Two Stones and a Rainbow
Revelation 4:3 describes Him,
3 And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.
How is it that the One sitting on the throne in heaven “was like a jasper stone”? Why was this metaphor used here? The term jasper literally means “speckled stone.” Jasper is a translucent stone, most commonly red on account of its iron content. Iron has an atomic weight of 26, which is also the numeric value of Yahweh. John himself would not have known anything about atomic weights, but all things were created by the word and therefore contain hidden revelation.
But jasper can also be yellow or green. In fact, green jasper has often been compared to emerald, so this also seems to be connected to the rainbow that appears as an “emerald.” A green jasper stone set in a gold ring is pictured here from the Walters Art Museum:
Jasper was one of the twelve stones in the high priest’s breastplate (Exodus 28:20). It was the third stone in the fourth row. In other words, it was the last stone representing the twelve sons of Jacob “according to their birth” (Exodus 28:10). Benjamin was the twelfth son of Jacob.
The Hebrew word translated “jasper” is yasfeh. The Greek translation (Septuagint) uses the Greek term laspis, which was the term normally reserved for green jasper. Laspis was the most prized form of jasper in ancient times.
Somehow, the One sitting on the throne identifies Himself with (green) jasper and thus also with Benjamin. Green itself speaks of life and/or resurrection. The story of Benjamin’s birth prophesies of the two works of Christ. Gen. 35:16-18 tells the story:
16 Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and she suffered severe labor. 17 And it came about when she was in severe labor that the midwife said to her, “Do not fear, for now you have another son.” 18 And it came about as her soul was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.
This son had two names. His mother called him Ben-oni, “son of my sorrow.” Christ came the first time as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). His father called him Benjamin, “son of my right hand.” So Christ comes the second time as the Lord of Heaven, seated at the right hand of His heavenly Father (Heb. 10:12).
In each case, Christ’s position on the throne in heaven is explained first by green jasper, which is then reflected as an emerald rainbow, and secondly in the revelation of Ben-oni/Benjamin. Together, the jasper stone suggests that the One sitting on the throne had been raised from the dead after becoming a “man of sorrows,” and that He was now seated at the right hand of the Father (“Benjamin”).
Sardius is a Ruby
The second stone in Rev. 4:3 is the sardius. The sardius (not to be confused with sardonyx) is what we know today as a ruby.
It was the first stone on the high priest’s breastplate in Exodus 28:17. In that verse the KJV renders it “sardius,” but the NASB translates it “ruby.” Even as a jasper was the last stone in the breastplate (representing Benjamin, the last son of Jacob), the ruby was the first stone in the breastplate representing Reuben, “Behold the Son.” When Jacob blessed his twelve sons, he began with Reuben, saying in Gen. 49:3,
3 Reuben, you are my firstborn; my might and the beginning of my strength…
Pictured together, we are reminded of the description of Christ in Rev. 1:8, “the Alpha and the Omega.” This is repeated at the end of the book in Rev. 21:6 and again in 22:13, which reads,
13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.
In other words, He is the first and the last gemstone in the breastplate of the high priest. When John first bore witness of Jesus as the Christ, he said in John 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This announcement is suggested in the name Reuben, “Behold the Son,” and also in the idea that Christ was to be “the first-born of all creation” (Col. 1:15) and “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18). This is the passage which speaks of the reconciliation of all creation, He being the first-born from the dead, followed by all of creation.
The blood-red ruby is a fitting symbol of the blood of Christ that was to be shed in His first work. The jasper, in the big picture, represents the second work of Christ. Yet when the two stones are viewed in the tight view of Christ’s first work, the ruby represents His death, and the jasper (green laspis) represents His resurrection. Either way we view the stones, they picture the two works of Christ and involve the two-fold process of death and life.
Without understanding the color and symbolism of these stones, it would be difficult to see how the One sitting on the heavenly throne could be like mere stones. The metaphor is odd until we know the prophetic meaning of each gemstone and their placement on the breastplate.
The Emerald Rainbow
The Emerald was the third stone in the high priest’s breastplate, representing Levi, the third son of Jacob (Gen. 29:34). Levi’s name means “joiner,” from the root word lava, “attached.” According to Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon, Levi means “adhesion, garland, or crown.”
So the emerald, picturing Levi, is seen in the single-colored rainbow over the throne, positioned as a crown or garland. It also pictures the unity of two being joined together. Col. 1:17 says that “in Him all things hold together.” The rainbow thus joins God with His creation. This can have many applications, but in the broadest picture, we see God and “the all” (ta panta) being reconciled through the ministry of Levi. The ministry of a true Levite is “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18), which brings unity between God and “all things.”
This is best pictured in Col. 1:15-20,
15 And He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation [Reuben]. 16 For by Him all things [ta panta, “the all”] were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together [Levi]. 18 He is also the head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning [Reuben], the firstborn from the dead [ruby] so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything.
The divine purpose, then, is to reconcile all things (ta panta), which is the same ta panta that was created at the beginning. Col. 1:19, 20 concludes,
19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things [ta panta] to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
The overall purpose of God, then, is pictured in the stones of the breastplate. Christ is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He is the first and the last stone in the breastplate, joined together by Levi through the (emerald) ministry of reconciliation. Like the laspis (green jasper), the emerald is green, signifying life that comes through the New Covenant. The Old Covenant is “the ministry of death” (2 Cor. 3:7), but the New Covenant is “the ministry of the Spirit” (3:8), and “gives life” (3:6).
In fact, the first rainbow represented God’s promise to the whole earth (Gen. 9:13). This passage (9:9) is the first time that the word “covenant” is used in Scripture. In the previous verse, which introduces this entire passage, Noah’s name is mentioned for the 32nd time in Genesis. Thirty-two is the biblical number that means “covenant.” See my book, The Biblical Meaning of Numbers from one to Forty.
In that this was an unconditional covenant (promise or vow) that God made by Himself, it was the clearest New Covenant oath that God had recorded in Scripture up to that time. Therefore, the rainbow itself represented the New Covenant, and so it is not surprising to see a rainbow over the throne of God in Rev. 4:3.
John saw the throne of God while he was in the Spirit. Every detail was a heavenly or spiritual principle that was supposed to be duplicated physically on the earth, particularly in the tabernacle of Moses and the temple of Solomon—but also in our own lives as we conform to the image of Christ. Likewise, our ministries, callings, and messages ought to reflect that which is pictured in heaven.
“Because he defiled his father’s bed” (1 Chron. 5:1), Reuben failed to represent accurately the picture of the Son and was replaced by Judah and Joseph. Likewise, many years later, Levi failed and was replaced by Melchizedek. Israel as a whole failed as a fleshly nation and is being replaced by “a nation producing the fruit of it” (Matt. 21:43), that is, those bringing forth “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22, 23).
The intent of God is to reconcile all of creation, but no one gets into the Kingdom until they come in through the Door, which is Christ, the Passover Lamb. They must then grow into maturity through Pentecost in order to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit at Tabernacles. Only then is their journey complete.
Those who fail to come to spiritual maturity in this life time will do so in an age to come, for this is the only way that God can fulfill His New Covenant oath to “establish you today as His people and that He may be your God” (Deut. 29:12, 13).