If Jesus said this to imply something of worldwide importance—worldwide impact—it did not apply well to those people in Jesus' day because, to them, the world was limited to the Mediterranean area. They did not have radio, television, or telephones. Communication then compared to today was quite slow. What we are looking at here in Matthew 24 is primarily addressed to those who are living at the end-time, when there is radio, television, the Internet, and all kinds of means of rapid communication.
We cannot go through a day anymore without hearing of a war or some kind of armed fighting or conflict with people being killed somewhere on this earth, whether it is in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Iraq, in East Africa, in South America, or now even in the United States. It is happening all the time, and we are aware of it. We may not pay a great deal of attention, but it registers on our minds that it has occurred. It adds to the intensity of our stress and keeps us a little bit on edge. However, Jesus says that, despite hearing all these terrible things, the end is not yet.
All of the things He mentions from verse 4 to at least verse 12 is that none of them is absolutely a sign of the time of the end. This is not to say that they will not happen at the time of the end. They most certainly will happen at the time of the end, but none of these things of and by themselves, or even collectively, is a sign of the end time. These kinds of events can all occur at any time in history. Beginning at verse 12, though, things begin to get more serious for those of us who are living at the end time.
In terms of spiritual instruction to us, Jesus is warning us not to allow ourselves to get caught up in them because they can very easily become false signs that one can give far too much importance to.
These things are happening, and they are happening at both an increasing tempo and an increasing intensity. They are beginning to strike right in our very own lands. We need to keep an eye on them, but Jesus says, despite them, "The end is not yet."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Does Doctrine Really Matter? (Part 4)
The wording implies an expected increase in conflicts due to the stresses of the time leading up to the end. In other words, amplified contention is a precursor of the end time. His comments specify wars between nations and kingdoms, but John's description in Revelation 6:3-4 expands this out to "people . . . kill[ing] one another." This suggests that this horseman not only deals in mass destruction in civil, border, and world wars, but also in smaller conflicts down to individual murders. Thus, the second seal also covers rising violent crime, gang activity, mob hits, assassinations, family feuds of the Hatfield-McCoy variety, and personal disputes that turn violent.
In saying "wars and rumors of wars," Jesus seems to be saying that some wars will be threatened yet not fought. This is not the sense of the Greek, however. The word translated "rumors" (akoé) is the common Greek word for "sense of hearing" (in the active sense) or "report" (in the passive sense). Jesus really means that we will hear the noise of war with our own ears and we will also hear reports of wars occurring elsewhere. In other words, wars will be taking place all over the world!
Immediately, He cautions us not to let such reports trouble us; that is, He tells us not to let the constant wars cause us to panic. Typically, if a person becomes panicky, his fight-or-flight response kicks in, and his brain shuts down. Our Savior wants us to keep our wits about us because "the end is not yet." Regrettably, war is a natural, human activity, so an abundance of war and violence is not by itself a definitive sign of the end. Certainly, the end time will be one of terrible warfare, but many other factors must fall into place before we conclude that we are living at the close of the age.
Jesus then specifies that "nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom." Looking at this from today's perspective, we might think He is repeating Himself, but He actually makes a distinction between ethnic warfare ("nation" = éthnos)—wars between different peoples—and political warfare ("kingdom" = basileia)—wars between realms or nation-states. Oftentimes, the former are civil wars within a nation comprised of various ethnic groups, such as the former Yugoslavia. The latter, then, are what we call international conflicts like the recent Gulf Wars. Jesus' distinction tells us that war is the norm both within nations and between them.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Four Horsemen (Part Three): The Red Horse
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 24:6: