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Many Christians view the historical nation of Israel that we read about in the Old Testament as a Divinely designed type of the Church, and their inheritance in the Promised Land as a Divinely designed type of the New Earth (commonly called "heaven").

My question is: Assuming this typology is correct (i.e. Divinely intended), what is the significance of there being 12 tribes, each with their own region of the Promised Land? (For example, does this suggest each church will have its own domain in the New Earth, or does it speak more generally to the acceptability of diversity within the Church, or something else?)

I'm looking for standard views, not personal ideas, so a survey of the most prominent views (2-3 maybe) would be most helpful.

  • This has the shimmerings of a great question - but there are so many different views of the symbolism &/on symbology of the numbers used, that finding a "best" answer will [sadly] likely be highly subjective. – warren Apr 22 '15 at 19:55
  • @warren ...which is why I asked for the most prominent views. – Jas 3.1 Apr 23 '15 at 0:05
  • there are many "prominent" views, depending on your tradition/denomination/etc – warren Apr 23 '15 at 11:57
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Certain numbers had symbolic significance to the people of that era. Numbers like 7 and 12 had connotations of wholeness or completeness. (Not completely unlike modern-ish phrases like going the "whole 9 yards"). Bible numbers

The 12 tribes were established from the 12 sons of Israel/Jacob, who was himself the son of Isaac, who was the promised son of Abraham, who was the "father" of faith.

The most obvious interpretation of the symbolism then is that all sons of faith in the promise will receive an inheritance. As explained by Paul in Romans 4:16,

"That’s why the inheritance comes through faith, so that it will be on the basis of God’s grace. In that way, the promise is secure for all of Abraham’s descendants, not just for those who are related by Law but also for those who are related by the faith of Abraham, who is the father of all of us."

Paul indicates the symbolism was to preserve the truth of salvation being available to all sons of faith the promise of salvation through Christ, and completely unrelated to ethnic race or culture (as the Jews mistakenly believed).

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Twelve = Abundant Completeness of God's Blessings

The number twelve is suggestive of abundant completeness, particularly in terms of blessings (as opposed to the number 40, which is usually associated with complete punishment or adversity, e.g. the flood, Moses' exile from Egypt, years wandering in the wilderness, Jesus' fasting in the wilderness, Jewish "merciful" punishment was 40 lashes minus one). The number twelve is usually used in reference to the number of tribes of Israel, but in that context, it suggests abundand blesings. God told Abraham, "I will make you into a great nation," and the generation with twelve sons is where that promise began to be visualized. Most of its uses in the Old Testament are representative of the whole nation of Israel. Similarly, in the New Testament, that there are twelve apostles seems representative of the entire nation of Israel (though there's not one apostle chosen from every tribe), and their purpose is to tell the whole world about what God has done through Jesus.

I don't know that I could read more into the number of tribes other than it shows the abundance of the people whom God will bless or who will live in his presence after the resurrection.

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