I find this passage one of the most confusing in the entire book. The
harvest language, though initially a little gruesome, actually makes
more sense once you realize that harvest time was a joyful occasion for
But the winepress was almost always the language of bloody, violent,
judgment in the First Testament. And I feel uncomfortable with the
thought that Christ might here be employing the methodology of the Beast
in order to bring about his Kingdom Come.
A couple of textual notes—courtesy of Darryl Johnson, George Caird,
FF Bruce, and NT Wright—have helped me find my way through, albeit
For starters, in the First Testament “the vine of the earth” referred
to Israel. But Jesus expropriated the term first for himself (“I am the
True Vine…”) and then for his followers (“…and you are the branches.”).
When John records the angel gathering the fruit from the vine of the
earth, he’s referring to the blood of Christ—which cleanses sin—and the
blood of the martyrs—who followed Jesus and died as a result.
“Outside the city” is also an important phrase, given that it was an
early Christian means of referencing the cross (see Hebrews 13.12-13,
for example, “therefore Jesus…suffered outside the city gate…”).
Salvation came from “outside the city” via the cross. The winepress of
God’s anger outside the city gate, then, is the cross. That is where
God’s wrath was fully expressed against the contamination of sin (see
The “blood that flows up to the horses bridle for about 200 miles”
becomes clearer when we understand that 200 miles was originally
rendered 1600 stadia. 1600 refers to two things simultaneously. First,
its the traditional length of Palestine in the ancient world, meaning
there’s “blood enough” for those who rejected Christ. Second, 1600 is
40×40, where 4 = the number of creation and 10 = the number of the
multitudes, meaning there’s “blood enough” for all creation.
And whose blood is it? The blood of God’s enemies?
No—it’s the blood of Jesus, the vine of the earth, and of his
followers who were killed in his name. God spilled his own blood to save
the world. This passage is less about God blowing up his enemies and
dancing on their graves, than about the final reconciliation between
Creator and Creation at His own expense.