What does the number 12 mean in the Bible?

by | Aug 22, 2023 | Theology | 0 comments

The word twelve is used a total of 189 times in the Bible (King James Translation). The books of 1 Chronicles and Revelation have the highest occurrence of the number twelve (26 and 22 respectively). The word twelfth is used 23 times. With such a heavy occurrence of the number, it is evident that this is an important number. According to Biblical numerologists, the number 12 is one of the four perfect numbers the other three being 3, 7, and 10. 

Number 12 symbolizes God’s authority and power. It is used to demonstrate God’s perfect governmental foundation. This can be seen in the formation of the nation of Israel through its 12 tribes. Another illustration is the perfect governmental foundation of the church that was based on the 12 apostles of Jesus. 

12 as the number of government

The most prolific example of 12 in the Bible is seen in the formation of Israel. Jacob (also Israel) had 12 sons and they eventually made the 12 tribes of Israel. These sons/ tribes are 

Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin (Genesis 35:23-26). Interestingly, Ishmael, who was Abraham’s son also had 12 sons that are described as 12 princes (Gen. 17:20). The number 12 in both of these cases represents God’s perfect government. 

Another illustration of 12 in government can be seen in Solomon’s governmental structure. Solomon divided the government into 12 regions (districts) and appointed a governor for each of the regions. Apart from aiding in administration, the 12 governors were also required to supply the palace with food and other provisions for 1 month out of the 12 months in a year (1 Kings 4:7).

Jesus Christ also used the number 12 when setting up the governmental structure of his public ministry on earth which gave birth to the church. Jesus called 12 disciples whom he trained and entrusted with the work of ministry after he ascended to heaven. The disciples were Peter, Andrew, James (elder brother of John), John, Philip, Nathaneal, Mathew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Jude (Thaddeus or Judas), Simon (the zealot), and Judas Iscariot. (Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:14-19, Luke 6:13-16). After Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus and subsequently committed suicide, the 11 apostles did not proceed with ministry until they had found a replacement (Matthias) for him (Acts 1:12-26). This must be because they understood the significance of the number 12 as God’s number of government. But long before Jesus began his public ministry, the Bible records how he went into the temple at the age of 12 and started discussing the word of God with the teachers of the law. When his parents eventually caught up with him and tried reprimanding him, the boy Jesus replied;

Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business? Luke 2:49

Jesus appearing in the temple at age 12 was no coincidence – it was a sign that he would set up God’s kingdom on earth by use of the proper government structure of 12. 

God also uses the number 12 to demonstrate the perfect government established in the kingdom of heaven. For starters, when writing the book of Revelation, John saw the 144,000 Israelites that attained salvation during the end-time tribulation. This group, as John explains, comprises 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel (12 x 12,000) to make the final 144,000 (Revelation 14:1 – 5). Additionally, Christ’s bride, which is a scriptural metaphor of the Church, is portrayed in Revelation 12 to be wearing a crown that is adorned with 12 stars. 

John also writes about the New Jerusalem, which will emerge after the heavens and earth as we know them to pass away. This new city of God will comprise 12 gates that are made of pearls and each manned by one angel (to make a total of 12 Angels). Each gate will bear the name of one of the 12 tribes of Israel. The walls will be 12×12 cubits high and the city will be 12,000 furlongs square (Revelation 21:16 – 17). 

Other appearances of the number 12 in the Bible

The Bible mentions 12 people who were specially anointed for a unique call. The 12 are Aaron and his 4 sons who were anointed as priests (Exodus 29:7 – 9), Saul who was anointed as King (1 Samuel 10:1), David who was anointed as a replacement of King Saul (1 Samuel 16:13), Solomon who was anointed as heir of David(1 Kings 1:39), Absalom who was trying to forcefully inherit David’s throne but was killed (2 Samuel 19:10), King Jehu of Israel (2 Kings 9:6), King Joash of Judah (2 Kings 11:12) and King Jehoahaz of Judah (2 Kings 23:30).

The prophetic books can be divided into two broad categories – the minor prophets, and the major prophets. The major prophets are the larger books (like Jeremiah and Isaiah) while the Minor prophets have one or just a couple of chapters. The minor prophets are 12 in number and they are Amos, Habakkuk, Haggai, Hosea, Joel, Jonah, Malachi, Micah, Nahum, Obadiah, Zechariah, and Zephaniah.

When issuing instructions for the Tabernacle, God said that the priests were to place 12 unleavened cakes of bread with frankincense in the Tabernacle. This was to be done weekly and so the priests were required to replace the bread each sabbath (Leviticus 24). Additionally, the breastplate of the priests was to be adorned with 12 gemstones. Each of the 12 stones was to represent one of the 12 tribes of Israel. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, the number 12 is an important number in Biblical numerology. It symbolizes God’s perfect government and it can also e interpreted as a sign of divine power and authority. God set up the nation of Israel to have 12 sons and we see the same pattern when Jesus called 12 disciples. These, alongside many other examples in the Bible, demonstrate the significance of 12 as the number of God’s perfect government. 

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About: Ronie

Ronnie Amaya has been actively involved in ministry since his high school and university days where he served as a Christian union leader. After graduation, he worked as an itinerary minister preaching in Schools, Universities, Street Evangelizations, and Churches. In 2018, he led a team in planting a new church in Nairobi, Kenya where he is currently serving as the lead pastor.
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Ronie

Ronnie Amaya has been actively involved in ministry since his high school and university days where he served as a Christian union leader. After graduation, he worked as an itinerary minister preaching in Schools, Universities, Street Evangelizations, and Churches. In 2018, he led a team in planting a new church in Nairobi, Kenya where he is currently serving as the lead pastor.

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