Why are all of Israel’s tribes not listed in Revelation 7?


by Shawn Brasseaux

“Dan is named in Genesis 49:17 and Numbers 13:12 as one of the twelve tribes of Israel, but in Revelation 7:5-8 the tribe of Dan is omitted. Levi is named in Dan’s place. What would be the reason for this?”

Okay, great question! This can get a little tricky, but hopefully, we will be simple to understand here. You are asking about one of two challenges people experience with this passage. Enlightenment concerning both issues is necessary, especially if we are to answer those who like to pick on Revelation chapter 7 and say it is “riddled with errors.”

Abraham’s grandson Jacob (Israel) had 12 sons—Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Joseph, Benjamin, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher (1 Chronicles 2:1-2; cf. Genesis 35:22-26; Genesis 49:1-28). This is the origin of Israel’s 12 tribes.

However, when it came to organizing Israel for military purposes, God told Moses He did not want the priestly tribe of Levi fighting wars with the rest of Israel. So, since Joseph had two sons—Manasseh and Ephraim (Genesis 48:1,5,9)—that division in Joseph’s tribe created a new “tribe” to make up for the Levites’ absence (Numbers 1:32-35, 47-50). Recognizing that division in the tribe of Joseph helps us to partly understand the odd list of Jewish tribes in Revelation chapter 7.

Revelation chapter 7 talks about 12,000 Jewish preachers from each of Israel’s 12 tribes. These 144,000 men will evidently convert other Jews to form the Little Flock, Israel’s believing remnant. Revelation 7:4-8 is a list of the 12 tribes, their names transliterated from Greek, which explains the spelling differences between the New Testament and the Old Testament (Hebrew)—Juda, Reuben, Gad, Aser, Nepthalim, Manasses, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zabulon, Joseph, and Benjamin. Note that “Ephraim” and “Dan” do not appear here. See how “Levi,” “Joseph,” and “Manasses” (Manasseh) are mentioned. Why this deviation from the standard Old Testament lists of the 12 tribes? The answers lie in understanding the Old Testament.


According to the book of Judges, chapter 18, Dan was the first tribe to wholly embrace Baal worship (pagan idolatry). Being one of the 10 northern tribes, Dan was influential in polluting the Northern Kingdom with false religion. Since Dan was the first tribe to be unfaithful to God’s Word, God will not use any of the Danites to form the 144,000. The Levites, as you noted, will take Dan’s place in that special ministry. Remember, being the (special) priestly tribe, Levi was normally not mentioned when the 12 tribes were named in the Old Testament. Joseph’s two sons—Manasseh and Ephraim—formed two tribes instead of one. This division allowed Levi to be removed and yet Israel would still have 12 tribes for her army. Because the Danites are not part of the 144,000, thus causing the total to be 12,000 short, there are the 12,000 Levites to make up for the missing tribe of Dan.


You did not seem to notice, so let me point out to you that the name “Ephraim” is also absent from Revelation chapter 7. However, Ephraim is implied. “Joseph” and “Manasseh” are mentioned by name (verses 6 and 8), and that terminology forces “Joseph” to be Ephraim. (Joseph can only be divided into his two sons of Manasseh and Ephraim, and Manasseh was already named in the passage.) Evidently, God eliminated the name “Ephraim” here since Ephraim was another idolatrous tribe. With Dan, Ephraim was the other major tribe of the Northern Kingdom that eventually embraced idolatry and refused to abandon that paganism (Hosea 4:17). Nevertheless, there are still 12 tribes in Revelation chapter 7, with a different way of dividing Jacob’s descendants.


The list in Revelation chapter 7 has nothing to do with salvation unto eternal life and nothing to do with salvation into heaven. The Russellites—commonly called “the Jehovah’s Witnesses”—are probably best known for their “only 144,000 will be taken from earth into heaven” doctrine. Revelation chapter 7 is their favorite passage. The context, however, is not salvation unto eternal life. We know this because Revelation 14:4 says these 144,000 “were not defiled with women; for they are virgins.” In other words, the 144,000 are Jewish men who never had sexual relations with women!

Are only 144,000 men going to heaven? What about women? See, the 144,000 are not as the Jehovah’s Witness people tell us. The 144,000 are Jewish men whom God will use to preach to other Israelites during Daniel’s 70th Week, commonly called the seven-year Tribulation. These men, when their preaching ministry to Israel on Earth is over, will be taken into heaven (Revelation 14:1-5). The 144,000 are certainly not “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” and the 144,000 are not the only individuals going to heaven. In fact, we see others going into heaven during that Tribulation period—the two witnesses, for example (Revelation 11:12). Furthermore, we see the Church the Body of Christ destined for the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6-7). I think it is quite safe to say more than 144,000 Christians have lived on Earth during the last 2,000 years who died and went to heaven, no? Revelation chapter 7 has nothing to do with a limited number of people in heaven. Ridiculous!

Also see:
» Why does Israel have 12 apostles?
» Did David’s father Jesse have seven or eight sons?
» How many daughters did Lot have?