I love the use of symbolism and metaphors in film and literature. They can really add to a work and bring depth to a piece when they’re well used. When such devices are depended on to understand a piece they can turn people away who might otherwise have benefited from understanding the work. It’s the difference between wearing a discrete diamond ring to compliment an outfit versus a mass of gold chains around one’s neck. One looks elegant while the other gauche. However, I don’t like symbolism or metaphors in the Bible.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)

Symbolism and metaphors introduce chaos. Not the chaos of a tornado ripping up and tossing trailers and anything else in its path around, but an element of chaos, nevertheless. Since Scripture has been given by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness per 2 Timothy 3:16-17, then there must be only one interpretation of Scripture. Symbolism and metaphors inherently introduce the possibility of multiple interpretations.

While there is only one interpretation for a piece of Scripture, there can be many applications. This is where people might get confused. Let’s look at this verse from John.

Jesus wept.

John 11:35 (NIV)

If I read that verse and said: Jesus laughed, applauded, jumped up and down, hollered, sang, or did anything else other than cry, I would not be interpreting it correctly. Context isn’t really necessary to interpret this verse because it’s very straightforward. However without context, we don’t know why Jesus wept, and we don’t know if he literally wept. Context helps us to understand why Jesus could have wept and allows us to apply Jesus weeping to the contextual situation. It’s possible to use this verse out of context as an application and still retain the integrity of the verse. Aside from the context of John 11:35, there are two other occasions in the Bible where we are told about Jesus weeping.

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.

Luke 19:41 (NIV)

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

Hebrews 5:7 (NIV)

Therefore, we can ascertain from these other verses and their context that Jesus did, in fact, weep. We’re not reading about symbolic or metaphorical weeping. We can also see an impetus behind His weeping and could, within reason, accurately apply the verse to situations that might merit it.

This leads me to these verses from Mark.

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)

You can find the context for these verses here (Mark 14:43-52). There is no other context for this situation in the other three Gospels. Only Mark tells us about this young man who was present when Jesus was arrested.

As I researched these verses, I found a lot of speculation about the identity of the young man. Some suggest he’s Mark, others the beloved disciple, John, Joseph of Arimathea, or Lazarus. Who the young man might have been isn’t as important as what Mark is trying to tell us here. Is this a metaphorical or symbolic event? What happens if we decide it’s not just a metaphorical or symbolic event and interpret it within the context?

Before we read about the young man fleeing, several distinct events take place.

  1. Judas appears with a crowd of people sent by the chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders to arrest Jesus (cf. Mark 14:43).
  2. Judas kisses Jesus, signaling to those with him his identity (cf. Mark 14:44-45).
  3. The men seize Jesus and arrest him (cf. Mark 14:46).
  4. Someone with Jesus cuts off the ear of the high priest (cf. Mark 14:47).
  5. Jesus challenges the validity of his arrest (cf. Mark 14:48-49).
  6. Jesus points out that Scripture must be fulfilled (cf. Mark 14:49).
  7. Everyone deserted Jesus and fled (cf. Mark 14:50).

From the other Gospels, we know that Peter was the person who cut off the high priest’s ear, so it wasn’t the young man who fled. We also know from Mark 14:46 and Mark 14:50 that Jesus was the only person seized and arrested before we’re told about the young man.

There’s a lot of Scripture that Jesus could have been referring to when he said that it must be fulfilled. One verse that comes to mind since He just told the disciples that they would all abandon him is this one.

“Awake, sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the Lord Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones.”

Zechariah 13:7 (NIV)

We’ve looked at the context of the events before these verses about the young man. Now, let’s examine Mark 14:51-52 again and see what we can extract from them.

  1. Young man.
  2. Following Jesus.
  3. Only wearing a linen garment.
  4. He was seized by the crowd.
  5. When he was seized, he fled and left the garment he was wearing behind.

Only Jesus and the young man were seized. Perhaps the young man was someone like Lazarus who was wanted by the chief priests and teachers of the law? However, if Jesus wasn’t known, and had to be identified by Judas, why would this young man be known? I think the young man was seized because he happened to be there.

Here’s the situation. A crowd of armed men goes to arrest Jesus, and they are attacked. This attack could have easily turned into a blood bath with all of the disciples being slaughtered. However, Jesus calms down the situation, and all of the disciples flee before they can be arrested. The young man hadn’t fled yet so they seize him.

What we see here in this passage about Jesus being arrested is a contrast between God’s response to a situation versus our own. The disciples who had spent three years with Jesus responded in anger (Peter) and then in fear (running away). Despite their assurances that they would stick by Jesus (it wasn’t just Peter (cf. Mark 14:31)), they all fled leaving Jesus behind with this young man. Even this young man when he is seized would rather run away naked (facing the shame of being naked in public) than be caught with Jesus because he’s so afraid. We also see God’s sovereignty. Scripture too had to be fulfilled.

I’m certain there’s a lot one could symbolically take away from these verses, but I don’t think it’s required here to understand what happened in the text and why it happened. As to the identity of the young man? I don’t think we’re going to find the answer to that question on this side of Heaven.

Do you know God? God knows you, and He loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, right now, and He wants you to know Him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, be freed from death, and live eternally with Him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away.

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation today:

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all my sins. I repent from my ways. Wash me in your blood and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I believe that you died on the cross, were buried, and on the third day, God the Father raised you from the dead. Right now, Lord Jesus, I open the door to my heart, and I receive you into my heart as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.