One of the many signs that Christ gives is that of wars and rumors of wars. The idea of rumors of wars is simple, but rather opaque to me, so I decided to do a search-and-study to see what context it is appears in.
First there is the New Testament accounts of what Christ said about it:
And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. (Matt. 24:6)
And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. (Mark 13:7)
Behold, I speak these things unto you for the elect’s sake; and you also shall hear of wars, and rumors of wars; see that ye be not troubled, for all I have told you must come to pass; but the end is not yet. (JS-Matt 1:23)
And they shall hear of wars, and rumors of wars. (JS-Matt 1:28)
So this condition of wars and rumors of wars is common, but not a sign of the end. This is why we call it a sign of the times rather than a sign of Christ’s coming.
(Well, if it isn’t a sign of the time of Christ’s coming, then what kind of time is it a sign of? Ehhhhh…. Probably a sign of the spiritual condition of the societies involved.)
I have heard a rumour from the Lord, and an ambassador is sent unto the heathen, saying, Gather ye together, and come against her, and rise up to the battle. (Jeremiah 49:14)
If a prophet hears a rumor from the Lord, that probably has a lot more credence than rumors from other sources. The source of the rumor matters.
It is interesting that at the same time Jeremiah hears this rumor, a foreign ambassador goes to the heathen nations to incite them to war. This could be a source of rumors of war.
Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land. (Isaiah 37:7)
This comes from the story of the Assyrian king who invaded Israel. The Lord predicted how the Assyrian king would eventually be defeated: he would hear a rumor about what was happening at home, he’d go back to deal with it, and then he’d be killed by his own people.
Reading between the lines, we can surmise that there were probably rumors going both ways. The king probably got rumors about back home, and powerful people at home probably got rumors of what the king was doing or saying that they didn’t like, so they rebelled.
And lest your heart faint, and ye fear for the rumour that shall be heard in the land; a rumour shall both come one year, and after that in another year shall come a rumour, and violence in the land, ruler against ruler. (Jeremiah 51:46)
What I get from this verse is that rumors cause worry and fear, and when rumors keep circulating, they can bring violence and pit rulers and nations against each other.
Mischief shall come upon mischief, and rumour shall be upon rumour; then shall they seek a vision of the prophet; but the law shall perish from the priest, and counsel from the ancients. (Ezekiel 7:26)
Here we have mischief, rumors, and a lack of spiritual leadership, which sounds an awful lot like apostasy. So mischief, rumors, and apostasy seem to be connected.
Nephi saw in vision that there would be wars and rumors of wars among his people in the promised land (see 1 Ne 12:2), among the Jews before Jesus came among them in mortality (see 2 Ne. 25:12), and also among the Lamanites after the Nephites were destroyed (see 1 Ne. 12:21). Mormon saw there would be the same condition during the time when the Book of Mormon would come forth (see Mormon 8:30).
Joseph Smith History also has something to say about rumor.
The excitement, however, still continued, and rumor with her thousand tongues was all the time employed in circulating falsehoods about my father’s family, and about myself. If I were to relate a thousandth part of them, it would fill up volumes. The persecution, however, became so intolerable that I was under the necessity of leaving Manchester, and going with my wife to Susquehanna county, in the State of Pennsylvania. While preparing to start—being very poor, and the persecution so heavy upon us that there was no probability that we would ever be otherwise—in the midst of our afflictions we found a friend in a gentleman by the name of Martin Harris… (JS History 1:61)
“The excitement, however, still continued” – Rumor is a source of excitement, and for bored people who have nothing better to do, discussing rumors, speculating, and spreading rumors is a method of cheap entertainment.
Joseph Smith experienced how rumor could destroy reputation and provoke persecution that made it difficult for him to even provide for his family. And it was false rumors, intended to raise prejudice and animus against him. We can learn from this how easy it is for rumors of wars to include lies as well.
Nephi also saw wars and rumors of wars to come in the latter days after the establishment of the church of the Lamb.
15 And it came to pass that I beheld that the wrath of God was poured out upon that great and abominable church, insomuch that there were wars and rumors of wars among all the nations and kindreds of the earth.
16 And as there began to be wars and rumors of wars among all the nations which belonged to the mother of abominations, the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold, the wrath of God is upon the mother of harlots; and behold, thou seest all these things— (1 Ne 14:15-16)
It is interesting that the wars and rumors of wars seem to be part of the wrath of God that is poured on the great and abominable church.
It another significant feature is that these wars and rumors of wars are among “nations and kindreds.” That implies conflict and rumors at a national level and at the family level. This sounds like yet another reason why families need to be strengthened.
And in that day shall be heard of wars and rumors of wars, and the whole earth shall be in commotion, and men’s hearts shall fail them, and they shall say that Christ delayeth his coming until the end of the earth. (D&C 45:26)
Just an aside—From this verse it seems there will even be some believers that are afraid. Those that say Christ delays are believers, but they clearly think Christ should have come some time ago. Perhaps they have not understood the signs, or perhaps their minds are so taken up with the bad things happening that it speaks in their ears louder than their faith and the Spirit.
Also, what is commotion? The dictionary says it is “a disorderly outburst or tumult, the act of making a noisy disturbance, confused movement.” Synonyms for commotion include disruption, disturbance, flutter, hoo-ha, hurly burly, kerfuffle, to-do, din, ruckus, rumpus.
I’d say the internet facilitates all kinds of commotion. Anything people don’t like can turn into a commotion. Social media facilitates it, as well as the many outlets for venting online. And of course, the internet and social media spreads rumors as well.
The next scripture lifts the curtain on the cause of it all:
And many more things did the people imagine up in their hearts, which were foolish and vain; and they were much disturbed, for Satan did stir them up to do iniquity continually; yea, he did go about spreading rumors and contentions upon all the face of the land, that he might harden the hearts of the people against that which was good and against that which should come. (Helaman 16:22)
Here we see that Satan is the engine of it. He provokes foolish and vain imaginations to disturb people, then he stirs up people to do iniquity, then he spreads rumors and contentions so they gossip and contend about everyone else’s iniquity. And among all this, he stirs up lies and rumors against good to harden hearts and cement prejudices.
After looking at all these scriptures, it seems clear to me that rumors were how people shared and spread news. There would be official news sources, such as ambassadors and official messengers between countries passing messages, and officials who announced news and proclamations, but there would also be unofficial sources, such as leaks and gossip and rumors. There would also be groups of people gathering to share opinions about what was happening and trying to figure out what would happen in the future, and those opinions tend to spread as if they are official news with a voice of authenticity. Thus, war tends to come with a cloud of worry, anticipation, discussion, and speculation over it, both formal and informal, both among government decision-makers and among common people of both sides (and even among others not involved). And the media puts their oar in too. And often it is the rumors of war that cause so much concern, fear, worry, etc. If actual war is the eye of the hurricane, then rumors of war is the clouds and storm around it, which stretches for hundreds of miles in every direction.
So it is significant that Jesus tells us to not be troubled. Probably because being troubled becomes an energy sink. Also, every time war looms, people worry, “Is this the end?” and Jesus said specifically, “The end is not yet.” Knowing the other signs is supposed to help us identify where the real end is.