Do colors have special meaning in the Bible? In some cases, they do.
Red as Atonement
Almost every time I see a rainbow, I’m reminded of God’s promise that “the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh” (Gen 9:15), but colors in the Bible sometime portray an attribute of God or signify a purpose. One example is the color red. After the fall in the Garden, and the loss of fellowship with God, “the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Gen 3:21), so this was the very first blood sacrifice to be shed over sin, so atonement for sin comes at a great cost. Scripture has taught that “under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb 9:22). Even in relation to human sin, one man’s blood is required for the life of another (Gen 9:4-6), but red often foreshadowed Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice (Ex 12:5)…the Lamb of God’s blood…a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Pet 2:19). This scarlet thread is interwoven throughout Scripture, like with Rahab who lived in the wall of Jericho. She was saved because she hid the Israelite spies. Before Israel attacked Jericho, she let down a red cord so that she and her family would be safe. The Israelites were spared because they “sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them” (Heb 11:28). At Calvary, they took Jesus and “stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him” (Matt 27:28), mocking Him.
White as Righteousness
White clearly represents the righteousness of God. Isaiah’s plea to Judah was, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). All of the faithful martyrs who had died for their faith were “given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been” (Rev 6:11), and John “saw them standing before the throne, and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes. And one of the elders said unto me, Who are these clothed in white robes? and where did they come from? And I said unto him, My lord, you know. And he said unto me, These are they who come out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and have made their robes white in the blood of the lamb” (Rev 7:13-4). And white represents the righteousness of Christ (2nd Cor 5:21). The Book of Revelation has 15 references to the color white…more than any other book in the New Testament (i.e. Rev 1:14), representing purity, holiness, or righteousness. Only the Old Testament Book of Leviticus has more references to the color white (16), but that’s because this book was intended for the priesthood, which foreshadowed the coming High Priest Who now abides forever, and in perhaps the greatest prayer of repentance in Scripture, David prayed, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).
Purple as Royalty
Purple is representative of royalty and honor (Judges 8:26). This is found in Scripture, but also in the secular world where most kings wore purple. When Daniel was placed as third in the kingdom of Babylon, “Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel was clothed with purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made about him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom” (Dan 5:29). When Mordecai revealed a plot to assassinate the king, the king rewarded him “with a great golden crown and a robe of fine linen and purple, and the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced” (Esther 8:15b). The color purple was a very expensive process as they extract it from a certain sea shell, so this color was not for the commoner. And the Tabernacle’s “gate of the court” was made of “blue, purple, scarlet, and fine linen” (Ex 27:16).
Gold: The Refiners Fire
Fire is primarily yellow in color, so sometimes yellow and gold are used simultaneously, but gold is one of the most precious of metals, and processing gold is also very laborious and expensive. Gold can refer to a fire, trial, or a refining process (or all 3). Jesus told the lukewarm church of Laodicea “to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” (Rev 3:18). That meant they had never really suffered much persecution, maybe because they lived more like the world, and the world doesn’t persecute people living like the world, but refined gold is also symbolic of the work that God does in a believer’s life. That’s why Peter wrote “that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:7). Of course God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, but fire also represents God’s judgment.
Blue: Symbolic of the Kingdom
In Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of the Lamb of God, he wrote “And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance” (Ezk 1:26), and sapphire is mostly blue in color. Blue will also be one of the dominant colors in the New Jerusalem that descends out of heaven.
Green as Prosperity
The color green speaks about spiritually thriving as a plant does near a stream. David wrote, “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God” (Psalm 52:8). God says of the righteous, “They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green” (Psalm 92:13-14). If you’re frequently found in the presence of God (worship, prayer, fellowship), your sap will be full and you’ll thrive, so being green and full of sap means you’ll bear fruit, even into you old age.
Black as Catastrophe
The color of black is associated with death and darkness (Lam 4:8), and since we know that God is light and goodness (John 1), then the absence of light is darkness and evil. The prophet Micah describes it, “Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without divination. The sun shall go down on the prophets, and the day shall be black over them” (Micah 3:6). In the Book of Revelatin, the 3rd seal was a black horse, which spelled bad news for the earth’s inhabitants (Rev 6:5-8), and there was 3 hours of darkness at Calvary, as Jesus hung on the cross.
As you have read, colors have meaning in the Bible. For example, red represents atonement, and Jesus’ shed blood. White comes from the righteous and purity of Christ, which explains the saints wearing robes of white. All of these colors are visual reminders of God’s redemptive work through Jesus Christ Who came to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), but do the “many” include you? If not, why not? Trust in Him today and you can receive the very same righteousness that Jesus Christ has (2 Cor 5:21), and that’s the only way into the Father (John 6:44; Acts 4:12).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is an ordained elder of the Brethren Church and a Pastor and Prison Minister in the State of Kansas, but also a writer at Christian Quotes and What Christians Want to Know which address questions about the Bible, and a published author of four books. He also plants ministries like nursing home ministries, Outreach for the poor, and other evangelistic activities, and check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.