What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Prophet after prophet makes similar statements. Israel has trouble being faithful to anything: God, mate, country, employer, and contracts! Our national mind runs like quicksilver from here to there—always running to get the best for the self, willing to bend in any direction to gain advantage and have our pleasure. We work very hard at this. At times, it almost seems to be in our genes!
Nationally syndicated columnists Sydney J. Harris writes on the subject of reliability:
Most virtues exist on a sliding scale, all the way from excellence to ineptitude, and most of us are tolerably somewhere in the middle, without too much damage to ourselves or others. But there is one virtue that is all or nothing: and that is reliability. You are either reliable or you are not; and, if not, it doesn't much matter how nearly or how often you are reliable.
If I were an employer of any sort, I would be willing to put up with many kinds of personal or professional deficiencies, but never with this. A person who is not dependable is bound to fail you (and himself as well) at precisely the wrong time.
It reminds me of the debonair Viennese gentlemen who, when asked, "Have you been faithful to your wife?" replied, "Frequently." It is plain that a man who is frequently faithful is not faithful at all; he might as well never be.
Reliability is one of the hardest character traits to identify by testing or "screening" or anything except personal acquaintance.
Some people are "rocks" by nature or training, while others are papier-maché painted to resemble rocks, who crumble when sudden pressure is applied by circumstances.
If you are married to someone who cannot be depended upon to pull his or her own weight, it hardly matters what other admirable traits your mate may possess, because you can never know when or where you will be let down.
It is the same as being married to an alcoholic, who is only "there" part of the time—and usually not when most needed.
Consistency is what is required in the people we associate with: the confident knowledge of what we can rightfully expect of them, barring sudden illness or catastrophe beyond anyone's control. Otherwise there is no real relationship, but only a shifting accommodation to the winds of caprice and self-indulgence.
It is easy to feel affection for another; what is harder is to translate this feeling into acts, daily acts, that demonstrate steadfastness of purpose in a domestic routine that may not be as dramatic as some heroic rescue, but that keeps the craft afloat no matter which way the wind happens to blow.
The deepest and most important virtues are often the dullest ones; they win no medals, and get no glory; but they are the glue that binds society together and makes it work, now and always.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Seventh Commandment (1997)
Historical evidence identifies the man referred to as "he" as Antiochus Epiphanes. Because the record of his activities against the Jews parallels many of the activities prophesied about the end-time Beast of Revelation, many believe he is a symbolic forerunner of that one to come. This verse prophesies three things of the coming Beast:
First, we normally and correctly associate the Beast with great, though evil, power. However, among other things he will also be a flatterer. He will not only be a person of great political wisdom, but he will be personally persuasive and charming. Proverbs 31:30 warns us, "Charm is deceitful"—all too frequently, it is nothing more than a social and public relations skill used for personal gain. It can be nothing more than a dishonest puffery displayed to get another's cooperation to achieve an ulterior motive. Practically, it can easily become manipulation and control by a skilled person using honeyed words. David's experience with a charming betrayer is recorded in Psalm 55:21: "The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords." Politically, this activity is defined as treachery.
Second, this verse also tells us he will corrupt or seduce some of those who have made the covenant with God. At first, we might think that these are the unconverted, but that is not so. This refers to the last phrase of verse 30, where the Beast "shows regard for those who forsake the holy covenant." These are people who apostatize. A person cannot forsake an agreement he has never made. Some of the converted will be seduced by manipulative flatteries and corrupted into cooperation. At the end time, that means some of us! Reader's Digest Encyclopedic Dictionary lists some of the definitions of corrupt: "to pervert the fidelity or integrity of as by bribing; to destroy morally; pervert, ruin, change from the original, debase, contaminate."
Putting these two factors together, we ought to imagine God waving a yellow caution flag before us, revealing an area of danger that we should mark well. It is highly unlikely that any of us will move in the same political, social, and military circles as the Beast. Thus, his personal charm or flatteries will not be used to deceive us in an intimate, personal circumstance. Therefore, his political wisdom and flatteries will be exhibited in his public policies. We must never forget that this man will be of the world and as unconverted as a man can be.
Therefore the political strategies he will use will essentially be appeals to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (I John 2:15-17). He will appeal to us to abandon our faith and give our cooperation, trust, and loyalty to him by submitting to political programs and public policies that offer us physical well-being, peace, and safety under his umbrella. It will seem advantageous for us, at least on a short-term basis, to support his programs. He will make glowing promises of preferment, reward, and peace. But never forget, when seduction and subversion through flatteries fail, the reign of terror by persecution begins.
Third and finally, the verse prophesies that those who know their God shall be strong, or stand firm, and do exploits. God inserts this to show us how not to be deceived by flatteries. Jesus says in John 17:3, "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." Knowing God is the key to seeing through and rejecting the seductive flatteries of the Beast because it is the foundation of faith. We know God gives truths that are eternal.
The Beast will deceive through a combination of outright lies, partial truths, and temporary truths. The people who see through his devious words will do so because they know and believe God and His truth. They will therefore be strong in giving glory to Him. These people will prefer to risk their lives rather than betray God's honor. By believing God, they will be prepared for the Beast's onslaught, and this will give them strength because it produces firm resolve and sense of purpose. Though these prophecies are not yet fulfilled, evidence is accumulating that they are just over the horizon, and thus something we may soon face.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Three
1 Corinthians 15:42-49
The image Paul speaks of is not merely that we will be composed of spirit even as Christ is, but that our very nature and character be like His. If God desired that we merely be spirit, He could have made us like angels. Angels, however, are not God; they are angels. God is doing a work in us through which we will become like Him, not like angels.
His purpose requires that we cooperate. Though our part is very small by comparison to what He is doing, it is nonetheless vital. Notice how Paul draws this beautiful section of I Corinthians to a conclusion by drawing our attention to what it will take on our part to make God's purpose work: "But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (I Corinthians 15:57-58).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Three): Hope
Notice the number of times in these few verses that we are exhorted to stand. We must hold our ground as we fight against the pressures of Satan and this world. In verse 11, Paul tells us to "stand against" the Devil's tricks. In verse 13, he encourages us to prepare "to withstand in the evil day" and "having done all, to stand." In the next verse, he concludes, "Stand therefore" and put on the armor that God can supply.
There are two things to notice here. First, we are to stand firm. Paul does not instruct us to be agile or swift of foot. To the contrary, he advises us not to move; we are to stand on a firm foundation, as it were. We are to be securely grounded, rooted and unmoving. A person living a life of integrity is not shifty, but has solid convictions rather than preferences that vary with circumstances.
Second, Paul details the armor we need to "take up." He lists several pieces of "the whole armor of God," but "the breastplate of righteousness" deals mostly closely with integrity.
Most soldiers in Paul's day wore a breastplate, and even today, the most basic protection offered to police and soldiers is the armored or bulletproof vest. The Roman breastplate, primarily made of bronze and backed with leather, was worn around the chest, protecting the heart and other vital organs. In Paul's spiritual analogy, the breastplate guards the heart, the seat of our attitudes and emotions. In other words, if we are to stand firm in the truth, our heart must be protected!
Interestingly, the translation of the New Testament by J.B. Phillips renders "the breastplate of righteousness" as "integrity your breastplate." Paul instructs us to protect our heart, our love, and our emotions with a breastplate of integrity! As part of the equipment each Christian needs to stand firm in the spiritual war we have been recruited to fight, we must fasten integrity right across our chests to provide protection. What happens when a soldier takes off his breastplate? He opens his soft abdomen to attack; he is unprotected! Spiritually, the heart becomes vulnerable, apt to be turned away.
Building With Integrity
2 Timothy 1:8-9
This verse begins a section introducing Paul's admonition to hold fast what has been entrusted to our care, which he calls "the testimony of our Lord."
What is a testimony? Most commonly, it is used when a person is called upon to give an account of what he witnessed. This, however, is a narrow usage.
In a broader application, Webster says that it means "firsthand authentication of a fact," which is what one is called upon to do in a court trial, to verify a fact. A trial lawyer may ask, "Did you know this person before such and such a date?" The witness then authenticates whether or not this fact is true. Testimony also means "evidence." The lawyer asks, "What did you see?" And then the witness presents his evidence.
But it can also mean "a solemn declaration, an open acknowledgment." This is closer to what Jesus Christ did. He gave an open acknowledgment, a solemn declaration, of a message that He left with mankind. That was the testimony of our Lord, the message of the Messenger. The church knows it as the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
To turn the last clause of this verse into plain English, God began His purpose before time! Not only is the fulfillment of the gospel yet future, its beginning stretches all the way back before time began as human beings look at it. At some point in the distant past before mankind, God's purpose began moving toward completion.
If the gospel began before time, and if it is the essence of future events, then we can logically conclude that God's purpose is not completed! Completion of the purpose, of the good news, is still future. Whatever lies in the future is the goal toward which the purpose is moving, and that goal is the good news. Of course, there will be wonderful and encouraging accomplishments along the way. We could call them benchmarks. Although alone they are good news, it is the culmination of them that is the good news.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!
The King James Version uses the word "patience," which is not a wrong translation. However, for better understanding, more specific words should be used. Today, we generally think of "patience" as passive, whereas "persevere" or "endure" is more dynamic. The Greek word used in Hebrews 10:36 is hupomone. In his Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates comments that it means "constancy under suffering in faith and duty." "Constancy" indicates that persistent effort is being made, in this case against a pressing trouble. He perhaps describes it even better by defining it as a "quality of character that does not allow one to surrender."
"Perseverance," "endurance," "constancy," and "steadfastness" all have a sense of activity, of actively straining against some pressure. Thus, as Hebrews 11 begins, the author approaches two related subjects: one directly, faith or strong conviction; and the other, perseverance, less directly. Hupomone, however, does not appear again until Hebrews 12:1.
The Hebrews badly needed both conviction and perseverance to meet and overcome their problems. These virtues go hand in hand, and they really cannot be separated because we operate on a different concept of time than does God. Compared to God, we operate on fast time. Almost everything in our lives seems to have to be done or received right now, or faith begins to evaporate and we lose heart. True faith, though, operates in a rhythm closer to what God does because, due to conviction, it is more in tune with Him.
Therefore, a convicted person not only believes that what God says is true, but he also trusts and willingly endures trials in an attitude of realistic hopefulness. He does not restlessly complain to God to fix things right away on his schedule. A person develops conviction by thoughtfully processing a great deal of God's truth and yielding to the evidence He provides.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Three)
1 Peter 5:8-9
Satan is a formidable enemy, to be sure, but in a personal sense, he is not as directly dangerous to us as the world or our own human nature. The chances of his confronting us individually are small in comparison to the influences of our ever-present hearts and the world in which we conduct our lives. Certainly, as our Adversary, he "walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8), but unlike God, he is not omniscient. While he can be only at one place at one time, he has many assistants.
We are far more likely to be confronted by one of his demon assistants than the Adversary himself, which is bad enough. However, he and his demons have constructed attitudes, institutions, systems, and entertainments into the course of this world, which they effectively use against us, even when they are absent from the scene. Most of their evil influence comes from the system.
We need to remember, though, that God has put a wall of protection around us, so demons can go only so far in their attempts to corrupt us and destroy our loyalty to God and His truth (Job 1:6-10). Their major responsibility before God at this time appears to be to provide tests for us to meet and overcome, in the same way God used Satan to test Job and to tempt Christ (Matthew 4; Luke 4). In this respect, they play a large role in helping us to recognize evil.
God gives us advice regarding them in I Peter 5:8-9: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world." In essence, His advice is, "Be self-controlled, be alert, and resist him!" Peter's first term, "be sober," urges us not to let fear of him fluster us to the point that we cannot think clearly. The second term, "be vigilant," charges us to be fully awake, to set ourselves in a state of watchfulness and readiness. The third term, "resist him," is a command not to turn and run but to stand firm.
This instruction lets us know that Satan is not all-powerful. With the protections God provides, including His continuous presence and alert regard for His children, Satan can be beaten. The same Jesus who has already defeated Satan is on His throne, overseeing our well-being. His protection is not something we flaunt, but is power we can rely on.
James 4:7 adds additional advice: "Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you." Again, the charge is to resist, but it is directly coupled with submission to God. Submission is the voluntarily act of placing oneself under the authority of another to show respect and give obedience. If we submit to God, Satan will flee.
Ephesians 6:11 parallels the other two instructions. "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil." "Stand against" is yet another way of saying "resist him." "Stand" in the Greek indicates that one must hold fast a critical position as an army must do in warfare. However, it is not a passive term, describing something like an unmoving brick wall, but an aggressive, attacking term. In other words, we are to hold the ground we have already gained by going forward.
How, then, do we resist? How do we hold our ground by going on the offensive? We must return in thought to I Peter 5:9, where the first phrase is better translated as, "Resist him, standing firm [or solid] in the faith." Putting this into military terms, a soldier would be likely commanded, "Do not surrender! Do not give up any ground! Do not back down! Move forward with all you've got! Reinforcements are right behind you."
We have the God-backed promise that Satan will flee! Who can resist God's will? The key words here are "standing firm" and "faith." "Standing firm" or "solid" is used in the sense of "unmovable." When linked with faith in practical terms, it means we are absolutely sure or immovably convicted in the face of a strong test.
Overall, the apostles' instruction suggests that what we experience vis-à-vis Satan is common to this way of life. Their advice does not say that he will flee immediately, but flee he will. As used here, "faith" can be understood as either a personal trust in God or confidence in Christian doctrine, as either one fits the context. Ultimately, if we use our relationship with God properly, the confidence in Christian doctrine becomes trust in God Himself.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Two)
We can see what most concerns Christ—what is most important to Him—at the end, when the pressures will be more intense than they have ever been in the history of man, when Satan is lining up all of his forces, all of his armies, all of his weaponry. The Devil will mount a persecution against God's people to such an extent that the whole earth will be thrown into convulsions, the likes of which this world has never seen!
Christ, like any good leader who sees what is coming, will take steps to prepare His people. He will focus their attention on what is most important to survive and grow during that period. This is why He talks about what He does to the churches in the messages in Revelation 2 and 3.
The word translated as "overcomes" can just as easily and correctly be—and is perhaps better—translated "conquers." We are involved in a war against Satan and his demons, against a world he designed and built through men, and against ourselves, who carry with us the self-centered nature, habits, and attitudes of Satan and his system. Thus, Christ's concern for us as we approach the end is whether we are carrying through in the warfare, continuing in well doing, and enduring to the end, because Satan is bringing about every pressure to make us surrender.
Loyalty is not a quality that we Americans and Canadians are endowed with to any great degree. Our cultures tend to stress individuality—doing our own thing. This lack of loyalty in America and Canada perhaps shows more clearly in divorce and infidelity than anywhere else. Loyalty's synonym is "faithful." It means "faithful in allegiance to one's lawful sovereign; to be faithful to a private person to whom fidelity is due; or faithful to a cause." It means to be steadfast in affection, to adhere to the performance of duty, to be conscientious, to give firm resistance to any temptation to desert or betray. Can we see what the works are Christ is so concerned about?
This is why every message says, "I know your works!" (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). He does not say, "I know your profession" or "I know your desires." Neither does He say, "I know your sincerity" or "I know your wishes." He says, "I know your works"! Why? Because works prove what a person is doing with his knowledge, time, and energies.
Titus 1:16 says, "They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified." Notice that they "profess" to know God. Christ says, "I see what you are doing. I know your works." Why are works so important? They prove where our heart is! They prove our loyalty! They prove whether we are conscientious and faithful. They prove whether there is fidelity to Jesus Christ—whether we are steadfast in our affection for the One we are going to marry.
Many believe that we do not have to qualify for the Kingdom of God. It is true that works cannot justify us; they cannot wipe out our sins. However, it does not follow that, because they cannot save us, they are of no importance. Recall that James uses Abraham, the father of the faithful—the father of the loyal, the conscientious—as the illustration that faith without works is dead! Living faith works! Jesus says, "I know your works"!
Revelation 2 and 3 are an examination of our works because Christ wants to see whether we believe Him! Living faith exhibits itself in works! It is a test of our faith. If we are faithful, we will be working: overcoming Satan, the world, and our self-centeredness. That is what works accomplish.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 2-3 and Works
Revelation mentions patient endurance seven times. At the book's beginning, John sets the tone by introducing himself as "I, John, your brother and companion (sharer and participator) with you in the tribulation and kingdom and patient endurance [which are] in Jesus Christ" (Revelation 1:9, Amplified Bible). The construction here is peculiar, but John uses three words to describe one thing—namely, the tribulation that is connected with the Kingdom and which requires patient endurance (see Acts 14:22; II Timothy 2:11-12).
In the letters to the seven churches, several recurring phrases or themes appear. They all contain "I know your works" and "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Five letters contain the command to repent, and "patience" appears four times in three of them, a good indicator of the importance of patience to God's church, especially at the end time.
In addition to the mention in Revelation 3:10, Christ commends the church at Ephesus for its patience:
I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary. (Revelation 2:2-3)
Perseverance—patient endurance—is also a part of the praise that Christ gives to the Thyatiran church: "I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience" (Revelation 2:19).
As the prophecies of the end time unfold, the patience of the saints is highlighted twice more. The first is in Revelation 13:9-10: "If anyone has an ear, let him hear. He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints."
In the preceding verses, John describes the Beast, his power, and his blasphemy. God allows him to make war with the saints and overcome them. This is part of what the saints will have to endure. Some translations, like The Amplified Bible and the English Standard Version (ESV), end verse 10 with "Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints," which fits exactly with Christ's "command to persevere" (NKJV) or "[keeping] the word of [His] patience."
The first part of verse 10 can be confusing because, even though the book was written in Greek, John is actually using a Hebrew idiom that signifies the certainty of approaching judgment. This can be seen in Jeremiah 43:11; 15:2.
This Hebraism means that it is so certain that the Beast will carry out these things that none will escape being involved in some way. Thus, God calls for endurance and faith.
Revelation 14:12 contains another reference to the perseverance of the saints: "Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus."
The saints are defined as those who keep God's law and maintain and give attention to the faith of Jesus. Again, the context is the time when the world will worship the Beast and receive his mark. As in Revelation 13:10, translations such as the ESV render the first part as "Here is a call for the endurance of the saints," meaning that, when the saints see this occurring, their endurance and perseverance will be in greatest need.
David C. Grabbe
Who Will Be Kept from the Hour of Trial?
In Jesus Christ's promise in Revelation 3:10, the core issue is perseverance. The King James reads, "Because you have kept the word of My patience," and "patience" is likewise used in the other verses in Revelation. But "patience" tends to make us think of passive activity, which is not what the underlying Greek word, hupomoné, actually means. Greek scholar Spiros Zodhiates describes it as "constancy under suffering in faith and duty," and commentator William Barclay defines hupomoné as "having the quality to stand, facing the storm, struggling against difficulty and opposition."
Obviously, activity is involved; it is not just passively waiting. It describes active, spiritual resistance—against Satan, this world, and our own carnality. The most succinct rendering of hupomoné may be "courageous endurance." "Cheerful or hopeful endurance" is another good rendering, as it includes a degree of optimism—and when we remember Who is on our side and how this story ends, we have every reason to be optimistic while persevering.
To put this command into perspective, we must imagine what the world will be like at the time when this letter will be most applicable. A great false prophet will be active, and deception will be so widespread that it will threaten even God's elect. A powerful and blasphemous tyrant will encourage or even command worship of himself, and he will institute financial controls, such that commerce will be essentially impossible without paying homage to him. Yet, it will be our responsibility to be constant and unwavering under the suffering imposed by that system.
Further, it does not appear that the church of God will be unified at that time. Given the various prophecies that describe seven lampstands and seven letters to seven churches, it seems that division will be the norm within the church. Some of the letters in Revelation 2 and 3 indicate a low level of faith and a high level of carnality.
As Jesus says in Matthew 24:12, "Because lawlessness will abound, the love [agapé] of many will grow cold." The world does not have any agapé, so He must be speaking of the church! True Christians will have to persevere through encroaching sin and dying love within the church. The temptation may be great to throw in the towel, to withdraw, to separate from the brethren because of offenses, but doing so would be the opposite of hupomoné—of courageously enduring.
The New King James speaks of "the hour of trial," but the King James calls it "the hour of temptation." This is a fitting rendition because during that time it will be tremendously tempting to give up, to give in, to compromise, to let down just a little, to sin (just a little!) in order to make life easier. It will be a time of pressure like never before and thus very easy to become distracted, not just because of the blatant idolatry and religious deception, but also because of the world's increasing attractiveness and pervasiveness.
It does not have to be just a time of fascism and concentration camps. People will be eating and drinking and marrying—having a great time. Revelation 18's description of Babylon focuses on luxury and ease and the avoidance of suffering. Jesus warns in Luke 21:34, "But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly." Distraction leads to idolatry.
Whatever the reality of that time, "persevering" or "courageously enduring" without compromising will certainly be no small accomplishment. Yet Christ says that because some of His people have been keeping His command to persevere, He will keep them from the worst of it. They have already proved their faithfulness to Him; He knows where they stand, He sees their track record with Him, and He will not require them to experience everything that the rest of humanity will suffer.
David C. Grabbe
Who Will Be Kept from the Hour of Trial?
Works are very important to the book of Revelation—seven times in chapters 2 and 3, and four or five other times in the rest of the book. Christ's concern is that His people are working.
The main purpose of the book of Revelation is not merely to give us insight into what is coming. It is also to convince the Christian that his loyalty, his devotion, his steadfastness, his suffering, and perhaps even martyrdom, is not in vain—that he is assured of a wonderful future. The reason for the stress on works is that character is not formed merely by knowing something but by knowledge combined with putting it to work until it becomes a habit. Over time, habit becomes character, and character follows the person right through the grave!
If we are not working, emphasizing loyalty to the Person of God and to His way, making every effort to overcome Satan, the world, and the self-centeredness within us, resisting with all of our being the temptations to do what is natural, carnal—if we are not expending our energy, and spending our time working out our own salvation with fear and trembling—it is very likely, then, that we are not going to have the character necessary to go through the grave. The wrong works will follow us, and we will not be prepared for the Kingdom of God.
Thus, what a person has done, that is, what he has worked on in this lifetime, follows him through the grave—either into the Lake of Fire or the Kingdom of God.
The book is designed to focus attention on what is of greatest concern to Christ for His people. He wants to ensure that they do not give up or become weary due to the great pressure of the times, and that they instead endure, persevere, and be loyal and steadfast to the very end.
His concern at this time is not preaching the gospel as a witness, but the salvation and continued growth of those He already has. The quality of the witness is directly tied to the quality of those making the witness. What good is it to have this wonderful, awesome message—the gospel of the Kingdom of God—carried by those who are poor examples of what it says? Christ's first priority is to ensure the spiritual quality of those who make the witness, and then the quality of the witness is ensured. We cannot let the cart get ahead of the horse. The one naturally follows the other. First things first.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 2-3 and Works
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