Handel’s Messiah has become a musical institution, traditionally performed at Christmas by choirs around the world . In 1741 George Fredric Handel composed the music for the world-renowned oratorio in a mere three weeks, after reading scripture passages and excerpts from the Book of Common Prayer compiled by his friend, Charles Jennens. History records that upon reading the texts, Handel was so overcome with their power that he shut himself in and worked day and night composing, often forgetting to eat. His servant sometimes heard his sobs as he labored over the inspired text. Handel is quoted exclaiming as he wrote the famous “Hallelujah Chorus”, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself!” At a Messiah performance in 1759, honoring his seventy-fourth birthday, Handel responded to enthusiastic applause with these words: “Not from me – but from Heaven- comes all.”
Jennens, who compiled the scripture passages of Messiah, prefaced the first such edition with the scripture, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” – 1 Tim. 3:16 KJV
Jennens chose the scripture passages for Messiah to illustrate the person and work of Jesus Christ as summarized above. The great mystery alluded to in the prophetic passages of Part 1, is realized as God manifest in the flesh through the incarnation. (Luke 2: 8-14) Part 2 focuses on Christ’s redemptive work on earth and Part 3 culminates with His resurrection and future reign.
Throughout Messiah Handel employs a technique called text painting, where the musical notes mimic the lines of text. Therein lies the reason for Messiah’s power and longevity. Given the God-breathed words of scripture concerning Christ, combined with the God-given musical gifting of Handel, this timeless classic continues to inspire its listeners to rise to their feet, as England’s King George II did in 1743, upon hearing the Hallelujah Chorus.
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever.