Found 187 times in the Bible, the number 12 makes a special appearance in Revelation, showing the authority and perfection of God’s kingdom at last.
We see Jesus chose 12 disciples, and the disciples later replaced Judas Iscariot with Matthias to keep the number at 12 (Acts 1)—to show the perfection and authority of those who followed Jesus.
Similar to the number three, it’s likely not every instance of the number 12 is a ‘good’ kind of perfection. Jesus heals a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, for instance (Matthew 9:20-22). The 12 years could possibly symbolize just how bad her condition was, signifying the malady as a ‘perfect storm,’ with seemingly no possible cure. Or, it could signify that this was completion of a difficult timeframe and God would be doing a new thing now. But numbers in Hebrew culture tended to have a deeper meaning than what we know about numbers today. In a previous article, I covered the number three and how, in Hebraic culture, it tended to mean wholeness and completeness.
Although in most instances in the Bible, the numbers have a literal and symbolic interpretation (Jacob didn’t metaphorically have 12 sons), sometimes numbers may have just a symbolic meaning. Six days—seven including the rest day—may have been literal in terms of creation, or merely symbolic (Genesis 1). Or, as mentioned in this article, the number of saved souls in heaven will likely be more than 144,000 (Revelation 7), but merely means a 12 times the cube of ten—a quotient of perfection.
Numbers in the Bible can clue readers into a deeper meaning in the text; but we have to make sure the context of the passage aligns with the typical symbolism attributed to the number. We have to exercise caution when trying to dig up the meaning of numbers in every case in Scripture. Sometimes Seth just lived to be 912 years old (Genesis 5:8) and there may have been no significant reason behind that specific number of years on this earth.
But in regards to popular numbers in the Bible such as three, 12, 40, etc., we can often find the symbolism within that passage.
12 Things to Know about 12 in the Bible:1. Jesus spoke in the temple at 12.
Jesus first spoke in the temple with religious leaders at the age of 12 when he and his family had traveled to Jerusalem for Passover (Luke 2:41-52). The religious leaders marveled at his wisdom.
2. 12 cakes were placed in the Tabernacle.
In the Old Testament Tabernacle—a mobile temple of sorts—the priests were to place 12 unleavened cakes (Leviticus 24:5). The unleavened nature of these cakes may have symbolized the same bread used in Passover, when the Israelites left Egypt. Some other elements of 12 in the Tabernacle included 12 silver plates, bowls, bulls, rams, and male lambs (Numbers 7).
3. Not only Jacob had 12 princes.