The number “twelve” is used quite frequently in the Bible. It is a significant number. There must have been some Divine reason why there were twelve tribes of Israel. The number of these tribes must have had something to do with the fact that the Lord selected twelve apostles. If we believe Matthew 19:28, we believe that twelve apostles, in the coming kingdom age, will sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Note Paul’s testimony in Romans 11:13.
“For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify mine office.”
We may be sure that. Paul will not occupy one of those twelve thrones.
In Galatians 2:7 to 9 we have some very interesting information. Note it carefully
“But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter: (For He that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles. 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.”
In Galatians 2:9 we learn that James, Peter and John seemed to be the pillars. This James is called, in Galatians 1;19, the Lord’s brother. He is the James who persuaded Paul, about 60 A.D., to become a Jew, as one under the law, to the Jews at Jerusalem. Acts 21:18 to 28. James, the brother of John, was killed about 44 A. D. “And he killed James, the brother of John with the sword.” Aside from this record of the death of James, not one of the Twelve is mentioned by name in Acts after the first chapter, which was before the day of Pentecost, except James, Peter and John who represented the twelve. They were sent to Israel. Galatians 2:9.
In the first chapter of Acts we learn that Matthias was chosen to take the place of Judas. Why did any man have to take the place of Judas? In the Book of Acts we are told of the death of two of the twelve, Judas and James. In the case of Judas, before Peter preached to a Gentile, a successor must be selected. In the case of James, after Peter preached to the household of Cornelius, no successor need be selected. Then this is an evident and significant fact; there were twelve apostles from the day of Pentecost until after the statement of Acts 11:19. God’s program required twelve apostles. Note Acts 11:19: “Now they which 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.” Then followed the death of James. Acts 12:2. Then a radical change; the launching of a new program with the commission of Acts 13:2:
“As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul, for the work whereunto I have called them.”
After the death of James and this new order to Barnabas and Saul there is no further reference in Acts to any of the acts of any of the twelve apostles except as they had dealings with Paul. In the last sixteen chapters of the Book of Acts Paul is mentioned more than 120 times.
Right after Saul received and obeyed the commission of Acts 13:2, his name was changed to Paul. Acts 13:9. With this change of name a very important and significant event took place, the story of a blindness that brought blessing. We have written of this in another message. But let us observe that Saul was converted about 35 A.D., or sooner. He went right to work for Christ in the synagogue in Damascus. Acts 9:20. Then note his testimony in Galatians 1:17 and 18 and 22:
“Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.” “And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judea which were in Christ.” Saul received his commission of Acts 13:2 about ten years after he was converted. We know little of his work during those ten years. Also we know little of Paul’s work during the several years between the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters of Acts. But when the Holy Spirit said, “separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them”, He was calling them to a new work. Up to this time we find the record in Acts of one company of Gentiles who had heard and received the Word of God, the household of Cornelius. But in Acts 11:19 we read that the disciples preached the Word to none but to Jews only. It was not lawful for the Lord’s Jewish messengers to go to Gentiles. Acts 10:28. When Peter, about seven years after Pentecost preached to Cornelius, a Gentile who loved the Jews, a God-fearing man whose prayers had ascended to heaven as a memorial, the other eleven apostles criticized Peter. Acts 11:1 to 5.
In referring to his message to the household of Cornelius, Peter declared some years later, “Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the Word of the gospel, and believe.” Acts 15:7. We emphasize “by MY mouth”, because so far as we have any record in the Book of Acts, Peter’s mouth is the only mouth of the Twelve that God used to preach to Gentiles. Our appeal is to the Book of Acts and not to man’s church history. Remember the Lord’s words to them in Matthew 10:23, “ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.” Then read Acts 8:1: “And Saul was consenting unto His death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” Here we note that the Twelve remained in Jerusalem. So far as there is any record in the Book of Acts the Twelve did not preach outside of the cities of Israel. Remember again: “ 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.
Now note Colossians 1:5 and 6 and Colossians 1:23, “the gospel which is come in all the world,” “the gospel which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I, Paul, am made a minister.” We may be puzzled at such a record concerning the twelve apostles in the light of the so-called “great commission” of Matthew 28:19 and 20, and Mark 16:14 to 18. Were not the Twelve to disciple all nations? The answer is Galatians 2:9, “they went to Jews.” Were they not to preach the gospel to every creature? Paul assumed the responsibility for the regions beyond the cities of Israel and for Gentile evangelization. The Twelve remained in Jerusalem.
Note Christ’s words to Paul: “And it came to pass when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance.” “And He said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.” Acts 22:17 and 21.
When the resurrected Christ gave the great commission there were only eleven apostles. Judas was dead. Note Matthew 28:16 and Mark 6:11. But first note Acts 2:14: “But Peter standing up WITH THE ELEVEN.” Peter and the Eleven stood up. Twelve apostles stood up. Note their audience: “devout Jews from every nation under heaven.” Acts 2:5. If these Jews, representing every nation under heaven and their rulers, had repented and received the message of the Twelve, Jesus Christ would have returned to be Israel’s Messiah and King and those penitent and converted Jews would have preached the gospel of the kingdom to all nations. Acts 3:19 to 21, Zechariah 8. Some day a company of Jewish disciples will do this very thing.
But again, why was it necessary to have “Twelve” standing on the day of Pentecost? Note Acts 2:36: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, Whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” “All the house of Israel.” “Twelve tribes.” “Twelve apostles.” Note again Matthew 19:28: “twelve thrones “, “twelve tribes”, “twelve apostles.” Then note the twelve times twelve in Revelation 7:5 to 8. Then note Revelation 21:12 to 14: “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: On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
We hear much in these days of the Pentecostal Church with the slogan “back to Pentecost.” But in the Pentecostal assemblies we do not find twelve men standing up preaching to the twelve tribes of Israel, but quite frequently one woman speaking to Gentiles and calling for the repetition of the supernatural phenomena that took place fifty days after Christ arose from the dead. This Divine visitation, or supernatural demonstration was only a little sample of what is to take place in Israel’s “last days”. The blessings promised to Israel in the prophecy of Joel shall surely take place in Israel’s last days. Acts 2:16 and 17 and Joel 2:3.
But let us not get “the last days” of Israel confused with “the first days” of the Body of Christ. Let us not follow the serious blunder of others who begin “the dispensation of the grace of God” for Gentiles on a Jewish feast-day, and preach that the Pentecostal feast of Leviticus 23 spoke of the birthday of the Body of Christ. Many of these same messengers in their very next message emphasize the fact of the Body of Christ and the truth concerning that Body, was God’s secret in Old Testament times, the mystery concerning which Israel and Israel’s prophets and apostles were silent and ignorant. Any and all truth concerning the hope and calling and spiritual program of the Church of the mystery, called in Ephesians 3:6, “the Joint-Body”, was God’s unrevealed secret until some years after the Lord Jesus Christ went back to heaven. Then, as Paul said, “having made known the mystery of His will.” Ephesians 1:9. Most Christians apparently have no desire to get beyond the “childhood” truth of Corinthians.
It is sad, but true, that the great majority of Christians, even the outstanding Bible teachers, are still silent and ignorant concerning this mystery. The Lord Jesus Christ disclosed His Father’s secret in the days of Paul. That glorious and blessed truth at first was even hard for Peter to understand. II Peter 3:15 and 16. But every Christian should pray for the spirit of wisdom and revelation to understand the revealed mystery of God’s will. Ephesians 1:17 to 19. And should then join with all other Christians in making all to see what is “the dispensation of the secret” which was hid in God until revealed to us through the apostle Paul. Ephesians 3:9.
For more articles by Pastor J. C. O'Hair, visit the J. C. O'Hair Online Library.