Sheer Speculation on the Greek Word: Phobetron

Poster from 'Terminator: Rise of the Machines'

Every time I read God’s Word, I stumble across phrases, dates, passages, and sometimes individual ‘words’ that leap out at me. This morning, it happened again.

I’ve been working my way, haltingly I’ll admit, through the 90 day reading plan created by Zondervan. This quick and challenging plan permits the reader to consume God’s ‘bread’ every quarter of the year, from Genesis to Revelation.

This morning, I began the assigned chapters, beginning in Luke 20, but (as often happens), my brain applied the brakes early into the assignment when I came across this phrase in chapter 21:

Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. (Luke 21: 10-11 ESV)

Now, I’ve put the word ‘terrors’ in bold, because that is the word that caused me to stumble and apply the mental brakes. For the first time while reading this chapter, I asked myself (and God) what that word actually means.

Today is September 13, and the 10th anniversary of 9/11 has just passed, so the word ‘terror’ and with it ‘terrorism’ and ‘war on terror’ are fresh in my brain. So, what does Jesus want us to understand when he says to his disciples and those of us living today (for these are events to occur in the last days) to watch for ‘terrors’ and ‘great signs from heaven’?

The Greek word translated ‘terrors’ is a curious word indeed. In fact, it quite surprised me when I looked it up. It is phobetron (pronounced FOE-bay-tron). According to Strong’s (G5400), phobetron implies ‘that which causes terror or fright’. It comes from the root word ‘phobeo’ (from which we derive our English word ‘phobia’). Phobeo is that which causes fear, or it can be something that instills great respect or reverence. It can instill awe or amazement, or simply compel us to flee for our lives.

Perhaps, you also were struck by the ‘tron’ ending of phobetron. Curious, isn’t it? Today, we automatically think of a machine when we hear or read a -tron ending. Electron, Neutron, cyclotron, magnetron, cosmotron, dynotron, even the movie ‘Tron’ all speak to scientific machines of high intelligence and design–computerized machines.

Now, is it possible that phobetron implies one of both of two possible options? One: A rise of terrorism across the globe that hurls mankind into a seemingly endless war? Two: A rise of intelligent and even sentient computers that may or may not be mixed with human components, leading to the creation of a most terrifying machine that both causes us to stand in awe, while also compelling us to flee for our very lives.

Phobetron only appears in the Bible once. Just once. Luke is the only one whom the Holy Spirit inspired to use this curious word. One small word that may imply many, horrendous events yet to come. The rise of machines. A ‘singularity’ of sorts. Think of this next time you use an ATM with its winking camera eye fixed upon you. Or whenever you read of our police departments using unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol cities. Some of them capable of carrying offensive weaponry. Think of it the next time you watch the movie, Terminator.

Phobetron. You know, if I wanted to be very speculative, then I might also mention flying machines as a source of terror and I would connect this ‘sight’ with the phrase that follows it, ‘great signs from heaven.’  FROM heaven? Not IN heaven, but FROM?

I’ll end it here. You get the idea. This is, after all, just speculation.

Have a wonderful day, and remember that no matter what phobetron terrors may come our way, we are safe and secure in the hands of our Father in Heaven. Jesus Christ knew about these things from the foundation of the world, and He is our PEACE. Trust in Him. Always.