can't find in the Bible where it states clearly just how we are to do this. I think it is often overlooked that we humans have two emotions built into us by the Lord: one is positive (happiness, joy), and one is negative (sadness, grief). If we are forbidden to show the first, why not also the second? If a song or sermon is really moving, and someone starts crying, maybe even uncontrollably, who would tell them to stop because "we do not allow that here"? I would love to see a study by you, and comments from your readers, on this subject of how one may acceptably show emotion in the assembly. Thanks!

From a Reader in Washington:

I've been debating and studying with family members who believe that baptism in water is the precise point of salvation. I used to believe that way, but I have since come to understand how much God's Word proclaims we are saved by faith. If God says we are saved when we believe, saved when we repent, saved when we confess, saved when we get baptized, then these must all be true. Yet the Scriptures do not teach that we are saved only at the completion of the last step (baptism in water), nor do they teach that doing all of the steps finally results in one's salvation. Instead of working our way to God through "steps," we are working in grace and doing those steps out of thanksgiving, gratitude and love -- having already been saved. God has never commanded us to cobble together a "steps list" from all over Scripture. Instead, He says we are saved if we believe. The Bible does not give us a historical account of someone being taught the "five steps" in some kind of order or progression, and that it is only after the completion of all of these steps that one is saved. Why would God hide the path to salvation like a puzzle, so that only a few would find all the right pieces and then understand how to put them together in the right order? Those who say that baptism in water is the only "actual point of salvation," have to footnote any biblical passage that says we are saved when we believe, saved when we repent, saved when we confess. That footnote says, "Yes, you are saved when you believe, BUT that salvation only actually happens when you are baptized in water."

From a Reader in South Africa:

Al, I just read your article "Evidencing a Spirit of Ecumenism: Being Ecumenical in a Denominational World" (Reflections #784). Ostensibly I agree with your statement: "Paul makes it very clear in Romans 14 that we are called to unity in diversity. We are to accept one another and not become divisive over our differences. This means walls and barriers are going to have to come down." We must accept the uncomfortable truth that we have been arrogantly proclaiming Jesus while adhering to centuries old traditions mired in greed and sometimes violence. I agree that there are many individuals who have perceived the chink in the armor of what we are being taught in every so-called "House of Religion." As you infer in your piece, such souls exist "under the radar" in many places and institutions. Far too many, however, do not know just how thin is the spiritual ice upon which they stand. I fear that 99.9% of Christianity today does not know it is riding on a tradition-driven steam-engined train that is on rails that have been diverted way back in history onto a popular but weak side line undergirded with balsa wood doctrinal supports for its rails. The implications that almost everybody follows the traditions they have been taught cannot be avoided and are huge and foreboding. How can the 99.9% ever be warned when there are so few brave publications like yours proclaiming Truth?! There is only ONE true faith heritage, and some of us have managed to climb back up to it: the Bible!

If you would like to be added to or removed from this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: