Bible Study Series: Genesis and Revelation - The Beginning and the End
Confidence, shame and nakedness at the Lord's return
by I Gordon
This Bible study is on nakedness. Now I know what you are thinking - 'Ewww! Really?' Yes really. Well, what if I said that it is nakedness and the return of the Lord... does that sound better? A little bit? If it helps any, an alternative title could be 'The good, the bad and the ugly at the return of Jesus'. This study follows on closely from the previous one where we explored the judgment and grace of God and the need to be clothed with His salvation, not with our own fig leaf garments. So this is really a part two to that study, which in hindsight, probably should have been part one! As I prepared that study I noted how often the early chapters of Genesis talk about nakedness. But why? Why indeed! I also noted that Revelation speaks of nakedness in a couple of prominent places as well. And then during the week I listened to a message where a Pastor1 spoke of the Jewish background to the key verse in Revelation that mentions nakedness and shame... so I knew I needed to do more study on it and... well, this is the result! So we'll do a brief Bible survey looking at:
- The reason Genesis mentions nakedness so often
- An obscure yet interesting reference to a young man being naked in the gospels
- Why a church was said to be naked in Revelation
- Nakedness and shame in relation to the return of Jesus and the judgment seat of Christ
So let's start at the beginning again with Genesis, with the key scriptures.
Nakedness in the Garden of Eden
Gen 2:25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
Gen 3:7 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.
Gen 3:9-11 Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" He said, "I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself." And He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?"
We see from the scriptures above that being naked, and finding out that they were naked, played an important part of the early chapters of Genesis. Note the following from the above scriptures:
- The last verse and thought mentioned in the Bible before the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve was that they were naked and not ashamed.
- The first thought that Adam and Eve had after their fall was that they were naked.
- The first action of Adam and Eve after the fall was to try and cover their nakedness.
- The first action of Adam and Eve in relation to God was to hide themselves in fear because of their nakedness.
So why the emphasis on nakedness you ask? I think it is two-fold. Before the fall they were naked and not ashamed showing us that they lived in perfect innocence and weren't focused in anyway on themselves. Shame comes from a knowledge of evil but pre-fall there was no evil or even knowledge of good and evil. Just innocence, in a pure and beautiful relationship with one another and their God. At that stage they took as much notice of their nakedness as your cat would today when she wanders outside... which is none! But all that changed once they ate from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. Sin entered and suddenly their eyes are on themselves. Fear enters. Guilt enters. Shame enters. This key thought of suddenly seeing themselves naked is both physical and spiritual. That's why I said it is two-fold. There is an overwhelming feeling of being exposed... both physically and spiritually speaking. Their fall into sin from their pure innocence is now exposed. And so they hide, quickly covering themselves with fig leaves as if that could cover their shame and sin.
So that is where it begins. For now, remember this as we proceed: The key thought in relation to nakedness in Genesis, post-fall, is in relation to shame. It is the thought of being exposed before the Lord, and not having His covering. With this thought in mind let's look at an obscure passage in the Gospels.
An example of shame & nakedness in the Gospels
So here is a question for you... How many times do you think 'naked' or 'nakedness' is found in the Gospels? You are spot on once again! Only once. It is recorded only in the Gospel of Mark.
Mar 14:48-52 And Jesus said to them, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me, as you would against a robber? "Every day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me; but this has taken place to fulfill the Scriptures." And they all left Him and fled. 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.
Most Biblical scholars believe that the unnamed young man following Jesus in this passage is Mark himself, the author of this letter. As I read this passage I thought, 'hmmm, why include this story about nakedness'? It's not like Mark is just chatting with a friend saying 'boy, you won't believe what happened to me today... this guy grabbed my clothing and as I pulled away it all came off and I had to run home naked! Talk about embarrassing. That was a day to remember. Well, forget!' - No, he is writing a letter to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ... so why did Mark include this event? I believe it is an outward event that has a spiritual application. Remember that nakedness is related to shame, both naturally and spiritually. When you read the whole chapter and note the context I think it becomes clear. Note the following from the Mark 14:
- Only hours previously Jesus and His disciples had 'the last supper' together where Jesus told them that He would be betrayed and they would fall away. He quoted the prophet Zechariah who stated, 'Strike the Shepherd and the sheep will be scattered' (Mark 14:27)
- Peter, and then all of the disciples, responded by saying they would never fall away and would even go to death itself for Jesus (Mark 14:29,31)
- Straight after this bold declaration, Jesus took James, John and Peter to the Garden of Gethsemane. In this most important hour, where He stated that His soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, He asked His disciples to stay alert and watch for Him. Yet three times the disciples fell asleep on their watch! (Mark 14:34,37,38,41)
- After we have the betrayal of Jesus the last thing said of the disciples before this incident of nakedness was 'all left Him and fled'.
- Mark 14 ends with Peter lying even to a servant girl saying He didn't know Jesus. And as the cock crows and Peter sees who who is, the chapter ends with Peter broken and weeping.
So why include the story of losing your clothing and being naked in the midst of this? Because it is an outward event of an inward spiritual reality. All of the disciples where exposed at this time. All of them had the spiritual shame of nakedness. Despite their talk of being their for Jesus, they couldn't even keep watch and stay awake in His most vulnerable hour. Despite their bravado with everyone agreeing they would die for Jesus, they all fled. It wasn't just the young Mark that was laid bare and exposed that day. It wasn't just him fleeing in shame.
This story makes me think of the day in which we live. There is an increasing pressure for everyone to think and say the same things and conservative, Christian beliefs are increasingly coming under attack. There is a lot of pressure out there to just 'shut up' if you don't go along with the narrative. Yet the believer isn't called to go with the crowds or the latest 'woke' thought. They are called to stand for Jesus and be a witness to the salvation that was provided through His death and resurrection. In ourselves we are weak. If put in the same situation as the disciples we would have run as well. But when we see our need for the Lord then we can stand in this difficult day. Take courage and, in the Lord's strength, be the light and salt that is desperately needed in this dark day.
Let's now see how this theme of nakedness is used in the book of Revelation where there are two main passages.
Nakedness in Laodicea - An unclothed church
Rev 3:17-18 'Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, (18) I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.
Here is Jesus' assessment of the church in Laodicea and it is fair to say it's not good. And yet the Laodicean's didn't realise that. Can you remember your Mum reading you the old folk tale 'The Emperor's New Clothes' when you were young? If you have ever heard the saying 'the emperor has no clothes' it is taken from this story.
It is a tale of how two swindlers arrive at a city, posing as weavers, and the emperor pays them a lot of money to make him some magnificent new clothes. They gladly agree and take the money but tell the emperor and all around that the wonderful clothes they make are invisible to those that are stupid or incompetent. They finally announce that the suit for the emperor is ready and no one, for fear of being thought stupid, wants to say that they can't see it! They all look intently before finally agreeing how wonderful the new clothes are! The emperor himself doesn't want to say that he can't see the suit so they mime dressing him and he proudly goes out in a procession before the whole city. Not wanting to be thought stupid either the whole town admire these 'new clothes' until finally a child yells out 'but he has nothing on at all! He’s completely nude!'
I always think of that story when I read these passage to the Laodicean church. Here they were, thinking that they had something wonderful. They were incredibly wealthy, had everything taken care of and were in need of nothing... Or so they thought. Yet, spiritually speaking, it was all a mirage! Jesus could see, even if others didn't, that actually they were naked and in desperate need of clothing to hide the shame of their nakedness. And salve for their eyes so that they could truly see, for they were blind. The Laodicean church was a rich, yet unsaved church. They did not have garments to cloth themselves, which is a type of salvation as we saw in the last study. It pictures, unfortunately, some wealthy yet spiritually poor churches in the Western world especially today who have everything from a material perspective, but have missed the the true clothing that the Lord gives. Jesus is actually portrayed outside of the church! And so, they remain naked. Be careful and sure that you have His clothing of salvation!
But if you are saved, also make sure you are watchful for there is another warning in Revelation for believers and unbelievers alike.
Revelation - Like a thief in the night
Rev 16:15 ("Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.")
The second mention of nakedness is a warning from the Lord to be found clothed when He returns. In the context of Revelation 16 it likely applies to the second coming but is still applicable to believers today. The Jewish background to this verse is very interesting. John Gill writes:2
'The allusion is to the burning of the garments of those priests who were found asleep when upon their watch in the temple: the account that is given is this;
"the governor of the temple goes round all the wards (every night) with burning torches before him; and in every ward where the person does not stand upon his feet, the man of the mountain of the house says to him, peace be to thee; if he finds he is asleep, he strikes him with his staff, and he has power to burn his clothes; and they say (in Jerusalem) what voice is that in the court? (it is answered) the voice of a Levite beaten, and his clothes burnt, because he slept in the time of his watch; R. Eliezer ben Jacob says, once they found my mother's brother asleep, and they burnt his clothes:'
So an important duty of the Jewish priests was to stand guard and watch over the temple. The captain of the temple would come unexpectedly, 'like a thief'3 and check that they were in fact watchful and alert at night and that they hadn't fallen asleep. If they were found sleeping they would be struck with the captain's staff or in some cases, their clothes would be removed and burnt and they would have to return home naked and ashamed!
Can you remember how ashamed Adam and Eve were when the Lord first came after the fall in the garden because of their nakedness? That is a pointer to the shame that the unclothed will have when the Lord returns. Clothing, for the believer, is twofold. A true believer has the clothing of Jesus' righteousness and this will never be taken away. But there is still the outworking of that salvation through God-ordained righteous acts which are important. That is why Revelation 19 says:
Rev 19:8 And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
So as a type, who are the Priests today? What is the temple today?4 All true believers are priests today. We have the same call as the Levitical priests of old to keep watch over the temple. Yet today, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. So we need to be spiritually awake and watchful and ready! All the things, incidentally, that Jesus' disciples failed on at the garden of Gethsemane, leading up to the incident of Mark losing his clothes! We need to abide in that relationship with the Lord so that when He appears we may be confident and found watchful... a good and faithful servant.
The Bema Seat
1Co 3:11-15 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (12) Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, (13) each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. (14) If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. (15) If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
I have written and spoken about the Bema Seat of Christ a few times5 and this passage will be familiar to you all I hope. As Priests today, believers don't have their clothes burnt or set on fire like was mentioned above with the sleeping, non-watchful Levitical priests of old. Thankfully! Yet, all of our works will still pass through the fire. To be clear this is not a measure or judgment of whether a person is saved. Only those saved come before this particular judgment seat. But it is an examination of your works for the purpose of rewards. So in that sense our lives will be tried by fire. Could believers who have nothing to show for their life as Christians feel shame on that day? The verse above says that they will 'suffer loss'. Saved, but as one escaping through the fire with nothing else to show for it. It gives the same type of imagery as the Levitical Priest who had his clothes burned and had to go home naked. So it is possible that there could be some type of feeling of shame on that day. I believe John picks up on this when he wrote:
1Jn 2:28 Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.
But we need to be careful when we speak of shame. It can be a powerful tool in the hand of the enemy. The enemy likes to remind us of sins and failures and keep us bound in shame. That is not what I am talking about here. The fact is that all of us have things we are not at all proud of. It reminds me of the following illustration:
Arthur Conan Doyle, the ingenious creator of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, once found great humor in a practical joke he played on 12 famous friends. Each of these men was virtuous and highly respected. For the joke, Doyle sent every one of them the same telegram: “Fly at once, all is discovered!” Within 24 hours, the dozen men of noble reputation had all taken a trip out of the country!
Some think of the bema seat of Christ like this. Like it is a revealing to all of your hidden sins and the shame that will bring. But that is not the case. It is not what it is for. It is not about exposing your sins for those have been paid for by another. The Lord is not out to shame you. He actually desires to find something to praise you for (1 Cor 4;5). But there still is the shame that some may feel at His return that stems from their own realization that they fell asleep spiritually speaking and only spent time on matters that don't last for eternity.
We don't want to be like those that. We don't want to waste the small amount of time that we have! The opposite is so much better! Simply abide in your relationship with Jesus. Look for His coming. Be watchful over your own heart and that which would lead you away from Him. Then we will so rejoice to see our Saviour when He returns! And we will find that there are some precious gems, works that remain through the fire of His judgment testing for all eternity, and your praise will come from God Almighty!
Conclusion - The good, the bad (unwatchful) and the ugly (at the Lord's return)
To conclude, we saw at the beginning that Adam and Eve immediately felt shame and fear from their nakedness before the Lord after their disobedience and fall. The young man, likely Mark himself, lost his garments and felt the shame of going home naked. This I believe represented all the disciples at that stage who, despite their words, had deserted Jesus. As believers we do stand in the righteous clothing of Christ but we also want to have acts of righteousness, which the Lord Himself has prepared for us beforehand, on the day of His return. While it's a generalization,. we could say that at the Lord's return there will be:
- The Good - Believers clothed with Christ's righteousness who were watchful and faithful to the Lord's calling in this life. We want to be like these and hear 'well done good and faithful servant'.
- The Bad - Those that are saved (so thankfully they do have the garment of salvation and have entrance into Heaven) but have just slept on their watch during this life and do not have rewards from the Lord for the life to come. They are not 'bad' in the sense that they have believed, been forgiven and will inherit eternal life. That is certainly good! But they will 'suffer loss' of rewards having slept in their Christian life, not doing the will of their Father during this life (1 Cor 3:15).
- The Ugly - The unbelievers who did not accept the offer of salvation and will go into eternity with only the 'fig tree leaves' of their own works. They will not stand in the day of judgment and will be separated from God for eternity in the lake of fire. Dreadful thought!
For Christians, we do not want to stand and see our works (or lack thereof) burnt up at the bema seat of Christ. We want to be those that ask the Lord 'what would you have me to do?' We want to be those that desire to use whatever gifts and talents we have been given to give back to Him who died for us. On a personal note, as I watch all that is happening around the world (and what a crazy year 2020 has been!) my thoughts are often on the Lord's coming and what comes next. This world does not offer hope. And I often think of standing before Him... for it could well be soon that, in the twinkling of an eye, that is our new reality. Things can, and will, change incredibly fast!
So abide... abide... abide... I will speak more about this in the next message as we look at the significance of the two trees in the Garden.