The Fleeing Disciples

[The disciples] all left [Jesus] and fled. And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.”

- Mark 14:50–52

Human nature being fallen, it is easy for us to overestimate our own goodness and faithfulness. We assume that we will be ready to stand for Christ in the day of trial, believing that even if everyone else were to fall away, we would remain committed disciples. Too often, we assume that we are more virtuous and better equipped to remain on the narrow path than our neighbors are.

Ironically, such confidence may reveal that we will be among the first to flee our Christian profession when the going gets tough. After all, if we are confident that we will stand because we believe we have some kind of inherent strength that other professing Christians do not, then we are trusting in the shakiest of foundations. The disciples learned this lesson on the night our Savior was betrayed. Surely none of the disciples (except Judas) considered himself to be the betrayer who the Lord said would turn away from Him. At the very least, we know that Peter was sure that he would not be the one to deny Christ or leave His side (Mark 14:17–21, 26–31). But as we see in today’s passage, when the moment of truth came, not even Peter was bold enough to stay with Jesus. At the hour of Jesus’ arrest, all the disciples fled the scene (v. 50).

As the Scriptures were written not only to reveal truths about God but about ourselves, we dare not think that it would be impossible for us to show similar cowardice and faithlessness. Sound biblical interpretation means asking ourselves not how we are better than the sinners we read about in the Bible but how we are apt to be like them. When we do that, we will remember that we have no strength in ourselves to follow Jesus and that we must look to Him alone to sustain our faithfulness.

This point is brought home by the intriguing story in today’s passage about the young man who fled the scene of Jesus’ arrest when the soldiers seized him by the cloth he was wearing (vv. 51–52). Many pastors and scholars have speculated about the identity of this man, with some suggesting that he was John Mark, the author of the gospel of Mark. That is as good a theory as any, but the identity of the man is not ultimately that important. As one commentator notes, we must take note of the author’s deliberate ambiguity about the man’s identity. Could it be that Mark leaves the man nameless so that we might see him as representing the possible choice any of us might make if our faith were to be tested?

Coram Deo

Certainly there was a real young man who actually fled the arrest of Jesus, leaving his clothes behind. That he was a real historical person, however, does not take away from the fact that we can see in him a warning to us. The temptation to flee our Christian profession is strong when there is a real cost to our obedience, and if we trust in ourselves, we will fail. Let us ask the Lord for the strength and grace to persevere under trial.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 27:10
Proverbs 19:4
Matthew 26:56b
2 Timothy 4:16–18

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