The Enemies of Christ and of
His Church: Jews, Turks,
and the Pope
In his final years Luther lived increasingly with the expectation that the world was soon coming to an end. This was connected with his impression that conditions were generally growing worse and that the church was beset by ever more dangerous threats.1 In 1540 he expected that either he himself or the next generation would experience the last day. The signs of the final time appeared to be fulfilled. The pope had been revealed as the Antichrist, and the world raged and did not improve. Luther did not let this disturb his own equanimity. He longed for the Lord’s return and, unlike during his Catholic beginnings, he no longer feared that event.2
In the sermons on Matthew 24 in 1539 and 1540, Luther dealt extensively with the signs of the last days that were presently appearing.3 It seemed significant to him that the pope was not particularly concerned about Turks, Jews, sacramentarians, Anabaptists, and their errors. For him, the Turks and the pope were the powers that would introduce the final affliction. Moreover, along with the Jews, they no longer let Jesus Christ be the Savior but erroneously depicted him as a severe judge. The pope himself behaved like the lord of Christendom. There could be no agreement or compromises with these false leaders. This was the reason for the harshness of Luther’s later theology. For him, the Antichrist was a living reality personified in the pope. Christ is there only where his Word is present. The pope’s teachings, in contrast, did everything to lead people away from this center.
Among the signs of the last days for Luther, and against which he preached, was the unwillingness to repent—especially for the sins of usury and greed— which he confronted in those around him. In 1542 he had to admit resignedly that he had been unable to change the contempt for God’s Word in Germany and would have to let the destruction run its course.4 In the following year he stated that all the classes lacked a consciousness of injustice and sin, and that the only complaints people raised were about injustices that they themselves experienced, which Luther considered a perverse situation. The only comfort offered by the fact that the world had forgotten Christ was that this presaged