Revelation's Symbolic Colors
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1. Revelation's Symbolic Colors

Unfamiliar Language

Colored BalloonsUnfamiliar language and colors purposefully dot the pages of the Book of Revelation. Colors, which are symbols of various emotions in the Bible, and in other societies and cultures today, saturate its pages. In this way, John of Patmos, the Revelation writer, purposely hid his actual intent and meaning from the Roman authorities. Christians and Jews certainly understood what he was inferring!


White ColorRevelation's colors are of as great importance to us as they were to John's 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 symbolizes "purity, perfection, and innocence." For this reason, brides usually wear a white dress. Since 1566 AD, the Pope 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 is not a single color. Still, when a glass prism separates sunlight, a rainbow blend of colors is produced. It is noted concerning the "color white" in the Royal Society's minutes of 1672, "the most surprising and wonderful composition was whiteness. There is no one sort of ray which alone can exhibit this. 'Tis ever compounded, and its composition is requisite all the aforesaid primary colors, mixed in due proportion. I often have with admiration beheld, that all the colors of the prisme converge, and thereby to be again mixed, reproduced light, intirely and perfectly white."

Black Horse

Black, in contrast, often indicates "darkness, death or distress" in the Bible. Like white, black is also not considered a color "per se" but a "shade." In times of mourning, people wear black clothing in society. Black, however, seems to be the color of choice today for any ceremonial or formal occasion. We also associate black with violence and evil. In Early Christian times, between 165 and 180 AD, there was a devastating plague called the "Antonine Plague." The "Black Death" occurred between 1347 and 1351 AD in Europe and Asia and is known as the "Great Plague," resulting in an estimated 75 to 200 million deaths. It killed an estimated 30% to 60% of Europe's population. The "Black Horse" of Revelation 6.5 is an example of black's symbolic use to refer to death and destruction.

Regal Purple and Red

Red ClothThe color "Purple" in fabrics describes the "deep rich shades between crimson and violet." In Biblical times, it was costly to produce because of the rarity of the natural dyes needed. Luxurious purple and red silk clothing were rare and therefore limited to royalty, magistrates, bishops, and the extremely wealthy elite. In Numbers 4.13-14, we read of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, "They are to remove the ashes from the bronze altar and spread a purple cloth over it. Then they are to place on it all the utensils used for ministering at the altar, including the firepans, meat forks, shovels, and sprinkling bowls. Over it, they are to spread a covering of the durable leather and put the poles in place." Here purple is a symbol of the holy things used in Jewish ceremonies. Over time, purple becomes a symbol of authority. Roman Emperors, kings, and princes wore purple and red. In modern times, royalty, judges, and bishops wear purple and Cardinals robe in red. In the Bible, red is also the blood indicator and warns of "danger, murder, rage, and anger." The "Fiery Red Horse" of Revelation 6.3-4 is an example of this. Red is also used for "stop signs" on the highway to alert us to possible danger and catch our attention. In ancient times, the word "red" in the English language described colors between "purple" and "orange." "Orange" was first recorded in 1380 AD, describing "any color between red and yellow like fire and carrots!"

Shakespearean Scarlet

Queen Elizabeth 1stTo be allowed to wear red in Medieval England was a great privilege and honor. Queen Elizabeth, the First of England (1558-1603), was so impressed with the plays of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) that she allowed him the honor of wearing a certain number of yards of royal scarlet silk. James 1st (1603-1625) followed Elizabeth the First on the English throne. Shakespeare is recorded 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."

Holiness Blue

Art BlueThe color blue is associated with "holiness, faithfulness, harmony, and confidence." In Exodus 28.31-35, the LORD GOD commands Moses and Aaron, "Make the robe of the ephod entirely of blue cloth, with an opening for the head in its center. There shall be a woven edge like a collar around this opening so that it will not tear. Make pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn around the hem of the robe, with gold bells between them. The gold bells and the pomegranates are to alternate around the hem of the robe. Aaron must wear it when he ministers. When he enters the Holy Place, you will hear the sound of the bells before the Lord and when he comes out so that he will not die." The blue robes on Aaron signify that he is to be holy. Later, in Exodus 28.36-38a, the LORD GOD adds, "Make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it as on a seal 'Holy to the Lord.' Fasten a blue cord to it to attach it to the turban. It is to be on the front of the turban. It will be on Aaron's forehead." Blue cloth even covers the shielding curtain from the Holy of Holies. Numbers 4.5-6 reads, "When the camp is to move, Aaron and his sons are to go in and take down the shielding curtain and put it over the ark of the covenant law. Then they are to cover the curtain with durable leather, spread a cloth of solid blue over that, and put the poles in place." A "durable leather" might be the hides of large aquatic mammals.

Aaron's Robes

Aaron's ceremonial robes associated the color blue and holiness. The gold sign saying, "Holy to the Lord" hanging by a blue cord on his forehead would be a clear visual reminder to everyone to "Be holy as I am holy." The color blue was initially produced from the crushed semi-precious stone "lapis lazuli" and was very expensive and even more valuable than gold. The stones come from far away mines in Afghanistan to make the ground-up pigment "ultramarine." Artists favor this color for its intensity and brightness. Blue, associated with holiness, is the color of the robes of the Virgin Mary in medieval art. Blue used for the carpeting of many church sanctuaries signifies a special and holy place.✞

Liturgical Colors

Some churches hang different colors depending upon the season of the church. Frontals to the communion table, a colored hanging on the front of the lectern and pulpit, or colored bookmarkers in the Bible indicate the year's seasons. Clergy often wear robes that correspond with these colors or a colored scarf on white robes. Denominations vary, but some more Protestant ones, like Baptists and Pentecostals, choose not to use liturgical colors at all or just the bare minimum. Anglican, Methodists, Eastern Orthodox (the Byzantine Rite), the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Roman Catholic church are very similar. White is used during the Easter Season and at Christmas time. Red symbolizing fire, is the Holy Spirit's color and is widely hung on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Pentecost, and the commemoration of Martyrs' deaths. Red is also the liturgical color for Confirmations and Ordinations. During Lent and Advent, some churches hang purple, indicating mourning. In modern times, the Advent season is marked by blue, indicating the Second Coming of Christ. Green is the color of growth between other seasons and feasts in the Anglican Church.

Yellow Ending

The color Yellow in nature describes the color 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 skin color as life ebbs away. The "Pale Horse" of Revelation 6.7-8 is an example of this. Revelation's colors may be fascinating to us, but they should not halt us in our studies. Instead, try to look beyond them to their intended subtle meanings in their Biblical context. Allow them to color your experience of the scriptural text!

"Revelation's Symbolic Colors"
by Ron Meacock © 2020

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