My Theology professor said that the naked man is a symbol of a baptized person betraying Christ. Mark’s Gospel may have been written for a persecuted Church so he may have wanted to drive this point home. The linen cloth would have symbolized the baptism of the person since we are clothed with Christ in baptism. We betray Christ by escaping the persecution that is due to us when we need to defend our faith. I think…
Or we could just take the literal meaning that there was a young man (perhaps John Mark himself) who wrapped himself in a linen sheet to go out and see what was going on, and a soldier tried to arrest him, but he ran off leaving the sheet in the soldier’s hand.
When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, don’t look for any other sense.
“That was me. That was the author of this story.” (to quote Kurt Vonnegut.)
One traditional explanation is that it could be John Mark (St. Mark the Evangelist) himself; he would have been a young man at the time, he lived in Jerusalem (I think that’s in the Acts of the Apostles), and he was a companion of St. Peter’s.
Allegorically, Raphael’s explanation is good. It ties up with Christ’s words to the Laodiceans in Revelation 3: without Him, they are “poor, blind and naked.”
He is the evangelist, or narrator of the story in Mark, who appears again at the tomb (Mark 16:16) with the revelation of Jesus’ resurrection. Most commentators point out the connection between the white cloth and the baptismal garment, which when put on (Gal 3:27), requires one to continue to proclaim the story of Jesus’ resurrection.
One man was unfaithful (Mark 14:31, 14:52) and fled in nakedness, while another (our Lord) remained faithful in His nakedness on the cross. One fled persecution while the Other embraced it. The authorities, by their actions, stripped both men. Just another take on it.
Here’s the interesting thing. You have here a “young man” wearing a “linen cloth” (sindōn). Guess what? Jesus also gets buried in “a linen cloth” (15:46), and a “young man” at the tomb announces that Jesus has been raised up (16:5). What you have here is a reversal: just as a ‘young man’ is the last one to abandon Jesus, a ‘young man’ is the first to bear the good news of the Resurrection. We could also note that the guards tried to “seize” (kratousin) the young man as they had “seized” (ektratēsan) Jesus (14:46). It makes for a nice chiasmus, this:
A) (14:51a) And a young man followed him, wearing
[INDENT]B) (14:51b) a linen cloth [over his naked body.]
B) (15:46) And Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen cloth …
A) (16:5) And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, wearing a white robe.[/INDENT]
Mark violates proper narrative syntax at this point. For instance, he writes that the young man “was following” (synēkolouthei, in the imperfect tense) Jesus, and thus was not fleeing with the Eleven. We might think on the contrary that he had been following to Gethsemane rather than now following from Gethsemane; for even though the crowd have already seized Jesus in verse 46, their leading Him away has yet to be mentioned in verse 53. But they appear to seize the young man as he is following, whereas Jesus has been in Gethsemane for some time before they even arrive; and the prefix syn- (“with”) prepares for a contrast with Peter’s following “from afar” (14:54) as Jesus is led away. This contrast works better if the young man and Peter are following more or less concurrently. In other words, he mentions the young man’s following with Jesus before it is said that the crowd led Jesus away. Also, normally narrative syntax requires that the “they” who seize the young man be the disciples mentioned in 14:50, but narrative sense requires that it refer instead and in fact to the penultimately mentioned crowd who have seized Jesus. This violation of syntax shows us that Mark is very eager to establish a parallel here that will anticipate the resurrection.
This anticipation of the Passion and Resurrection may be highlighted with the fact that the young man wears “a linen cloth,” the same type of cloth that Jesus will be buried in. If the young man is indeed naked (epi gymnou “over [his] naked [body]” is absent from many manuscripts, although most scholars today argue for its inclusion into the text), it may anticipate the soldiers’ dividing of Jesus’ clothing for themselves (15:24) as well as being a reference to the belief of nakedness being a precursor to resurrection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:37; 2 Corinthians 5:3; 1 Clement 24:1-5). Although the young man’s fleeing comes close to the disciples’ fleeing they left Jesus, while the young leaves behind his linen cloth, prefiguring how Jesus will also leave behind His linen cloth. The “young man” at Gethsemane “wears” (peribeblēmenos) a linen cloth, while the “young man” at the tomb “wears” (peribeblēmenon) a brilliant white robe. (Whiteness, after all, suits resurrected life: Revelation 7:14-17; 21:1-4; cf. also 19:14) Finally, just as the young man flees (ephygen) the scene of Jesus’ arrest, so the women who discover Jesus’ tomb empty will flee (ephygon) the scene of His resurrection. All in all you can see the pattern of reoccuring key words here.
On the other hand, the young man could also be symbolic of the person who chooses his life over the gospel (cf. 8:34-38). The young man chooses to run away instead of continuing to “follow” Jesus - leading to loss of his garment. Nakedness, of course, was a sign of shame (cf. Amos 2:16; Revelation 16:15): the young man had chosen shame over fidelity to Jesus. In this case, the young man is but one of many in the gospel of Mark who disowns Jesus.