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Why is the tribe of Dan missing from the 144,000 in Revelation?

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Why is the tribe of Dan missing from the 144,000 in Revelation?
Posted on April 27, 2021  - By Rufus Simon Varghese

Do we know what happened to the tribe of Dan in Israel and why it is not mentioned along with the 144,000 in Revelation? Instead, Manasseh (Joseph’s son) is mentioned as part of the 12 — even though the tribe of Joseph is also listed separately in the line-up.

Let us first look at what happened to the tribe of Dan. Dan was the son of Jacob through Rachel’s maidservant Bilhah. In his prophecy regarding his sons, Jacob prophesies that Dan will judge and also be a serpent that bites the horse’s heels (Genesis 49:16-17). 

By the time of the book of Judges, the tribe of Dan offers Samson as a judge and they relocate from the area they were allocated during the time of Joshua to the northernmost part of Israel through violent and devious means. They dispossess the city of Laish and burn it with fire. The presence of idol worship and departure from God’s norms become a pattern of life (Judges 17-18). 

More than 120 years after Judges, the kingdom of Israel divided into the Northern Kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam (consisting of all tribes except Judah, Benjamin and Levi) and the Southern kingdom of Judah under Rehoboam, Solomon’s son.

In his prophecy regarding his sons, Jacob prophesies that Dan will be a serpent that bites the horse’s heels

Jeroboam feared that the people of the Northern Kingdom would defect to the Southern Kingdom if they continued going to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. He, therefore, made two calves of gold and attributed the rescue of Israel from Egypt to these idols. One calf was installed at Bethel, situated in the tribe of Ephraim where he lived (1 Kings 12:25-33), and the other at Dan. This led to a large-scale perversion of true worship in a manner that was mentioned repeatedly in the Old Testament. 

Eventually, by 722 BC, the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Samaria being the capital city) was captured by Assyria and carried away; they never came back (2 Kings 17:6, 22). The king of Assyria brought people from various places and placed them in the land of the Northern Kingdom. 

In short, the tribe of Dan, as a result of their ongoing disobedience to God in matters of idol worship, ceased to continue in their land. They were absorbed into the pagan cultures that they were exiled to.

Symbolism in Revelation

Secondly, we need to know the purpose of the book of Revelation. It was written to the seven churches as an exhortation to stand fast in the Lord in the face of the religious persecution that would be inflicted by the Roman government. The Romans treated Caesar as God and demanded loyalty towards him from every province under its control. Christians who opposed this would pay the price. 

John makes heavy use of various Old Testament characters and events to indirectly talk about the idolatry that the Roman government enforces, along with the filth it promotes, and the believers’ duty to avoid showing absolute loyalty to Caesar. 

Many times in the Old Testament, Israel’s idol worship and imitation of pagan practices led to sexual immorality like fertility cults and religious prostitution. This is alluded to in the letter to the church at Thyatira (Revelation 2:20-23). 

Also, remember that Babylon — which ceased to exist as an empire during the 6th century BC — is used as a cryptic reference to the existing Roman Empire that persecuted the Christians and the upcoming world empire which would function against God with the power of the Antichrist. 

The plagues of the Exodus and people like Moses, Elijah, Jezebel and Balaam are all alluded to in various passages to refer to things or events that happened during the time of Revelation. All of these persons are involved in Israel’s history with regard to some event connected to idol worship (golden calf, Baal worship, idolatry with the Midianites). 

Many times in the OT, Israel’s idol worship and imitation of pagan practices led to sexual immorality like fertility cults

Understanding the 144,000

Thirdly, as we consider Revelation 7:1-8 and 14:1-5 — which are the passages referencing the 144,000 who are with Jesus — we must note a few things.

  • Israel is used here as a type or a symbol for God’s people, which is the church in this context.
  • Dan and Bethel (which fell under the tribe of Ephraim) are omitted, even though Dan has a specific regional boundary allocated in the land of Israel and Ephraim was preferred over Manasseh in Genesis 48. They are omitted in this list to remind readers of what happens when one rejects true worship and devotion to God and seeks sinful alternatives. The sexual immorality associated with idol worship is referenced in Revelation 14:4, where the 144,000 who were redeemed from the earth haven’t defiled themselves with women. 
  • The number 12 is kept intact in relation to the number of tribes mentioned to refer to the whole nation of Israel. To compensate for the two tribes that fell away due to apostasy, Revelation 7 includes Joseph, who was never mentioned as a tribe in the Old Testament, and also the tribe of Levi, which didn’t have any tribal inheritance as far as their geography was concerned. 
  • These 144,000 loyal ones who are redeemed from the earth have the name of Jesus and the Father on their foreheads as a sign of belonging to God and being protected by him. They stand with Jesus, who is on Mount Zion as the King who is installed by the Father (Psalm 2:6). Jesus will destroy the nations with the rod of iron and these who belong to Him will enjoy an eternal relationship with him. They will follow the Lamb wherever He goes.

Through all of these Old Testament-based references and the absence of Dan and Ephraim in this list, the book seeks to let readers know that those who are steadfast in the Lord — despite various hardships and persecutions endured for their loyalty to Jesus — will remain with Him forever (Revelation 7:14, 12:11, 13:9-10). Meanwhile, those who are cowards and idolaters and those who love themselves more than Jesus will be punished (Revelation 21:8). 

Let us continue in undivided loyalty to Jesus the King, who reigns forever, no matter what persecutions arise or what threatens to divert our allegiance to Him.

Rufus Simon Varghese

About Rufus Simon Varghese

Born and raised in Dubai, UAE, Rufus completed his Masters in Theology at Asian Christian Academy in Hosur, India. He has since been involved in personal outreach ministries and teaching youngsters Scripture. Currently based in Ernakulam, India, he is teaching at a Bible school as well as ministering to the Hindi-speaking immigrant working population in Kerala.



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