When Noah disembarked from the ark he saw a rainbow in the sky. God informed him the rainbow was a sign, a promise. That he would never destroy mankind again by flood. The rainbow is a symbol of God’s promise, his covenant with Noah and with us.
We need symbols because we are weak and lack the vigorous faith necessary to keep sacred truths on our minds without them. The American flag is a symbol to remind us of what our country stands for and the nature of a constitutional republic. But it’s the republic that’s important not the symbol of the republic.
In the Christian faith, we have ceremonies and symbols to help us keep what’s important on our minds, baptism, communion, the cross. The Bible implores us to walk by faith and not by sight, but God knows our frailty well, and provided for us visual aids to help us remember who we are and what we should be about.
So let’s examine the rainbow as a symbol for believers. On the surface the rainbow is a reminder of God’s promise to Noah. But as with so many symbols we can dig deeper and find somethings even more profound and meaningful. Think about what you see when you are looking at a rainbow. An amazingly bright multi-colored arch, superimposed on a dark cloud.
The darkest cloud that the earth has ever seen occurred on Good Friday at the time of Jesus Christ’s death. Three of the four Gospels, all but John, report that darkness covered the land from the sixth hour until the ninth hour – from noon until three. Jesus died at three. The dark cloud that marked the death of Jesus was outshone by the rainbow of the resurrection on Sunday.
But there is more to the rainbow symbol. The black cloud behind the rainbow can symbolize our sin and the guilt we experience because of that sin, the misery that can befall us because of our iniquity. The rainbow overpowers the cloud as Jesus overpowers our sin. We don’t look at the sky in the east after a storm and say, “Look at that dark cloud, and, oh yeah, there’s also a rainbow. The rainbow dominates the cloud.
The rain and the storm have passed and what is left is the rainbow, God’s promise that his love for us is unconditional and more powerful that our sin, which he has forgiven. The promise that eternal life awaits those who call upon his name.
The third element of the symbolism of the rainbow is that whenever we see a rainbow, the sun is behind us. The sun is the symbol of the Lord who throughout Scripture is equated with light. The light that created the promise to outshine the dark cloud.
In the rainbow we get a glimpse of the transcendent glory and beauty of Jesus Christ. There are many pictures of Jesus, but not one will satisfy. The Jesus we will meet in heaven will be dazzling. As beautiful as a rainbow is, it is only a pale forshadowing of Jesus in all his glory.