Part II of Handel’s Messiah takes on the themes of the passion of the Messiah and his resurrection and victory. Overall, Handel and Jennens seem to give more attention to Christ’s death, resurrection and glorification, victory, and reign than to his birth.
Following the chorus singing John the Baptist’s announcement of “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world,” we move to the servant songs of Isaiah. This Lamb of God, Isaiah prophecies, is a suffering servant, despised and rejected in the world to which he is sent. This very likely dashes the expectations of his coming as a warrior-king or political ruler. Beaten, scorned, spat upon, and mocked, this Anointed One is the bearer of our griefs and our sorrows. His stripes bring healing to us wayward sheep. Our real crime for which he is being punished is our straying from the way of our Shepherd and seeking our own way. Turning to Psalm 69, we hear of his abandonment. “Thy rebuke hath broken his heart,” and he is left alone, forsaken, cut off from the land of the living.
Important to note here is the emphasis in Isaiah 53 that Christ’s role in his suffering and death was a substitutionary one. He suffered in the place of his people. The passage also brings the idea of atonement. He made an offering for sin, acceptable in God’s sight. Messiah justifies his people; he shall “make many to be accounted righteous.”
The tone takes a dramatic turn from the Messiah’s suffering and death to his glorious resurrection as the tenor sings “But thou didst not leave his soul in Hell [Sheol].” The Father did not leave his Son in abandonment; the grave could not hold the eternal King, the Mighty God. In his resurrection, Jesus conquers death, the enemy from old. He has the victory at his resurrection, and will finally vanquish death for his people at our promised resurrection. Handel moves to celebration of the resurrection from Psalm 24. The proper response to Christ’s resurrection is joyful and robust worship of the Lord of Hosts, the King of Glory.
Finally, the piece turns to Christ’s position as King reigning over the nations. Psalm 2 is one of the great anthems of God’s people, declaring the worthiness and might. As the rulers of the earth rebel and set themselves against the LORD and his Messiah, the call to them is to repent – “kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way,”- or be broken under the rod of his wrath. Here is wisdom: fear the LORD- glorify God and enjoy him forever.
Hallelujah: for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. The kingdom of this world has 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. Hallelujah!