Revelation's Symbolic Colors
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Revelation's Symbolic Colors
(Introduction 2)
Page 2

White for Purity

Colored BalloonsThe Book of Revelation is saturated with unusual language and is purposefully dotted with references to colors which are symbolic of various emotions in the Bible as well as in other cultures. Such symbolism is a subtle means of communication between an author and his or her readers. In this way John of Patmos, the writer of Revelation, concealed from the ancient Roman authorities the actual intent and meaning of some of his message but Christians and Jews certainly understood what he was inferring!

Unusual Language

White ColorRevelation's colors are of great importance as they were to John's ancient readers. They assist us in understanding the meaning and subtleties of the text. The color white, for example, though technically a "color without hue" or an "achromatic color" often symbolized "purity, perfection and innocence." For this reason, the Pope since 1566 AD has worn white robes as a symbol of his perceived purity and innocence. Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) the English mathematician, physicist, astronomer, theologian, and author discovered that white was in fact not a single color but when sunlight is broken out in a glass prism a rainbow blend of colors is produced.

The Royal Society

It was noted concerning the "color white" in the minutes of the Royal Society in London, England in 1672 and I quote Sir Isaac Newton in his original and often quaint words, "the most surprising and wonderful composition was that of whiteness. There is no one sort of ray which alone can exhibit this. 'Tis ever compounded, and to its composition are requisite all the aforesaid primary colours, mixed in due proportion. I have often with admiration beheld, that all the colours of the prisme being made to converge, and thereby to be again mixed, reproduced light, intirely and perfectly white." Black o the other hand often indicates "darkness, death or distress" in the Bible. Like white, black is also not considered a color "per se" and black clothing is worn in society in times of mourning. We also associate black with violence and evil. See the "Black Horse" of Revelation 6.5 as an example of this.

Purple and Red

Red ClothThe color "Purple" in fabrics is described as "deep rich shades between crimson and violet." In Biblical times, it was very expensive to produce because of the rarity of the natural dyes needed. Purple and red silk clothing were therefore limited to royalty, magistrates, bishops and the extremely wealthy elite. Over time, purple became a symbol of authority because of this association with the ruling classes. Purple and red were worn by Roman Emperors, kings and princes and in modern times by royalty, judges and bishops (in purple) and cardinals (in red). Red in the Bible is also the indicator of blood and warns of "danger, murder, rage and anger." See the "Fiery Red Horse" of Revelation 6.3-4 as an example of this. Red is also used for the "stop signs" we see on the highway to catch our attention at intersections and warn us of danger. In ancient times, the word used for "red" in the English language described colors between "purple" and "orange." The word "Orange" was first recorded in a text from around 1380 AD, and was described as "any color between red and yellow like the color of fire and carrots!"

Shakespeare's Scarlet

Queen Elizabeth 1stTo wear red was a great privilege and honor in medieval England. Queen Elizabeth the First of England (1558-1603) was so impressed with the plays of the playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616) that she allowed him the honor of wearing a certain number of yards of royal scarlet silk. Shakespeare was later mentioned in the "Grand Accounts Book" as "one of James 1's King's Servants for which he received four and a half yards of red cloth, a color befitting his status as a member of the Royal Court." James 1st (1603-1625) followed Elizabeth 1st (1558-1603) on the English throne.

Blue for Holiness

Art BlueThe color blue is most commonly associated with "holiness, faithfulness, harmony and confidence." It was originally produced from the crushed semi-precious stone "lapis lazuli" and was therefore very expensive. The stones came from far away mines in Afghanistan to make the pigment "ultramarine." Artists favored this color for its intensity and brightness. Blue, because of its association with holiness, was often chosen as the color of the robes of the Virgin Mary in medieval art. Blue was also used for the carpeting of many church sanctuaries to signify that this was a special and holy place. The color Yellow is in nature described as that of "gold, butter and ripe lemons." Pale yellow in the Book of Revelation indicates "the end of one's life" as it is often the color of the skin as life ebbs away. See the "Pale Horse" of Revelation 6.7-8 as an example of this. Revelation's colors may be fascinating to us but we should not be halted by them in our studies but instead try to look beyond them to their intended subtle meaning in the Biblical context. Allow them to color your experience of the biblical text!

"Revelation's Symbolic Colors"
by Ron Meacock © 2019

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