What does the Bible say is the meaning of a rainbow?
Do colors mean anything?

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Question: What is the meaning of a rainbow in the Bible? What do colors such as red, blue, and purple symbolize?

Answer: Interestingly, the true meaning of the rainbow or rainbows is only in in the first book (Genesis) and the last book (Revelation) of the Bible. The book of Ezekiel also has a reference to a rainbow.

In the Genesis account, a rainbow appears right after the great worldwide flood brought in order to remove sinful and evil-minded man from the earth. It symbolized God's mercy and the covenant He made with Noah (representing mankind) not to destroy the world in such a way again:

"And God said: 'This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:

"'I set My RAINBOW in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the RAINBOW shall be seen in the cloud; and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. The RAINBOW shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.' ” (Genesis 9:12-16, NKJV throughout)

The cloud which has the bow set in it, in a way, pictures God, as Exodus 13 states:

"And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of CLOUD to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. " (Exodus 13:21)
In his first vision from God, known as the "wheel in the middle of a wheel" vision, the prophet Ezekiel compares the glory of God he saw with a rainbow!:

"And above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it. Also from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the color of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around.

"Like the appearance of a RAINBOW in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord . . . " (Ezekiel 1:26-28)

Double rainbow inside an Alaska state park

Rainbows appear again in the prophetic book of Revelation, which foretell the end of man's rule on the earth and the coming of Jesus to set up his Kingdom.

The first mention of a rainbow in Revelation appears when the apostle John uses it to describe the glory and power of God on his throne:

"After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, 'Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.' Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a RAINBOW around the throne, in appearance like an emerald." (Revelation 4:1-3)

The second mention occurs when John describes the look of a mighty angel:

"I saw still another mighty angel coming down from heaven, clothed with a cloud. And a RAINBOW was on his head, his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire." (Revelation 10:1)

Rainbow colors

The most common colors seen by the naked are, as listed by Isaac Newton: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet. In English, a popular way of remembering these colors is to memorize the name "ROY G. BIV." The primary colors are red, yellow, green, blue and violet.

Most Common Colors
seen by the Human Eye

Red  Orange  Yellow  Green  Blue Indigo Violet

Other colors in the Bible

Black  Crimson  Purple  Scarlet  White

Do any colors of the rainbow have a special significance in the Bible?

What do the colors Red and Purple mean in the Bible?

The rainbow colors red, purple (which is a mix of red and blue), and scarlet (a bright red) and crimson (a “cool" hue of the color red were used extensively in the tabernacle of God Moses made in the wilderness. They were also a part of  the temple later constructed, and in the garments for the High Priest and other priests (Exodus 25:3-5, 36:8, 19, 27:16, 28:4-8, 39:1-2, etc.). According to Nave's Topical Bible, these colors were types or shadows of atonement.

The colors purple and scarlet can also be symbolic of iniquity or sinfulness (Revelation 17:3-4, 18:16, etc.). Purple itself was used as a symbol of royalty (Judges 8:26). Scarlet by itself can represent prosperity (Proverbs 31:21, Lamentations 4:5).

What does Blue represent in the Bible?

The color blue, referred to directly or when scripture states something is like the appearance of a sapphire or sapphire stone, can be a symbol of deity or royalty (Numbers 4:5-12; Ezekiel 1:26, Esther 8:15, etc.). Blue was also the color God commanded some threads in the fringes of Israelite garments be colored in order to remind them of the commandments and living a godly way of life:

"Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined . . ." (Numbers 15:38-39)
The Color White and Holiness

The color white found in a rainbow can symbolize holiness, righteousness and dedication to serving the true God (Leviticus 16:4, 2Chronicles 5:12, etc.). In a vision Jesus first appears to the apostle John with hair that is white:

"Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire;" (Revelation 1:12-14)

Believers throughout history who have died in the faith and those who, in the future, are loyal to God in the Great Tribulation, will be resurrected and given white robes to wear:

"Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, 'Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?' And I (John) said to him, 'Sir, you know.' So he said to me, 'These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.'" (Revelation 7:13-14)

"'Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.' And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints." (Revelation 19:7-8)

Thank you for your questions regarding the Biblical meaning of the rainbow and its colors.

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What does a rainbow mean in the Bible?