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
Verse 7 presents a challenging proposition regarding prophecy and God's active involvement in the governance of His creation. Jesus can say this only if God will use His powers purposely to increase the number and intensity of these plagues in a variety of places, even where they are not normally experienced. No study has ever shown that these things increase or decrease according to uniform law, especially in widely divergent places. Jesus intimates that they will increase unusually and rather suddenly.
Psalm 147:15-20 shows God actively exercises His sovereignty daily in good times and bad. His involvement is not limited to the big disasters we call "acts of God," though they are certainly included:
He sends out His command to the earth; His word runs very swiftly. He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes; He casts out His hail like morsels; who can stand before His cold? He sends out His word and melts them; He causes His wind to blow, and the waters flow. He declares His word to Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; and as for His judgments, they have not known them. Praise the LORD.
Regarding "acts of God," Amos 4:6-9, 13 provides arresting insight into why God uses them to intervene in the affairs of men:
"Also I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities. And lack of bread in all your places; 'Yet you have not returned to Me,'" says the LORD. "I also withheld rain from you, when there were still three months to the harvest. I made it rain on one city, I withheld rain from another city. One part was rained upon, and where it did not rain the part withered. So two or three cities wandered to another city to drink water, but they were not satisfied; yet you have not returned to Me," says the LORD. "I blasted you with blight and mildew. When your gardens increased, your vineyards, your fig trees, and your olive trees, the locust devoured them; yet you have not returned to Me," says the LORD . . . . For behold, He who forms mountains, and creates the wind, who declares to man what his thought is, and makes the morning darkness, who treads the high places of the earth—the LORD God of hosts is His name.
Is God involved? Certainly! He does these things to grab people's attention and turn them back to Him!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Four
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 24:7: