In Mark 14, Jesus was arrested by a crowd of armed men sent by the chief priests. The eleven disciples deserted Jesus and fled into the night. There was, however, one young follower who attempted to help him. When this mysterious young man was seized, however, he also ran away.
“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 NIV)
There is much speculation as to who this young man was. Some say it was Mark himself, who was a young person at the time. Others say it was someone who lived nearby who was awakened by the commotion and came to investigate.
The Greek word for young man is “neaniskon” (Strong’s 3495). Mark only uses this word one other time in his gospel, and that is to describe the young man who was sitting outside the tomb of Jesus after the crucifixion.
Sometimes when the Bible uses exactly the same word to describe two things or people, it is valuable to compare the two verses for deeper meaning. I think that is appropriate in this situation.
First, let’s consider the young man in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is not mentioned in the Bible before this. We are given no further information about him. Maybe that is purposeful and helpful.
We know that the remaining eleven disciples deserted Jesus when he was arrested. This young man, who was described as a follower, evidently made some attempt to intervene, but also ran away when seized. So, he also abandoned Jesus, just like the disciples.
What are we to learn from this? I believe that this young follower of Jesus represents “everyman”. No one stood by Jesus in the garden; not His eleven disciples nor any of his many followers. The young man runs away in shame. If we were there, we would have run away too.
The fact that the garment was made from linen is also symbolic. Consider the following verse:
“Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.”
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)” (Rev. 19:8 NIV)
The loss of his linen garment, was the loss of his opportunity to do the righteous thing.
This expensive type of linen (“sindon” in Greek) was also used for burials. In fact, Jesus was wrapped in this same type of linen by Joseph of Arimathea before he put Jesus in the tomb.
“So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock.” (Mark 15:46 NIV)
Second, let’s look at the young man at the tomb.
“As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.” (Mark 16:5 NIV)
When the women arrived at the tomb, a young man was sitting on the right side wearing a white robe. Sitting on the right side is considered a position of honor, because Jesus sits to the right of God in heaven. The young man is wearing a white robe which brings to mind the attire of Jesus during His transfiguration.
It is not a contradiction that Mark calls him a young man while he is referred to as an angel (or angels) in the other gospels. Angels were always seen as men. The important thing is that Mark used the words “young man”, translated with the same Greek word “neaniskon”. It doesn’t necessarily mean both young men were the same person. It’s just that for the purposes of this gospel, the reader needs to link them together.
So what am I talking about here?
The young man in the garden ran away in shame. The young man at the tomb sat on the right in honor. The young man in the garden was naked. The young man at the tomb was dressed in a white robe. What happened between those two events, (the garden and the tomb) that could account for the young man’s change in status?
The answer of course is that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world. That includes the sins of this young man, and the sins of you and me. He didn’t deserve to have his sins forgiven; after all he deserted Jesus when Jesus was arrested. Likewise, we don’t deserve to be forgiven either; but we are.
The young man at the tomb did one thing right, however. He evidently believed that Jesus was the Christ. Jesus forgave him of his sins, clothed him in a white robe, and seated him in a position of honor. The same future waits for you and me.
I would say that is a lot better than running naked through the countryside in the middle of the night!