Hallelujah Chorus

Hallelujah Chorus insights

The Hallelujah Chorus is one part of the choral work by Handel called “the Messiah.”  The entire “Messiah” is based on bible verses.  The Hallelujah chorus uses verses from the book of Revelation.  Revelation is the account of visions of heaven seen by John, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus.

The song begins with “Halleluia.”  That is a Hebrew word.  The “hallel” means praise, and the “ia” is the beginning of the word Yahweh, the name God said to Moses from the burning bush when Moses asked “what is your name?”  Yahweh is a form of the Hebrew word “is,” and can be translated as “I am that I am,” or paraphrased as “I am the eternally existent one.”  The Literal meaning of “Halleluia” then is “praise Yahweh.”  Because the Jews developed the custom of saying the word “lord” whenever the text had the word “Yahweh,” Halleluia is often translated as “Praise the Lord.”  With the same pronunciation, another spelling is Hallelujah.  The Latin spelling of the same word is “Alleluia.”  (Latin does not have a letter H.)

John sees a great crowd in heaven.  Here is his record:

Revelation 19:6

6Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.”
In King James translation:

And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, “Hallelujah!  for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.”

The part in quotes are the words Handel used at the beginning of the Hallelujah Chorus.

King James translation means the translation made in England in the 1600’s and then authorized by the King of England of that time.  Therefore it is also called the “authorized version.”  It became the most widely used English translation until new translations came along in the past fifty years.  It is the version that would have been available to Handel, when he wrote “the Messiah” in the 1700’s.

The next part of the Hallelujah chorus uses the words in quotes below:

Revelation 11:

And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.”

This scene in heaven is the fulfillment of Psalm 2.  Psalm 2 begins by showing a world that is in rebellion against God:

Psalm 2
1 Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together
against the LORD and against his Anointed One.
3 “Let us break their chains,” they say, “and throw off their fetters.”

Note that the rebellion is not only against God, but God’s Anointed One (the word used there is Messiah).  The next verse shows God’s reaction to their rebellion:

4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.
5 Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
6 “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

God’s response to rebellion is to establish a king.  King refers to the same person as Messiah.  In the Old Testament, kings like David were tools of God’s will.  David is the one who conquered Jerusalem and made it into the capital city.  One of the hills in Jerusalem is called Mount Zion, and the word Zion is often used in the Psalms as a poetic way to refer to Jerusalem.  God promised David that one of his descendants would be a greater king, an eternal king over the entire world.  The next part of the Psalm was taken by Christians to refer not only to ordinary kings like David, but to be giving information about that future greatest king, whom we know as Jesus:

7 I will proclaim the decree of the LORD :
He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.

Acts 13:33 quotes this verse referring it to Jesus: “What God promised our fathers, he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus, as it says in the second Psalm ‘You are my son, today I have become your father.’ ”  When we call Jesus “God the Son,” we are saying that we believe that Jesus is the Son referred to here in Psalm 2, which is another way of saying that Jesus is the Messiah.  That is important because of what this Son, the Messiah, will do.  God gives this promise to the Messiah:

8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You will rule them with an iron scepter;
you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

The “iron scepter” is the symbol of kingship.  God is here promising that the rebellion will end, and that the Messiah will be victorious over the rebellion.  That “iron scepter” (also called “iron rod”) comes up later in the Hallelujah chorus.  The next part of the Psalm indicates how people’s relationship to God is determined by their relationship to the Son:

10 Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

So when Revelation 11 said that “the kingdoms of the world are given over to the Son” it means that the promise in Psalm 2 has been fulfilled.  The Messiah has conquered the rebellion.  The next part of the Hallelujah chorus quotes a later part of Revelation.  Here are the sentences leading up to it::

Revelation 19:11-16

11   And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.
12   His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.
13   And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.
14   And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.
15   And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

The vision is of Jesus.  The robe dipped in blood reminds us that he died, and we know that in John 1:1 Jesus is called the “Word.”  Note the “rod of iron” in the last line, fulfilling the promise in Psalm 2 that the Messiah will rule with a rod (or scepter) of iron.  The words in caps below are the next words that appear in the Hallelujah chorus:

16   And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

“King of kings” means a king who is over all other kings.

Return to list of topics