When it comes to Scripture, numbers are important. Sometimes the number is literal (like Jacob’s 12 sons), and sometimes it’s not (like the 144,000 in the book of Revelation). However, in almost every case, the numbers are symbolic and are being used by the Holy Spirit to reveal a deeper truth about God and/or his creation.
Twelve is one such number. Twelve can be found in 187 places in God’s Word and is considered “perfect.” It symbolizes God’s power and authority, as well as his Divine Family– his children, the Church.
Examples from Scripture
- There are 12 Patriarchs (major Father-figures) from the time of Shem to Jacob
- Jacob had 12 sons
- Israel had 12 tribes
- There are 12 minor prophets in the Old Testament
- The High Priest’s breastplate was embedded with twelve precious gems.
- Twelve unleavened cakes of bread were placed within the Temple on a weekly basis (Leviticus 24)
- Twelve spies were sent into the Promised Land
- Joshua had the people build a monument of 12 stones when they crossed the Jordan River
- Jesus’ first words in the Bible were spoken when he was 12 years old
- Jesus chose 12 men to be his apostles
- Woman with the hemorrhages suffered for 12 years
- The wall of the New Jerusalem found in the book of Revelation has 12 foundations (each one named after an apostle)
- This New Jerusalem also has 12 gates made of pearls.
- These gates are guarded by 12 angels…
…there’s a lot more, but you get the idea…
After the Resurrection
Scripture and Tradition claim that Jesus appeared to his disciples 12 times after he rose from the dead. Now, I would bet money that Jesus appeared to people much more than 12 times before he returned to the Father. However, the fact that the Holy Spirit only inspired 12 instances to be recorded for prosperity is pretty significant.
Ten of these occurrences can be found in Scripture, while two of them come from the writings of the Early Church Fathers (guys who knew the Apostles personally). Here they are in an approximate order.
- Immediately after his Resurrection, Jesus appeared to his Mother (see here, here, and here).
- Jesus appeared to the women who came to the tomb (Matt 28:8-10).
- Jesus spoke with Mary Magdalene alone after she had told the Apostles that they found the tomb empty and then returned to the scene and was crying (John 20:11-18).
- Jesus appeared to the disciples who were leaving Jerusalem and headed towards Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)
- Though details aren’t provided, Scripture does say that Christ appeared to Simon (Luke 24:34-35).
- He appeared to 10 of the 12 in the Upper Room (John 20:19-23).
- Jesus appeared to all 11 living Apostles (John 20:24-29).
- Jesus appeared to several of the Apostles who have returned to fishing on the Sea of Tiberius (John 21:1-23).
- St. Paul tells the Corinthians that Christ appeared to 500 people on a mountain in Galilee after his Resurrection (1 Cor 15:6)
- Paul also reveals that Jesus appeared to St. James the Less (1 Cor 15:7).
- According to St. Ignatius, Jesus appeared to Joseph of Arimathea, the disciple who buried Christ in his own tomb (see here and here).
- Christ was present to 120 of his disciples, including the 12 Apostles, at the Great Commissioning (Matt 28:16-20).
The presence of this number symbolizes power, authority, and reunion. It shows that salvation is complete. It shows that Jesus –who is alive again– is all powerful. It shows that Jesus has redeemed and reunited the twelve tribes of Israel– and all his children– making them one family within his Church.
Anyone else find this sort of “hidden” meaning fascinating?