Revelation 7:4–8 lists 144,000 “sealed” or protected servants of God who will minister during the tribulation of the end times. The sealed comprise 12,000 individuals from each of the twelve tribes of Israel: Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. For some reason, the tribe of Dan is not listed; in its place is Manasseh, which is one of the two tribes that came from Joseph.
The Bible does not tell us why the tribe of Dan is excluded from the list of the twelve tribes in Revelation 7. However, some background information about the twelve sons of Jacob and the twelve tribes of Israel might provide some clues. First, a brief history of the twelve tribes:
The twelve tribes of Israel came from the twelve sons of Israel—Israel being the name that God gave Jacob (Genesis 32:28). Jacob’s twelve sons were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin (Genesis 35:23–26; Exodus 1:1–4; 1 Chronicles 2:1–2). The progeny of those twelve sons comprised the twelve tribes of Israel.
In the time of Joshua, when Israel inherited the Promised Land, Levi’s descendants did not receive a territory for themselves (Joshua 13:14). Instead, they had priestly duties and took care of the tabernacle. The Levites were given several cities scattered throughout the land. To fill out the twelve allotments, Joseph’s tribe was divided in two—Jacob had adopted Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, essentially giving Joseph a double portion for his faithfulness in saving the family from famine (Genesis 47:11–12). In this arrangement, the tribes given territory in the Promised Land were Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh. In some places in Scripture, the tribe of Ephraim is referred to as the tribe of Joseph (e.g., Numbers 1:32–33).
After King Solomon died, Israel split into two kingdoms. Judah, to the south, included the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The other tribes combined to make the kingdom of Israel in the north. In the ensuing years, many Israelites in the north emigrated to Judah in the south to flee the apostasy in their homeland (see 2 Chronicles 11:16; 15:9). Eventually, the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians, and most of the Israelites were either killed or deported; it’s likely that many of the Israelites who remained migrated to the southern kingdom of Judah, as many of the faithful before them had.
Jesus was from Judah, Paul was from Benjamin, Anna was from Asher, and John the Baptist was a Levite, but, since the Diaspora in AD 70, identifying the tribe of any given Jew is more difficult. During the tribulation, when most of the world is following the Antichrist, 144,000 Jews will be sealed by God—12,000 from each tribe—for special service. God has kept track of the tribes, and He knows who is who. The tribes with sealed individuals are listed in Revelation 7:5–8, but it is not the same list as found in Joshua 13—22. The sealed tribes in the end times include Manasseh and Ephraim (under Joseph’s name). But Dan is not included. No explanation is given as to why.
There are some other details of the history of the tribe of Dan that might help explain why Dan is missing from the list of sealed tribes in Revelation. Judges 18:1–31 tells the story of the people of Dan falling into gross idolatry. Also, the Danites did not like the territory allotted to them near the Mediterranean Sea—the Amorites and Philistines gave them trouble—so they sent out spies to find a better area. In the north, the Danites learned of an area inhabited by a peaceful group of people, whom the Danites proceeded to wipe out; they then moved the entire tribe up to that region, just south of present-day Lebanon. There they established their main city and called it Dan.
Later, in the divided kingdom, the people of Dan were part of the northern kingdom of Israel. King Jeroboam I established two pagan worship centers, one in Bethel and one in Dan (1 Kings 12:25–33). Sadly, this man-made worship at Dan, centered on a golden calf, became one of Dan’s lasting legacies.
Skipping ahead to Revelation 7, all the tribes of Israel are mentioned in the end-times tribulation except for Dan. Commentators through the centuries have proposed the following reasons for why the tribe of Dan is not included in the list:
• Dan’s historical embrace of idolatry and immorality leads to a disqualification for service during the end times.
• The Antichrist will come from the tribe of Dan (based on certain readings of Genesis 49:17; Deuteronomy 33:22; and Jeremiah 8:16).
• By the time of Solomon, the tribe of Dan had assimilated with the neighboring Phoenicians (as 2 Chronicles 2:14 may hint at) and so lost their national identity.
• The tribe of Dan, once the second-most populous tribe, declined in numbers and influence until, by Ezra’s time, it had been totally wiped out. This would explain why Dan is not listed among the tribes in 1 Chronicles 4—7 or in Revelation 7.