John 3:14-15 — And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

John 6:29 — Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

John 8:24 — I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.

(all passages cited from KJV)

These are just three examples. If Christ told others in the Gospel of John to believe on Him to be saved, why did He tell the rich young ruler in Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 18 that, in order to "enter into life", as He says, the ruler had to follow the Old Testament Law?

I understand that the answer may be found in John 3:14-15, which seems to suggest that people were to believe on Christ after He had died on the cross, but this does not explain why He told others to believe on Him to be saved without referencing the cross.

Thank you.

  • 1
    Keeping the commandments here is in reference to the Decalogue, not the Levitical Law. The New Testament doesn't abrogate the necessity or duty of keeping the commandments anywhere. Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 14:40
  • The rich man seems to have been searching for very concrete suggestions, as opposed to vague general rules. The mere fact that he sincerely asked Him for advice means that, to some extent, he already treasured His insight, so telling him to believe in Him would have been redundant. Christ preached on a lot of topics, and believing in Him implies believing everything He ever said, which would add up to a rather long list, so, out of all of them, Christ picks one thing (of the many), which He considered relevant to the rich man's particular situation.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 18:02
  • @Lucian, I don't know that telling the ruler to believe in Christ would be redundant. Jesus seems to be pointing out that the Ruler's wasn't acknowledging the true goodness of Christ when he called him good. It seems the rich ruler really didn't fully believe in who Jesus was.
    – Austin
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 6:56

3 Answers 3


I think there is a small error in your premise regarding the rich young ruler. Yes, Jesus did say "keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17), but when the matter was pressed, Jesus fleshed out the answer, indicating what the real issue was: the rich, young ruler was not quite as perfect at following the commandments of God as he had claimed.

In Matthew 19:20, the rich, young ruler affirms that he has ever kept the commandments listed off by Jesus in Matthew 19:18-19. But the fact is, the rich, young ruler really hadn't kept those commandments, because he was hording his wealth, thereby negatively affecting those around him in need (i.e. the poor to whom Jesus indicated the rich, young ruler must donate his estate), else why the command to relinquish his assets to the poor, if not to help and bless them?

Then, in verse 21, Jesus tacks on at the end "And come, follow me" (ostensibly indicating that in order to be perfect and have treasures stored up in heaven, the rich, young ruler was going to have to meet with Jesus at Calvary) which in the synoptics, is an invitation to belief (faith) and the cross of our salvation.

Here is a list of Scripture references to that effect:


  • 1
    @The Votive Soul - great answer. There is also another aspect - when Jesus was asked about the greatest commandments (eg, Matt 22:34-40) He answered with two commandments that that are not part of the 10. This, according to Jesus, "commandments" included more than just the 10. See also Luke 1:6 and Matt 5:17.
    – user25930
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 22:07
  • This answer seems too presumptive. "...he was hording his wealth, thereby negatively affecting those around him in need..." How do we know he was simply hording his wealth? He could have gotten wealthy while also giving to the poor. It's possible to be super wealthy and generous. Jesus didn't ask him to give away some of his wealth, but ALL of it. Who knows? Perhaps the ruler would have been willing to give up half his wealth, but Jesus didn't ask for only half.
    – Austin
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 6:48

From an intertextuality perspective and because Jesus and the young ruler were both Jews, I believe the background of this passage is Deuteronomy 8:

[Deu 8:1 NLT] (1) "Be careful to obey all the commands I am giving you today. Then you will live and multiply, and you will enter and occupy the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors.

However, Jesus is the all-penetrating LOGOS of God the "searches men's hearts" (and other organs) representing their thoughts and intentions and prophetically reveals them and so wins the lost:

[Jhn 4:29 KJV] (29) Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?

[1Co 14:24-25 NLT] (24) But if all of you are prophesying, and unbelievers or people who don't understand these things come into your meeting, they will be convicted of sin and judged by what you say. (25) As they listen, their secret thoughts will be exposed, and they will fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, "God is truly here among you."

[Rev 2:18-23 NLT] (18) "Write this letter to the angel of the church in Thyatira. This is the message from the Son of God, whose eyes are like flames of fire, whose feet are like polished bronze: (19) "I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. And I can see your constant improvement in all these things. (20) "But I have this complaint against you. You are permitting that woman--that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet--to lead my servants astray. She teaches them to commit sexual sin and to eat food offered to idols. (21) I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to turn away from her immorality. (22) "Therefore, I will throw her on a bed of suffering, and those who commit adultery with her will suffer greatly unless they repent and turn away from her evil deeds. (23) I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches out the thoughts and intentions of every person. And I will give to each of you whatever you deserve.

So that's the why. But as we read on we see the method to his "madness":

[Luk 18:20-21 KJV] (20) Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. (21) And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up.

Did you notice what was missing? "Do not covet"! Coveting, as I define it, is trusting in money. Many of us may consider sexual temptation as the biggie among "sins" but coveting seems to have been one that tripped up many in Jesus' day:

[Rom 7:7-11 ESV] (7) What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." (8) But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. (9) I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. (10) The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. (11) For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.

So the "one thing" that he lacked was to go to Covetless School:

[Mat 19:21-24 KJV] (21) Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. (22) But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. (23) Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. (24) And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Note: This was not idle talk. Jesus did call people to forsake all and they did. But apparently the young ruler would not part with his earthly treasures so he would forego his heavenly treasures.

  • 1
    Thanks for the answer. It makes sense.
    – CMK
    Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 16:19
  • 1
    "he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions." Hit the nail on the head! +1 Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 12:19
  • "Coveting, as I define it, is trusting in money." I don't know anyone who defines coveting that way. This answer does not establish that the rich man commit the sin of coveting as Biblically defined.
    – Austin
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 6:52

As the OP points out, Luke agrees with both Mark and Matthew in portraying Jesus as teaching that the way to eternal life lies in following the Golden Rule rather than (at least in the incident with the Rich Young Man) having faith in the Risen Lord. A probable reason for this is that John's Gospel was written considerably later, when Pauline theology was more firmly accepted and the church's sacramental tradition was well established. Paul wrote prior to the gospels' composition but his theology was still controversial, especially among Jewish Christians. We can see this especially in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus teaches his disciples to be better Jews than even the strictest Pharisees.

Verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle shall in any wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. I say unto you that unless your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:18-20)

This affirmation of the Law is not found in Luke or Mark, but both them do present Jesus as teaching the Golden Rule as the way to eternal life. John's gospel on the other hand, emphasizes faith in Jesus' atoning sacrifice and partaking in the Sacraments of the church as essential to salvation.

I am the living Bread which came down from Heaven. If any man eat of this Bread, he shall live for ever; and the Bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world... Whosoever eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the Last Day.” (John 6:51)

John's audience was a generation removed from that of the Synoptics. His community had developed a sacramental theology, in which faith in Jesus and partaking in holy communion were essential elements in salvation, and "works of the Law" were less important. When the other gospels were written, this theology was less firmly rooted and not nearly so central as in the Johannine community.

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