From my childhood days as a lad in Australia to my travels today as a speaker with Answers in Genesis, I’ve seen scores—probably hundreds—of these amazing multicolored arches. Whether seen from the back seat of the family station wagon as it bounced down a dirt road in rural Queensland, or the window seat of a jetliner flying over a storm below, these beautiful bows remind me of my parents’ teaching of what the Bible says about God’s purpose in giving us the rainbow.
Rainbows have come to be identified as symbolic of three basic concepts:
Promises—The Bible in Genesis 9 records God’s promise to Noah that He would never again destroy all flesh with a global flood.
Creation—Folklore and regional legends position the rainbow a bit differently. For example, Australian Aborigine and American Indian legends link it to creation events, and the Chinese have a legend concerning the rainbow and the creation of their first emperor Fohi.
Bridges—The rainbow has also been used to represent a bridge from earth (from humans) to a brighter, happier place. For instance, Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” represents connecting to a happier place. The New Age religious movement also uses the rainbow as a bridge.
The rainbow has been used as a sign of a new era and a symbol of peace, love, and freedom. Sadly, the colors of the rainbow are even used on a flag for the gay and lesbian movement.
A Biblical Covenant of Grace
However, the true meaning of the rainbow is revealed in Genesis 9:12–15:
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 (NKJV).
First, the covenant of the rainbow is between God and man and the animal kinds that were with Noah on the Ark: a promise that there would never be such an event again that would destroy all flesh on the land. As there have been many local floods since that time, this is obviously a promise there would never be another global flood to destroy all flesh.
The Bible states clearly that there will be a future, global judgment, but next time by fire, not water (2 Peter 3:10). Some commentators even suggest that the watery colors of the rainbow (the blue end of the spectrum) remind us of the destruction by water, and the fiery colors (the red end of the spectrum) of the coming destruction by fire.
Secondly, the rainbow is a covenant of grace. It is actually a symbol of Christ Himself.
When the secular world hears the account of Noah’s global Flood, they often accuse God of being an ogre for bringing this terrible judgment on people. However, the God of the Bible is a God of infinite mercy and grace.
God told Noah to build an Ark to save representative land animal kinds and Noah’s family. However, this Ark was much larger than needed for just these animals and this family. Just as Noah and his family had to go through the door to be saved, so others could have gone through that door to be saved. In fact, after the Ark was loaded, it stood for seven more days before God Himself shut the door—seven more days of grace. And I have no doubt that Noah preached from the doorway, imploring people to come in and be saved. Noah’s Ark is actually a picture of salvation in Christ, as He is the door through which we need to go to be saved for eternity (John 10:9).
All need to be reminded that we sinned in Adam—we committed high treason against the God of creation. God is holy and pure—completely without sin. A holy God has to judge sin, but in His judgment, He also shows infinite mercy. When God judged sin with death in Genesis 3:19, He also promised a Savior (Genesis 3:15). God Himself, in the person of the second member of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ, stepped into history, fully human and fully God, to be a man so He could pay the penalty for our sin. Through the shedding of His blood, He offers the free gift of salvation to all who will believe.
The Bible reveals to us that the rainbow is a symbol of Christ in Ezekiel 1:26–28. In Revelation 4:2–3, John saw Christ clothed with a cloud and a rainbow on His head.
As Bible scholar John Gill states concerning the rainbow, “as it has in it a variety of beautiful colors, it may represent Christ, who is full of grace and truth, and fairer than the children of men; and may be considered as a symbol of peace and reconciliation by him, whom God looks unto, and remembers the covenant of his grace he has made with him and his chosen ones in him; and who is the rainbow round about the throne of God, and the way of access unto it.”1
The next time you see a rainbow, remember that God judges sin. But He is also merciful, and He made a covenant of grace with Noah and the animals—He will never again judge with a worldwide Flood.
A Reminder for All of Us
So the next time you see a rainbow, remember that God judges sin. He judged with a global flood at the time of Noah. But He is merciful, and He made a covenant of grace with Noah and the animals that He would never again judge with a worldwide Flood. Not only that, but the rainbow, as a symbol of Christ, reminds us that He is the mediator between man and God and that those who receive the free gift of salvation are presented faultless before their Creator.
God declares those redeemed who have trusted in Christ. They are clothed in the righteousness of His Son. For the redeemed, the wrath of God toward sin was satisfied on the Cross—paid in full by the shed blood of His sinless Son.
And as John Gill puts it, “though it is a bow, yet without arrows, and is not turned downwards towards the earth, but upwards towards heaven, and so is a token of mercy and kindness, and not of wrath and anger.”1
I’m so thankful for a mum and dad who used what opportunities they had to instill in my siblings and me the truths of Scripture. Yes, we need to take the meaning of the rainbow back, and use it to tell the world of the mercy and kindness of our Creator and Savior, just like my mum and dad told me.