Winepress of God’s Wrath

Revelation 14:18-20

18 And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe. 19 And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20 And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.

I’m having a harder and harder time being a dispensational premillenialist. Take this passage of scripture, for example. It falls between the description of the mark of the beast, and the seven bowls of God’s wrath. Those prophetic elements are generally taken literally by dispensation premillenialists. But what should we make of this passage? Can it be taken literally?

We’re told that God poured out His wrath on the earth, and this is figuratively portrayed as a harvest of grapes being pressed in “the great wine press of the wrath of God”. The Bible specifically says that the blood flowed out 1600 furlongs, and was as deep as a horses bridle.

I’m interested to know what volume of blood this is, and how many human deaths it represents. This will help me get some idea how to interpret the passage.

According to Strong’s, a furlong is 600 feet. That makes 1,600 furlongs about 960,000 feet. There are 5,280 feet in a mile, so we’re talking 180 miles or so. The NAS rounds up to 200 miles, but we’ll stick with 180.

A horse’s bridle is somewhere around five feet high, based on the horses I’ve been around.

There’s no real reason, short of being on a steep incline, that this much liquid would flow in any shape other than a rough circle. The Bible doesn’t tell us otherwise. But when we get to the final answer, we can divide by 2 or 4 if we think the blood flowed in a semicircle or a quarter of a circle. I just want to get within an order of magnitude.

The formula for the volume of a cylinder is pi * radius * radius * height. Here’s the math:

3.14 * 960,000 ft * 960,000 ft * 5 ft = 14,469,120,000,000 cubic feet. 14.5 trillion cubic feet of blood.

One cubic foot is about 7.5 gallons. According to the Google converter, this is 1.08236534 ? 10^14 gallons. Taking it out of scientific notation, that’s 108,236,534,000,000 gallons. 108 trillion gallons.

I googled and found that the human body contains about 6 quarts, or 1.5 gallons, of blood. 108 trillion gallons of blood / 1.5 gallons per person = 72,157,689,333,333 people. 72 trillion people.

If you assume that the blood flowed out from the winepresses in a non-circular shape, you can just divide 72 trillion by the appropriate figure. Let’s assume that the blood flowed, inexplicably, in a wedge of 1/10th of a circle. That’s still 7 trillion folks. Let’s further assume that the blood wasn’t 5 feet deep all the way out. Let’s assume that it decreased steadily all the way out, and cut our final answer in half. Now we’re looking at 3.5 trillion deaths right there.

Taken literally, Revelation 14:17-20 indicates the swift death of at least 3.5 trillion people. A little more googling and it looks like the world’s population is just under 6.5 billion people.

For Revelation 14:17-20 to be literally fulfilled, requires the death of 500 times more people than are alive today. Population growth is a hard thing to predict, but recently we’ve been roughly doubling our population every 50 years. That gives us about 500 years if we maintain this rapid growth rate. A 500 year delay does not mesh well with popular understandings of the end times.

But wait, there’s more! Where will all these people live?

There are roughly 60,000,000 square miles of land on the Earth. Dividing 3.5 trillion by 60 million yields about 60,000 people per square mile. All over the earth. 500 square feet per person. Ten times the population density of Singapore. For every square foot of land on the planet, including Antarctica and the Sahara.

It seems quite unlikely that Revelation 14:17-20 can be taken literally. We have to allegorize or interpret something. We can allegorize the distances given. We can allegorize the blood as something other than the physical human blood of those slain. We can take it to mean simply that a whole lot of people died. But I do not see how we can take it literally. And if we can’t take that literally, we surely aren’t required to take other fantastic passages literally. Let’s be consistent here! We can’t mix our literal and non-literal interpretations simply because we can’t come up with reasonable scenarios for some passages. We must handle God’s word more carefully than that. I think a consistent allegorical interpretation is more reverent than an inconsistently “literal” one.

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12 Responses to Winepress of God’s Wrath

  1. Jared says:

    I think “literal” is a misnomer anyway. Dispies should toss it out, since they don’t really, literally, subscribe to literalism anyway. I don’t know many dispies who believe a literal dragon will appear. They typically interpret that as the beast or whatever. Similarly, locusts are helicopters and what-not.
    “Literalism” is not really the appropriate word for dispensational interpretation.

    So basically, you could still be a dispensational premillennialist; you’d just have to accept that literalism isn’t really a functional part of that school’s eschatology. It’s just a poor choice of wording.

    That said, there are of course other, better reasons not to be a dispensationalist or a premillennialist. ;-)

    A Tentatively Historical Premillennialist Slowly but Surely Sliding to the Dark Side (a.k.a. Amillennialism)

  2. Robert says:

    I’m leaning postmil.

  3. Rey says:

    Jared makes a good point about literalism. I would suggest “literary” but that still falls short. There’s nothing wrong with seeing metaphors, simile’s or allusions in Scripture. I would look at the context to see what’s being reaped and what is ripe then I would look for other wine press parallels in the Bible to see if the thrown in clusters of the vine for the sickle are people or if it means something else.

    there’s my spare change.

  4. Phil in CA says:

    I heard John MacArthur teaching on this, doing his usual dispensational gymnastics and his take was that “even unto the horse bridles” mean that the blood was splattered or gushed as high as the horses bridles (e.g., when a tank runs over someone the body’s hydraulic force cause it to pop one of those little condiment packages being run over under a tire). Your comments about dispensationalism vs. literalism are, to me, just the tip of the iceberg. When dealing with dispensationalists who’ve just boasted greatly how spiritual their “literal” reading is, I ask them about locusts and they stammer with, “oh, um, well, that probably means helicopters or something.” (too much Left Behind, eh?)

    But hey, I’m leaning a-mill these days, so what do I know? Seriously, Robert, if you’ve never really given a-mill it’s fair due, please do so. I was left wagging my finger at the pages and saying, “Ah, now that makes sense.” Once I stopped making the Nicodemus-like mistake of reading a physical/literal meaning into thing, it made sense. Once I fully understood the a-mill timeline as they present it (e.g., Kim Riddlebarger in “Case for Amillennialism”) and once I read those verses in that context, things just make sense. It’s like, um, coming to Calvinism and suddenly realizing… well, you know :-)

  5. Robert says:

    Rey, I agree that would be the correct way to interpret Rev 14. It’s prophetic imagery. But the premil dispensational view insists on – even prides itself on – literalism. Rev 14 can hardly be taken literally. But the slope is slippery – once I admit that Rev 14 can’t be taken literally, I have no basis to insist that Rev 13, or Rev 15, must be taken literally.

    I am still dispy premil, but probably not for much longer. This post is just one example of why. I keep seeing lots of things that just don’t work.


    I ask them about locusts and they stammer with, ?oh, um, well, that probably means helicopters or something.? (too much Left Behind, eh?)

    Actually, in Left Behind, the locusts were literal demonic bugs that flew around saying “Abaddon” and stinging people.

    Seriously, Robert, if you?ve never really given a-mill it?s fair due, please do so.

    I’m working on it. I’m hopefully going to do a Sunday School class on different views of the millenium and Revelation, and so this is part of my studying. I want people to understand how one can hold other eschatological viewpoints and still love Jesus and take the Bible literally, so we can look at men like RC Sproul or JI Packer or even Hank Hannegraf and realize they are our friends, not apostate heretics. If we can’t all agree, at least we could try to understand one another.

    As I said earlier, I’m leaning postmil right now, but I don’t know enough about amill to say one way or another.

  6. Phil in CA says:

    Actually, in Left Behind, the locusts were literal demonic bugs that flew around saying “Abaddon” and stinging people.

    I guess I shouldn’t have tossed in the flippant “Left Behind” comment since I haven’t read the LaHaye & Jenkins treatment of the issue. The incident I had in mind was really a mocknig of some of the responses I’ve heard preached by the Hal Lindsey fans I knew in the days before LaHaye & Jenkins.

    As I said earlier, I’m leaning postmil right now, but I don’t know enough about amill to say one way or another.

    I’m glad you’re looking amill. To me, the big problem with either literal-millenialist positions is that they’re still premised on a literal 1000 year period of measurable time. This is a *highly* symbolic stretch of verses, and there is certainly Biblical precedent for seeing the phase “thousand years” as simply being metaphorical for a long period of time [ref. Psalm 90:4, 2 Peter 3:8]. Then there are the numerous time-gaps and contradictions involved in the 1000 year reign view.

    Read this and see if you like Riddlebarger’s style:

  7. Jared says:

    I second the recommendation of Riddlebarger’s “A Case for Amillennialism.” It’s what shoved me hardest into the coffin of amillennialism. ;-)

    I’m faking trying to crawl back out, but Anthony Hoekema’s “The Bible and the Future” is On Deck in my reading list, and I expect it to nail me in.

    Btw, one attraction of amillennialism to me is how compatible it is somewhat with historical premillennialism (or at least the strongest features of premillennialism). Hoekema, for instance, believes in a future antichrist figure preceding the second coming (as per Paul), etc.
    Equating amillennialism with a totally symbolic reading of eschatology is incorrect, IMO.

  8. Robert says:

    I’m going to have to take a speed reading course to keep up with y’all! I only have 10 pages left in the book I’m reading now. I was going to read “Christ of the Covenants” next but maybe I’ll go back to “The Meaning of the Millenium”.

  9. Dan Paden says:

    This is the first time I’ve visited your blog. Very nicely done.

    I have been wondering about the passage in question for a long time. As you point out, it is hard to understand where one could find enough blood to fill a valley that long up to a meter and a half! I do not pretend, at this point, to know the answer. But I shall share a couple of things that may be of some small interest. The first is that in the translations I checked, I found “poured out,” “came out”, and “flowed out.” I would first say that while it is pretty natural to take those, in conjunction with the imagery of being “up to,” or “even unto” a horse’s bridle as indicating a pool of blood a meter and a half deep, but the text doesn’t actually seem to *demand* that imagery. Blood is messy stuff–a good book on the subject is THE EVIDENCE NEVER LIES. I can’t remember the author’s name, unfortunately, but he did a huge amount of work refining how bloodstain evidence is used in criminal investigation, and made me aware that there is more than one sense in which a crime scene can be understood to be covered in blood. The upshot is that a strictly “literal” reading of the passage simply doesn’t offer enough information to know whether we’re talking about a pool of blood, or the hazy after-effects of an army being vaporized by explosive force–or something else. We just know that we’re talking about cataclysmic judgement on a host of people.

    My next point is one I’ve made to my Sunday School class many times: prophecy is generally easiest to understand in hindsight. Not being able to understand a prophecy before its fulfillment is not a good indicator of how to interpret it.

    I am not, by the way, advocating a strictly literal interpretation of the passage, any more than I would have advocated a woodenly literal interpretation of Daniel’s prophetic visions. Sometimes these things *are* symbolic, sometimes they aren’t. I try to figure them out based on context, and how prophecy has been fulfilled in the past. Sometimes I am still stumped, and there is no shame in that. Daniel had some of the most tremendous visions imaginable, but much of the meaning was shut up to him until the end time.

    If you were to ask whether I am pre-mil, post-trib, what have you, I would have to answer that I don’t feel like I have enough data to weigh in with more than an educated guess. I tend pre-mil, but I don’t think of it as exclusively a dispensationalist position.

  10. Brian Harrison says:

    Okay, so I was kind of referred here as a “you might enjoy this post” kind of thing because I’m fascinated with Revelations, as well as people’s opinions/interpretations of the different judgments, etc., so long story short – I like the post. So, now for my thoughts/ideas/comments…

    First off, blood does splatter, so MacArthur may have a point, but something implies blood flowing that deep. So, realizing that it would take a few trillion people’s blood to make this possible is important. But then you have to realize that “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise” (1 Cor. 1:27a). I mean, yeah there are no clues or hints of anything like this happening, but who’s to say that something like that is impossible when you are talking about a guy who can think you out of existence? Maybe that’s extreme, but the idea of the entire Body of Christ going to heaven at once is a little extreme too. I mean, one man being able to fulfill so many prophecies simply in the way he was born and the way he died is incredible, unbelievable, extreme. I don’t know what the whole postmil premil dispie amil talk was about, but I just know that God seems to do things in ways that no one expects or can see coming, so I have no problem taking this passage literally. I just say, “Well, that kinda sounds impossible to me, but then again, I’m not God, so yeah. God’s power is amazing.”

  11. Robert says:

    The question, of course, is not whether or not God _could_ do something like this. Of course He could. It’s just a question of how literally we must interpret the prophecies.

    Dispensational premillenialism (think Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsey, etc) prides itself on a literal hermenuetic. Dispy premils believe in the rapture and the rise of a Jewish state as a result of taking certain prophecies very literally.

    My point was simply to demonstrate how little sense it makes to interpret all prophecies literally. Another example – few of us really expect to see literal monsters with multiple physical heads and ten literal horns during the end times. We know it is symbolic. And if that is symbolic, what else might be symbolic?

    Is it possible, let’s say, that many of the events of Rev were fulfilled in the first century AD with the fall of Jerusalem? That is the (partial) preterist position.

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