What Does The Number Twelve (12) Mean or Represent In The Bible

Numbers have meaning to God and often certain numbers have special meaning.  What special meaning or purpose does the number 12 have in the Bible?

The Number Twelve

You’ll find the number 12 used in 187 places in the Bible and there are some significances to this number as we will read.  The number twelve seems to be very important to God and it represents, in most cases, the number of perfection and authority.  The number 12 shows up in the Book of Revelation 22 times and are very important in that book and particularly in the New Jerusalem. Here are significances that are associated with the number 12.

Number 12 in the Bible

12; the Number of Completeness

There were 12 tribes in Israel and this symbolizes the completeness of the nation Israel.  Jacob had 12 sons which were the heads or fathers of each of the 12 tribes of Israel which are likened to 12 princes.  When God appeared to Jacob He told him, “Your name will not be called Jacob any longer.  From now on your name will be Israel” (Gen 35:10).  The name Jacob means “supplanter” which means “to supersede by force or treachery” which is what Jacob did when he took Esau’s birthright for a bowl of stew (Gen 25:29-34) but now God is going to deal differently with Jacob because he repented of his supplanting ways and was now going to be called Israel, which in the Hebrew is “Yisra’el” and means “God prevails” which essentially means that Jacob stopped wresting with God because he could not prevail against God (Gen 32:22-32).

Other Significances of the Number 12

  • Jesus chose 12 disciples who later became the 12 apostles which seem to fit the context of the number 12 used elsewhere in the Bible as this number also signified governmental rule or authority.  The betrayer, Judas, was replaced by Matthias (Acts 1:23-26).
  • The New Jerusalem which descends out of heaven has 12 gates made of pearl which are manned by 12 angels.  Each of the gates has been named after one of the 12 tribes of Israel.
  • In Revelation 7, twelve thousands from each of the 12 tribes of Israel will be saved near the end of the present world system.
  • The walls of the New Jerusalem are measured at 144 cubits high which is 12 multiplied (Rev 21:16).
  • The New City is also 12,000 furlongs squared (Rev 21:16).
  • There are 12 precious stones that will be used as the foundation of the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:19-20).
  • The wall of the city had 12 foundations with the 12 names of the apostles on each one (Rev 21:14).
  • Twelve thousand will be taken from the earth so that they may serve the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ (Rev 14:1-5).
  • The high priest’s breastplate had 12 precious stones embedded within them.
  • Jesus very first words were spoken at the age of 12 (Luke 2:42).
  • There was even a woman who had suffered from a blood hemorrhage for 12 years (Luke 8:40).
  • There are 12 Minor Prophets in the Old Testament.  They are called minor, not because they are less important than the Major Prophets, but due to their size being considerably smaller.
  • There are 12 historical books in the Bible:  Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Sam, 2 Sam, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.
  • There were 12 loaves of permanent offerings on the golden table (Lev 24:5).
  • There were 12 explorers or spies sent into the land of Canaan (Due 1:23).
  • Solomon had 12 administrators in his kingdom (1 Kings 4:7).
  • There were 12 men who laid 12 stones in building a monument to the Lord (Joshua 4:3).
  • The Book of Chronicles contained 12 great priests.
  • Twelve curses were indicated for disobedience to Israel (Duet 27).
  • A young Israelite male took 12 years before he could be admitted as a “son of the law.”
  • There were the 12 sacrifices of animals that were to be given (Numb 7, 29).

Conclusion

There are many other significances tied to the number 12 that are too numerous to mention in one article but suffice it to say that God prescribed this number to have meaning and purpose of which were governmental authority, a completeness or perfection, and the authority given to mankind by God.  If there is one that seems to be missing, please add it in the comment section below.  For those who see God as having no significance in their life, they will see it someday but then it will be too late (Dan 12:2).  There is only one of two places that a person can go.  One is heaven and one is hell (Rev 20:11-15).  You have a choice.  Decide to day.  Jesus states these two choices in John 3:36 “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book  Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon

 

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  • Melody Williams

    1Kings 19:19 So he departed thence, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat , who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth: : and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him.

    • Jack Wellman

      Great addition Melody. I completely missed that one. Thanks.

  • Hollie Hunter

    I’ve just came across something I must have skipped over for years….12 tribes of Ishmael. As I studied Revelation with the 12 tribes entering through their gate, 12 apostles, 12 gemstones of the foundation, I’m wonder about these 12 tribes of Ishmael and how they play a role in the end. As his descendants are also to be as numerous as the grains of sand, do you think this is the final battle since Ishmael’s tribes/princes are not mentioned again. Ishmael/Issac, Muslim/Jew? Or what significance/relevance are these tribes? Thanks

    • Jack Wellman

      Thank you Mrs. Hunter for your question. I have never heard of the 12 tribes of Ishmael but there are the 12 tribes of Israel mentioned dozens and dozens of times in the Bible and even in Revelation 7. Abraham’s descendants were said to be as numerous as the grains of sand, not Ishmael’s (Gen 22:17). There will be 12 princes of Ishmael. No where do I find that Ishmael’s seed is to be like the sand of the sea but Abraham’s only and there are only the 12 tribes of Israel mentioned, just 12 princes (not nearly the same as a tribe…princes are individuals and not nations).

      • Hollie Hunter

        Thanks for your response. I guess I assume too much. In Genesis 21 God tells Abraham and Hagar that he will make Ishmael a great nation, and as the head of his nation, hence his 12 sons, princes of the tribes. At least that’s how I read it in Chapter 25.

        • Jack Wellman

          Great point Mrs. Hunter…I see what you mean now and didn’t think about Chapter 25 so I think you are right so my apologies. That makes sense and I should have done a better job of looking into this. Thank you for your patience with me. I appreciate that.

        • SJ

          This is an interesting fact….the bible reports the birthright went to Jacob not Esau but in the Qu’ran This fact is changed and the Muslims claim the birthright went to Esau.

          So in a sense the Israelis and the Muslims are fighting over the birthright in today’s continuous Middle East conflict but the birthright actually belongs to Jesus Christ along with the sceptre.

          The Struggle for the Birthright
          http://gods-kingdom-ministries.net/teachings/books/the-struggle-for-the-birthright/

          • Michael

            Let’s translate this into today’s life everyone!

            *ALL OF THIS FIGHTING BETWEEN THE MUSLIMS AND JEWS IS THE CONSEQUENCE OF ABRAHAM AND SARAH’S DISOBEDIENCE!

            God already promised to bless them with a child and Sarah told Abraham to conceive their child from their “EGYPTIAN” maidservant Hagar, because they didn’t trust God. In fact, the name Ishmael means “wild donkey of a man who will always raise his hands against his brothers.”

            **Today we would simply say that the child conceived by ADULTERY /SIN hates the family conceived within the covenant, and will kill them for the inheritance.

            THE MORAL IS THE MOTHER’S SERVE AND WORSHIP TWO DIFFERENT GOD’S!

            Y’all haven’t noticed that the Muslim diet and just about everything else is a mirror image to Jewish culture, and they have the nerve to war with them. The root is simple SIBLING RIVALRY, and just like kids they’re both hollering; “MINE!”

            I recall year’s ago when friend of the family died, his wife did something real cruel! The man’s first born child was a son by another woman, possibly 5+yrs prior to their relationship. His wife had a strong “Jezebel Spirit”, and she did not acknowledge his son in the man’s obituary. I recall comforting his son in the atrium of the edifice during the funeral, because he felt as if he did not exist.

          • SJ

            There’s a very interesting book that you can google and read called The Struggle for the Birthright, Michael.

            Also on the rightscoop site former Muslim Wahlid Shoebat has a lengthy but interesting video called Islam is the Beast.

            We are all made in the image of God and need to remember that but we are not all worshipping the same God.

            Sibling rivalry is huge and bitter in the bible. Look at Joseph being sent into slavery by his brothers but by faith he forgave them.

            But there is still today this ancient feud between the children of Hagar who are the children of the flesh and the children of Sarah who are the children of the promise going on today.

            I think that’s why evangelism is so critical. There are actually evil spirits at work in many places in the world today and democracy doesn’t change them. Anyone thinking democracy totally changes a person is engaging in Pelagianism ( humanism ). The only thing that ever changed a person from the inside out is belief in Jesus Christ.

            In Europe they are experiencing enormous problems now from this secularist tolerance idea. I met a Dutchman from Amsterdam recently and he said the Muslims are all over and they aren’t like us so when they reach even higher numbers will they take Holland over? I read an article from a man in Belgium saying all the native born Belgians are emigrating to Australia and New Zealand because it is turning Muslim now and he would go too but he is too old to move.

            We really do have a Christian identity, Christian ways and practices and does any non-Muslim really think they are inferior and should have to bow to Sharia Law?

            We should be attempting to convert every Muslim that hits western shores. They know Arabic and can take the Gospel back to their own country and help evangelize.

            Islam does think it should rule the world just like communism did. Whereas Christians know Christ rules the world.

            We’re blessed that we are living in a time when Jesus Christ could come soon….all the biblical and heavenly signs are happening now so hopefully he will restore order soon. I look forward to that day.

            And I don’t hate Muslims. They are made in the image of God, too. It is just they serve a false God. A God of fortresses that degrades women and they have not been taught right. Islam means submission and you don’t submit to and let an evil god control you but they haven’t learned that Christ is god and they have spiritual options through him. Their religion has attempted to downgrade Jesus Christ to prophet status only so they definitely have not been taught right.

            You would think since they are trying to claim Allah is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that they would notice things like Jesus was sent to the House of Israel and that Acts specifically says the Gospel was delivered by Jesus and that no angel’s message can supercede the Gospel but that is exactly what occurred in Islam. Mohammed got his message in a cave from an angel he claimed.

            But a lot of history is playing out right now just like God foreordained. People do act cruelly in this world yet everything in this world is still progressing according to God’s plan. Men have a limited authority in the earth they like to call free will but our wills do not supercede the Plan of God. We need to be be praying the Lord’s Prayer and asking him like good disciples to bring our wills into conformity with His.

            Many of the problems in the world is the conflict between man’s will and God’s will and between his revealed will ( the thelema in ancient Greek ) and his secret will or Plan (the boulema). We just have to learn to try and conform and trust in him completely. What information our senses provide is limited and deceptive so pray to Him for guidance on everything because little things can affect big things.

            Google the U.S.A. in Biblical Prophecy by Steven M. Collins and he shows part of God’s plan coming to pass. it is a highly prophetic essay.

      • SJ

        The 12 Tribes of Ishmael are the Arabs today.

        Some additional info on them:
        http://nabataea.net/12tribes.html

  • James

    Mark 5:25
    And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.
    Mark 5:41-42
    He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!”(which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old).

    Why mention the girl’s age? Is there any connection to the woman who suffered bleeding? She would have been suffering for exactly the same time period that the girl had been alive. The two facts are mentioned only 17 verses apart and Jesus helped both of them on the same day.

  • http://harvestgrove.vpweb.com Kimberly Bradley

    In Mark 5: 40-42 a young girl that was 12 years old was raised from the sleep of death not to far from the time that the woman with the issue of blood touched Jesus garment. They both received from Jesus what they needed. (Mark 5:40-42) 40 And they laughed him to scorn. But when he had put them all out, he taketh the father and the mother of the damsel, and them that were with him, and entereth in where the damsel was lying. 41 And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise. 42 And straightway the damsel arose, and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. And they were astonished with a great astonishment.

  • Victoria drye

    in revelation, who where the 144,000,

  • SJ

    Twelve is the number for divine government.

    From Dr. Stephen E. Jones book on numerology a quote:

    Twelve is the number of governmental perfection and divine authority. It follows 11, which is the disorder preceding this perfection. There were 12 sons of Jacob in the Old Testament and 12 apostles in the New Testament. There are 12 foundations in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:14). It also has 12 gates and 12 angels at the gates (Rev. 21:12) and 12 pearls at the gates (Rev. 21:21). The city is foursquare at 12,000 furlongs (Rev. 21:16). The wall is 144 cubits high (Rev. 21:17), which is 12 x 12. All of this is to portray the concept of divine government and order.
    Though all priests and kings were anointed, the Old Testament specifically records 12 anointed men. The first five are priests; the last seven are kings.

    More here:
    http://www.gods-kingdom-ministries.net/files/8513/7400/9077/Biblical_Meaning_of_Numbers.pdf

    The link above is to a beautiful work on numbers by Jones who has spent some time studying the works of E.W. Bullinger who is one of the greatest experts on biblical numerology.