In Biblical times wine-making was an important part of the year's harvest. The juice for making the wine was extracted from the grapes by treading them in a vat called gath in Hebrew. The juice ran into another vat called yekeb. It was both natural and inevitable that the treading of the wine-press should suggest a fitting vengeance on one's enemies, and the imagery of the wine-press is accordingly used in both the Old and New Testaments as a type of judgment. See Isaiah 63:1-6, Joel 3:13, Revelation 14:18-20.
We have seen in a previous study that the threshing-floor seems to be used as a symbol of Calvary as well as of the final judgment of the nations. We find that the threshing-floor is, in several passages, coupled with the wine-press. It seems a reasonable supposition that the wine-press, also, may have a symbolic connection with the sufferings of Christ.
As shown above, several passages of Scripture teach that the wicked are to be trodden in the wine-press of God's wrath; therefore, in order to save wicked sinners from such punishment, Jesus had to be trodden in the wine-press in their stead. This quid pro quo nature of the sufferings of Christ is illustrated in such passages as Jer.9:13-15,17:13, Deut. 31:16-17, in which it is prophesied that the wicked will be given wormwood and water of gall to drink; that they will be put to shame; that they will be forsaken by God and that his face will be hidden from them. Let these passages be compared with Matthew's account of the crucifixion and it will be seen that, at least to some degree, it was necessary for Jesus to suffer what those whom he died to save would otherwise have had to suffer. We will not press this point, since it is impossible for us to know all the details of the vicarious sufferings of Jesus. But at least it appears reasonable to suppose that being trodden, or trampled, in the wine-press was a part of that suffering.
Jesus, himself, spoke of his blood as wine, which was made by trampling grapes in the wine-press; thereby suggesting that he must be trodden in the wine-press like grapes. Furthermore, Isaiah prophesied:
"He was bruised for our iniquities".
The Hebrew word translated bruised is used in Lam. 3:34 in the sense of treading underfoot, so that Isaiah's meaning could have been, "He was trampled for our iniquities."
But, though the idea may sound plausible, did any incident occur in connection with the sufferings of Christ which could possibly be considered as his being trodden in the wine- press? Let the reader consider the following facts:
There is mentioned in the Gospels a place which was the scene of great suffering on the part of Jesus. That place was Gethsemane. Now there seems to be a unanimity among scholars that the name means oil-press from the Hebrew gath (press) and shemen (oil). However, it appears to the writer that this is a contrived derivation and that those who hold to it are considerably influenced by the notion that Gethsemane was a garden or orchard of olive trees. Nothing is said in the Scriptural account as to any olive trees being in this garden. True, its location was on the Mount of Olives, but the mount was known by that name back in David's time a thousand years before. It does not follow that there were actually olive trees there at the time in question. But, are there not olive trees now standing at the traditional site of Gethsemane which are said to have been there at the time of Christ? So it is claimed; but the truth is that olive trees do not live for two thousand years, and Josephus records that during the siege of Jerusalem, Titus cut down all trees in the vicinity of Jerusalem. Bella Judorum, V. 6:2. This would certainly have included any olive trees in Gethsemane, had there been any there.
But, to return to the derivation of the word Gethsemane: the Hebrew gath does not mean a press (such as would have been used for olives) but denotes a vat in which grapes were trodden in order to extract the juice - a procedure which was never used to obtain the oil from olives. Gath is never applied to an oil press in Scripture: in fact, no oil press is so much as mentioned in the O.T. Gath, except when it is a proper name referring to the Philistine city, always denotes a wine-press. This fact could not be completely ignored by Richard Glover, though he was compelled to bow slightly to the prestige of scholarship. Accordingly, he ventures the somewhat startling notion that Gethsemane was, "from its name, evidently an olive vineyard!" However, an olive vineyard would be no more of an oddity than olives being trodden in a gath to extract the oil!
Let us allow the word gath to retain its invariable significance of wine-press and ignoring the olive trees (if such there were) let us consider the word Gethsemane on purely philological grounds. The latter part of the word could be derived, of course, from shemen, or oil, in which case the meaning would be wine-press of oil, but since oil and wine (or grape juice) were extracted by completely different processes, it hardly seems likely that it would mean oil press (provided, of course, that we forget the olive trees)! The other possibility is the Hebrew word, saman, which means to determine, to decree, to appoint. The word is used in Isaiah 28:25:
"... and the appointed barley and the rie in their place?"
It is probable then, that the original form of the word Gethsemane meant, in Hebrew, the appointed wine-press. Of course, this sense of the word is meaningless to the scholars and makes no provision for the ubiquitous olive trees; therefore, they reject it. Oil press is much more sensible and fits in nicely with the fact that Gethsemane was full of olive trees! Luke records that the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane was such that:
"... And His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground".
How vividly this suggests the pressing out of the grape juice or wine in the wine-press! The sufferings of Jesus in Gethsemane are well described by H. H. Halley in his Bible Handbook, Twentieth Edition Revised, 1955:
"The most pitiful incident in the whole sorrowful story of Jesus' suffering was that night in Gethsemane. We wonder why he dreaded his death. We read of martyrs being burned at the stake with songs of joy on their lips. But Jesus, whom we think of as stronger than ordinary men, when he was brought face to face with his death, acted as if He just could not go through with it, and cried out in anguish that, if possible, it might not be. We wonder why. It must be that Jesus knew that he was going to suffer something that men do not ordinarily suffer in death, or at least that they do not know beforehand that they are to suffer. Jesus died for the sins of the world. Whatever theory of the atonement we may hold, Jesus, in some sense or other, died to save us from being lost. He must, therefore, have suffered something of what we will suffer if we are lost: Else how could his death save us from being lost? Whatever it was, Jesus dreaded it. His soul shrank back in horror from it. Jesus had come out of eternity knowing that the cross was at the end of the road, for he knew that he was coming as the Lamb of God, to take away the sin of the world. As a man. He left Galilee and set his face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem, walking with steady tread, never wavering, never faltering, knowing that the cross was at the end of the road. But now he had come to the end of the road, and there stood that ghastly thing. It made even Jesus the Son of God temporarily entertain the thought of turning back. The language of his three prayers shows that the possibility of not going to the cross was in his mind. Then as the two or three or four hours of wavering passed, and he put out of His mind all thought of escape, and set his face like steel to go to it, what it meant to him made him sweat drops of blood, and so weak that God sent an angel to strengthen him. We can never in this world understand the awful mystery of the atonement - why it had to be. Only this - it was to save us. The simple story of Jesus' suffering, whatever else it may mean, has been the most blessed influence that has ever been in the world."
Bible Handbook, p.465.
It is this writer's belief that those hours in Gethsemane represented the treading of Jesus in the wine-press which he had to experience in order to save those who would otherwise be trodden in the wine-press of God's wrath. In fact, it seems that the scene of the wine-press experience of Jesus will be the precise locale in which he will tread the wicked in the wine-press of God's wrath in the Battle of Armageddon, as seen by John in Rev. 14:18-20. For when Jesus comes in glory to destroy the wicked in the Battle of Armageddon,
"His feet shall stand in that day on the Mount of Olives,"
the site of the Garden of Gethsemane. Notice that John observes in the passage cited that the wine-press was trodden without the city, which fits the Mount of Olives nicely. In support of the theory that the Gethsemane sufferings of Jesus (rather than those of the cross) correspond to the wine-press type, note that while blood is mentioned only once in connection with the crucifixion itself, it is mentioned seven times during the period beginning with the Last Supper and ending at the Cross. Six of these references are directly to the blood of Christ while the seventh is an indirect reference thereto. It was during the Gethsemane sufferings that he is said to have sweat great drops of blood.
One important question remains to be considered. If Jesus was trodden in the wine-press of God's wrath, who did the treading? A partial answer may be found in Matthew 27:25, where the people said:
"His blood be upon us, and upon our children."
These words remind us of how those who tread the wine-press get their clothing stained by the grape juice so that they appear to be bloodstained. However, the entire blame for the wine-press sufferings of Christ cannot be placed on the Jewish people alone. A significant passage in this connection is Hebrews 10:28-29 which reads:
"He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses. Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?"
This passage has generally been understood to mean that those who reject the blood of Christ are, in effect, trampling him under their feet, and that they are therefore in considerably worse case than those who merely transgressed the law under the legal dispensation. However, it is only a supposition on our part that the trampling of Christ under foot is equivalent to rejecting his blood (or counting it an unholy thing). It is the writer's belief that all men are guilty of having trampled Jesus underfoot in the wine-press of God's wrath, and that the passage in question really means to say that prior to the suffering and death of Christ, sin was merely a matter of having transgressed a law, but since his death, sin has taken on a more serious aspect - that of having trodden underfoot the Son of God. However, those who accept the blood which was the result of that treading are freed from their guilt, while those who reject that blood are worthy of much sorer punishment than those who despised Moses' law. If a man were to tread a wine-press and yet refuse the wine that is the end product of the treading, it would be clear evidence that his treading of the wine-press was solely for the sake of the treading itself. So with those who reject the blood of Christ, they have trodden him underfoot for the sheer satisfaction of it, with no regard for his blood which is the result thereof. But those who receive his blood, though they too have trodden him in the wine-press, yet they have respect for the sanctifying blood which gives them life.