Religion in Rock

At the time of the writing of this article, religion has found its way into much of our modern-day music. Such songs as “My Sweet Lord,” “Amazing Grace,” “Put Your Hand in the Hand,” and the controversial rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar have become best sellers. Why do these songs, which are so different from the popular drug and sex oriented songs, have such an appeal to today’s youth? Also, what is the motive of the artists in producing such songs?
To help answer these questions I decided to take one of these works separately and study it, trying as I progressed to understand exactly what the artist was saying. The work I chose was Jesus Christ Superstar, a rock opera written by two Englishmen, Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice. The opera is said to portray Christ’s final days on earth in contemporary language and music.
To understand the meaning of the opera, its content must first be studied. The opera opens with Judas Iscariot speaking of his feelings toward Christ. He states that when he first met Jesus he had a great admiration for him and looked up to him as a great man. But now it was bothering Judas that Jesus had fooled the people by claiming to be the promised Messiah and causing large crowds to follow him. Judas was afraid that the Romans would see this, interpret it as an uprising, and come down and crush them. This fear was also found in the conversations of Annas, Caiaphas, and a priest:
‘What then to do about Jesus of Nazareth Miracle wonderman, hero of fools?’
‘No riots, no army, no fighting, no slogans’
‘One thing I’ll say for him – Jesus is cool.’
‘We dare not leave him to his own devices His half-witted fans will get out of control.’
‘By leaps every minute – he’s top of the poll.’
‘I see bad things arising – the crowd crown him king
Which the Romans would ban,
I see blood and destruction, our elimination
Because of one man . . .For the sake of the nation
This Jesus must die’:
Jesus tries to explain to his disciples his purpose for coming to them but they are shown in the opera to be stupid and confused men. Mary Magdalene, portrayed as a prostitute, begins to realize that there is something different about Jesus and his message to the people but still looks at him as being “just a man”. All Judas understands is that he must be rid of Jesus and save Israel from possible destruction, therefore he goes and bargains with the Pharisees to betray Jesus. The last Passover supper Jesus had with his disciples is lightly touched upon with the familiar words of the Lord’s Supper changed in this way”
“The end . . .
Is just a little harder when brought about by friends.
For all you care this wine could be my blood
For all you care this bread could be my body
If you would remember me when you eat and drink . . .
I must be mad thinking I’ll be remember – yes
I must be out of my head!
Look at your blank faces. My name will mean nothing.
Ten minutes after I’m dead!”
A larger section follows that is devoted to the feeling of agony and doubt Jesus felt in the garden of Gethsemane and the betraying kill of Judas. After Judas betrayed Jesus, he slowly went mad and accused God of using him to accomplish his purpose. Just before Judas killed himself he screamed out to God, “YOU have murdered ME.”
Jesus is sent to Annas and later to Caiaphas, who questions him about his statement of being the Christ. During this time Peter denies Jesus three times. Caiaphas does not know what to do with Jesus so he sends him to Pilate. Pilate finally washes his hands of the whole matter and decides not to stand in the way of a “misguided martyr.” This doubt and frustration Jesus supposedly experienced is found in these words of his”
“I have got no kingdom in this world – I’m thru, thru, thru
There may be a kingdom somewhere – if I only knew.”
The final scene is of Jesus crying out on the cross and giving up the ghost. The opera ends with beautiful soft music which I took to portray the rising of Christ’s spirit into heaven, but which actually was a funeral dirge.
After studying this opera, I was confused and did not know what to think. I had to admit that it did sound blasphemous and seemed to make our Lord no more than a frustrated man who died for his beliefs. This very fact was reflected in the title, Jesus Christ SUPERSTAR. But I wanted to give Weber and Rice a chance, I couldn’t accept the fact that they could be mocking “Christ as the opera seemed to indicate, Instead, I said that they were representatives of some of the young people who today are trying to determine a purpose for their existence in a world so filled with evil. I made the mistake of reading my own beliefs into the words of the opera instead of letting it speak for itself.
Then one night I read Isaiah 5 and came across God’s words in verse 20, “Woe unto them that call evil good.” Was this God talking to me concerning Jesus Christ Superstar? My answer came that same week. I received a copy from my minister of a news bulletin of the Associated Christian Reformed Laymen. “In it was a quotation from the Chicago Tribune, November 21, 1970, which quoted Tim Rice, the author of the lyrics of the opera, as saying, “We ourselves don’t believe Christ was God but a fascinating man with colossal influence for 2,000 years. The story of Christ as a man is more interesting than Christ as God.” All that time I had been trying to justify two men who did not even believe that!
I now believe that we should condemn Jesus Christ Superstar for what it is, utter blasphemy against the name of our God. Let us pray to God that He may give us strength and faith that we may not be deceived and led astray by such anti-christian ideas. Remember Paul’s words in Galatians 6:7, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

Originally Published in:
Vol. 31 No. 3 May 1971