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A Study of Dispensationalism
by Arthur Pink

"But there is further reason, and a pressing one today, why we should write upon our present subject, and that is to expose the modern and pernicious error of Dispensationalism. This is a device of the Enemy, designed to rob the children of no small part of that bread which their heavenly Father has provided for their souls; a device wherein the wily serpent appears as an angel of light, feigning to "make the Bible a new book" by simplifying much in it which perplexes the spiritually unlearned. It is sad to see how widely successful the devil has been by means of this subtle innovation."

Theology

Israel and Scripture - Part five

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D.


CHRISTO-CENTRIC NEW COVENANT GEO-POLITICISM
(Part 5 of "Dispensationalism, Israel, and Scripture")

We are continuing our study of the geo-political implications of the Israel-blessing prophecies of the Old Testament. Few questions are as important in the covenantal-dispensational debate. Though Progressive Dispensationalism has made enormous emendations in the dispensational system, Israel still remains as a key to dispensational theology of all varieties. Hence, my present series on the question of Israel is already at number five.

(Don’t worry. I will keep the series at fewer than 666 entries. On Sunday, September 14, 1997, in Greenville, South Carolina, the major grocery chain in town had to run an expensive two full-page ad quieting rumors that their "BonusCard" worked with 666. Somehow some alert dispensationalist noted that if you took the first six digits of the twelve digit card number and found the square root, it would come up to 666.something. [For instance, my BonusCard number is 444013913795. Try it. And fear!] Not explained were: (1) Why you would choose only half the number to work with. (2) Why you would take the square root of that half. (3) Why the square root comes out to a few decimal points over 666. (4) Why you can buy groceries there without the card. (5) Why the grocery store managers did not persecute you and kill you if you did not use it. I mention all of this because I don’t want to have to defend my integrity again! After all, one of my books has the words on the cover: "The Beast of Revelation Dr. Kenneth Gentry"!)

POLITICAL ISRAEL AND PROGRESSIVE DISPENSATIONALISM

Especially important in the Israel debate is the question of the geo-political future of Israel. Our point of departure for the last two issues has been Progressive Dispensationalist Bruce Ware’s important chapter in Blaising and Bock’s <Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church> (1992). He (and other dispensationalists) see the geo-political prophecies as determinative for a biblical eschatology and proof of the dispensational system. Israel must be regathered to the land as a nation in an earthly-political millennium, according to his exposition of such passages as Jeremiah’s New Covenant (Jer. 31).

In last month’s response to Ware I began considering his first major argument for dispensationalism: "What do we make of the territorial and political aspects of the new-covenant promise that clearly states that God will restore Israel to its land in prosperity and productivity and unite it again as one nation (Israel and Judah) whose center of rulership is Jerusalem?" (DIC, p. 93) I showed in that article that ultimately the new covenant church becomes the new Jerusalem, taking over and expanding the Old Testament idea of the "city of God."

Now I want us to note that the universal expansion of God’s blessings -- transforming the people of God from one nation to all nations -- is effected by a remarkable means: Christ Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the land, city, and seed promise! The Old Testament promises are personalized and "Messianized" -- as well as universalized -- in Christ. We are particularly interested in the promises relating to Jerusalem, in that the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-40 expressly mentions God’s dealing with that glorious city. Let me explain what I mean by this biblio-theological assertion.

Last month I showed that the focus of covenantal promise narrowed from the (larger) land of Israel to the (smaller) city of Jerusalem. The city of Jerusalem rises to the forefront of eschatological prophecy in the biblico-theological development of the Old Testament. The idea of a city, remember, is that of a center of civilization. The new Jerusalem supplants the old Jerusalem as the center of a holy civilization; it gives birth to Christendom, especially as centered in the church. Ironically, though the focus narrows from land to city, the city has to be enlarged so as to welcome in all nations of the world.

JESUS AND JERUSALEM PROPHECY

In this edition of my newsletter I will show that the means of this transformation is through the ultimate fulfillment of Jerusalem: the Lord Jesus Christ. That is, in the new covenant era of fulfillment the focus of covenantal promise narrows even further: not just from Promised Land (Israel) to its capitol city (Jerusalem), but from the capitol city to its King (Jesus the Messiah).

Interestingly, structuring the historico-redemptive reality of much of the New Testament is the demise of historical Jerusalem and the anticipation of her utter destruction in A.D. 70. (Perhaps the best analysis available on this topic is Peter W. L. Walker’s recent book <Jesus and the Holy City: New Testament Perspectives on Jerusalem> [Eerdmans, 1996].)

As I begin I will note the significance of the movement away from local Jerusalem in the New Testament. Much evidence could be brought to the debate in this regard. Due to space limitations, I will focus on two illustrations, one from Luke’s writing, the other from Matthew. We will see that God rejects historical Jerusalem as the center of his purposes, even though his purpose continues in a NEW Jerusalem, as per the new covenant.

MATTHEW, LUKE, AND JERUSALEM

Here I will focus primarily on Luke’s writings because of their being more obviously theologically structured in this particular regard. But both Matthew and Luke indicate an intentional, divinely-ordained movement AWAY from Jerusalem.

Early in Matthew the announcement of Jesus’s birth causes fear and dread in Jerusalem: "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him" (Matt. 2:1-3). Instead of rejoicing at the birth of the Messiah, Jerusalem fears. Later Matthew records Jesus’s limited focus on Israel (Matt. 10:6; 15:24): she has a special and blessed opportunity (Matt. 13:16-17) that is highlighted in his presentation to Jerusalem (Matt. 21:4-5; 23:37).

Though Matthew opens with Jesus being mentioned in the context of Jerusalem (Matt. 2:1-3), at the end of the Gospel he appears on a mountain in Galilee of the gentiles (Matt. 28:16). As Matthew closes, Jesus gives a commission in Galilee (rather than Judah, where Jerusalem is located). In that commission he directs his disciples to reach out to "all the nations" (Matt. 28:19), not just Israel. He does this after Jerusalem’s leadership rejects and crucifies him (Matt. 27:1-2, 12, 20-24, 41-43). I will return to Matthaen Jerusalem imagery shortly.

In Luke’s Gospel we find a famous thematic movement: beginning in chapter 9 Jesus resolutely "sets his face toward Jerusalem." Luke clearly emphasizes Jesus’s determined movement toward Jerusalem as his goal. Jesus is intent upon entering Jerusalem to be formally presented to Israel’s leaders. Note the following Lucan samples:

Luke 9:51: "Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem."

Luke 9:53: "They did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem."

Luke 13:22: "He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem."

Luke 13:33: "Nevertheless I must journey today, tomorrow, and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem."

Luke 17:11: "Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee."

Luke 18:31: "Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished."

Luke 19:28: "When He had said this, He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem."

Having focused on Jesus’s relentless and determined movement to Jerusalem, Luke’s Gospel ends with him in Jerusalem and directing his disciples to remain there for awhile: "‘Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.’ And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen" (Luke 24:49-53).

However, in Luke’s second volume, Acts, a new movement begins. Acts opens in Jerusalem where Luke’s Gospel ends. But its movement, both thematically and chronologically, is AWAY from Jerusalem: "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). In fact, Acts ends with Paul in Rome: "Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him" (Acts 28:16).

Luke’s strong emphasis on Jerusalem’s sin and coming destruction suggests the theological rationale for such a movement away from Jerusalem. Interestingly, Luke is also unique among the Gospels for containing FOUR separate oracles from Jesus regarding Jerusalem’s destruction:

Luke 13:32-35: "And He said to them, Go, tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.’ [33] Nevertheless I must journey today, tomorrow, and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem. [34] O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! [35] See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’"

Luke 19:41-44: "Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, [42] saying, If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. [43] For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, [44] and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation."

Luke 21:20-24: "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. [21] Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. [22] For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. [23] But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. [24] And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."

Luke 23:27-31: "And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him. [28] But Jesus, turning to them, said, Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. [29] For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!’ [30] Then they will begin ‘to say to the mountains, Fall on us! and to the hills, Cover us!’ [31] For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?"

Now what are we to make of all of this?

JERUSALEM’S SIGNIFICANCE

Jerusalem’s significance lies in her being the "city of God": "There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High" (Psa. 46:4). "Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God!" (Psa. 87:3).

Jerusalem is the City of God because the Lord there establishes his temple, which is the house of his very presence: "Then Solomon spoke: "The LORD said He would dwell in the dark cloud. I have surely built You an exalted house, and a place for You to dwell in forever" (1 Kgs. 8:12-13). "Then Solomon sent to Hiram king of Tyre, saying: ‘As you have dealt with David my father, and sent him cedars to build himself a house to dwell in, so deal with me’" (2 Chron. 2:3). "I have surely built You an exalted house, and a place for You to dwell in forever" (2 Chron. 6:2). See also: Ezekiel 43:6-7 and Habakkuk 2:20.

Thus, Jerusalem is the City of God wherein God dwells in his temple. So when Jerusalem is destroyed in the Old Testament Babylonian Captivity, when her inhabitants are cast out, they are effectively CAST FROM THE PRESENCE OF GOD: "For because of the anger of the LORD this happened in Jerusalem and Judah, that He finally cast them out from His presence" (2 Kgs. 24:20; Jer. 52:3).

Jerusalem, then, represents the place of God’s presence, the place where his people meet to worship him and rejoice before him. But Jesus prophesies the removal of Jerusalem and her temple. Jerusalem and the temple -- as typological elements from the old covenant order -- are redundant in the new covenant administration. As I will now show: Jesus fulfills the significance of the temple and Jerusalem as the presence of God.

Indeed, consider Jesus’s prophetic name: "‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’" (Matt. 1:23). His prophetic name is "God with us." Eventually the disciples will leave Jerusalem with a greater, more blessed promise of God’s ever abiding presence in Christ: "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20). His messianic post-ascension ministry is to remain with the disciples until the end. In the Old Testament economy, God was with Israel in the Temple in their capitol city. But all of this is changing.

In Matthew 23 Jesus looks at the temple, the house that was supposed to be the "house of God." Historically it was the dwelling place of God, for Jesus notes: "He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by HIM WHO DWELLS IN IT" (Matt. 23:21). But then he utters these theologically significant, redemptively tragic words: "See! YOUR house is left to you desolate" (Matt. 23:38). By Jesus’s final judgment, no longer is the temple God’s house, but "your" house.

And how is it "desolate"? When Jesus leaves, their house becomes "desolate": "See! YOUR house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see ME no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’" THEN JESUS WENT OUT and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple" (Matt. 23:38-24:1). Jesus is the new locus of God among men, not the Temple, not Jerusalem.

THE RESTORATION OF ISRAEL

Christ identifies John the Baptist as the one who will "restore all things": "Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist" (Matt. 17:11-13). How does John the Baptist do this? How does he "restore all things"? Especially since he presents Christ who prophesies the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem -- important elements of the Old Testament economy!

In the New Testament we find that Christ is the fulfillment of Israel, Jerusalem, and the temple. The Gospel writers intentionally indicate this with their theological handling of the Old Testament imagery and their applying it to Christ.

In Matthew 2:18, Matthew relates "Rachel’s weeping" to the massacre of the babies in Herod’s attempt to kill the Christ child. In Jeremiah 31:15 the poetic imagery of "Rachel’s weeping for her children" expresses the lamentation over the Babylonian Captivity and the fall of Israel. Her "children" are no more. But now the crying for the children is because of the Christ child (though he himself escaped Herod). Indeed, it is a typological "fulfillment" in Christ: "Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: ‘Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: "A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more"’" (Matt. 2:17-18).

As a consequence of Herod’s evil attempt on Jesus’s young life, Jesus’s history providentially re-enacts Israel’s history: "Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.’ When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, THAT IT MIGHT BE FULFILLED which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son’" (Matt. 2:13-15). Jesus goes down into Egypt, as did Israel. He then comes up out of Israel, re-tracing Israel’s history.

In Matthew 4 we find Jesus once again living out the pattern of Israel. There Jesus goes off into the wilderness to be tempted forty days (Matt. 4:1-11). This directly reflects Israel’s time in the wilderness for forty years. "So the LORD’S anger was aroused against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the LORD was gone" (Num 32:13). In a quick reference Stephen ties together Israel’s coming up out of Egypt and her forty year wandering in the wilderness: "He brought them out, after he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years" (Acts 7:36).

Israel was God’s "servant" in the Old Testament (1 Chron. 16:13; Psa. 136:22; Isa. 41:8; 44:1, 22; 49:3; Jer. 30:10; 46:27; cp. Luke 1:54). A "servant" passage Jews apply to Israel finds fulfillment in Christ in the New Testament: "That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He will declare justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench, till He sends forth justice to victory; and in His name Gentiles will trust’" (Matt. 12:17-21).

Now interestingly, John the Baptist’s "restoring all things" was not a failure. Nor was his restorative work put on hold. For in Jesus all the promises of God are Yea and Amen (2 Cor. 1:20). All the promises for Israel, the land, the city, the temple, find their perfect fulfillment in Christ.

Is not Christ’s resurrection a rebuilding of the temple? "So the Jews answered and said to Him, ‘What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ Then the Jews said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said" (John 2:18-22).

In fact, Christ’s resurrection serves as the RESTORATION OF ISRAEL AND JERUSALEM, as well -- for Christ is the True Israel. In this connection, let me cite once again Matthew 17:11-13, along with two introductory verses:

"Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, ‘Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead. And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ Jesus answered and said to them, Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands. Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist."

Here in Matthew 17 John the Baptist is identified with Elijah who was to usher in the time of Israel’s restoration (cf. Mal. 4:5-6). The long awaited restoration of Israel comes not with political might and public effect, but with the redemptive work of Jesus in his death, burial, and resurrection.

Now we see the significance of the hope for the return of Israel from exile as it finds fulfillment in Christ. When Matthew relates Rachel’s weeping to Christ’s experience, he cites from a passage dealing with Israel’s restoration from captivity (Jer. 31). When he draws the Rachel reference into his history of Jesus, he brings with it also the surrounding text-meaning. He draws it from a context of restoration hope, which happens to be the very context of the new covenant promise: Jeremiah 31. In fact, Jesus’s reference to the "new covenant" in his blood draws upon Jeremiah’s new covenant passage (Matt. 26:28; Luke 22:20).

New Testament scholars have also noted the mountain-motif as relevant to the restoration-concept in the Gospels. Terrence L. Donaldson, in his doctoral dissertation from Toronto School of Theology, traces the mountain imagery of the Old Testament into the Gospel record (Donaldson, <Jesus on the Mountain: A Study in Matthean Theology> [Sheffield, Eng.: JSOT Press, 1985)].

Part III of Donaldson’s dissertation contains the following chapter titles: "The Mountain of Temptation," "The Mountain of Teaching," "The Mountain of Feeding," "The Mountain of Transfiguration," "The Mountain of Olives and the Olivet Discourse," "The Mountain of Comissioning." He shows Matthew’s intent in fulfilling the Mount Zion eschatology of the Old Testament, a fulfillment personalized in Christ.

Thus, Jesus is the new Mt. Zion, as the Jewish converts who were in danger of apostatizing were warned in Hebrews 12:22-24: "But you have come to MOUNT ZION and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, TO JESUS the Mediator of the NEW COVENANT, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel."

Zion is prophetically significant as the place of Messiah’s enthronement by the Lord God, an enthronement leading to victory: "Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.... Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel’" (Psa. 2:6, 8-9; cp. Psa. 53:6; 10:2; Isa. 2:3; 24:23; 28:16; 34:8; 35:10; 46:13; Joel 2:1; 2:32; 3:16; Oba. 1:17; Mic. 4:2; 4:7; Zech. 8:3). One of the verses for the glorification of Zion is applied to Christ’s Triumphal Entry (Zech. 9:9; Matt. 21:5).

With the prophesied dominance of Mt. Zion, Israel’s kingdom will draw in the gentiles. Thus Jesus frequently uses the Greek term "sunagoge" (synagogue, gathering together) to express the gathering in of God’s people in him (Matt. 3:2; 12:30; 13:2; 18:20; 24:31; 25:26, 32). Indeed, Christ is the chief-cornerstone laid in Zion (cp. Isa. 29:8 and Matt. 21:42).

Thus, with Jesus’s coming and his redemptive labor, we find the fulfillment of Israel -- a fulfillment which will gather in the gentiles, just as the Old Testament promised. Consequently, the land and Jerusalem promises need not await a future, literal fulfillment. They have come to pass in Jesus Christ in the first century. The progressive dispensational theology errs with classic and revised dispensationalism in attempting to continue typological categories into the new covenant schema.

 

 

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th. D., is a graduate of Tennessee Temple University (B.A., cum laude), Reformed Theological Seminary (M. Div.), Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th. M.; Th. D., summa cum laude). He also attended Grace Theological Seminary for two years, while a dispensationalist.

He is an ordained minister in the conservative Presbyterian Church in America (ordained, Sept. 1977). He has served congregations in both the PCA, as well as in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He and his wife, Melissa (married since 1971), have three grown children, Amanda, Paul, and Stephen, and two grandchildren (Caroline and Levi).

Dr. Gentry is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society. He also serves as on the instructional staff of the distance learning program of the Southern California Center for Christian Studies (www.scccs.org).

He is a frequent contributor to two Christian publications: Tabletalk (devotional magazine from Ligonier Ministries) and The Chalcedon Report. He has published scores of articles in various periodicals including: Westminster Theological Journal, The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Christianity Today, Christianity & Society, The Banner of Truth, The Presbyterian Journal, Contra Mundum, Christian Statesman, Evangelical Beacon, Ordained Servant, The Fundamentalist Journal, Pulpit Helps, The PCA Messenger, The Freeman, and Antithesis. He has written several books on eschatology, including The Beast of Revelation; Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation; He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology; and The Greatness of the Great Commission: The Christian Enterprise in a Fallen World. He is a contributor to four eschatological debate books: C. Marvin Pate, ed., Four Views of the Book of Revelation (Zondervan); Darrell L. Bock, ed., Three Views of the End of History (Zondervan); and Thomas D. Ice and Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? (Kregel).

He also has published other books on a variety of subjects, including creation (Yea, Hath God Said: The Framework Hypothesis / Six Day Creation Debate), abortion (The Christian Case Against Abortion), wine drinking (God Gave Wine), charismatic phenomena (The Charismatic Gift of Prophecy), salvation (Lord of the Saved), and biblical law (God's Law in the Modern World).

 

A special thanks goes out to Kenneth Gentry and KennethGentry.com for permission to reprint this article on our site.

 
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