The study of the number “twelve” in the Bible is a very interesting one. For some reason God ordained that there should be twelve tribes of Israel, so Jacob (Israel) had twelve sons.
Then in Matthew 10:2 to 5 we learn the names of the twelve apostles chosen by Christ. Among the twelve was Judas Iscariot.
Note these words of the Lord Jesus concerning Judas:
“BUT THERE ARE SOME OF YOU THAT BELIEVE NOT. FOR JESUS KNEW FROM THE BEGINNING WHO THEY WERE THAT BELIEVED NOT, AND WHO SHOULD BETRAY HIM.” “JESUS ANSWERED THEM, HAVE NOT I CHOSEN YOU TWELVE, AND ONE OF YOU IS A DEVIL? HE SPAKE OF JUDAS ISCARIOT THE SON OF SIMON: FOR HE IT WAS THAT SHOULD BETRAY HIM, BEING ONE OF THE TWELVE.” John 6:64, 70 and 71.
Note again in the prayer of the Lord Jesus:
“WHILE I WAS WITH THEM IN THE WORLD, I KEPT THEM IN THY NAME: THOSE THAT THOU GAVEST ME I HAVE KEPT, AND NONE OF THEM IS LOST, BUT THE SON OF PERDITION; THAT THE SCRIPTURE MIGHT BE FULFILLED.” John 17:12.
Christ said to the twelve apostles, including Judas: “Ye have not chosen Me but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in My name, He may give it you.” John 15:16.
Then note Matthew 10:5 and 6: “These twelve Jesus sent forth and commanded them saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. “
The twelve apostles were sent to the twelve tribes of Israel. Then after the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus we find, in Acts 2:14, that twelve apostles stood up on Israel’s feast day, Pentecost, and addressed “all the house of Israel.” Acts 2:36.
When eleven other apostles stood up that day with Peter to address the twelve tribes of Israel, Matthias stood in the place of Judas. Judas was dead. And surely no intelligent student of the Bible will teach or believe that Judas became a saint by accepting Christ as his Saviour and then became a lost sinner by betraying Christ. Judas was the son of perdition when he was chosen and he was the son of perdition when he died.
Note the very interesting account of the selection of Judas’ successor:
“MEN AND BRETHREN, THIS SCRIPTURE MUST NEEDS HAVE BEEN FULFILLED, WHICH THE HOLY GHOST BY THE MOUTH OF DAVID SPAKE BEFORE CONCERNING JUDAS, WHICH WAS GUIDE TO THEM THAT TOOK JESUS. FOR HE WAS NUMBERED WITH US, AND HAD OBTAINED PART OF THIS MINISTRY.” “FOR IT IS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF PSALMS, LET HIS HABITATION BE DESOLATE, AND LET NO MAN DWELL THEREIN; AND HIS BISHOPRICK LET ANOTHER TAKE.” “THAT HE MAY TAKE PART OF THIS MINISTRY, AND APOSTLESHIP FROM WHICH JUDAS BY TRANSGRESSION FELL, THAT HE MIGHT GO TO HIS OWN PLACE. AND THEY GAVE FORTH THEIR LOTS; AND THE LOT FELL UPON MATTHIAS; AND HE WAS NUMBERED WITH THE ELEVEN APOSTLES.” Acts 1:16, 17, 20, 25 and 26.
God’s approval was upon the selection of Matthias. Note Acts 2:1: “all with one accord,” Acts 2:46: “with one accord;” Acts 4:32: “with one heart,” There was complete unity.
Matthias was the Lord’s choice to succeed Judas. But now the question; why was a successor necessary? When the Lord Jesus gave His commission to His apostles after His death, in the so-called great commission, Judas had died and the number had been reduced from “twelve” to “eleven”. Matthew 28:16. Mark 16:14. Why did not the Lord Jesus leave the number “eleven?” Why did they again select the twelfth apostle to Israel? Twelve tribes-twelve apostles. That was the Lord’s plan and program.
So on the day of Pentecost, devout Jews from every nation under heaven were gathered in Jerusalem. Peter and the Eleven stood up. What God inaugurated on that Jewish feast-day was for Israel. Yes, it was by twelve apostles for Israel. These apostles had been instructed not to go to Gentiles. And it is very significant that when many of the Jewish Christians were driven out of Jerusalem, the twelve apostles remained there. Acts 8:1. They were told in Matthew 10:23 “the Son may come before ye have gone over the cities of Israel.”
Peter, James and John were considered the pillars of that Jewish Church at Jerusalem. Note their agreement with Paul some fifteen years after the day of Pentecost: “And when James, Peter and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen and they unto the circumcision.” Galatians 2:9.
Not one of the twelve apostles preached outside of the land of the Jews, so far as there is any record in the Book of Acts. Of the Twelve, Peter preached to the household of Cornelius, the Gentile. When Peter did leave the land of the Jews he got into serious trouble. Galatians 2:11 to 15.
Cornelius loved Israel’s God. Cornelius worshipped Israel’s God. Cornelius loved Israel and gave them money. Acts 10:1, 2 and 22. The other eleven apostles condemned Peter for preaching to Cornelius and his loved ones. Acts 11:1 to 3. This was about seven years after the day of Pentecost when the Twelve stood up together.
Note very carefully Acts 11:19: “Now they that were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the Word, to none but unto the Jews only.”
This should make very clear the fact that up to this time the Jewish disciples of the Lord Jesus had preached to no Gentile. Phillip preached to the eunuch, but the eunuch was a proselyte. The one and only case of apostolic succession is Matthias for Judas.
Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the Church, And he killed James, the brother of John with the sword.” Acts 12:1 and 2.
James was the second one of the original twelve apostles to die. Judas was the first. Judas died and a successor was chosen. James died, and no successor was chosen.
And observe these most important and significant facts: Up to the death of James, in Acts 12:1 and 2, the “Acts” record is filled with the spiritual activities of Peter and the Eleven, Peter and John, the testimony of the Twelve. From Acts 13:2 to Acts 28:28, the “Acts” record is filled with the spiritual activities of another man, Saul, who became Paul. In these later chapters Paul is mentioned more than one hundred times and there is no record of the words or doings of Peter or any of the Twelve except as they had dealings with this chief human actor, Paul.
Therefore, when we learn that through the years covered by the first eleven chapters of Acts, the Lord kept the number of apostles at “Twelve,” we should. know there was a Divine purpose in it, and that God was dealing with Israel in a manner different than His dealings with that Nation after the new commission of Acts 13:2. Then the new Divine Movement was declared in Romans 11:15.
Now let us note the Lord’s promise to the twelve apostles:”
“And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Matthew 19:28.
Meditate upon this and believe it. Get the future earthly glory of the Twelve fixed in your mind.
Now let us read carefully the description of the heavenly city in Revelation 21. We quote two verses: “And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel.” “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Revelation 21:12 and 14.
No successor was chosen to take the place of James. The Lord was no longer interested in twelve apostles. Therefore the Lord’s attitude toward the twelve tribes was changing. Israel was going to be set aside and a radical change in God’s spiritual program was to begin. God required twelve apostles from the day of Pentecost to the death of James. After Acts 13:2, God no longer required twelve apostles.
“As they ministered and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
Separate unto me Saul (Paul).
Note Paul’s testimony:
“But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” “Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles be. fore me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.” Galatians 1:11, 12 and 17. “But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were it maketh no matter to me; God accepted no man’s person): for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me; But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter.” Galatians 2:6 and 7.
Then this further testimony
“For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office.” Romans 11:13.
“But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” Acts 20:24.
“That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.” Romans 15:16.
Unto Peter were committed “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 16:16 to 19. Unto Peter was committed “the gospel of the circumcision.” Galatians 2:7. We must study the first eleven chapters of Acts with these facts in mind.
What was committed to Paul?
“For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation He made known unto me the Mystery (as I wrote afore in few words).” “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Ephesians 3:1 to 3 and 8. “Who hath saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” “Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.” II Timothy 1:9 and 11.
If we do not know the difference between Peter’s keys of the kingdom and Paul’s dispensation of the grace of God, we should be ashamed workmen. If we don’t know the difference between Peter’s gospel of the circumcision and Paul’s gospel of the uncircumcision, we have ignored II Timothy 2:15.
Note Peter’s words in Acts 3:24 and compare them with Paul’s words in Ephesians 3:8:
Peter, in Acts 3:24, referred to the prophesied “Kingdom” days of Israel. But Paul’s declaration was altogether different. “Unto me who am less than the least of all saints is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Ephesians 3:8.
Note Peter’s declaration:
“Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days.” Acts 3:24.
All the prophets of Israel spoke of Peter’s message. Not one of them knew anything about Paul’s “unsearchable riches of Christ.” “Unsearchable” means “ unprophesied. “ Something new began with the new commission of Acts 13:2.
After that Israel committed the unpardonable sin and the truth of Romans 11:25, 26 and 15 was revealed
“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits: that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” “For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead.”
Israel was not set aside while there were eleven other apostles associated with Peter. In the first eleven chapters of Acts we have something of the kingdom program which the Lord will carry on after God’s purpose during this age has been accomplished.
Everything that Peter and the Eleven preached according to the first eleven chapters of Acts was in fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures, and therefore that spiritual program had nothing to do with “the dispensation of the mystery” which had been hid in God from before the foundation of the world: Ephesians 3:9.
Let us always recognize the difference between the prophesied Kingdom of heaven and the unprophesied “Body” of Christ: Ephesians 3:5 to 9 – Colossians 1:24 to 27.
For more articles by Pastor J. C. O'Hair, visit the J. C. O'Hair Online Library.