The Beatles Bible says it well:

Setting off a chain of events that would culminate in public bonfires of The Beatles’ records and a public backlash that at times made the group fearful for their lives, the US teen magazine Datebook on this day republished John Lennon’s remarks that “The Beatles are more popular than Jesus.”

Lennon’s comments hadn’t caused much of stir when they appeared in the British newspaper the Evening Standard back in March, as part of an interview with Maureen Cleave. His exact words:

Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first — rock’n’roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.

For a minute there I was wondering if John’s remarks might have been the inspiration for “Jesus Is Just Alright with Me,” but according to my research this song was first recorded by the Arthur Reynolds Singers in 1965 (though not released until 66), so the timeline doesn’t work. (I’ve always been mystified by the presence of the word “just” in the title and lyric of this tune. It sounds a note of distinctly faint praise in what otherwise feels like a straightforward piece of gospel. But that is a discussion for another time, I suppose.)

A half-century later, it’s hard to render a verdict on John’s prediction. Neither rock’n’roll nor Christianity is quite what it was 50 years ago, but both still have their adherents, and both appear likely stick around in one form or another for the foreseeable future. What hasn’t survived is John, who fell victim to the very fame that prompted him to make the comment in the first place. That’s either ironic or the opposite of irony; I’ll leave it up to you to decide which.