Anyone familiar with the fact that the New Testament is couched within a deeply imbedded Old Testament awareness will very quickly recognize the significance of the number 12. John the Baptist preached with ferocity that the Kingdom of God was “near”. However, with the coming of Jesus Christ the Messiah, behold, the Kingdom of God is “here”. Jesus Christ not only ushered in the Kingdom of God on earth, he saw himself as the one who would usher in this dominion of God through his ministry of Gospel proclamation, healing, and exorcisms. With this vision of the Kingdom of God, Jesus chose 12 disciples to be part of his Inner circle of followers. These 12 disciples had the privilege of sitting at the feet of the Messiah and participating in the expansion of God’s Kingdom on earth. While we know from scripture that Jesus had many more than 12 disciples, why did he choose the 12 to be his inner circle? Why did he choose the 12 to be his apostles?
At the time of Jesus’ arrival, Israel had been under the dominion of Rome. In the centuries leading up to the arrival of Christ, Israel was in a time of messianic expectation. As historical records show, Israel understood the centuries prior to Christ (intertestamental period), as a time of silence, in the sense that God had not sent a prophet to give new and/or expanded revelation. It is for this reason that John the Baptist’s appearance took Israel by storm leading to multitudes flowing into the wilderness to listen to him and be baptized. However, the state of Israel and its leadership was not at all ideal. Corruption abounded and the time was ripe for the Messiah to come and inspect his vineyard. While eventually bringing judgment, Jesus also brought a gospel message of reconciliation; that in his person, people can be reconciled to God. Jesus lived out the ideal life of what it meant to be a faithful Jew. As God’s own Son, he demonstrated a complete reliance upon the Father and an unparalleled moral existence in that he never sinned; hence demonstrating that he was the perfect lamb that was able to bear the sins of the world. Along with this ideal life (expressed in his faithfulness to the Father)1 Jesus chose his 12 disciples. These disciples (although sinful and imperfect) also were meant to express a particular “Ideal”.
Renown scholar Richard Bauckham comments, “The significance of the group is undoubtedly related to the ideal constitution of Israel as comprising twelve tribes and the Jewish hopes for the restoration of all twelve tribes in the messianic age.”2 I think this is an accurate estimation of the symbolism behind Jesus’ choosing the 12. 12 disciples for the 12 tribes of Israel. This newly established 12 tribes (disciples) will usher in the knowledge of God and His Son through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Messiah. For this reason it was so important for the 12 to be with Jesus continually, learning from him as he equipped them to later bring his message to Israel, and to the furthest reaches of the earth. Through the proclamation of the apostles, we too as believers/apologists/evangelists, are called to carry on this great task as we bring the Gospel to the world.
1. “Ideal” is not meant to be taken that Jesus life was easy and not without challenges, suffering, and tragedy. Ideal here is meant that he himself lived the “ideal” life in the sense as being the perfect example to us sinners as to how one should live before God.
2. Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitnesses. (WB. Eerdmans Publishing Co.), 2006. P. 94.