Butterflies in the Bible: Meaning and Symbolism

Christian cross setting reborn butterflies free background
Graphic composition of the cross of Jesus setting free a trio of beautiful, iconic butterflies. GDArts / Getty Images

Although butterflies in the Bible aren't mentioned explicitly, their lifecycle is a remarkable illustration from nature of the transforming work of Jesus Christ in the lives of believers. The Bible says that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new creation. The old life is gone, and the new life has begun (2 Corinthians 5:17). The same God who takes a caterpillar and changes it into a butterfly, transforms sinners into saints.

Butterflies in the Bible

  • Butterflies are not expressly found in Scripture, but as part of God’s natural creation, they provide a beautiful picture of spiritual transformation.
  • The metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly has striking parallels to Christian conversion, resurrection, and transfiguration. 

Butterflies and Transfiguration

The word transform is metamorpheo in Greek, from which we get the English term metamorphosis. It describes the type of change a caterpillar undergoes to become a butterfly. The same word is used to explain Christ’s transfiguration. The idea conveys a radical change or complete transformation. At Jesus’ transfiguration, his physical appearance was temporarily metamorphosed from an ordinary human to a divine being in all his glory:

As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. (Matthew 17:2, NLT)
Jesus’ Transfiguration
Illustration of disciples Peter, James and John kneeling in awe below Jesus, Moses and Elijah standing on mountain of transfiguration. Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

Butterflies and Resurrection

Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection are often compared to the metamorphosis a caterpillar undergoes as it emerges from its cocoon to become a butterfly. The caterpillar vanishes into a cocoon, seemingly dead, just as the Lord’s lifeless body was taken down from the cross and placed in a tomb. After some time elapses, a new creature—more lovely and compelling than it was before—emerges:

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42–44, ESV)

This same resurrection symbolism applies to believers:

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4, NIV)

The Christian’s cocoon stage is when he or she dies to sin:

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:5–7, NIV)

Butterflies and Transformation

Caterpillars are born to creep and crawl but are reborn to fly. After shedding their old life, and emerging from their chrysalis, butterflies experience the world from a new and elevated vantage point. In the same way, when believers are born again to newness of life in Christ, they see things from God’s perspective:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2, NLT)

Caterpillars feed on dead and decaying matter in the world around them. Unregenerate souls feed on the deadly toxins of a life devoted to sin. But born-again believers attach themselves to Jesus Christ, the true source of life:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NIV)
Monarch butterfly on a blooming flower
Gypsy Picture Show / Getty Images 

Butterflies drink sweet nectar from flowering plants. Once believers taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8), they begin to feed on God’s Word and are nourished by it (1 Peter 2:1–3). In Christ, they receive a new, eternal nature; they become spiritually alive and free, as God intended them to be:

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. (Ephesians 4:21–24, NLT)

A transformation like that of a caterpillar to butterfly lifts new believers up and out of the darkened path of the world into freedom and wholeness of kingdom life:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9, NIV)

Moths in the Bible

The creatures most resembling butterflies in the Bible are moths. A moth undergoes a similar transformation from larvae, or caterpillar, to cocoon, and then emerges as a fully grown moth with wings. Moths are used symbolically in Scripture to represent the frailty of humans and of human existence (Job 4:19; 13:28; Isaiah 50:9; 51:8) and the temporary quality of earthly possessions (Matthew 6:19–20; Luke 12:3; James 5:2).