Rev. 21:12 – The city had a massive high wall, with 12 gates. Twelve angels were at the gates; the names of the 12 tribes of Israel’s sons were inscribed on the gates. 13 There were three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. 14 The city wall had 12 foundations, and the 12 names of the Lamb’s 12 apostles were on the foundations. (HCSB)
The number 12
The number 12 is repeated many times in this passage:
- The city walls have 12 gates.
- Twelve angels are at the gates.
- The names of the 12 tribes of Israel’s sons are inscribed on the gates.
- The city wall has 12 foundations.
- The 12 names of the Lamb’s 12 apostles are on the foundations.
- The city measures 12,000 stadia.
- The wall’s thickness is 144 cubits (12 x 12).
- The 12 gates are 12 pearls.
What is the significance of the number 12 in this passage, and throughout scripture?
The number 12 appears 187 times in God’s Word, and 22 times in Revelation, according to BibleStudy.org. The meaning of 12, which is considered a perfect number, is that it symbolizes God’s authority, as well as serving as a perfect governmental foundation.
The number also depicts completeness, or the nation of Israel as a whole. For example, Jacob (Israel) had 12 sons that each represented a tribe of the nation. This is important because if the New Jerusalem in fact comprises the whole people of God under the Old and New Covenants, then we have in this heavenly city the “true Israel” about which the New Testament authors write.
It may be good to note a few other places in scripture where the number 12 is featured:
In Leviticus 24, God specifies that 12 unleavened cakes of bread be placed every week in the temple.
In the Gospels, Jesus chooses 12 men as apostles; these men are to carry His authority after His ascension, to bear witness of His earthly ministry and finished work of redemption, and to take the good news to the world.
In Revelation 7 we see 144,000 (12 x 12 x 1,000) sealed servants of God, and in Revelation 14 we see 144,000 on Mount Zion with the Lamb.
Other examples could be listed, but the point is that the Lord uses this number throughout scripture to indicate perfection, completeness, and authority.
The extensive use of the number 12 in Revelation 21 seems to illustrate that New Jerusalem represents “true Israel,” or the redeemed people of God throughout human history. The redeemed form a Holy of Holies for God, whose radiance shines through His people as the Shekinah glory filled the innermost sanctuary in the ancient temple.
Next: Every kind of precious stone – Revelation 21:18-21