Red is a color that often evokes strong emotions and symbolism. In Christianity, the color red carries deep symbolic meaning that is rooted in the faith’s origins and scriptures. From biblical times to modern day, the color red has developed rich associations with various aspects of the religion.
Some of the key things the color red represents in Christianity include sacrifice, blood, fire, passion, power, and the Holy Spirit. While red holds mostly positive symbolism, it can also represent sin, danger, and evil. The color’s meaning largely depends on the context in which it is used.
Sacrifice and Blood
One of the most common symbolic meanings of red in Christianity is sacrifice and blood. This meaning comes directly from the Bible and the faith’s foundations.
In the Old Testament, blood sacrifice was a key part of rituals and worship. Animal blood was sprinkled on the altar and on people as a sign of atonement and consecration to God. The blood offerings were a foreshadowing of the blood Jesus would shed to save humanity.
When Jesus was crucified and shed his blood on the cross, he became the ultimate sacrifice for sins. Red thus came to represent the blood of Christ that was poured out for the salvation of the world. Several key verses highlight this symbolism:
“Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).
“In him we have redemption through his blood” (Ephesians 1:7).
Jesus’ blood is also symbolized by the wine in the Holy Communion. The wine represents the “blood of the new covenant” and reminds Christians of Christ’s sacrifice (Luke 22:20).
Fire and Passion
The red fire of the Holy Spirit is another symbolic meaning of the color in Christianity. Red represents the flames that appeared over the heads of the apostles when the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost in the Book of Acts.
The color here symbolizes the passionate, revitalizing fire of the Spirit bringing energy and life to believers. It also represents the Guidance and power the Holy Spirit gives to followers of Christ.
Red is also associated with passion, zeal, and fervency in worship, prayer, and ministry. In the Bible, the apostle Paul speaks of “the flame of fervent love” and encourages Christians to “be fervent in spirit” (Romans 12:11).
Power and Victory
As the boldest and most intense of colors, red often symbolizes power, strength, and victory in the Christian faith. The color represented the power of Christ’s resurrection for early believers who saw red as a symbol of life and victory over death.
In the book of Revelation, Jesus appears with red robes to show his power as the exalted Lord and judge at the end of the age. The saints who gain victory over evil are also said to be clothed in white robes made red by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14).
Red can also symbolize power and authority connected to the work of the Holy Spirit. The prophet Isaiah foretold Jesus’ coming with these words: “He wore red garments like those of a man treading a winepress” (Isaiah 63:2). This points to the life and vitality that Jesus would bring through his Spirit.
Sin and Evil
Though red often represents positive meanings like sacrifice and passion in Christianity, it can have some negative connotations as well. Namely, it can be a symbol of sin, temptation, and evil.
The Bible sometimes uses “red” figuratively to describe sins and guilt before God. The prophet Isaiah laments the sins of society saying, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). Here, red represents the stain of sin that corrupts people’s lives.
In the New Testament, red is also used to describe the great red dragon who represents Satan, the enemy of God and his people (Revelation 12:3). The scarlet woman who rides the beast in Revelation 17 is another red image symbolizing evil and spiritual corruption in the faith.
Specific Christian Symbols
Beyond its general symbolic meanings, red is incorporated into some important Christian symbols that draw on those meanings in different ways:
– The blood of the martyrs: In art, saints and martyrs are often depicted with red blood flowing from their wounds, representing the sacrifice of their lives. Their red blood bears witness to their faith.
– Cardinal robes: Cardinals wear vivid red robes and caps to signify their willingness to shed their blood for the faith if necessary.
– The cross of St. George: The red cross on a white background is the emblem of St. George, the patron saint of England, and shows his sacrifice.
– Pentecost: Red vestments and decorations are used in church at Pentecost to symbolize the fire and power of the Spirit.
– The Red Cross: The red cross on white background was the emblem of the Knights Templar, a medieval Catholic military order, and remains linked to Christianity.
Throughout history, red has been an important symbolic color for Christians. While it is often associated with positive ideas like salvation through Christ’s blood, it can also have some negative connotations when connected to sin, danger, and evil. Red’s varied meanings give it richness as a liturgical color and artistic symbol in the faith.
The next time you see red used in a Christian context, consider what exact shade of symbolic meaning it carries. Is it pointing to sacrifice? Passion? Sin? Power? The specific use and context help reveal what dimensions of the faith the color red is illuminating. With its many nuances of meaning, red continues to be an essential part of the symbolic tapestry of Christianity.