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Bach Cantata BWV 159
"Sehet! Wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem"
with Commentary by the Rev. Dr. David Smith

This cantata for Quinquagesima focuses on Jesus' prediction in the gospel of his impending death. His going up to Jerusalem is towards his atoning sacrifice on the cross. The text of the cantata treats the reaction of the believer to Jesus' intention - first reluctance to let the beloved Jesus go to his death, then commitment to be with him as he walks his path, finally the giving up of the world and dying to self in order to be with Jesus and in gratitude for the salvation won by his death. The theme is that of Galatians 6:14: "May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." 

Exegetically this cantata is interesting for the way in which it intertwines the Biblical fact of Christ going up to Jerusalem, the devotion of the believer to Christ in his passion, and the believer's dying to the world and living to Christ. These themes are set in very  dramatic and emotionally expressive music. 

Note that Bach wrote no cantatas for the first and second Sundays of Lent because cantatas were not performed in Lent, except for the third Sunday. His series then resumes on Palm Sunday. 


German Original  

BWV 159  
Sehet! Wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem  
1. Arioso B e Recitativo A  
Komm, schaue doch, mein Sinn,  
Wo geht dein Jesus hin?  
Wir gehn hinauf  
O harter Gang! hinauf?  
O ungeheurer Berg, den meine Sünden zeigen!  
Wie sauer wirst du müssen steigen!  
Gen Jerusalem.  
Ach, gehe nicht!  
Dein Kreuz ist dir schon zugericht',  
Wo du dich sollst zu Tode bluten;  
Hier sucht man Geißeln vor, dort bindt man Ruten;  
Die Bande warten dein;  
Ach, gehe selber nicht hinein!  
Doch bliebest du zurücke stehen,  
So müßt ich selbst nicht nach Jerusalem,  
Ach, leider in die Hölle gehen.  

2. Aria A e Choral S  

Ich folge dir nach  
Ich will hier bei dir stehen,  
Verachte mich doch nicht!  
Durch Speichel und Schmach;  
Von dir will ich nicht gehen,  
Am Kreuz will ich dich noch umfangen,  
Bis dir dein Herze bricht.  
Dich laß ich nicht aus meiner Brust,  
Wenn dein Haupt wird erblassen  
Im letzten Todesstoß,  
Und wenn du endlich scheiden mußt,  
Alsdenn will ich dich fassen,  
Sollst du dein Grab in mir erlangen.  
In meinen Arm und Schoß.  

3. Recitativo T  

Nun will ich mich,  
Mein Jesu, über dich  
In meinem Winkel grämen;  
Die Welt mag immerhin  
Den Gift der Wollust zu sich nehmen,  
Ich labe mich an meinen Tränen  
Und will mich eher nicht  
Nach einer Freude sehnen,  
Bis dich mein Angesicht  
Wird in der Herrlichkeit erblicken,  
Bis ich durch dich erlöset bin;  
Da will ich mich mit dir erquicken.  

4. Aria B  

Es ist vollbracht,  
Das Leid ist alle,  
Wir sind von unserm Sündenfalle  
In Gott gerecht gemacht.  
Nun will ich eilen  
Und meinem Jesu Dank erteilen,  
Welt, gute Nacht!  
Es ist vollbracht!  

5. Choral  

Jesu, deine Passion  
Ist mir lauter Freude,  
Deine Wunden, Kron und Hohn  
Meines Herzens Weide;  
Meine Seel auf Rosen geht,  
Wenn ich dran gedenke,  
In dem Himmel eine Stätt  
Mir deswegen schenke.  

Besetzung  Soli: A T B, Coro: S A T B, Oboe, Violino I/II, Continuo (+ Fagotto) 

Entstehungszeit  27. Februar 1729 

Text  Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander) 1728; 1: Lukas 18,31; 2: Paul Gerhaardt 1656; 5: Paul Stockmann 1633 

Anlass  Estomihi 




from the Bach Cantata Page    
Created by Walter F. Bischof  
Used with permission


English Translation  


1. Arioso [Dictum] (B)(1) and Recit. (A)   
See now!   
Come, ponder well, my mind,   
Where doth thy Jesus go?   
We're going up   
O cruel path! That way?   
O uninviting hill, of all my sins the token!   
How sorely wilt thou have to climb it!


To Jerusalem.   
Ah, do not go!   
Thy cross for thee is now prepared,   
Where thou thy bloody death must suffer;   
Here do they scourges seek, there, bind the switches;   
The bonds now wait for thee;   
Ah, take thyself not them to meet!   
If thou couldst hold in check thy journey,   
I would myself not to Jerusalem,   
Ah, sadly down to hell then venture.   

2. Aria (A) and Chorale (S)   

I follow thy path   
I will here by thee tarry,   
Through spitting and scorn;   
Do not treat me with scorn!(2)   
On cross will I once more embrace thee,   
From thee I will not venture   
As now thy heart doth break.   
I will not let thee from my breast,   
And when thy head grows pallid   
Upon death's final stroke,   
And if thou in the end must part,   
E'en then will I enfold thee   
Thou shalt thy tomb in me discover.   
Within my arm's embrace.   

3. Recit. (T)   

So now I will,   
My Jesus, for thy sake   
In my own corner sorrow;   
The world may ever still   
On venom of desire be nurtured,   
But I'll restore myself with weeping   
And will not sooner yearn   
For any joy or pleasure   
Ere thee my countenance   
Have in thy majesty regarded;   
Ere I through thee have been redeemed;   
Where I will find with thee refreshment.   

4. Aria (B)   

It is complete,   
The pain is over,   
We are from all our sinful ruin   
In God restored to right.   
Now will I hasten    
And to my Jesus make thanksgiving;   
World, fare thee well,   
It is complete!   

5. Chorale (S, A, T, B)   

Jesus, this thy passion   
Is my purest pleasure,   
All thy wounds, thy crown and scorn,   
Are my heart's true pasture;   
This my soul is all in bloom   
Once I have considered   
That in heaven is a home   
To me by this offered.   

(1). Representing the Vox Christi.  
(2). Lines 3-4 are transposed in the PT.  

Estomihi (Quinquagesima Sunday).  
Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander), Ernst-Schertzhaffte und Satyrische Gedichte, Teil III (Leipzig, 1732); Facs: Neumann T, p. 339.  
1. Lk. 18:31;  
3. Paul Gerhardt, verse 6 of "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden," 1656 (Fischer-Tümpel, III, #467) with interpolated aria;  
5. Paul Stockmann, penultimate and 33rd verse of "Jesu Leiden, Pein und Tod," 1633 (Fischer-Tümpel, II, #37).  
Date unknown, perhaps 27 February 1729, Leipzig (Dürr).  
BG 32; NBA I/8. 

English translation: 
© Copyright  Z. Philip Ambrose  
Used with permission. Visit his site at:  


by David Smith 


1. The introductory duet - arioso is between Christ, represented by the bass voice and the believer, represented by the alto. The instrumental accompaniment is founded on a "step" motif portraying the very deliberate step of Christ towards Jerusalem.  Schweitzer writes:  " The interruption after the interval of the seventh is very impressive: Jesus pauses in His walk, turns to the disciples, and tells them of his approaching death." The alto expresses the reluctance of the believer to see Jesus go to his death. But if he did not, then the believer would never go there, but rather to hell.








2. The next movement is an alto aria intertwined with a chorus of sopranos singing a verse of Paul Gerhardt's "O Sacred Head." In the interludes for the alto the reflective soul accompanies the Saviour on the way to the cross and expresses love for the saviour in his passion. The believer vows not to abandon Christ in his death on the cross and promises that Christ will find his tomb in the believer's heart. This striking image expresses both the meaning of Christ's death and the need for the believer to become a place of death in order to welcome the saviour. The chorus expresses the same determination not to turn away from Jesus in his death.

3. In the tenor recitative the believer gives his response to the death of Christ - the giving up of the "venom of desire" that is the "world." The antidote is the tears of repentance.  The believer will not look for any joy in this world but will look forward to the vision of God, where he will find refreshment.


4. In this beautiful aria the believer sings "It is complete," the final words of Christ from the cross. There is another aria beginning with the same words at the death of Christ in the St. John Passion. Here the words don't directly refer to the death of Christ, but rather to the death of the believer to the world. In giving up the desires that constitute the world, the believer comes to apprehend his own salvation, being made righteous through Christ. Now he hastens to give thanks to Christ and to bid the world goodbye.

5. The final choral expresses in the voice of the church that Christ's sacrifice is the true "pasture" of the believer's heart and his hope for heaven. The believer will remain by the cross throughout his life.