What is the connection between Handel and Armageddon?
George Frederick Handel never went near that ancient battleground. He did, however compose an oratorio about Judas Maccabeus (1748), the hero of the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid kings of Syria, heirs to a portion of Alexander the Great’s empire. The Seleucids murdered Judas near Beth Shan, at the southeastern end of the ancient battleground.
The most famous chorus from Judas Maccabaeus is “See, the Conqu’ring Hero Comes!” It’s a grand tune and still beloved in England. It’s such a grand tune that “The Conqu’ring Hero” fits it as well as a wagon hitched to a racehorse.
The Swiss hymn writer Edmond Louis Budry (1854-1932) noticed the disparity long before me and borrowed Handel’s chorus for his Easter hymn, “À toi la gloire, O Ressuscité!” Richard Birch Hoyle (1875–19390 translated the hymn into English in 1923 as “Thine is the Glory.”
Thine is the glory, risen, conqu’ring Son;
Endless is the victory, Thou o’er death hast won;
Angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
Kept the folded grave clothes where Thy body lay.
Thine is the glory, risen conqu’ring Son,
Endless is the vict’ry, Thou o’er death hast won.
Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
Lovingly He greets us, scatters fear and gloom;
Let the church with gladness, hymns of triumph sing;
For her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting.
No more we doubt Thee, glorious Prince of life;
Life is naught without Thee; aid us in our strife;
Make us more than conqu’rors, through Thy deathless love:
Bring us safe through Jordan to Thy home above.
It’s safe to say that “Thine is the Glory” fits Handel’s chorus better than the original words. After all, did not Jesus Christ win a greater victory at Gologotha than Judas Maccabeus ever did. And is he not the ultimate victor in the apocalyptic battle against evil at Armageddon?
To quote from another oratorio by Handel, “The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!”