This story of the 12 stones is found in Joshua 4.5, but to get the full story we need to go back to Joshua 3.14-17. Israel is going to cross the Jordan and enter the land. This is symbolic of taking the land spiritually. The Jordan River is symbolic of “death” and they enter the river at the same place the priests are crossing with the Ark, which carried the Word of God. The priests and the Ark represent the Messiah entering “death” (the Jordan) before us.
Now, the waters “rolled back” north to a place called Adam. This was a picture of spiritual death and sin being “rolled back” all the way to Adam, the first man who sinned. The city of Adam was near a place called Zarethan, which means “distress” and the Jordan flowed down to the Dead Sea, which is a picture of the Lake of Fire. So, what is being communicated here? There is only one way to cross, one way to enter “death” (Jordan) safely and that place is where Yeshua has crossed (John 14.6; Acts 16.31). Man (Adam) dwells near distress (Zarethan) and is always close to death (Jordan) which will eventually lead to the Lake of Fire if our sins have not been “rolled back.” One day we will come to the Jordan and without faith in Messiah, there is no safe crossing.
Now, with that backround, we come to Josh 4.5 and the 12 stones they took out of the Jordan. The stones were placed in a heap as a memorial to later generations, marking the place where Israel crossed over. But, there is a spiritual meaning as well. The Jordan symbolizes death. That’s why Yeshua was immersed there. The stones symbolize believers (1 Pet 2.5) and raising them out of the Jordan is a picture of being raised out of death in the resurrection. Now, Gilgal (roll away) was where they crossed and where these stones were set up. Gilgal eventually was seen as a place of rest to Israel, based on Joshua 10.43. It was where the kingdom would be renewed in the time of Saul and David (1 Sam 11.14).
Galilee is an allusion to the same concept and it is an idiom for “heaven” because the “gal” in Gilgal is related to the “gal” in Galilee, and it means “circle” symbolizing the eternal. It was located in the “north” of Israel and it was symbolic of where God’s throne is in relation to the Universe (Isa 14.13; Psa 48.2). Gilgal played a role in the lives of Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 2.1, 4.8).
So, Gilgal became a concept associated with Heaven and the eternal Kingdom of God. These 12 stones were possibly mentioned in Matt 3.9 where John was preaching along the Jordan. It would make sense for John to mention them since he came in the spirit and power of Elijah and he was preparing the people for the Messiah and the coming Kingdom of God to be renewed and Gilgal was the biblical place to “renew the Kingdom.”