For my home teaching lesson last month, instead of giving a message from the First Presidency, I decided to give a message about the First Presidency. Actually it is more about the Twelve Apostles as a whole (and not just the central three pillars that lead them), Jesus, the restoration of Israel, the temple as a symbol for God’s kingdom, and revelation. These concepts are all intimately intertwined, especially in imagery that presents the Twelve (as delegated by Christ) as foundational rocks or seer stones.
The closest precedent the Old Testament offers to the apostles are the Twelve tribal princes that Moses designated along with 70 elders. These princes were in turn modeled after the Twelve Patriarchs or the sons of Israel that were the founding fathers of each tribe. William Horbury has a book chapter (“The Twelve and the Phylarchs” p. 157-188) available on Google books that explores the concept further. This priestly position fell into obscurity as the nation of Israel went through vast political changes and scattering. The concept of the Seventy fared much better, but that is a different story. Suffice it to say, when Christ restored the office of the Twelve, it began to meet Messianic expectations that Israel would be restored to her former glory.I do like considering connections, however remote with other ancient texts, although I have to rely on other scholars. I have taken the liberty of excising references and language transcriptions without notice in the excerpts below. I will keep my commentary minimal and in italics.
From J. A. Draper, “The Apostles as Foundation Stones of the Heavenly Jerusalem and the Foundation of the Qumran Community” Neotestamentica 22 (1988).
What follows are excerpts of commentary on Rev. 21. First, the 12 apostles symbolize a restoration of the 12 tribes.
The identification of parts of the city with the community is rather in terms of names inscribed: those of the twelve tribes on the gates and those of the apostles of the Lamb on the twelve foundation stones. The whole city is described in units and multiples of twelve, symbolic of the eschatological renewal of Israel. Sanders has remarked that, “the expectation of the reassembly of Israel was so widespread and the memory of the twelve tribes so acute, that ‘twelve’ would necessarily mean restoration …”
Principally the foundation is understood to be Christ, but another application is to that of the 12 and their community of followers.
However, the underlying theme is probably given by two texts from Isaiah 28:16 and 54:11-12. The “precious cornerstone” of Isaiah 28:16 was usually given a Christological interpretation in the New Testament, as in the Targum where, in place of the reading of the Masoretic text, “a stone, a tested stone” it has “a king, a strong king, powerful and terrible.” Here it is applied to the community instead.
The 12 as stones related to the Urim and Thummin–an intriguing link to seer stones and revelation. Moses’ Twelve princes provided the precious stones for the High Priest’s breastplate.
By the first century B C, the Biblical lots Urim and Thummim had been thoroughly confused with the twelve gemstones in the breastplate of the High Priest, each inscribed with the name of a tribe. After their loss in 586 B. C, speculation took over from fact, but they continued to be understood as sources of judgment and prophecy, belonging to the High Priest. They were believed to have been hidden by Jeremiah before the fall of Jerusalem, and their restoration to the temple was to be a sign of the eschatological renewal of Israel. All of these ideas lie behind the Qumran pesher, and it seems that the twelve founding members of the community are identified with the twelve Urim and Thumim …. This is very close to the conception in Revelation 21:14,19ff, where the apostles’ names are inscribed on the twelve foundation stones of the new Jerusalem and characterised further as twelve gemstones. In other words, the twelve apostles are identified with the Urim and Thummim as a sign of the eschatological renewal of Israel.
Draper cites Qumran texts like 1QS 8:1-16; 9:3-11; 1QS 11:7-8; and reconstructs the fragmentary 4Qplsa (commentary on Isa 54:11-12. 1QS 8 refers to a “council of the community” composed of “twelve men and three priests” who are “foundational” and the “precious cornerstone” of Isaiah 28.16. Draper uses the latter 2 texts to make connections with Rev. 21 and identify the 12 (3 priests are included) as “heads of the tribes.” On 1 QS 9 Draper writes:
The description of this founding group of twelve is taken up again in 9:3-11, where they are described as “a foundation of holy spirit.” The spirit of holiness has the function of purifying and inspiring the members with insight into the mysteries of God (compare lQS 3:6-12, where the spirit of holiness is connected with moral conversion and ritual lustration). The spirit is a mark of the special presence of God with his people, and has also eschatological implications, since it was believed to have deserted Israel until the promised outpouring of the last days. This passage also sees the group as a spiritual temple . . . Within this community only the sons of Aaron are to rule in judgment and possessions, and the lot is to be cast only on their authority (9:7). Thus the group as a whole is invested with the authority of its three priests. This is because the lot which makes decisions or judgments, connected with the priesthood and the temple, is the Urim and Thummim of the High Priest’s vesture.
From David Mathewson, “A Note on the Foundation Stones in Revelation 21.14, 19-20” [JSNT 25.4 (2003) 487-498] see abstract here.]
Though most commentators have pointed to texts such as Eph. 2.20 and Mt. 16.16-18 [and Gal. 2.9] as the ostensible background for the notion of the apostles as the foundation stones (members) of the Christian community in Rev. 21.14, insufficient attention has been devoted to the Old Testament matrix for this architectural feature of the New Jerusalem. Though John is noticeably dependent on Ezek. 40–48 for much of his description of the New Jerusalem in 21.9-21, it is Isa. 54.11-12 that depicts the eschatological restoration of Jerusalem in terms of its adornment with precious stones (cf. Isa. 28.16). In addition to the overall role that Isa. 40–66 plays throughout Rev. 21.1-27 more broadly, ….
Interestingly, in the Isaiah pesher the pinnacles are allegorized as the twelve priests who give illumination like the sun by means of the Urim and Thummim. The Urim and Thummim possessed oracular significance in Israelite tradition. It appears, however, that the function of the Urim and Thummim could be transferred to the twelve stones on the breastplate of the high priest.
Many scholars, however does not believe that the 12 were meant to continue after laying a foundation. This echoes a fairly common sentiment I have run across. For example, Catholic Francis Sullivan writes (see my blog post for reference:
The role of the Twelve as symbolizing the twelve patriarchs of Israel meant that they had a unique role to play, precisely as a group of twelve, in the very origin of the church. This called for the choice of a twelfth man to take the place of Judas, prior to Pentecost so that on that day Peter “stood up with the Eleven” (Acts 2:14) when he gave his first witness to the risen Christ. On the other hand, some years later, when James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John was put to death by Herod (Acts 12:2), there was no question of again completing the number of the Twelve. By then the initial “foundation time” was completed.
R. A. Campbell
However Baptist R. A. Campbell reacts to such an argument in “The Elders of the Jerusalem Church” Journal of Theological Studies 44 (1993). Campbell argues that Luke expects us to assume that when James died that he was replaced like Judas was with Matthias. Those who disagree “are indulging in dogmatic speculation in the service of their own theories” !! (p. 517-518). He concludes that Luke purposefully calls Paul and apostle because qualification of his witness and sense of mission was equivalent to those who had been with Christ from the beginning of his mission. Here is a more subdued version of his position that Campbell presented in his ’94 book The Elders p. 162-3]
Jerusalem, of course, was unique in having within it a body of twelve men who exercised leadership in virtue of their special commissioning by Jesus to be the nucleus of the eschatologically restored Israel. It is uncertain what became of this group, whether they left Jerusalem on missionary service, or died out, or whether they continued in leadership up to the time of the Jewish War, their number being made up as necessary by others to maintain the symbolic significance of Twelve. Luke’s evidence is most commonly understood, as we have seen, to mean that the elders succeeded the apostles in the leadership of the chutch. Recently, for example, Bauckham has suggested that, as the number of the original Twelve dwindled, a new body was formed under the leadership of James, with any surviving apostles forming part of it, and it is this body whom Luke calls ‘the elders’. But if in fact the Twelve, as an institution, continued for any length of time in Jerusalem, then the term ‘the elders’ would naturally have been applied to them, especially if, as is likely, that body included members of the original group, those whom Luke calls ‘the apostles’.
 We are regularly assured that this did not happen, that when James bar Zebedee was executed his place was not filled, but can we be sure of this, given the selectiveness of Luke’s account? The symbolic importance of the Twelve, together with the space Luke gives to describing Matthias’s appointment, might suggest the opposite: the number was maintained, and this is how it was done.
 Bauckham, Relatives, p. 75. Bauckham presents evidence to suggest that the list of bishops of Jerusalem, preserved independently by Eusebius and Epiphanius, should in reality be seen as a list of the new eldership surrounding James, pp. 70-9.
From Bruce Chilton in Types of Authority in Formative Christianity and Judaism. London, UK: Routledge, (1999).
Chilton believes that more replacements in 12 happened besides Matthias for Judas, but considers Paul an apostle outside of the 12.
In the new environment of God’s spirit which the resurrection signaled, baptism was indeed, as Matthew 28:19 indicates, an activity and an experience which involved the Father (the source of one’s identity), the Son (the agent of one’s identity), and the Holy Spirit (the medium of one’s identity). The intimate connection between endowment with the spirit of God and the resurrection of Jesus enables us to understand why the actual constituency of the apostles did not have to be strictly limited to those who had been selected by Jesus as such. In Acts 1:21– 6, Matthias is chosen with Joseph Barsabbas, as among those who had been associated with the movement from the time of John’s baptism. Both are fit to be witnesses of the resurrection, and the casting of lots results in the choice of Matthias, so that the number twelve is made up. Clearly, the apostolic group in Jerusalem maintained the principle of personal familiarity with Jesus prior to the resurrection and with the movement initiated by John, as well as the significance of the number twelve, even as the persons numbered among the twelve changed. That enables us to understand why there should be variations recorded in the names of those chosen by Jesus (see Matthew 10:2– 4; Mark 3:16– 19; Luke 6:14– 16). These lists represent an amalgam of historical memory and the constituency of the twelve as known to the local authorities in Rome around 70 CE (so Mark) or in Damascus around 80 CE (so Matthew) or in Antioch around 90 CE (so Luke)….
In his assertion of his apostolic rights (including the right not to work, to be sustained, and to have a wife, see 1 Corinthians 9:3– 7), Paul includes himself in the same category as Barnabas (9:6): “Or am I alone with Barnabas in not having authority not to work?” By implication, then, Barnabas is an apostle in the same sense Paul is. Barnabas was an important figure within the church in Jerusalem, but he was a Levite from Cyprus, and certainly did not meet the qualifications of a Matthias. 25 Moreover, Paul does not list Barnabas as among those to whom the risen Jesus appeared. Still, Paul does refer to Jesus’ appearance to “all the apostles,” and Barnabas might be understood among their number. In any case, we do need to rely on Paul’s implication to see Barnabas as an apostle: he is actually named as such, with Paul (and before Paul!) in Acts 14:14. The total list of those to whom the risen Jesus appeared gives us some idea of the extent to which apostolic identity might be claimed far beyond the circle of the twelve, and Paul and Acts confirm that impression.
There is also, in Rev. 21, 12 gates associated with visionary temple also presumably representing the Q12 as well. I wonder how this ties in with the Q12 or Jesus being heavenly gate keepers or prevailing against the gates of hell (spirit world) as some Mormon commentators such as Barry Bickmore have pointed out. I am tempted to tie the 12 oxen supporting the temple font with the 12 tribal princes/apostles given the imagery of the apostles being foundational. A foundation that was meant to continue even beyond Matthias replacing the fallen Judas. In sum, I think there is a very complex imagery lurking behind Matt. 16’s rock that links the apostles to Jesus and revelation as collectively being the foundation of a restoration of Israel and the temple and all that that implies in regards to heavenly and earthly salvation.