The Bible describes this mighty Christ representative as having “a rainbow over his head” (Revelation 10:1). This should encourage God’s people. Like the story of the exodus, the angel of death has come to judge the world. But because of the blood of the Lamb, because of the rainbow reminder of God’s promise over his head, God’s people need not fear. God the Son has paid the penalty for our sin, so God the Father will not remember our sin. He remembers his covenant with us — his promise to do us good — instead.
How do you remember the things that are important to you?
In the olden days, people tied a piece of string around a finger to recall the commitments they have made. Today’s forgetful people are more likely to use an alarm on their smartphone’s productivity app. My own personal tricks involve hanging my car keys on a hook by the back door, sleeping in my workout clothes, and leaving my Bible open next to a cereal bar each night. No matter the method, people arrange their surroundings to remind themselves of the commitments they might otherwise forget.
This pattern makes it all the more interesting to discover how God sets up reminders for himself. John describes God’s throne as surrounded by “a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald” (Revelation 4:3). Just as David provided Solomon with colorful stones for the temple (1 Chronicles 29:2), it seems that God’s throne is surrounded with color to remind himself of something.
The Rainbow from Earth’s Perspective
To understand why a rainbow appears in the Bible’s final book, we should look at the Bible’s first book — Genesis — where the rainbow first appears in chapter 9. After using an ark to bring Noah, his family, and the animals through the flood, God made a covenant with them. As a part of that covenant, he gave them a sign: a bow. God said, “I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Genesis 9:13). This rainbow signifies that “the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh” (Genesis 9:15).
The word “bow” used in this passage is the same term for a war or hunting bow (see Genesis 21:20; 27:3; Joshua 24:12; 2 Samuel 22:35). So when the Bible describes the Lord hanging up his bow, it pictures God putting away his weapon of war and committing to peace with his people (though he punishes those who oppose him, see Psalm 21:12).
Also, consider where God placed his bow. By hanging his bow up “in the cloud,” God reestablished the broken boundaries of creation. When God flooded the earth, he undid the boundary he made between the waters above and the waters below (Genesis 1:7). This unmade another boundary God created — the boundary between the waters and the dry ground (Genesis 1:9–10). After the flood, God’s creation order, complete with his boundaries from the second and third day of creation, were reestablished (Genesis 8:2–3). By hanging up his bow in the cloud, God reminds himself of his commitment at the very boundary that he has newly promised to uphold.
The Rainbow from Heaven’s Perspective
While God’s people can take comfort from seeing a rainbow, the Bible tells us that the purpose of the sign is actually to remind God. “When the bow is in the clouds,” the Lord said, “I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” (Genesis 9:13–16).