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Seven times in Revelation, John describes people in a fourfold manner:

5:9c For you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation

7:9a After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb

10:11 And I was told, "You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings."

11:9 For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb

13:7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation.

14:6 Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people

17:15 And the angel said to me, "The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages."

Undoubtedly the sevenfold reference is intentional given John's penchant for sevens. But it's also interesting that he never repeats the exact sequence or description across the seven instances. Twice (in 10:11 and 17:15) he replaces out tribes (with kings and multitudes respectively). But even in the other five places, he switches up the ordering every time.

If one or two of them didn't match up with the other five or something, it would seem maybe mere happenstance, but that all seven are unique seems like there is intent in this also.1 Is there any significance that can be attached to this?


1 Indeed, if we do the math assuming John randomly selected one of 24 possible combinations each time, there's a 62% chance that at least two would match. Moreover, it's reasonable to assume that John is not writing randomly, but has patterns of thought that would probably bias him towards a particular ordering if he wasn't self-consciously shaping the order.

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    I see this as a mathematical question. "n!" There are 24 ways to count four items (tribes, nations, people, languages). "Tribe" is missing twice and "kings" is added once. It's the way most people would write if they're simply relaying the facts and not giving a relevance to the order. The book was probably written with gaps of time between the writings. – Gigi Sanchez Mar 9 '17 at 16:32
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Bauckham's "Climax of Prophecy" delves into this exact question. The actual explanation begins on p332 (original text) and concludes on p336. The below text wraps up his explanation (emphasis, paragraph separations added for ease of reading):

That this pattern is not accidental seems clear from the further observation that each of the passages which do not use the fourfold phrase is in this way related to the occurrence of the fourfold phrase which is placed closest to it in the composition of die book (1:7 to 5:9; 15:4 to 14:6; 21:3 to 17:15). Furthermore, each of these three groups of passages has a thematic unity. The first group (1:7; 5:9; 13:7) is linked by reference to the sacrificial death of Christ. The second group (7:9; 14:6; 15:4) is linked by the theme of worship. The third group (11:9; 17:15; 21:3) is linked by the theme of the city: Babylon in 11:9 and 17:15, the New Jerusalem which replaces Babylon in 21:3.

The pattern therefore indicates that (1) the Lamb by his sacrifice will win the allegiance of the nations which are now impressed by the bogus sacrifice of the beast; (2) the nations which now worship the beast will be won, through the witness of the martyrs, to the worship of God; (3) the nations which now serve Babylon will become, through the witness of the martyrs, God's peoples with whom he will be present in the New Jerusalem.

Thus it becomes clear that, although the fourfold phrase is not itself used to describe the nations as converted and included in the kingdom of God, it is always used with this transfer of the nations from the beast's rule to God's in view. This is also implicit in the relationship of the phrase to the key verse Daniel 7:14.

J. Daniel Hays' "From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race" also references this issue of order and comments on the ordering difference between 5:9 and the first few verses of chapter 7. He sees the change in order highlighting different definitions of "tribe":

Revelation 7:9 repeats the same fourfold entities of 5:9, but alters the order, placing the term 'nation' [ethne] first instead of 'tribe' or 'family' [phyle]. The probably reason for this is to draw a distinction between the use of 'tribe' [phyle] here in 7:9, where the term refers to the 'tribes' of the world, and 'tribe' [phyle] in 7:4-8, where the term refers to the 'tribes' of Israel. By placing 'nations' first in 7:9, John indicates that he is clearly not referring to physical, literal Israel in that verse.

Hays also heavily references Bauckham in the aforementioned book and provides counterpoints to his interpretation.

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+100

The issue isn't the order but their categorisation, as yourself noted that John doesn't mention the order twice.

A nation is the largest categorisation of 'children' of a certain ''father, or fathers'', spirit or flesh, eg Gog who is spirit is said to master 'families of the "north". A nation is the unequivocal identifier of a given people,grouped into tribes. Further,among these were other categories not of the nationals, and in any case above all relative to generations of them.

Revelation 1:19
Therefore write down the things you have seen, and the things that are, and the things that will happen after this.

As the writer is an 'ancient', he was shown a structure, that is, of nations as formerly in his day were a collection of tribal divisions, and then came the 'peoples', i.e, the Kenites with the former Israel, these weren't a nation but a 'tribe', and then came the 'mixed multitudes' out of Egypt for example, who were neither distinct enough to be a tribe but significant to be a 'people', the same as the lot whose land the Danites dispossessed but whose identity is simply a ''people''

Judges 18:7
Then the five men departed, and came to Laish, and saw the people that were therein, how they dwelt careless, after the manner of the Zidonians, quiet and secure; and there was no magistrate in the land, that might put them to shame in any thing; and they were far from the Zidonians, and had no business with any man.
This are the classes reflected in Revelation.

As salvation is the core issue, as well as judgement that overtakes the entire earth, the nation of Israel is at the centre of these two as their vehicle into ALL nations and ALL tribes, people and languages/tongues who don't quite make national status, and the trend being that these distinctions will have blurred with generations as this was the nature of things that John was told he would see according to Revelation 1:19, and as has become the case today that most of these cultural boundaries have disappeared, in that majority of ''nations'' have, ''nations and peoples and tounges in them''

Why he mentions kings in Revelation 10:11 is that on this occasion, he doesn't refer to the multitudes over whom the beast has influence, but he is told to prophesy ''concerning'' the redeemed, from the four categories and of whom some are made kings and princes, the only 'kings' yet to take up reigns in their capacities and whose coming John is duly to prophesy; these referred to in

Revelation 5
9 And they sang a new song: “Worthy are You to take the scroll and open its seals, because You were slain, and by Your blood You purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 You have made them into a kingdom, priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.

That he mentions these categories 7 times being of any importance is a matter of opinion, in my opinion, since 6 are different from the seventh category, however a 7 signifies a definitive scenario but full knowledge of whose details is God's alone, indicating that wherever these 4 categories are on earth, none will be left out by the influence of the beast, or by salvation.

Revelation 13:8
And all who dwell on the earth will worship the beast — all whose names have not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.

Revelation 5 9 And they sang a new song: “Worthy are You to take the scroll and open its seals, because You were slain, and by Your blood You purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

So it's about making ALL things new as God mentions in .

Revelation 21:5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Therefore all that are on earth from among the nations, tribes, peoples, multitudes, tongues or languages, will go one way or the other.

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  • @Bagpipes ''Exo 12:38 Many other people went up with them, and also...''' In Egypt, "Exod 8:23 I will make a clear distinction between my people and your people.'' In Isaiah 66:21, And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the LORD, to imply NOT these aren't of the stock of 'Jacob,' but now made 'Israel', and so on.. The idea is that in Num 15:15; One ordinance..for you of the congregation, and...for the stranger that sojourneth with you...as ye are so shall the stranger be before the LORD. That includes whether they're in wickedness or in righteousness. – Ted O Mar 10 '17 at 15:54
  • @ Bagpipes Thanks for the token. I freely recieved, I freely give. I know this isn't a christian site but it's tough keeping the 'christian' in me not manifesting his take on scriptures in most of my question and for many of which I have recieved a 'telling off'. So it's a joy when I meet with one that is entirely , er, 'christian'! Thanks again. – Ted O Mar 16 '17 at 16:15
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    @TedO I am also 'entirely Christian'. Other frequent users here are as well. Your answers can reflect your own Christian beliefs, but, per the requirements of the website, answers must show their research. Lack of research or lack of sources tends to be the common problem, whether the person submitting the answer is 'Christian' or not. It's just that Christians are tempted to appeal to divine inspiration (or nothing at all!) as a substitute for research. – user2910 Mar 16 '17 at 18:52
  • @Mark Edward You rightly observe. But you and I as christians can occasionally be backed into a corner as to an issue for which there seems to be no reliable supporting source, but the bible, since most approaches out there are tangential to the 'WAY'. – Ted O Mar 16 '17 at 20:08
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I will leave my first answer as it is.@Mark Edward has said in his comment, regarding my response to the question,"This response consists of identifying what the list refers to. It does not answer the chief question being asked: Why does the order of the list vary"?

So why does the order of the list vary? The answer is quite simple.

The list varies to enable the reader to pay more attention to the wording.

5:9c For you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation

7:9a After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb

10:11 And I was told, "You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings."

11:9 For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb

13:7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation.

14:6 Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people

17:15 And the angel said to me, "The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages."

The scriptures that appear to be causing you confusion are,

10:11 And I was told, "You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings."

17:15 And the angel said to me, "The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages."

In your question you observe,

Twice (in 10:11 and 17:15) he replaces out tribes (with kings and multitudes respectively). But even in the other five places, he switches up the ordering every time.

I think the intent of the author is to bring into our focus 7:9, and the word "multitude".

7:9a After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.

In this scripture it can be observed that "all tribes" are included in the great multitude.Before this selection was made, all tribes must have been selected from, (not a multitude of tribes),but multitudes of tribes that inhabit the earth.Hence the wording "all tribes." For understanding read here. "Multitude or Multitudes." Note the wording when Jesus ministered to all the different people.

The point that i am making is,the author does not substitute the word "tribes" with the word multitudes because tribes are already included in the multitudes,The author challenges the reader to use his own intuition.In short, tribes = multitudes in 17:15.

The next scripture in question is 10:11,

10:11 And I was told, "You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings."

The emphasis in this scripture is on the word "kings," but unlike 17:15 where the word multitudes is added in second place,kings is added at the end.This draws the readers attention to the wording before kings.Please now look at my list which contains the seven scriptures and the bold in 10:11 and 17:15.

In 10:11 in the list, the sequence, peoples and nations and languages is used.Also in 17:15 we can pick up this sequence again (or nearly,if not for the word "multitudes.")

peoples and multitudes and nations and languages."

There is no other place in the list where this sequence of, people,nations and languages, is so apparent other than 10:11 and 17:15.But why does the author substitute tribes for kings in 10:11? I think the reason for this is to keep the readers focus on the wording,peoples and nations and languages and also to direct the reader to the King of Babylon.

Daniel 4:1 Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you.

Now view the list from the book of Daniel here

With reference to the list in the book of Revelation you say,

Seven times in Revelation, John describes people in a fourfold manner,Undoubtedly the sevenfold reference is intentional given John's penchant for sevens. But it's also interesting that he never repeats the exact sequence or description across the seven instances.

I will answer you by saying "that in the book of Daniel,the author describes people in a threefold manner in a sixfold reference,and it's also interesting that he repeats the exact sequence across the six instances.

Conclusion

So why does the order of the list vary? The answer is quite simple.

The list varies to enable the reader to pay more attention to the wording.

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  • Please don't post multiple answers. If you first post didn't answer the question, this content should have been edited in to replace it. If there are bits that help build to this conclusion, you can edit them into this post. – Caleb Mar 17 '17 at 7:07

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