We invite you to return every day during Advent for this devotional series
Listen to today’s accompanying audio track:
“Hallelujah: for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.”
“The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever.”
“King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.”
The spine-tingling “Hallelujah Chorus” is the most famous and beloved movement from Messiah. It is often praised as the most moving and inspiring religious piece ever written. Even today’s more secular audiences are quick to their feet at the sound of its first triumphant notes. Although the Chorus was written to end Part II of Messiah about the cross and empty tomb, it has become synonymous with Christmas. The soaring voices and piercing trumpet are matched by a magnificent text.
The text is taken from the last pages of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. The Book’s title comes from its very first line: “The revelation of Jesus Christ”. Here is Messiah presented in His glory. Unlike the Gospels which reveal Jesus’ humiliation, the “Revelation” reveals His triumphant return. Although the Book of Revelation is a challenge to any reader, its main message comes through clearly: God wins!
But the Apostle John might have thought differently. He was the only one of the 12 apostles not martyred, but banished to the lonely island of Patmos. There John was granted this revelation of “things which shall be hereafter” (1:19), and records it for our encouragement. God reveals the last battle of light against the darkness, and how God’s enemies are vanquished.
As John sees this final battle, he hears the voice of God’s servants, “both small and great”, praising God. They sound to John as “the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thundering” (Revelation 19:6a). It must have been incredible for John to hear the mighty voices saying: “‘Hallelujah: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (19:6).
This first line of the “Hallelujah Chorus” is actually the redeemed of the earth answering this chorus of “Hallelujah” from heaven. The announcement that “the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” is not news in heaven, but it is news, good news on earth. God and His Messiah now reign!
The word “Hallelujah” is a translation of the Hebrew shout, “Praise the Lord!” This chapter of Revelation is the only time the word “Hallelujah” is used in the New Testament, although it is frequently used in the Psalms. It is as if heaven and earth have waited for this very moment: “Hallelujah”, Praise the Lord; the long battle is over!
Then after shouts of “Hallelujah”, John sees the heavens open. There is Messiah in His glory coming to earth. Written on Messiah’s robe is His ensign: “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords” (19:16).
As Messiah comes, shaking the heavens and the earth (11:13), John hears an angel blowing a trumpet and “great voices” declaring: “The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (11:15).
On Christmas Eve we celebrate Messiah’s first coming and eagerly look forward to His coming again. We cherish the prophet Isaiah’s words foretelling both His comings:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
The stories vary as to why King George II of England stood when he first heard the “Hallelujah Chorus”, but I know why I shall stand tonight: Behold My God!
Handel had served as a composer for England’s royal family, and written coronations hymns for King George II and Queen Caroline. He knew well how to write music for newly crowned King Jesus.
Handel wrote the “Hallelujah Chorus” in the key of D major, which in his Baroque times was called the “key of glory”. The sound of the Chorus is magnified by the expanded orchestra, as previous pieces featured only one or two instruments. The addition of the two trumpets and timpani are fitting as they were associated with royalty. Altogether the voices and instruments combine for a joyful, festive sound.
The music begins with the orchestra proclaiming heaven’s “Hallelujah” that will reappear again and again through the piece. The Chorus then picks up on the orchestra’s “Hallelujah”, joyfully repeating it with quicker singing. We hear the redeemed of the earth resounding the triumphant “Hallelujah” begun in heaven.
Orchestra: HAAA-le-LU-jah HAAA-le-LU-jah
Choir: [HAAA-le-LU-jah] [HAAA-le-LU-jah]
We are listening to voices telling the world of Messiah. Much of the power of the music comes from the rhythm of the word “Hallelujah”. The first note is held and then almost explodes at the end with joy: HAAA-le-LU-jah! The excitement mounts as the orchestra and choir answer back and forth.
After the initial bursts of praise, the reason for great celebration is sung: “For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth”. This theme grows as all four voice parts proclaim it against a background of “Hallelujah”. The orchestra joins the voices in the celebration of Messiah’s reign.
The mood changes as the music becomes quiet, more reflective, as we consider the incredible news that “The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ.”
Next, we hear the whole world rejoicing in the voices of the chorus “and he shall reign for ever and ever”. The music leaps heavenward with all four parts rising to their highest range to acclaim Messiah.
The festal trumpet hails Messiah: “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.” The choir echoes back: “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.” Each note is repeated again and again, reverberating. Handel keeps repeating the words on a higher and higher line, accentuating the message. Each voice seems to go as high as it can to take the Chorus to its highest point.
In the final section, the orchestra and voice parts join in one united, homophonic sound, as though they are the whole world together declaring Messiah. We hold our breath at the very end for what is often called, the G.P. or “Great Pause”. Handel packed drama into this full two beat rest: we wait expectantly for the timpani’s pounding climax and then the final acclaim of Messiah: Ha-LEEE-Lu-jah.
- What do you sense that God might be saying to you in today’s Scripture text and music from Messiah?
- What do you want to say to God?
- Now take a few moments to be still in God’s presence.