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Monthly Archives: June 2013

Revelation 18 – Alas, Babylon! The Great City has Fallen!

We are continually reminded throughout Revelation that heaven is in control. Out of heaven comes an angel who illuminated the earth by his splendor. The world formerly was illuminated by the splendor of Babylon but has now become overshadowed. Like the mighty Titanic, no one ever thought Babylon would have ever fallen. People placed their hope, value, future, and identity in Babylon and now it is gone!

Babylon is significant for the Jews because when they were taken into captivity by Babylon many of them just accepted their new fate and stayed there. They adapted to their new surroundings and acted as though they themselves were from Babylon. The voice in verse 4 calls these people out of Babylon. Those who loved this great city of Babylon will mourn for her loss. With the loss of Babylon they too have lost all things. They have placed all of their value in this great city.

What kingdom do you live in? You are currently an exile in a foreign land, a resident alien. Every country that is not the Kingdom of God is Babylon. Have you decided to become a citizen of the place where you find yourself? Or, have you held on to your true identity as a citizen of God’s Kingdom? We continually have to evaluate our actions as well as the actions of the culture in which we reside. Have we assimilated? Do we look like everyone else around us? We are not concerned with Babylon because we are from a place that is greater. Alas, Babylon! The great city has fallen!

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2013 in Bible Blog, Revelation

 

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Revelation 17 – Great Prostitute

There are many theories about who the prostitute is in chapter 17, but what makes the most sense to me is that the book is continuing with its discussion about the fall of Rome.  In addition to being consistent with the rest of the book, there are other clues that fit with Rome being the harlot.

  • She sits on seven hills (17:9)
  • She rules the earth in John’s day (17:18)
  • She is a terrible persecutor of the saints (17:6, 18:20-24)
  • She is the leading commercial power on earth (18:3, 11, 15-19)
  • She is supported by the military power of Rome (17:3,7)
  • She is destroyed by her own military power (17:16-17)

For a discussion on the heads and horns, check out the blog on Revelation 13.  It appears that the book has been moving through the seals, trumpets, and bowls, with pauses for comfort and anticipation between each up to this point.  Now that we know that Rome is destroyed, the book is going to take a step back and actually give us a better explanation about how that is going to actually take place.  This explanation takes the form of the Harlot sitting on the beast.

I think it’s worth noting that most of the destruction that befalls Rome comes from it’s allies.  In other words, the chaos and destructive nature of evil will eventually cause the forces of evil to turn on itself.  In contrast, the Kingdom of God, the Church, is called to be a unified and coordinated community that works together to promote goodness and righteousness and justice throughout the earth.  So whenever you see the Church bickering, in conflict, and chaotic, what you are seeing is God’s people behaving like the forces of evil in this world.  And when that happens, I think we need to take a hard look in the mirror and get back to being the people of unity, grace and love that God calls us to be.

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2013 in Revelation

 

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Revelation 16 – Shock and Awe

We’ve unsealed the seven seals and heard the blasts of the seven trumpets and now we watch as the seven bowls of God’s wrath are poured out on the earth.  As I read this, I am reminded of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 with a military offensive that was termed “Shock and Awe.”  The idea was that the attack would come so fast, and be so overwhelming, and so debilitate the enemy that they would be unable to stand against the US.  I remember watching on a tv in my OC dorm room as the bombs fell and the military raced towards Baghdad.  I couldn’t stop watching for days and slept little, watching round the clock coverage.  While I know many have strong opinions about the Iraq War, my intent is not to comment on the motives or execution of that war, but rather to comment on how the horrible and overwhelming force demonstrated in those days doesn’t come close to the images here in Revelation 16.

The time for warnings has passed and now God pours out his wrath on the earth to punish those who bear the mark of the beast.  The horrors again echo the plagues on Egypt with darkness, hail, storms, water turned to blood, and more.  It is devastating.  However, it is also reminiscent of the Creation with judgments affecting the water, the land, the skies, the sun, the darkness, and humanity.  It is complete and utter destruction of everything.  And on top of everything, these plagues are not coming one at a time as in Exodus, but seem to be piling on top of one another bringing exponentially horrific suffering.

And at several intervals throughout this terrible judgment, the angels stop the work of pouring out wrath to praise God and commend him for his righteous justice that is being brought upon the earth.  This is hard to imagine for people like me who live in a clean, orderly, society without violent oppressors.  But when you live in a corrupt world where the powerful bring pain to the powerless and the faithful are persecuted, you understand the need for God to cleanse the earth.  You pray daily for God to put things back the way they belong.  So when God brings this wrath upon the two beasts, sent by the Dragon, there is praise from the angels and rejoicing from the saints.  God is right.  God is good.  God takes care of his creatures and his creation, even when it means cleaning up his creation from some of his creatures.

The final bowls are setting up a great battle and even mention the battlefield Armageddon.  Some believe that this will someday be the location of a huge end-of-time battle.  However, when we get to this battle later, even though armies gather on both sides of the battle field, only Jesus fights.  This isn’t a battle between humans.  This is a battle between Jesus and the enemies of his people to restore order to the creation and justice for God’s people.

To those who stand opposed to God and persecute his people…you are on notice.  God will bring justice.  God wins.  Pick a side.  Don’t be stupid.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2013 in Revelation

 

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Revelation 15 – Another Pause

Before the removal of the seals, there was a break in the action, a calm before the storm.  Right before the seven trumpets were blown there was a similar pause.  Now, before the seven bowls of God’s wrath are poured out, there is yet another moment of the calm before the storm.  

A great audience has gathered, the victors over the beast are ready to see God’s justice done.  We are told of angels and of the plagues.  It is clear that this is all being done with God’s authority and is being done with full intention.  It is not an accident.  The judgment of God is about to be poured out on Rome, the representative of Satan in this world at that time.  The time for warnings has come and gone.  They were ignored and now the full judgment comes on the beasts and those who worshiped the beast.

It’s important to note that God’s people are to be safe and protected while God’s wrath is poured out on those who have opposed him.  God’s people need not fear, in fact we will soon find them praising God and rejoicing to see his righteousness being spread out over the world.

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2013 in Revelation

 

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Revelation 14 – Harvest and Winepress

Revelation 13 told of the Dragon calling two beasts up who would bring chaos and destruction, especially to God’s people.  The last of these two beasts was like a lamb that forced people to worship the first beast.  And now, at the beginning of Revelation 14, we find hope again when THE LAMB appears.  And the hope is so great that the 144,000 (all of God’s chosen people) begin singing out a new song, a song worthy of this new deliverance, a song that thunders throughout the heavens.  The 144,000 are shown to be honest, faithful, and pure.

Three angels appear and make bold proclamations.  The first is a call to worship God, while the second speaks of the fall of Rome, and the third promises a similar fate for all of those who bowed down and worshiped Rome.  Then Jesus appears riding on a cloud, which is the ultimate way for a diving King to enter.  At that time, Jesus begins to reap the harvest of the earth.  Of course, this is no harvest of wheat and grain.  Throughout the Bible, the harvest is used to speak of the time when God will gather all of his people unto him.  This is a metaphor of great blessing, promise, and reassurance.  At that moment, Jesus does something else in addition to the harvesting; he begins to trod upon the grapes.

The image of Jesus stomping on the grapes is an image of judgment.  As the grapes that represent the unfaithful, especially Rome, are brought in, they are smashed and the wine reaches the bridles of the horses for 200 miles.  That’s a lot of wine, which is a symbol of the spilled blood to follow the judgment.  This is a sweeping and catastrophic judgment that is bring brought upon the enemies of the 144,000.

So in this chapter, we have the 144,000 singing a new song of praise and glory to the true lamb.  The lamb then gathers in all of God’s people through the harvest, while stomping out the enemies of God in the wine press.  For people who were being oppressed by Rome, this is a huge turnaround that shows that God is in charge and can be trusted to bring them through whatever trials and struggles come their way.  God will take care of his people.  God will remove their enemies.  All we do is praise him with a new song worthy of the remarkable acts of rescue and redemption that God carries out on our behalf.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2013 in Revelation

 

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Revelation 13 – Ten Horns and Seven Heads

In chapter 12 we had the epic battle between the Dragon and the baby, born of the woman.  As Christians, we live our lives celebrating the fact that the baby (Jesus) won and that the Dragon (Satan) was defeated.  But now the Dragon has turned its attention to attacking the followers (Christians) of the baby.  Chapter 13 tells us what that is going to look like.

If you are new to this blog or have missed some of our recent posts, you should know that we hold that Revelation is written regarding events that would happen very soon after its writing (because it says so) and that these events largely involved the Roman persecution of Christians and the eventual fall of the Roman Empire.  We are using Jim McGuiggan’s book on Revelation as our primary source for these posts.  This particular chapter requires familiarity with Daniel 7 and Revelation 17 to unlock some of the images.  Accordingly, here’s what’s going on in chapter 13:

The Dragon calls out two beasts who begin to wage war against the people of God.  The first beast has 10 horns and 7 heads (although later he gets an 8th head).  There is general consensus that the 7 heads represent the 7 hills of Rome and McGuiggan points out that they also represent 7 kings of Rome, just as the 10 horns of Daniel 7 represent kings.  The 10 horns represent 10 kings who were rulers of outside nations who allied themselves with Rome.  Daniel 7 also mentions the lion, bear, and leopard, which are kingdoms that will come before Rome and be devoured by Rome.  The second beast comes up out of the land and has a religious focus that requires the people of the world to worship the first beast.  This beast represents the cult of emperor worship that came to be common in the Roman Empire during the time Revelation was written.

For those of you who are interested in history, McGuiggan associates the following Roman rulers with the 10 (actually 11) horns of Daniel 7 and the 7 (actually 8) heads of Revelation 13.

Daniel 7

  1. Augustus
  2. Tiberius
  3. Caligula (Gaius)
  4. Claudius
  5. Nero
  6. Galba*
  7. Otho*
  8. Vitellius*
  9. Vespacian
  10. Titus
  11. Domitian

*In Daniel, there are the five who have fallen, then three who are uprooted.  These three are Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, who ruled for a very short combined two years.  As such, they are not included by John in Revelation 13.

Revelation 13

  1. Augustus
  2. Tiberius
  3. Caligula
  4. Claudius
  5. Nero
  6. Vespacian
  7. Titus
  8. Domitian

So these actual rulers of Rome from history are the ones who combine to make up the beast in Revelation 13.  The ones who require that they be worshiped are also part of the second beast that requires people to worship the first.  The number of the beast, we read in 13:18 is 666.  Certainly, the number 666 has been well used in horror movies and all kinds of things.  For the original audience, 6 was understood to be just less than 7.  Since 7 represents God’s completeness and authority, the number 6 was seen as “falling short.”  Three 6’s then is falling way short.  It is short enough to become evil.

So what are we supposed to actually understand from this chapter?

  1. You opponent is evil.
  2. Your opponent is human.
  3. He is evil, so have nothing to do with him.
  4. Remain faithful to Jesus.
  5. Your opponent is not divine.
  6. So do not be afraid of him.

Easy enough, right?  I suppose the question for us today is what in our world claims to be worthy of praise and worship that is actually only “falling short”?  How many of us have bought into the lie that there is something other than Jesus that must be worshiped?  While Jesus defeated the Dragon and the first beast (Rome) is no more, how many of us  continue to be tempted by the second beast that demands worship for anything other than Jesus?  It’s a scary thought.

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2013 in Revelation

 

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Revelation 12 – God Wins! Pick a side…Don’t be Stupid!

My Grandmother and I had a very unique relationship. She and I often discussed spiritual matters. She prayed for me to be a minister when my parents found out that they were having a little boy. She was a prayer warrior, gentle, caring, kind, and embodied the servant heart of Jesus. She was a saint of a woman. I thought I might be bias in my view of her but the packed chapel at her funeral told me I had a pretty good view of her.

When she was nearing the end of her life she and I would have very serious conversations about God, the church, spirituality, and what happens when we die. One day she had tears in her eyes as she looked at me and said, “Ryan, I don’t think I’ve been good enough to go to heaven.” I looked back at her, smiled, and said, “Of course you haven’t!” This response came as a shock to her and I finished, “If you could be good enough, Christ died for nothing!” She smiled back at me after being reminded of the grace and hope that we have in Christ.

I thought of that moment when I read Revelation 12. The woman represents the people of God. She represents Israel who brought Christ to the world and she represents the Church who continues to bring Christ to the world. The dragon wants to devour the baby. After giving birth, Jesus was taken up to sit on the throne with God and the woman went to the wilderness where she might be taken care of by God. The woman does not take care of herself but God takes care of her.

The dragon pursues Jesus to heaven and war breaks out. Satan is defeated and cast down to earth. “The blood of the Lamb triumphed over him.” The victory has already been won but the devil is still chasing after the woman’s offspring, the Church. This is the persecution the church undergoes. At the time in which this was written the Christians undergoing persecution would have felt like they were losing but they are reminded that they in fact have already won in Christ.

This victory has nothing to do with anything we have done. We cannot earn this victory or really even do anything to bring it about. Christ is already victorious! Too many Christians live in fear of the Church being overcome by the devil. Too many live in fear that they are not strong enough to fight Satan. Too many live in fear that they aren’t good enough to make it. Christ is victorious! Submit to his reign! Stop doing it on your own and give yourself to Christ.

I used to read this passage as an event that actually took place historically. I guess it could have…but that isn’t the point. The point is, when you look around and it seems like we might be losing, we aren’t. Christ has already won. When you think that you aren’t good enough, you aren’t. Christ made you good enough. In short…God wins. Pick a side. Don’t be stupid.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2013 in Bible Blog, Revelation

 

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Revelation 11 – Two witnesses

Some chapters in Revelation can get very technical as we attempt to make meaning of all of the images.  This is one of those chapters.  So if you feel like I am not covering everything then you might want to check out Jim McGuiggan’s book on Revelation which we are using as a resource for the blog or ask me a follow up question in the comments (which we always encourage you to do).

There will be a number of times in the coming chapters that you will notice a time reference expressed as 42 months or 1260 days or 3 1/2 years or time, times and a half a time.  These are all the same time reference.  Remember again that in apocalyptic literature we should assume that everything is symbolic unless we have a reason to believe it is literal.  Here are some of the occasions when this time reference will be used:

  1. Revelation 13:5 – It is the period of the beast’s authority.
  2. Revelation 11:2 – It is the period of the Holy City being trodden under foot.
  3. Revelation 11:3 – It is the period during which the witnesses prophesy.
  4. Revelation 12:6, 14 – It is the period the Woman is nourished in the wilderness.
  5. Daniel 7:25 – It is the period the “little horn” persecutes the saints.

Based on these occurrences, this time reference should indicate a period of time when the church is going to be persecuted, and yet protected.  However, it is not referencing a length of time, but rather the state of affairs during that period of time.  Even though they will be victimized and go through a period of suffering, God remains in control and watches over them.  They will ultimately be victorious.  Additionally, there is some thought that 3 1/2 is also a “broken 7” which would indicate incompleteness or something partial or temporary.  It is a Biblical way of reminding Christians in suffering that “This too shall pass.”

Revelation 11 then talks about the measuring of the Temple.  It’s important to know that the part of the Temple that is measured is the inner sanctuary and not the entire building.  Also, the Gentile court that is referenced is the same court where Jesus overturned the money changers tables because of their lack of concern for God’s Temple and also the Gentiles who worshiped there.  As such, this discussion of the measuring of the Temple only makes sense when read figuratively (no surprise) and understood to mean that those who truly worship God (the Church) will be protected and that those who do not are in danger of judgment.  The holy is separated from the profane.

Then, once the time of persecution of the saints begins (the 42 months), we read of the two witnesses who wear sack cloth and continue to prophesy to all the people of the earth throughout the period of persecution (1260 days).  They are the two olive trees and two lampstands.  This is a reference to Zechariah 4, where the two olive trees represent Zerubbabel, the civil and political leader at the time, and Joshua, the religious and priestly leader at that time.  In Revelation, these two witness then represent the church and Christians who we know are a royal priesthood.  We are reading here about Christians who refused to be cowed by suffering or persecution but who continue to proclaim the Gospel to the world.  We are told that Satan will attack them and kill them, but that their bodies will not remain dead.  God’s breath of life will enter them, they will stand on their own feet and the world will be terrified of them as they go to live with God.  What great comfort and power this would give to people who were undergoing persecution, that they could continue to boldly proclaim the Gospel in the face of suffering, knowing that even death could not hold them down.  God would restore their life and give them the victory when it looked like all was lost.

The remainder of the chapter is given to the blowing of the seventh trumpet.  As this trumpet is sounded, the time for partial judgments and warnings has ended.  The seventh trumpet contains the seven bowls and the seven bowls are filled with God’s wrath which will now be fully poured out upon the earth.  And yet, this pouring out of wrath is met, not with horror, but with the thanksgiving and praise of the twenty-four elders surrounding the throne of God.  This judgment is part of God putting things back the way they belong.  Those who were faithful will be rewarded.  Those who were opposing God will be punished.  Things are made right and those who have been waiting for God’s rightness to be restored to the earth celebrate.  What other response could there be to God’s fixing of things?

But the fixing will take some work.  And it won’t be easy.  It will be messy.  But God is in control and He’s going to do the hard messy work of it all while his people praise Him.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2013 in Revelation

 

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Revelation 10 – Apocalyptic Half Time

Well we have made it through the first six seals and are working on the seventh as we moved through the six trumpets.  Even though all of that was warning judgments on the oppressor, they were severe.  And yet repentance did not come.  Instead, the forces of evil have hardened their hearts in a way that reminds us of Pharaoh.  Even though it’s clear and is becoming increasingly clearer that defeat for Satan and his forces is eminent, they will not go down without a fight.   But before the book moves back into a quickly escalating battle, there is a break for comfort.

John is told here to go and take a scroll from the powerful angel and eat it.  This is a very common occurrence for God’s prophets.  Its very similar to the calling of Ezekiel.  Isaiah had coals placed on his lips.  It is a way of showing that the prophets lips are dedicated to speaking the words of God.  Once John has eaten the scroll from the angel, we are reminded midway through Revelation, that this isn’t some invented story or imaginative tale.  John has placed the words of God in his mouth and consumed them and he now speaks them (albeit through writing) to us.  

John is told that the scroll with turn his stomach bitter but be sweet to the taste.  As a preacher today, I can understand somewhat what is being said here.  The word of God is wonderful, beautiful, and powerful.  I fell in love with telling people what God’s word says over a decade ago and I love it still today.  But it’s also often a bitter challenge as well.  I sometimes have to say things that are unpopular or that estrange me and the church from our neighbors.  If I am doing my job as a preacher well, then there should be times that I speak God’s truths in a way that steps on peoples’ toes (my own included).  John is given a prophecy that contains bad news for many, but God’s words remain sweet to the tongue.  Taking God’s word to the world should always be a challenge and a joy.

There is also a bizarre passage in this chapter.  John hears the seven (seven = completeness) thunders (thunder references judgment or God’s presence) and begins to write down what he heard.  Then a voice from heaven says, “Don’t write that down.”  To this I cannot help but think…”Whaaaaat?”  What did John hear that I can’t know about?  In fact, if I had a way to send a letter to John today, it would simply read: “Dear John, Secrets, secrets, are no fun.  Secrets, secrets hurt someone.”  Granted, it doesn’t really hurt me, but I really want to know what the seven thunders said.

All joking aside, this passage actually makes John’s entire vision more real to me.  If John was just making up some grand image-filled apocalyptic book, then you don’t insert a random story that you have to keep a secret. You will never be reading a novel and have the author randomly say, “Oh wait…nevermind.  I am not going to tell you that.”  It doesn’t make sense.  It would be terrible writing.  That is, it would be terrible writing unless John actually saw all of this in a real vision.  The sounds heard in the thunders were real to him, but what they said was not to be part of the book he was writing.  It only makes sense if John is writing about a real vision.  And that’s kinda cool.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2013 in Revelation

 

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Revelation 9 – Crime is Punishment

As the seven trumpets continue sounding, we now have the two woes being poured out upon the earth.  Chapter 9 begins with a description of a falling star that was given the key to the Abyss and who released sun-blotting smoke and locusts upon the earth.  While the first four trumpets were from God and from above, this one comes from the depths, from the Abyss.  McGuiggan says that the fallen star with power over the Abyss is Satan, and the imagery fits as monsters emerge from the depths to attack people.  They are not allowed to harm the 144,000 who have been sealed and they are to torture those who are not faithful for five months.  

This trumpet turns many things upside down.  First of all, a plague of locusts (as was seen in Egypt in Exodus 10) would completely destroy plants, crops, trees, and the land while not doing significant harm to people.  However, when the trumpet sounds, these locust-like-monsters torture people while not harming and plant or tree.  Additionally, this situation is exactly the reverse of Luke 10:18-20 where Jesus tells the disciples that he saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven and that he (Jesus) has given the disciples authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome the power of the enemy.  In this woe-filled trumpet, a star falls from heaven and the locusts with scorpion attacks are given power and authority.  Things have gone wrong because of the sinfulness of mankind.  After the five months of locust attacks, the sixth trumpet sounds and four angels were released to kill 1/3 of mankind.

The imagery of judgment is violent and extreme, and yet it remains partial.  After the sixth trumpet is sounded and great violent death comes to 1/3 of mankind, the book will now stop to evaluate whether or not mankind has learned its lesson.  Will they heed the warnings of the trumpets and repent?  Unfortunately they do not.  Those who survived the plagues did not repent but continued in their sin.

There is an important principle that has some connection to this passage.  In Romans 1:24-28 we are told that God punished the Gentile world by “giving them up” to their own sinful desires. Proverbs 14:34 says that entire nations can be brought down by moral depravity.  In this sense, the crime is the punishment.  When we choose sin over God, the greatest punishment that can often be given to us is to be allowed to choose sin over God.  This would be similar to a parent whose child is about to do something wrong or dangerous, who after warning the child to not do that thing, then decides to step back and allow the child to learn from their own mistakes.  Sometimes when we choose sin, God’s punishment is to let us sin.  He turns us over to our own desires.  For nations, this often results in entire generations or cultures being given over to moral depravity and corruption.  It would be difficult to study the fall of the Roman Empire without recognizing the impact that moral depravity had on that once powerful society.  Today, we must recognize that a loss of morality can have be a punishment in and of itself on both ourselves and our society.  (This idea is developed fully in N.T. Wright’s book Simply Christian.)

Is it possible that there are times in our lives that if it were a book, the author could step back as Revelation does at the end of chapter 9 and say, “And yet they did not learn from their mistakes.  They did not repent.  They continued in their sin and foolishness.”

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Revelation

 

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