The Reformation From Luther’s Perspective image

The Reformation From Luther’s Perspective

If anyone talks about the Reformation today, we can comfortably assume that they mean the tumultuous events of the sixteenth century whereby Luther, Zwingli and the like challenged the prevailing religious orthodoxy and, for the first time in the history of Western Europe, established a permanent alternative to the Roman Catholic Church. The word 'Reformation', however, meant something altogether different in Luther’s day. As early as 1514 under the influence of St Augustine and Bernard of Clairvaux, Luther had come to see the Church as being in an eschatological conflict with the Antichrist who would only be finally defeated at the Second Coming as Paul had prophesied in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 – “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of His mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of His coming.”

Increasingly, Luther had begun to see Matthew 24 and other such apocalyptic passages in the New Testament as prophetic of his own generation. Far from being cool and dispassionate about contemporary personalities and events, Luther was increasingly urgent and impatient. For him, Antichrist had been released and the Last Days had begun. Yes, the Church needed to be reformed – there was no doubt about that – but the great Reformation would be inaugurated not by Luther but by God Himself at Christ’s physical return to planet Earth. As the events surrounding the indulgence controversy began to be outworked, Luther was conscious and absolutely convinced that the words of Jesus “And this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14) were being fulfilled.
The Reformation for Luther was thus a divine and sovereign event, not a piece of theological or ecclesiastical engineering. Of what relevance or significance is this to us? Let’s make sure we have a big view of God. The triumph of the Gospel is ultimately bound up in His lordship over human history and not in my ministry or the success of my local church. Such a perspective, however, must also push us towards a more fervent eschatology. Living in the light and anticipation of the imminent return of the Lord Jesus will surely give us a passion to take the Gospel to every nation and thereby play our part in ushering in His Kingdom in all its fullness.
For more on this see HA Oberman, Luther: Man between God and the Devil (1989), chapter 2, “A Medieval Event”.

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