Almost a thousand years before Jesus set foot on the earth, the first temple dedicated to the God of Israel in Jerusalem was built out of Lebanon cedar (the finest there was), costly stones, and pure gold. Scripture indicates that over 183,000 men were involved in the construction of this glorious house of worship during the reign of King Solomon (1 Kings 5:13-16). The vessels that were housed within the temple, and those that remained in the inner court, were equally as elaborate. One of these vessels that stood on the right side of the sanctuary between the altar and the porch of the temple was an immense bronze basin known as “the Sea” (1 Kings 7:23; 2 Chronicles 4:2).
The purpose of the Sea was for the ablution (ritual washing) of the priests. It is described in 1 Kings 7:23-26 and 2 Chronicles 4:2-5. It stood in the south-eastern corner of the inner court. According to the Bible it was five cubits high, ten cubits in diameter from brim to brim, and thirty cubits in circumference. The brim was like "the rim of a cup, like a lily blossom" and its thickness was "about a hand breadth" - or about four inches. The Sea stood on twelve bulls, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south and three facing east. The Sea rested on top of the twelve bulls, and their hindquarters were toward the center. 1 Kings 7:26 says "It held two thousand baths", while 2 Chronicles 4:5 says "It received and held three thousand baths" (this could be a copyist error, or could indicate that it was capable of holding 3000 baths in its capacity while in fact it held 2000 so as not to spill over; a Hebrew bath is estimated to have been between 4 1/2 and 9 gallons).
Observing this image and the details of the description, we see that it is a symbol or shadow or type of the ministry of the Twelve Apostles. The shape of the Sea resembles the shape of the earth. The twelve bulls represent the Twelve Apostles. That the twelve bulls looks towards the four quarters of the earth, with three looking north, three looking south, three looking west and three looking east, this indicates the Great Commission of the Lord to the Twelve Apostles to preach His message of salvation throughout the earth. The bulls (or oxen) themselves indicate the patient labor needed in the work of evangelization, and the strength of spirit. The water in the Sea symbolizes the waters of Baptism, which makes all those baptized by the Twelve Apostles and their successors into the priesthood of all believers. Lastly, that the Sea could hold up to 3,000 baths foreshadows the Day of Pentecost, where in Acts 2:41 we read, "Those who accepted his [Peter's] message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day."