Jesus' Parables for Disciples
Detail of 'Resurrection' stained glass window, Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Houston, 2008, full size is 40ft x 20ft. Designed and constructed by Mellini Art Glass and Mosaics in Florence, Italy. Photo ©Lea McNulty. Used by permission.
The context of 5:17-47 follows on the heels of Jesus' healing of the man at the Pool of Bethesda, and the Jews' criticism of him carrying his pallet on the Sabbath Day -- and Jesus' healing on the Sabbath for that matter.
"16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewspersecuted him. 17 Jesus said to them, 'My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.' 18 For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath...." (5:16-18a)
Observance of the Sabbath was one of the chief characteristics of Judaism. And rightly so.
Jesus, too, observed the Fourth Commandment: "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy" (Exodus 20:8). He made it a point to be in the synagogue each Sabbath (Luke 4:16, 31, 44) and encouraged his disciples to keep every part of the Law -- better than the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:17-20). Pharisees were extreme legalists, following all the interpretations of rabbis before them -- "the tradition of the elders" (Matthew 15:2) the oral law, finally written down in the Mishnah about 180-220 AD. They defined "work" on the Sabbath day with extreme rigor. Thus healing (the work of a physician) was prohibited. So was harvesting. And so on. As a result, Jesus had many conflicts with the Pharisees over Sabbath observance.
Jesus, on the other hand, sought to fulfill the spirit of the Law. He saw the Sabbath as God's blessing to man, not the other way around.
"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27-28)
In our text he gives another basis for his more dynamic understanding of Sabbath observance. While the Pharisees were fixated on "work" as the antithesis of the Sabbath, Jesus said,
"My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." (5:17)
This wasn't an entirely new idea in Judaism; Jesus was just bringing it to their attention. All the rabbis in Jesus' day acknowledged that God works on the Sabbath, otherwise providence itself "would weekly go into abeyance."Jesus point is: If the Father works on the Sabbath, then I can do his works on the Sabbath. As you'll see, in this passage several times Jesus mentions his aim to "complete the work" that the Father assigned him (5:35; 14:10; 17:4).
The Jewish leaders probably agreed with the concept that God continues to work, but they strenuously disagreed with the way Jesus expressed it -- "My Father ...." It sounded way too personal for them. It sounded like blasphemy.
"For this reason the Jewstried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God." (5:18)
The question revolved about being "equal with God." "Equal" is isos, "pertaining to being equivalent in number, size, quality, equal."We see the word isos one other time in the New Testament in this context.
"Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness." (Philippians 2:6-7)
In the following verses, Jesus explains what this equality entails and what it does not entail.
"19 Jesus gave them this answer: 'I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.'" (5:19-20)
Verse 30 is a companion to verse 19:
"By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear...." (5:30)
Look at what we learn about the relationship in these amazing verses:
- The Son doesn't operate independently of the Father.
- The Son is in constant touch with the Father.
- The Son does what he discerns the Father is doing.
- The Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing.
Then there's what's called a "teaser" in the broadcast industry, a hint at "even greater things than these." In other words, Jesus has been in touch with the Father and working miracles in tandem with the Father already. But to come is an even greater phenomenon -- the resurrection of the dead (5:21).
The key to Jesus' Sonship is constant communication with and obedience to the Father. Thus he is the perfect expression of the Father here on earth. The Word (Logos) of chapter 1.
"No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." (1:18)
There's a fascinating interchange between Jesus and Philip later in the Gospel that helps explain what Jesus is saying in 5:19.
"8 Philip said, 'Lord, show us
the Father and that will be enough for us.'
9 Jesus answered: 'Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, "Show us the Father"?
10 Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. 12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:8-12)
Notice that this close communication with and obedience to the Father is not just for Jesus, but also for his disciples -- "anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing...."
We are Jesus' disciples. We must learn from Jesus how to listen to the Father and then follow his instructions here on earth. In fact, if we attempt to operate independently of the Father -- just doing religious things that we've learned to do them from others -- we will be powerless and ineffective.
No wonder Jesus' disciples were called "Christians" -- little christs (Acts 11:26). They had learned the secret of listening and obeying.
Later in our passage, Jesus talks about searching the Scriptures to find eternal life (5:39-14). The life is found in the Person of Christ to whom the Scriptures point. No wonder we have "dead orthodoxy" in our day. No wonder we have powerless Christianity! We have relied on ourselves rather than on the Living God.
Q1. (John 5:19-20) Are we intended to emulate Jesus'
listening to the Father, or is knowing the Bible a modern-day substitute for
this? Why don't churches teach more about hearing the voice of God? What would
happen in our generation if we would learn to dynamically hear God and then obey
what he is saying to us?
Now Jesus tells the Jewish leaders of two divine attributes that he has been granted, that have been delegated to him. They must have been beside themselves with anger!
"21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him." (5:21-23)
The attributes Jesus claims are:
1. Granting life (5:21). God has given all living creatures the "breath of life" (Genesis 1:30, etc.). Job said, "In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind" (Job 12:10). Yahweh creates the earth, and "gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it" (Isaiah 42:5). The Father "raises the dead and gives them life" in the Age to Come. Now the Son has been given this authority.
2. Granting judgment (5:22). In the Old Testament, Yahweh is called "the Judge of all the earth." (Genesis 18:25; cf. Psalm 94:2; 1 Samuel 2:10; etc.). But the Messiah's right to judge is clearly prophesied in Isaiah 11:1-4, and as Son of Man he is giving authority and dominion over the Kingdom of God.
The purpose of these grants is that people might honor Jesus the Son in the same way as they honor the Father. Wow! In fact, if people don't honor the Son, then they insult the Father who sent him.
Did Jesus indeed claim to be equal with God, as the Jewish leaders claim? Yes, indeed! Though exactly what that meant was different than what they thought.
In a paragraph of seemingly audacious statements, Jesus makes another -- one of the most memorable verses about eternal life in the Bible, and well worth memorizing. This verse combines both of Jesus' claims -- to giving life and to judgment of all.
" I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me haseternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." (5:24)
Let's look at this verse in detail:
Introduction. Jesus begins with his "Truly, truly I say to you" formula which emphasizes the solemnity of this statement.
Qualification. Next, he gives the qualifications of those who are eligible to receive this wonderful promise.
"Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me...."
In other words, the promise is for those who believe God sent Jesus and gave him authority of Messiah and Son of God.
Promises: (a) has eternal life, and (b) will not be condemned. Let's probe a bit deeper.
(a) Eternal life. In the phrase, "has eternal life," the verb "has" is echō, "have," here, "to possess or contain, have, own," in the sense of "to have within oneself."It doesn't say "will have eternal life," but "has eternal life" now (present tense). And to emphasize this fact, Jesus says that the believer has (present tense) "crossed over from death to life. "Crossed over" (NIV), "passed" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is metabainō, "to transfer from one place to another, go/pass over," then by extension, "to change from one state or condition to another state, pass, pass on."Eternal life is not just future. It begins now with a relationship with Jesus, and will become even more intense when Christ returns. In that sense, the Kingdom is both present and future.
(b) No condemnation. The phrase, "will not be condemned" (NIV), is literally, "does not come under judgment" (NRSV). "Condemned" (NIV), "judgment" (NRSV), "condemnation" (KJV) is krisis (from which we get our English word "crisis"), "legal process of judgment, judging." The word often (as in our verse and the sentence that follows) means judgment that goes against a person, "condemnation."This doesn't mean that we won't appear before Jesus for judgment. Paul says, "We will all stand before God's judgment seat" (Romans 14:10) and "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ...." (2 Corinthians 5:10). Indeed, we will all appear at the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation:
"And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life." (Revelation 20:12)
What is different about us on that Day is that the judgment has already been made for eternal life -- and our names are already written in the "Lamb's book of life" (Revelation 13:8). We have already been transferred from death into life. Judgment Day will only proclaim what has already taken place.
Yes, we will stand before Christ for judging the quality our deeds, but the judgment regarding life or death has already been given. We've been written in God's Book as "pardoned" through the precious blood of Christ! (1 John 2:1-2; 1 Peter 1:18-19). Hallelujah!
Paul rejoices over this fact in Romans:
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:1-2)
Q2. (John 5:21-24) According to John 5:24, when does
eternal life begin? What is our default position without Christ -- life or death?
How can people come to eternal life if they never "hear my word"? How do your
friends and neighbors normally hear Jesus' word? What might be your role in
seeing that they hear his word?
Sometimes our understanding of the gift of eternal life gets distorted. Some see this using the analogy of a transaction. Others as a Christmas gift that the recipient now "owns" and "controls." Our passage gives another analogy that I think clears up some of these misunderstandings. Life is in the Son himself, and not separate from him. When we put our trust in Christ, we receive his New Life and are now "in Christ," united to him, our righteousness now being his righteousness.
John sums up this concept well in his First Epistle:
"And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal
life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who
does not have the Son of God does not have life."
(1 John 5:11-12)
You can't have eternal life unless you are united to the Son by faith -- they come as one inseparable package.
Now Jesus tells of something that is happening as he speaks and will happen in the future -- "a time is coming and has now come":
"25 I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself." (5:25-26)
Jesus is speaking on two different levels -- as he often does in John's Gospel. Here is an example of what theologians call "realized eschatology," the Kingdom of God being both present and future, both "now" and "not yet."
Has now come
"Dead who hear"
Called to resurrection by the Messiah
Those who hear and believe
Raised from the dead on the Last Day
Receive salvation and eternal life
The reason that Jesus can do this is explained in verse 26:
"For as the Father has life in himself, so he has grantedthe Son to have life in himself." (5:26)
This is an echo of the first few verses of John. God the Creator, the Life-Giver of Genesis gives life to and through his Son.
"All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men." (1:3-4)
As we saw in verses 21 and 22, the Father has granted the Son the divine prerogative of "life in himself." He also has granted him "authority to judge."
"And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man." (5:27)
With the title "Son of Man" (Jesus' preferred title), Jesus is recalling a Messianic passage from Daniel:
13 "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed." (Daniel 7:13-14)
Because Jesus is both the heavenly Son of Man and the Son of God, he has all authority.
"... that at the name of Jesus every knee
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:10-11)
This authority to judge and to offer life will be exercised at the resurrection of the dead:
"28 Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out -- those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. (5:28-29)
These words also recalled Daniel's prophecies of the Last Day that speaks of a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.
"Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt." (Daniel 12:2)
The same idea is found on Paul's lips proclaiming before Felix the Governor in Caesarea his agreement with the Pharisees concerning the resurrection:
"I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked." (Acts 24:15)
Again, as in 5:19, Jesus states his complete dependence upon the Father.
"By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me." (5:30)
The Son is not independent of the Father, but rather dependent and working in concert. Jesus listens to the Father and speaks the Father's words, declares the Father's judgment. He and the Father are inseparable.
The doctrine of the Trinity affirms that the Father and Son and Holy Spirit are eternally equal in Person, but acknowledges that the Son and Holy Spirit are subordinate in role -- "ontological equality, but economic subordination," that is, "equal in being, but subordinate in role." That understanding of equality and subordination in role is apparent in the very words "Father" and "Son."
If you and I would follow this same example of submission by constantly listening to the voice of the Spirit, rather than forging ahead in our own wisdom, we would be much farther along in fulfilling God's plan for our own lives.
Q3. (John 5:30) Why is Jesus so dependent upon the Father
for wisdom? How dependent are you upon your culture to approve of your way of
life and validate your wisdom? To what degree do you depend upon God for wisdom?
So far Jesus has explained his relationship as a Son to the Father. But now he shifts to a very Jewish concern -- the validity of one's statements. According to Jewish jurisprudence, everything had to be established on the basis of two or three credible witnesses, based on Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15-19.One's own testimony about oneself wasn't considered valid. It needed to be confirmed by other testimony.
Jesus' first collaborating testimony is John the Baptist.
"31 If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. 32 There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid. 33 You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. 34 Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. 35 John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light." (5:31-35)
Jesus' second collaborating witness is God the Father.
"I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me." (5:36)
Jesus makes the claim that his own miracles are testimony of God's confirmation. As Nicodemus said to Jesus:
"Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." (3:2)
Later, the man born blind whom Jesus heals, states the obvious syllogism or logical argument to Jesus' enemies:
"We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." (9:31-33)
"The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me.... even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles." (10:25, 38)
"... At least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves." (14:11)
"If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles...." (15:24)
We live in a generation when some very conservative Christians dismiss miracles as unnecessary, since we now have the Bible. Some conclude that miracles and other supernatural gifts have passed away.
On the other hand, those who know their recent church history, know that in the twentieth century hundreds of thousands of people were converted to Christ after they witnessed miracles.
Miracles are valuable in attracting people to Christ, and are clearly a convincing testimony to the validity of Jesus' gospel. However, John makes the point that merely miraculous signs themselves are inadequate to produce a mature faith in Jesus. A mature faith comes from believing Jesus' words and message (4:42, 50, 53). Miracles, however, are an important beginning point for many.
Q4. (John 5:36-37) According to John's Gospel, what is
the value of miracles? What is the weakness of faith that depends solely on
miracles? Why do you think that we don't have more miracles in our day? How much
is that dependent upon a congregation's attitude (and unbelief) towards the
importance of modern-day miracles?
The third witness to Jesus is the Father himself:
"And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me." (5:37a)
This may be another reference to God's confirmation through miracles, but it may refer to the Holy Spirit's presence (1:33) and God's voice at Jesus' baptism: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased" (Luke 3:22)
A fourth collaborating witness is found in the Scriptures themselves.
"37b You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life." (5:37b-40)
What a strong statement about the deadness of mere study of the Scriptures without application of what you read! The Jewish leaders Jesus addresses are spiritually dull:
"You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you...." (5:37b-38a)
They are unable to hear the voice of God mediated by the Spirit. They haven't seen God physically nor have they grasped him spiritually. Finally, Jesus says, "nor does his word dwell in you." This phrase is an important definition of a disciple. Later, Jesus tells his disciples in his great discourse on the Vine and the Branches and abiding in the Vine:
"If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you." (15:7)
As Jeremiah put it:
"When your words came, I ate them;
they were my joy and my heart's delight,
for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty." (Jeremiah 15:16)
Paul tells us:
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." (Colossians 3:16)
In a related passage to the Ephesians he equates letting the word of Christ dwell in you with being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:19). That was Nicodemus's problem. He wasn't born of the Spirit and consequently couldn't even see or understand the Kingdom of God (3:3).
The Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary for us to understand and apply the Scriptures. As Paul told the Corinthian church:
"The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14)
Jesus' enemies made the mistake that many religious people do. They mistook knowing the Bible with internalizing God's words and doing what they say.
"You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life." (5:39)
James puts it another way.
"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." (James 1:22)
In the same way, Jesus said just prior to his Parable of the House Built upon a Rock:
"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? ... The one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation...." (Luke 6:46, 49a)
What does it mean to have Christ's word dwell in us? It means to internalize its truths so it guides our whole life. We embrace it and put it into practice. Bible study is good. It is important. But even more important is application and obedience!
Where do the Scriptures testify about Jesus? We aren't given a single list, but we know that after Jesus' resurrection, on the road to Emmaus:
"Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." (Luke 24:27)
Over breakfast beside the Sea of Galilee, he told his disciples:
"Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." (Luke 24:44b)
Without doubt, you can find references to these Scriptures in the preaching of the apostles in the early chapters of Acts. In addition, Matthew especially is careful to cite the many places that Jesus fulfilled what had been written about him in the Old Testament.
Q5. (John 5:39-40) What should be the role of the
Scriptures in our lives? How is it possible for a person to be a great student
of the Bible, but so lacking in spiritual discernment and lifestyle? How can we
keep our churches orthodox but not legalistic and judgmental?
Jesus has cited his four witnesses. Now he expresses how little value human testimony ("praise from men") is in light of the divine testimony he has cited.
"41 I do not accept praise from men, 42 but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. 43 I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?" (5:41-44)
So often we are more concerned about what people think about us, than what God thinks of us! God help us!
The Pharisees prided themselves on being successors to Moses the Lawgiver.
"45 But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?" (5:45-47)
The Pharisees have twisted Moses' teachings so that they didn't have to believe that Jesus is the Prophet that would come (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).
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This has been a long discourse. Let's sum up some of the lessons we should learn as disciples.
- Jesus is equal with the father, but voluntarily subjects himself to the Father.
- Jesus listens to the Father, then does what the Father is doing. In this he is our example of how we should listen and obey (5:19).
- Eternal life begins now for those who put their faith in Jesus. Even though we will appear before God's judgment, we will not be condemned (5:24).
- Eternal life is found in Christ himself, not in a religion or good works (1 John 5:11-12).
- We, like Jesus, are utterly dependent upon the Father; we are not to function independently.
This entire discourse on Life in the Son has been about how Jesus -- uniquely -- is the bringer of Life with a capital "L." My prayer for you is that your focus is not merely on the Scriptures that point to Jesus, but to trust Jesus himself, that he might bestow upon you his Life that lasts forever.
Jesus, let my focus be on You. Yes, help me to understand and know your Word. But even more, let me know You and walk with you. Let your words find a home in my heart. Let them abide in me that I might abide in You. In your holy name, I pray. Amen.
"'My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.' For this reason, the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God." (John 5:17-18, NIV)
"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." (John 5:24, NIV)
"As the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself." (5:26, NIV)
"By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me." (John 5:30, NIV)
"You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." (John 5:39-40, NIV)
Carson, John, p. 247.
Isos, BDAG 480.
"Has" in verse 24a is the common verb echō, "have," in the sense of "to possess or contain, have, own," here "to have within oneself" (BDAG 420, 1d).
Echō, BDAG 420, 1d.
Metabainō, BDAG 638, 2. The idea also appears in 1 John: "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers" (1 John 3:14).
Krisis, BDAG 569, 1aβ.
Some have taught that the Judgment Seat of Christ is different from the Great White Throne Judgment. I disagree. The simplest way to understand this is that all appear before the Great White Throne Judgment, but that since our names are written in the Lamb's book of Life, we are treated differently than the unbelievers.
"Granted" (NIV, NRSV), "given" (KJV) is common didōmi, "to give," here with the connotation, "to grant by formal action, grant, allow" (BDAG 242, 13).
See Matthew 18:16; 26:60; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:28.
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