People typically associate rainbows with hope, and for a good reason. They are a symbol of hope in many cultures. Rainbows show up during rainstorms when the sun shines onto water droplets. This shatters its white light into a display of brilliant colors. For many Christians, the rainbow is a sign that there are better days to come. To understand the true meaning of rainbows to Christians, we should turn to the Bible.
Scripture first mentions rainbows in the book of Genesis at the end of the story about the flood story. The Bible says, “And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Genesis 9:12-13). As a result of the constant evil and wickedness of mankind, God decided to cause rain to fall for 40 days and 40 nights to flood the entire earth. When several months of interesting events had taken place, God’s judgment calmed, and the rain stopped. This is when the rainbow first appeared in the sky.
When the floodwaters receded, and Noah was able to get out of the boat onto dry land, he created an altar and offered a burnt offering to God. God replied with a declaration, a promise the Noah and his family. Genesis 14-16 says, “Whenever I bring clouds over the earth, and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” From this passage, we see that God gave special meaning to the rainbow, so whenever we do see it, we are reminded of God’s covenant – to never destroy the earth again with a flood.
Ultimately, one of the most important takeaways from this story and the rainbow symbol is that it shows us God's grace and the purpose of redemption. God spared not only Noah but also his family. He gives us, humanity, the same opportunity to begin again.
In addition to God putting a rainbow in the clouds after the flood, there are two other places where rainbows are mentioned in Scripture. This is in the book of Ezekiel and Revelation. When Ezekiel began to see visions of God, he said, “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 1:28).
There is also the reference in the book of Revelation. When John was on the island of Patmos, he saw a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald (Revelation 4:3). He later saw a vision of “an 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). From these two passages, the rainbow is seen as a symbol of Christ. John sees Christ clothed with a cloud and a rainbow on His head. We also see the rainbow as a true sign of hope in the face of judgment.
The rainbow in Noah's days symbolized how God’s glory could penetrate the clouds of judgment. We ultimately see that when tragedy occurs in our lives, we can have full confidence that God will restore us. God’s biblical promises are real, and His grace can truly conquer sin.
Through Jesus’ redemption, He was crowned with the sign of the covenant of grace. The rainbow is a reminder of God’s constant presence in our lives. We know that God can destroy the earth, but we also know that He can start things anew. Yes, the rainbow is symbolic of hope, but it also a sign of God’s complete authority in our lives. There is hope in our obedience to God.
Now, when you see a rainbow in the sky, you won’t just think of it as a symbol of “good luck” and make a wish. The truth is God judges sin. We see this through the story of a global flood in the days of Noah. Yet, we also see that God is merciful, making a covenant of grace. When we look at the rainbow as a symbol of Christ, we see that those who receive Him also receive the gift of salvation and grace. You can see it as a sign of hope for all future generations, as God intended it to be. Let that rainbow remind you of God’s inexpressible beauty and His covenant-keeping nature.