A brief review of dispensational tribulationalism and the alternative

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ewenlin

Puritan Board Junior
The question posed me was this,

Compare the arguments presented for a pre-, mid-, and post-tribulation rapture. From your findings, state your conclusion for a biblically-based rapture and provide support for that conclusion.

Imagine my :eek: when I first got this. See my signature. Anyway I've really had to scratch my head on how to approach this question and I've spent the last 3 days writing continuously, stopping only to sit for a greek test (life's great!) and this is what I came up with. I can't put footnotes into PB. :p

DISCLAIMER: please read to the end and understand the context. I am NOT promoting the pretrib/whatevertrib position. I was dictated by topic to include it. I do think that dispensationalism is the cause of so many things that are wrong in so many churches.

Let me know your thoughts and criticisms.

INTRODUCTION

With the rise of dispensationalism and trends in current world affairs, there has been increasing attention and interest with eschatology. It is the purpose of this paper to deny a literal seven-year tribulation. Additionally the tribulation will be shown to be symbolic of the age between Christ’s death and the Second Advent.

Due to the spatial limits, liberal considerations with regard to hermeneutics (such as the authorship of Daniel, or the possibility of Jesus’ miscalculations in the Olivet discourse) are beyond the scope of this paper. The study will be done in the conservative evangelical tradition with the affirmation of the Nicene creed that “(Jesus) shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.”

This paper will begin with an overview of the dispensational interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27 where a seven-year tribulation is derived. Following that a survey of arguments used in pre, mid, and post-tribulation raptures. Subsequently an alternative position will be presented beginning again with an examination of Daniel 9:24-27. Next tribulation will be discussed by a study on the Olivet discourse as well as parts of the Book of Revelation and Daniel 12. The paper will conclude with a brief application in light of the tribulation and resurrection.


SEVEN YEARS OF TRIBULATION

The key text with regards to a literal seven years of tribulation is Daniel 9:24-27 beginning with “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people…” (Dan. 9:24). The first issue arises as to what “weeks” refer to, whether it is indefinite or specific periods of time. Some have purported the time unit “weeks” as groups of seven days each (totalling 490 days) but such a limited span of time will not support a prophetic reading of the general text. Furthermore, the preceding verses deals with seventy years of captivity, which would imply that years are also in view here. It would seem best to interpret “seventy weeks” as seventy periods of seven years each (totalling 490 years) as John F. Walvoord agrees.

Therefore, seventy sevens (490 years) will be the time period to “finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place” (Dan. 9:24). The first sixty-nine sevens is described in verse 25, the period between this and the final seven in verse 26, and the final seven in verse 27. How one interprets the fulfilment and continuity of these three verses will determine much of their eschatological position.

There are a myriad of interpretations but a general consensus can be drawn in a Christological interpretation of verse 26. “An anointed one shall be cut off…” (Dan. 9:26) would refer to the death of Jesus Christ. This is the majority evangelical interpretation. Historically the destruction of Jerusalem occurred in A.D. 70 that is seen as a fulfilment of the city being destroyed in verse 26. Accordingly, this leaves a final period of seven years where “a covenant (will be made) with many for one week…” (Dan. 9:27).

Futurists see this covenant as the signal of the seven years of tribulation (Matt. 24:21). The gap between the sixty-ninth seven and the seventieth seven is seen as the church age. The antecedent “he” in verse 27 is applied to the anti-Christ. Those who hold to this interpretation are largely dispensational and see an eschatological place for ethnic Israel. After sixty-nine sevens that culminates in the death of Christ, an interval will come in the church age, and the final seven is regarded as a literal seven years for the fulfilment of remaining prophesy. This is the seven-year tribulation.


THE RAPTURE

The Christian’s attitude toward death is undoubtedly different from unbelievers as he is called not to fear death but rejoice for “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). That a future glorified state awaits the Christian is beyond debate. The contention is with regards to the timing, specifically within the Tribulation. Would believers be raptured prior to the final “week” of Daniel’s prophecy, in the middle, or at the end coinciding with the Second Advent?

POSTTRIBULATION RAPTURE

Posttribulationists believe that the Church will be present on earth during the seven-year tribulation period denying a two-stage return of Christ. It is argued that Scripture does not allow for a “secret rapture” prior to the tribulation. Texts such as 1 Thess. 4:16-17 and 1 Cor. 15:51-52 speak of a visible public rapture of the church just prior to his second coming, contrary to a secret rapture Pretribulationists assert. In answer to Pretribulational arguments citing the absence of the church during the tribulation, Posttribulationists see no distinction between tribulation saints and the church as all have escaped by virtue of the blood of Christ.

“Tribulation” (thlipsis, or thlibo) appears 55 times with 47 referring to “tribulation endured by saints.” It never appears in Daniel’s seventieth week to refer of God’s anger against sinners but rather only in Romans 2:9 and 2 Thess. 1:7. The context within Daniel’s seventieth week “tribulation” refers to the persecution of the saints (Matt. 24:9, 21, 29; Mark 13:19, 24; Rev. 7:14). As Robert Gundry writes, “The tribulation of the seventieth week has to do, then, not with God’s wrath against sinners, but with the wrath of Satan, the Anti-Christ, and the wicked against the saints.”

All throughout Scripture believers are said to expect and experience tribulation (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Rom. 5:3; Rev. 1:9; 2:10). Though not a prescriptive bill that the church will thus enter the seven-year tribulation, the fact that the church should expect tribulation (1 Thess. 3:3), the presence and attacks of antichrists throughout this age (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3) presents enough evidence to support the idea that the church will endure the final tribulation.

MIDTRIBULATION RAPTURE

Midtribulationists divide the tribulation in two halves where the church will be raptured after the initial three and a half years. They derive this from extrapolating Dan. 7:25; 9:27; and 12:7, where an interval of three and a half years is evident. Additionally Midtribulationists equate the sounding of the seventh trumpet in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 11:15) with the last trumpet of 1 Cor. 15:52 as where the rapture takes place. The two witnesses are also taken as representative of the church and see their departure as the rapture of the church (Rev. 11:12).

However, although the passages in Daniel do indicate an interruption of the final week (seen here as the tribulation), they do not speak clearly about the removal of believers therein. Also pairing Rev. 11:15 with 1 Cor. 15:52 is a strained effort at proving a proposition while disregarding its context. The “last trumpet” in 1 Cor. 15:52 simply refers to the summoning of believers unto God with no indication of its application in the tribulation.

PRETRIBULATION RAPTURE

Pretribulationists begin with 1 Thess. 5:9 where Paul says, “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Wrath here is seen not as the final second death but rather the tribulation period. Similarly in 1 Thess. 1:10, for He will “rescue us from the coming wrath,” the same verb is used of the rescue of Lot prior to the judgment of God on Sodom (2 Pet. 2:7).

Furthermore the pretribulational view allows for the possibility that Christ could come at any time, harmonizing texts such as 1 Thess. 1:10; 4:7; 5:2. The Thessalonians were told to prepare for the Day of the Lord that will come unexpectedly where both Christians and non-believers will be present. The rapture spoken of in 4:17 will not occur before the arrival of the Day. Only the pretribulational view maintains the immanency of the rapture and the Day of the Lord.

Jude 14 is also contrasted with 1 Thess. 4:17 to indicate the two-stage coming of Christ. Believers meet Christ in the air (1 Thess. 4:14-17) while Christ returns in Jude 14 with His saints is seen as the proof text. The focal point of Daniel’s seventieth week is also national Israel, not the church, as also the church is not mentioned in Revelation 4 through 18. The whole Tribulation period can be seen as,

“A prelude to the national redemption spoken of in Romans 11:26, when “all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jabob.’” The Rapture – the removal of the church – signifies that “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (v.25). And the onset of the Tribulation marks the start of the painful process by which national Israel will be grafted back into the olive tree.”

Therefore the rapture would occur before the Tribulation contrary to mid or Post-tribulationists. A pretribulational rapture will distinctively separate the church from national Israel. Here Jeremiah 30:7 is used to illustrate the nature of this distinction. “Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it” (Jer. 30:7). The implication of the Tribulation thus pertains only to national Israel, not the church.

Finally Jesus promises in Revelation 3:10 that “I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth.” This passage thus indicates that the church will be raptured before the hour of trial comes. Again the church is never mentioned throughout Revelation 4 to 18.

INTEPRETING DANIEL 9:24-27

At the heart of the dispensational premillennial system of eschatology is Daniel 9:24-27. It is here that the literal seven years of tribulation draws its weight. However traditionally the church has interpreted this text as a prophecy regarding the first advent of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

There are six aspects within the prophecy – to be fulfilled in the 490 years – that are all fulfilled in Christ. First is to finish transgression, which Israel accomplished by the climax of her rejection and crucifixion of the Messiah. Matthew 21:33-45 and Acts 7:51-52 tells of Israel’s hardness of heart and rebellion even in the presence of the Messiah. Second is to make an end of sin, which the generation that rejected the Messiah experienced (Matt. 23:29-36). Third is to make atonement for iniquity, which was fulfilled in Christ’s atoning death (Heb. 2:17; 9:12-14; 1 Jn. 4:10). Fourth is to bring in everlasting righteousness, which was accomplished through the redemptive work of Christ. Fifth is to seal up vision and prophecy, which was realized in Christ who fulfilled everything that was written in the Law, Prophets and Psalms concerning the Messiah. Furthermore, He brought a new revelation of God – the New Testament – that is “the more sure word of prophecy than that by vision,” thereby putting an end to vision and prophecy (2 Pet. 1:19; Heb 1:1). Sixth is to anoint the most holy, which was fulfilled by Christ who is the anointed one (Luke 4:18-19; Heb. 1:9; 9:22-28).

Some have claimed that since the destruction of Jerusalem occurs at 70 A.D., years after the crucifixion of Christ that there is then an interval of time between the sixty-ninth and seventieth “seven,” which must represent the church age. However the context suggests that the destruction of the city and sanctuary are a consequence of the rejection and crucifixion of Christ. There is no certainty that it will be fulfilled within the seventieth week.

Similarly verse 27 is applied to the anti-Christ where the antecedent “he” refers to the prince that shall come of verse 26. However the word “prince” is not the subject of verse 26 thus “he” should refer to the Messiah. It is the Messiah who is also the focus of the entire passage.

THE FINAL “SEVEN”

Applying a consistent messianic interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27, Jesus would have fulfilled the final “seven.” The key here lies in “he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering” (Dan. 9:27). The writer of Hebrews tells of the abolishment of sacrifices and offerings at the atoning work of Christ (Heb. 10:5-14). While objections are raised that animal sacrifices continued past Jesus’ death till the destruction of the temple at 70 A.D., the fact of the matter remains that sacrifices and offerings were abolished by the atoning work of Christ (Heb. 10:9). Following the death of Christ, the temple sacrifices amounted to nothing.

THE TRIBULATION AND RESURRECTION

It has been shown that Daniel 9:24-27 was fulfilled at the first advent of Christ. The dispensational interpretation of the passage requires an unwarranted gap of more than two thousand years between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week. There is then no literal seven-year tribulation. Nevertheless the bible clearly speaks about the certainty of tribulation in the Olivet discourse, the Book of Revelation, and Daniel’s prophecies.

THE OLIVET DISCOURSE

Matthew writes, “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will” (Matt. 24:21). The dispensational futurist sees this as occurring when the antichrist signs a covenant with Israel (Dan. 9:27) that ends at the Second Coming. However the passage should not be tied to the time of the end for several reasons.

The Olivet discourse is one of the most widely interpreted eschatological texts. The key to the entire discourse however is in verse 34, where Jesus tells His disciples, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt. 24:34). The prophecy declared is then to be typically fulfilled within that generation – A.D. 70, one generation from the time Jesus spoke those words. First, every other time it is used in Matthew (Matt. 11:16; 12:41, 42, 45; 23:36), it clearly refers to the generation to whom Jesus was speaking. Second, in the context of the preceding chapter, the same phrase clearly refers to the generation to whom Jesus was speaking (Matt. 23:36). Third, the phrase is used in Matthew 24 as a direct response to a specific question by the disciples at that time,

While an examination of every sign Jesus spoke of is not possible due to the limits of this paper, two aspects need to be mentioned. Matthew writes, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (24:14). Oikoumene is the Greek word translated “world” in this verse, which is often referring to the Roman Empire (Luke 2:1; Acts 11:28; 24:5). The phrase “all nations” in this context thus refers to all the nations of the Roman Empire. Furthermore the witness was primarily directed at Jews scattered throughout the Roman Empire (Acts 21:21; 24:5). Lastly, Scripture itself testifies of this fulfilment beginning with Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:5) and confirmed by Paul (Rom. 10:18; Col. 1:6, 23). It would not be a mistreatment of Scripture to see this verse as having been fulfilled.

The Great Tribulation (24:21-22) is the second aspect. First of all, this was said to occur within the generation that heard those words (Matt 24:34). Second, the final destruction of the temple bears much greater covenantal significance than any tribulation the Jews ever suffered. Third, this judgment of God has been stored up and reserved for the generation that rejected the Messiah (Matt. 23; Luke 19:41-44). Fourth, contrary to most dispensational literal interpretations, Matthew 24 does not record the worst destruction seen by the world. Genesis 6 to 8 does in the days of the Flood. It is not entirely possible then to adhere to an absolutely literal reading of this verse. The “great tribulation” was thus typically fulfilled at the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70.

All this being said, a distinction must be made between typical fulfilment and exhaustive fulfilment. The question asked by the disciples was, “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (24:3). It combines both the destruction of the temple as well as the end of days. Jesus’ answer thus combined both elements in that the destruction at A.D. 70 was a type of a greater fulfilment to be found throughout all ages.

This same idea is found in Balaam’s prophecy (Num. 24:15-25). While the initial fulfilment of these predictions if found in 2 Sam. 8:2-14, they only prefigure the greater conquests of Christ (Col 2:15; 1 Cor. 15:25, 26; Rev. 20:10, 14). The real fulfilment of these things was in the kingship of Christ.

The best interpretation of the Olivet discourse that captures this idea is by John Calvin,

“Though Christ employs a general expression, yet he does not extend the discourses to all the miseries which would befall the Church, but merely informs them, that before a single generation shall have been completed, they will learn by experience the truth of what he has said. …Now though the same evils were perpetrated in uninterrupted succession for many ages afterwards, yet what Christ said was true, that, before the close of a single generation, believers would feel in reality, and by undoubted experience, the truth of his prediction; for the apostles endured the same things which we see in the present day.”

Calvin denies the passage refers neither only to the events of A.D. 70 nor only to the end. They were a blend of type (the destruction of Jerusalem) and reality (what the disciples will experience henceforth). This is the best understanding of the passage.


THE BOOK OF REVELATION AND DANIEL 12

Daniel 12:1 reads, “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.” In Daniel’s prophecy, the basis for the time of trouble stems from the believers covenantal loyalty to God in the face of external persecution and false teachings that creates apostasy from within (Dan. 11:30-39, 44; 12:10).

The time of both distress and deliverance is simply described as “that time.” There is no clear reference to any specific period of time; either happening soon or at the end. It would be best to assume the ambiguity is deliberate. This reinforces the idea of a pre-figuration of the entire age until the everlasting kingdom that the visions in chapters 7 to 12 are pressing towards.

The idea of tribulation is also seen throughout the Book of Revelation. In the letter to the church at Thyatira, those who delight in false teaching are to be “thrown into great tribulation” (Rev. 2:22). Similarly John sees in chapter 7 the believers “coming out of the great tribulation” who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb” (7:14). Following John’s proclamation of his own participation in the tribulation in (1:9) and other passages of Scripture (1 Pet. 4:1-7, 12-13; Col. 1:24), these believers that John sees refers to the faithful remnant across time that suffered and endured the great tribulation. The period of tribulation then is best understood as the events occurring between Christ’s death on the cross and the end of the age, to be experienced by every believer though in varying forms. G. K. Beale explains, “the great tribulation has begun with Jesus’ own sufferings and shed blood, and all who follow him must likewise suffer through it.”

RESURRECTION AND APPLICATION

Believers throughout this age face tribulation. While some believers face severe hardship living in militant countries and others live almost entirely free from persecution with complete freedom to witness for Christ, the difference does not lie within the individual Christian but rather the mystery of the providence of God. The church may in fact face increasing tribulation as the Scriptures caution.

While physical and temporal escape from calamity is never promised, believers have and ought to hold on to the promise of the resurrection. “The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption, but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them, the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies” (Westminster Confession of Faith, XXXII/i-iii). This hope is anchored in 2 Corinthians 5:1-9, which every true believer ought to long for. In the meantime Scriptures everywhere encourages Christians with God’s promise of His all-sufficient grace even through the toughest circumstances.

CONCLUSION

It has been shown that the bulk of the dispensational seven-year tribulation eschatology hinges on a skewed reading of Daniel 9:24-27. This paper then proved that the best reading of the text lies in applying a consistent messianic interpretation throughout. With no basis for a literal seven-year period, the tribulation was established as being representative of the entire church age.

While differences in eschatological positions are plenty, there is an unspoken common ground – that Jesus lives and is coming back again. The Wesminster Confession offers useful admonishment by proclaiming, “As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin; and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity, so will He have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come, and may be ever prepared to say, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly, Amen!” (XXXIII.iii)
 

A.J.

Puritan Board Junior
Looks interesting. I just subscribed to this thread, and I'll try to read your paper tomorrow.

Your citation of Calvin and the WCF hopefully does not :eek: your professor. :lol:

Thanks! :)
 

CNJ

Puritan Board Senior
Ewen in Singapore at an Assembly of God Bible College,

They better give you high marks for this paper. :scholar:

In THE TRIBULATION AND RESURRECTION section capitalize "God". I may read it again tomorrow morning. It is Thursday afternoon now. When is it due?

Cordially from a retired English teacher,
 

A.J.

Puritan Board Junior
:applause:

Ewen, I just finished reading it. I liked the way you concluded the paper.

I also recommend (if you haven't done so) Vern Poythress' Understanding Dispensationalism. Chapter 7 of his book shows that the "last trumpet" of 1 Cor. 15:51-53 is literally (pun intended) problematic to those who hold to a pretribulation rapture view.

My minor quibbles: :)

In the last sentence of the second paragraph of "PRETRIBULATION RAPTURE," I think you are referring to "imminence" (imminency) not "immanency" (immanence).

In the "THE BOOK OF REVELATION AND DANIEL 12", the last phrase of the last sentence should read "create [without an "s"] apostasy" because of the noun "false teachings" which precede it. Also, in the third sentence of the last paragraph of the same section of the paper, it should read "these believers that John sees refer [without an "s"] to the faithful remnant" because of "these believers"

Thanks for taking the time!

:pray2: for a high grade.
 

ewenlin

Puritan Board Junior
Hi Carol, it's due tonight. :p

Thanks all for spotting the mistakes. Gotta improve my language.. :p
 

CNJ

Puritan Board Senior
Your English is wonderful. I have to go substitute teach and can't reread it as I had planned. Glad that A.J. above caught some improvements. Do let us know your grade and comments from this dispensational school.

When you get a chance, check out the millennial dreams blog in my signature. It started 2009 with a debate on amil and postmil between my elder and my cousin. The debate of those two gentlement stopped, although they are still admnistrators on that sie. I have been trying to post at least once a month since.

Cordially,
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Huge topic.

And I see we are out of time, but a few thoughts...

I'm assuming your professor has assigned this as a topic and you do not have liberty to deviate or appeal for liberty to contrast dispensationalism (which forces these kinds of questions) and covenant theology.

My first thought would be to make an affirmative statement that a dispensational framework for interpreting Scripture is assumed in the topic and that while you intend to labor under that assumption, a covenantal framework better presents a more stable platform from which to view and understand Scripture.

Also, remember that covenant theology believes in something like a "rapture," but as part of a single event at our Lord's return.

-----Added 8/28/2009 at 07:38:38 EST-----

ewenlin
Futurists see this covenant as the signal of the seven years of tribulation (Matt. 24:21).
"Seven" is often viewed figuratively as a number of perfection in Scripture (e.g. How many times to forgive, seventy times seven, Matthew 18:22)


The gap between the sixty-ninth seven and the seventieth seven is seen as the church age.
The "church age"? The "church" age, visible are believers in Christ, Old and New Testaments and their children in the Old Testament as well as the new. Moses believed in Jesus- in what sense was he NOT part of the "church"?

23By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king's commandment.

24By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter;

25Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;

26Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.

The antecedent “he” in verse 27 is applied to the anti-Christ.
Is it THE or is it an office, or a collection of people, or different people at different time (see 2 John)

2 John 1:7

7For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.

Those who hold to this interpretation are largely dispensational and see an eschatological place for ethnic Israel.
Actually, dispensationalism sees eternal separation of people with some Jewish ancestry from the Body of Christ.

It sees a separate plan of redemption for people with some Jewish ancestry from that of the Body of Christ. Why would the former be separated from Christ, being made explicit as Messiah, and Redeemer in the New Testament?

Ephesians 4
4There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

5One Lord, one faith, one baptism,

6One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

Romans 2
28For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:

29But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.


After sixty-nine sevens that culminates in the death of Christ, an interval will come in the church age, and the final seven is regarded as a literal seven years for the fulfilment of remaining prophesy. This is the seven-year tribulation.
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Wannabee

Obi Wan Kenobi
You've done some good research. Though my perception differs from yours, I appreciate your work. Daniel is a key text. But the tribulation period does not live or die by it.
If you have time, which I doubt, you might attempt to address this. It is relevant, as these two time periods add up to 7 years.

Revelation 11:1
1Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood, saying, “Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there.
Revelation 12:6
6Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.


Blessings
 
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