After the twelve apostles of Jesus witnessed a young man walk away from Him with a sorrowful heart when the Master charged him to sell all of his things, give the money to the poor, and come follow Jesus, Peter set forth an observation and a question: “See, we have left all and followed you. Therefore what shall we have? (Matthew 19:27).
In response to what Peter said, Jesus declared: (28) Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (29) And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:28,29).
Who would sit on those twelve thrones? When would they do so? In what sense would they judge the twelve tribes of Israel? What additional promises did Jesus make at this time and to whom did they apply? Those are some of the questions that come to mind as we consider the meaning of Jesus’ statements. To whom did Jesus speak when He told His listeners that they would sit on twelve thrones? He said “you” would do so (Matthew 19:28). From the context, we learn that He was speaking to His apostles, simply called “the twelve” (Mark 10:32) or “the twelve disciples” (Matthew 20:17). So, the promise was to twelve men – twelve men were to sit on twelve thrones and judge twelve tribes.
When would the apostles do this judging? Has it started? Is it ongoing? Will it be in the future? Jesus identified the time element when the apostles would sit on thrones and judge. He said that it would be “in the regeneration.” We are now living in the time of regeneration, as people are being regenerated/born again by obeying the truth (1 Peter 1:22,23). Paul spoke of this regeneration, telling Titus, “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4,5). “The washing of regeneration” occurs when a person is baptized into the Christ and the Savior’s blood washes away his/her sins. Again, that is happening now. Since regeneration is going on in the gospel era, then the time of the apostles’ judging is now.
Jesus further said that the apostles’ judging would take place when He sits on the throne of His glory. Zechariah prophesied that the Christ would serve as high priest on His throne at the same time that He would sit and rule on His throne (Zechariah 6:12,13). Jesus is now our high priest (Hebrews 4:14), so that means that He also is sitting on His throne and ruling now. Since Jesus already has His kingdom (Colossians 1:12-14), then He is king now. Yes, He now is sitting on His throne and ruling over His kingdom. Thus, His apostles are now in the process of sitting on the twelve thrones and ruling over the twelve tribes.
Are those literal thrones? No. How many thrones were there to be? Twelve apostles on twelve thrones, right? What about Judas the betrayer? Would he be right in there judging with the other apostles? Surely not. He died before the church was established. And what about the other two apostles who were added after Jesus’ ascension? Those men, Matthias and Paul, were genuine apostles, too. Paul said that he was not one bit lower than the other apostles (2 Corinthians 11:5). Since there were a total of fourteen apostles, and one of them was a rebel (leaving eleven plus two), we conclude that the twelve thrones were a symbolic reference.
What about the twelve tribes of Israel which the apostles were to judge? Today “the Israel of God“refers to those people who are new creations in the Christ (Galatians 6:15,16). That includes both Jews and Gentiles alike (Galatians 3:26-28). Christians are now “the people of God” (1 Peter 2:9,10). So, Jesus’ words about “the twelve tribes of Israel” was a symbolic reference to the people of God, the Lord’s church, just as He Himself now reigns over the spiritual “house of Jacob” (Luke 1:31-33).
Jesus’ statement about the apostles sitting on thrones and judging points to the authority which He would grant them. Jesus had earlier told the twelve, “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). Jesus has all authority (Matthew 28:18), and He has delegated authority to His apostles, whose God- given word guides the church. The early saints continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42). What teaching was that? It was the truth which the Holy Spirit revealed to them (John 16:13). So, the apostles are said to “judge” in the sense that their message of truth is authoritative – whenever they declare that something is acceptable or unacceptable, required or unnecessary, that is “the way it is.” The church submits to Jesus (Ephesians 5:24) by submitting to His apostolic ambassadors. Those who refused to submit to the truth which was revealed via the apostles were in rebellion to the Lord Himself, for their message is described as “the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37).
Our allegiance is to Jesus, the Lord of lords. In our commitment to Him, let us acknowledge the role and authority of His apostles.
— Roger D. Campbell