Millions Love Handel’s Messiah; How Many Fully Understand it?

By Paul Suckling on Dec 19, 2011 01:11 pm

Photo of an orchestra, representing the performance of Handel's Many people hear Handel’s Messiah sung at this time of year. But how many will really focus on its scriptural meaning?

For many years the press here in Massachusetts has given great reviews to the annual performances of the world-famous Messiah. It is performed in both major cities, Worcester and Boston.

For the last two years, after the final applause, the conductor in Worcester, Christopher Shepard, has led the audience in singing along with the “Hallelujah Chorus.” The entire presentation is very impressive.

My wife and I truly enjoy hearing Handel’s Messiah. It is an absolute highlight of our musical year.

Sublime and scary scriptures

The performance is in three sections. In the first part, interspersed with passages that foretold the good news of Christ’s first coming are some scriptures that bring scary images to mind. The words include the following:

  • “I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land; and I’ll shake all nations; and the desire of all nations shall come. The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple. …”
  • “But who may abide the day of His coming? And who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire.”
  • “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people. …”

These passages find their full fulfillment in the tumultuous times of the Day of the Lord and Christ’s second coming.

At the end of Part I, there is always great applause, and I wonder to myself, how much of the meaning of these words does the audience take in? Do they ask themselves, will God literally fulfill these powerful and scary end-time prophecies? If yes, then where do I stand?

However, many people love the music but don’t even try to comprehend all the words. As Wikipedianotes, “According to the musicologist Donald Burrows, much of the text is so allusive as to be largely incomprehensible to those ignorant of the biblical accounts.” Sadly, too few take the time to study the scriptures to understand their full meaning.

Suffering for sin, returning in power

The second part of the Messiah focuses on the suffering and death of the Messiah at the hands of humanity. God hates sin—it is the antithesis of His character and way of life. But He loves us so much that Jesus Christ willingly gave His life to pay the penalty for our sins if we repent.

Part II also focuses on the return of Christ in power and glory. It describes the second coming of Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Part II ends with the magnificent “Hallelujah Chorus,” for which, by tradition, the whole audience stands. At the end of the piece there is always rapturous applause. It is thrilling music and singing.

But again, how many actually believe that God hates sin and that Jesus Christ will return in power to put down those who rebel against God?

Conquering death

Part III concentrates on the conquering of death and the resurrection. Jesus Christ’s resurrection paved the way for human beings to be resurrected from the dead. “The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible.” What do these words mean to those who believe humans go to heaven or hell immediately at death, without the need for a resurrection?

But the Bible teaches that sin leads to death and that eternal life is God’s gift to man through a resurrection (Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52).

As the words sung in the Messiah show, someday death and the grave will be finished. “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.”

I ponder, do those who applaud so strongly and shout, “Bravo, Bravo,” realize what they are applauding? Yes, the words are from God’s Word, the Bible; but do the listeners realize that man is awash in sin and corruption and needs to repent or turn from sin and go in God’s direction in order to receive the gift of eternal life?

The very last word of the whole piece is “Amen,” which means “so be it” or “hearty approval,” asMerriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says.

Are we really listening? How should we respond?

So, after the final note has sounded and all of the applause has died away, as people file away to their homes, how much of the meaning of the words will remain with them?

The Scriptures tell us that at the time of the end, just before the spectacular return of Jesus Christ in power and glory, humanity will actually gather to fight against His return!

Revelation 16:11 tells us that men will curse God because of the end-time plagues and yet still will not repent of their deeds. Verse 14 tells us that demonic spirits will gather mankind to battle against Christ on that great day of God Almighty. But Christ will quickly put an end to Satan’s last stand, and then the Messiah will reign on the earth (Revelation 11:15; 19:19-21; 20:1-4).

So will we, who perhaps take God’s words very seriously, consider the depth of meaning of the words of Handel’s Messiah and not just be swept up in the emotion of such powerful words and music?

Will we repent—turn from sin—and truly and properly prepare to meet our God?

Learn more. Take time to read “What Is Repentance?

Paul Suckling is a pastor of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in New England. 
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