Rev. 14:20 – Then the press was trampled outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press up to the horses’ bridles for about 180 miles. (HCSB)
Finally in this chapter, John records, “Then the press was trampled outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press up to the horses’ bridles for about 180 miles” (v. 20).
Commentators generally agree that the city in question is Jerusalem. It is called “the great city” in Rev. 11:8, as well as “Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.” The reason the wicked are destroyed outside the city is that this is where accursed and unclean things are taken for disposal. For example, the Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem is where human sacrifices take place in Old Testament times. It is a burning trash dump in Jesus’ day. Even the carcasses of sacrificial animals, whose blood the high priest carries into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, are carried outside the city walls and burned.
But the writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is crucified outside the city in order to identify with sinful people. The One who knew no sin becomes sin for us, and the blessed Son of God becomes a curse: “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the most holy place by the high priest as a sin offering are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the gate, so that He might sanctify the people by His own blood. Let us then go to Him outside the camp, bearing His disgrace” (Heb. 13:11-13).
Other interpreters see this simply as an allusion to Old Testament purification laws where the unclean are taken outside the camp (Lev. 8:17; 9:11). Still others understand this as a reference to the end-time gathering of the wicked around the city of Jerusalem (Ps. 2:2, 6; Dan. 11:45; Joel 3:12-14; Zech. 14:1-4; and the apocalyptic book of 1 Enoch 53:1). If this is a reference to the Day of the Lord, it likely speaks of the Valley of Jehoshaphat, which according to Jewish tradition is the part of the Kidron Valley between the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives. This is where Joel prophesies that the judgment of nations will take place (Joel 3:12-14). Zechariah places the final battle on the outskirts of Jerusalem (Zech. 14:1-4).
Like grapes in a winepress
If this is a first-century prophecy, the slaughter depicts the killing of 1.1 million Jews at the hands of Roman soldiers. The identification of this imagery with the destruction of Jerusalem can hardly be missed since similar language is used concerning the fall of the same city to the Babylonians in 586 B.C.: “The Lord has trampled Virgin Daughter Judah like grapes in a winepress” (Lam. 1:15). J. Stewart Russell writes, “This is terrible in symbol and almost literal in its historic truth. It was a people that was thus ‘trampled’ in the fury of divine wrath. Where was there ever such a sea of blood as was shed in that exterminating war of Vespasian and of Titus? The carnage, as related by Josephus, exceeds all that is recorded in the sanguinary annals of warfare” (Revelation: Four Views, pp. 338, 340).
Lastly, we must deal with the reported flow of blood up to the horses’ bridles for a distance of 180 miles. Some futurists take this literally as a description of the carnage wrought by the hand of Jesus at His return at the battle of Armageddon. One commentator estimates the river of blood this way: “[T]his river of blood is 184 miles long, and its depth is the height of a horse’s bit. Now, if a horse’s bit is four feet high, we can calculate the volume required to fill a blood stream of varying widths, and as we know that the typical quantity of blood in a person is six quarts, we can then calculate how many people it would take to supply the blood. The blood from one billion human beings would make a stream not even twenty yards wide over this length of 184 miles” (A Testimony of Jesus Christ, found in www.biblestudytools.com).
Certainly it is possible that a billion rebels will gather on the plains outside Jerusalem and fight the returning Messiah, whose garments are blood stained (Isa. 63:1-6, Rev. 19:13) and whose mouth emits a sharp sword with which He strikes the nations (Rev. 19:15). However, a simpler explanation may suffice. The apostle John states the distance, not in miles, but in furlongs or stadia, which are one-eighth of a mile each. Sixteen hundred stadia is roughly the length of Palestine, so John may be saying that no part of Israel will escape bloodshed. Others point out that 1,600 is the multiplication of two numbers squared: four by four times 10 by 10, signifying the four directions – north, south, east, and west – and 102 as a number signifying divine perfection. In other words, John may be telling his first-century audience that when judgment comes it will be just, complete and widespread.
Warren Wiersbe writes, “Certainly, John is using hyperbole when he describes a river of blood four feet deep and 200 miles long (see also Isa. 63:1–6). Today, God is speaking to the world in grace, and men will not listen. One day hence, He must speak in wrath. The bitter cup will be drunk, the harvest of sin reaped, and the vine of the earth cut down and cast into the winepress” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Rev. 14:6).
Four major views of the earth’s harvest
How do supporters of the four major interpretations of Revelation view this grisly scene?
- Preterists – who see the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age – understand this scene to depict Christ in heaven, executing judgment on Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Some expositors believe the reaping in verses 14-16 has to do with the gathering of Judean believers to safety, while the vintage of verses 17-20 describes the destruction of Jerusalem. Similar language is used concerning the fall of the same city to the Babylonians in 586 B.C. (Lam. 1:15). The 180 miles probably is designed to show that the carnage wrought by the Romans would be widespread.
- Historicists – who view the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history – see the harvest as the consummation of all things, when the enemies of the church are cut off. The harvest in verses 14-16 is a picture of the righteous welcomed into the kingdom. The vintage in verses 17-20 describes the crushing of the wicked in divine judgment at the end of the world. The 180 miles are seen either as the length of Italy (and thus the destruction of the papal church); a number depicting the universality of judgment (40 x 40 = 1,600 furlongs, with 40 being the number of judgment); or simply a large number given for effect.
- Futurists – who say the events in Revelation are largely unfulfilled, especially chapters 4-22 – are divided as to whether the harvest and the vintage refer to two separate actions, or one. All are agreed that the vintage is the judgment of the wicked. But what about the harvest? Some expositors see it as the ingathering of saints before judgment falls, while other see it as judgment of the wicked from a different perspective. The “One like the Son of Man” is Christ, who carries out judgment with His holy angels. The height and length of the flowing blood may be taken figuratively or literally, although it could mean the blood splatters as high as the horses’ bridles and covers the length of Israel.
- Idealists, or spiritualists – who see Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – see the One seated on the cloud as Jesus. They understand the harvest and the vintage as final judgment but are divided as to whether the harvest includes only the righteous or a combination of the righteous and the wicked, with the vintage providing a close-up of God’s wrath on the wicked. As for the 1,600 furlongs, many take this to be symbolic, derived from the square of four (the number of the earth) multiplied by the square of 10 (referring to completeness or divine perfection).
Next: God’s wrath will be completed – Revelation 15