The numbers in the Book of Revelation usually have a meaning that is very simple, but important. The number 12 is a reference to Godís people; there were 12 tribes (family groups) in Israel. There were also 12 apostles (original leaders of the Christian church), of course. Here, however, the reference is to Jewish people, that is, people from the tribes of Israel.
The number 144 (as in 144,000 - see verse 4) is 12 times 12. That number emphasises that the 144,000 people are Godís people in a very special way. They are Godís people because they are Jewish people. They are also Godís people because they trust in Christ - in fact, their relationship with him is especially close (14:1-5).
This passage is the last list in the Bible of Israelís tribes. However, that does not mean the end of their special relationship with God. That special relationship can never end. For that reason, the names of the tribes will always be on the gates of Godís city, the New Jerusalem (21:12-13).
Judah appears here in the place of honour at the beginning of the list. The tribe of Judah led Israelís army, and Christ came from it. However, its numbers are not greater than the other tribes. Even the smallest tribe, Benjamin, has the same number.
In the history of Israel, the tribes mixed with each other, so most Jewish people today do not know the names of their tribes. However, God still knows, and he still cares about the 12 tribes.
Manasseh and Ephraim were the sons of Joseph whose families formed their own tribes. We do not know why the names of Ephraim and Dan do not appear in this list. Perhaps it is because those tribes led Israelís people into the religions of false gods (Judges chapter 18; 1 Kings 12:29). However, people from Ephraimís family do appear as the tribe of Ephraimís father, Joseph, in this list. Perhaps people from Danís family also appear as part of the tribe of Danís closest brother, Naphtali (Genesis 35:25).
Please use the links at the top of the page to find our other articles in this series. You can download all our articles if you go to the download page for our free 700+ page course book.
© 2016, Keith Simons.