Thomas Muentzer (1489-1525) started as a follower of Martin Luther’s. He may have even heard some of Luther’s lectures. He certainly read Luther.
The message he got from Luther, above all, was “scripture alone”. And when he read scripture alone, he went his own way. For Luther, Thomas Muentzer was the epitome of someone who misunderstood the message. Luther saw this as a spiritual battle. Thomas Muentzer was not willing to make the distinction between spiritual and worldly that Luther was.
So Thomas Muentzer, in reading the Bible and especially the Old Testament, felt that to be a good Christian you had to change society in various ways, and that just like the prophets had used force to convert the infidels in the Old Testament, that Muentzer and his followers had the right to use force to deal with those people who opposed the gospel.
Luther did not believe in that. For Luther, that was Satan at work. And he called Thomas Muentzer the Satan at Allstadt (that’s where Muentzer was preaching).
Thomas Muentzer had a role in part of the Peasants’ War. The Peasants’ War occurred over large parts of the empire. But in one part in the north-central area, Thomas Muentzer was the leader of a band of peasants.
And for those peasants, he was taking the Old Testament images and bringing them to life, and telling them that just as all Christians were supposed to be free spiritually, they also were all to be equal and free economically and politically.
This was the rallying cry that galvanized his supporters. This was the rallying cry that brought the princes together to oppose it. …
One of the most famous battles in the Peasants’ War occurred at Frankenhausen, where the armies of the princes in the cities met the peasants’ bands led by Thomas Muentzer. The princes, by one report, attempted to find an end to the fight.
The peasants, however, saw a rainbow in the sky, and Muentzer’s flag had a rainbow on it, harkening back to the rainbow that Noah was given, the covenant with God.
And so as the princes load their cannons and the cavalry gets ready to charge, the peasants are singing, “Come, Holy Spirit,” believing that this battle is the final battle of Armageddon, and that God was going to break in and stop it right there.
But instead, the cannons fired. The knights charged. Of about 8,000 peasants, about 5,000 lost their lives.
And Muentzer himself was captured, cowering under a bed; tortured and executed three months later.
That was the end of Muentzer’s apocalyptic vision.