One of the most peculiar details in Mark’s Gospel is the account of the naked disciple in Mark 14:51–52. Immediately after Judas betrays Jesus in the Garden, Mark informs us that “they all left Him and fled” (Mark 14:50). Then, he focuses on one particular disciple in the next two verses (Mark 14:51–52):
“A young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him. But he pulled free of the linen sheet and escaped naked.”
This account gives new meaning to “The Streak.” Here, we see a disciple in such desperation to flee from the scene that he leaves his clothes in the hands of his captors. It actually reminds me of a couple of fights my brothers and I had as kids. Have you ever wondered why Mark chose to put this story in his Gospel? Does it serve a purpose in his story? Or is it simply a fun detail that Mark included?
When it comes to nakedness in the Bible, one of the first places that we encounter it is in the early chapters of Genesis. In fact, Genesis 2 ends with the following statement:
“And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:25)
Keep reading and you will soon discover that such unashamed nakedness did not last long. In fact, Adam and Eve’s first response after eating from the forbidden tree was to cover their nakedness:
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.” (Genesis 3:7)
There is a connection in the text of Genesis between the shame of sin and nakedness. As soon as sin entered, so did shame over one’s nakedness. Now, if we transition back to Mark’s Gospel, an important observation can be made. There may be more to the account of the naked disciple than meets the eye. If we view it in light of Genesis 2 and 3, could we not say that the physical nakedness of the disciple is a reflection of the shame associated with his forsaking of his beloved teacher? In other words, does his physical nakedness point to the spiritual shame associated with his sin? An affirmative answer to these questions seems likely.
For further support, let’s take a look at the only other story of a naked disciple in the Gospels. After Jesus’ resurrection, John includes a story of Jesus appearing to his disciples on the beach at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21). After John recognizes Jesus, we are told about the actions of Peter:
“Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea.” (John 21:7)
In this account, we see the reversal of what happened in Mark’s account of the naked disciple. Here, Peter puts his garment on and runs to Jesus. Now, many will try and point out that Peter was actually not naked, but had only stripped his outer garment off to fish. While this may be true, the text still states that he was naked (the same Greek word is used here and in Mark 14:51–52). There may be a good reason for John’s description of Peter as naked. Could he also be playing on the connection between nakedness and shame/guilt in Genesis 2–3? If the disciple fleeing naked was symbolic of the shame of his sin, then Peter’s covering of his nakedness was symbolic of the restoration he was about to receive from Christ. In other words, Peter was about to put behind the shame he had experienced as a result of his denial of Christ. Thus, it is only appropriate that he covers his nakedness.
So, the question begs to be answered, “Are you naked?” No, I am not asking if you have your clothes on, but am asking if you are walking around bearing the shame and guilt of your sin or if you, like Peter, have been clothed in the forgiveness and restoration that only Christ can give. If you are still naked, Christ is the only one who can clothe you and give you the true garments of righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). If you have experienced the forgiveness of Christ, he has commissioned you to proclaim his name to a world which is wallowing in its nakedness and shame. Will you proclaim? Will you be faithful to offer to them the wonderful forgiveness that you have experienced in Christ?