Friday, June 27, 2008

THE PARABLE OF THE FIG TREE


There are three important parables in Matthew 21 that I do not want us to miss. The first one is the story of the fig tree. Let us first put this story in the proper historical perspective. As you know, Matthew was a tax collector, or today we would call him an accountant. Therefore Matthew has written the events in the life of Jesus not chronologically, but he has them systematically arranged by subject matter. For example, Matthew has systematically arranged all the teachings of Jesus in one package, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. Therefore the correct historical sequence suffers somewhat in Matthew, and so we have to find the true historical account from the Gospels of Mark and of Luke.

The King Claimed His Property (Matthew 21:14-17)

In the first 11 verses of chapter 21 the Lord Jesus rode into Jerusalem as a King to stake out His claim. But the physical Jerusalem was only a symbol, a shadow of the New Jerusalem, which was the real spiritual property the Lord claimed for Himself. Then He came to the temple area.

Matthew 21:14
And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.

Matthew 21:15
And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased,

Matthew 21:16
And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?

Matthew 21:17
And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there.

These are the events that took place on Sunday. We know that by comparing the Gospel of Matthew with the Gospel of Mark. The Lord Jesus came into the court of the temple where women and children were allowed. And there is where He healed the blind and the lame. And when the chief priests and scribes saw all this they were not just a little displeased. No! They were moved with indignation.

Why?

It was not because the Lord Jesus was healing on the Sabbath, for it was Sunday, the first day of the week. No! They were incensed out of envy. The children were praising the Lord Jesus as the Son of David, which was a title reserved for the Messiah. But the religious rulers of the Jews did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, for they believed that Jesus was pumping up Himself as the Messiah. But the Lord Jesus directed them to Psalm 8:2, where God says, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength”.

But the Lord says in Matthew 21:16 that the meaning of “to ordain strength” is actually “to perfect the praise of Him”. In other words, only when we become as humble and trusting as little children will we be perfect in the praise of Him. Only when we realize that His ways are much higher than our ways, and as high as the heavens are above the earth so are His ways higher than our ways, only then do we give Him the proper honor and glory. You see, the sovereignty of God is written all over this chapter. We cannot escape it. And then we read in Matthew 21:17, “He left them”. He left them in their conceit. He left them in their despicable self-righteousness. He left them in their sins. Let us now turn to:

The Parable of the Curse on the Fig Tree (Matthew 21:18-19,12-13,19-22, 24:32-34, Mark 13:28)

Matthew 21:18
Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered.

Matthew 21:19
And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever.

Why is this cursing of the fig tree inserted here in this place?

It is inserted in between the curse on the religious rulers of the Jews and the curse on the money changers in the temple. Both the curse on the chief priests and scribes as well as the curse on the money changers in the temple was a judgment on the religious rulers of the nation of Israel.

Could this cursing of the fig tree also have something to do with a curse on the nation of Israel?

The dominant theme of the entire chapter 21 of the Gospel of Matthew is: “God is done with the nation of Israel as a special nation before Him”. This is the first objective of this chapter. And the second objective is to show the sovereignty of God throughout this entire chapter. A sovereign King is one who does what He will, according to His good pleasure, for He alone is wise and He knows what actions are in the best interest of His kingdom. A sovereign King makes decisions over life and death, and He alone makes those decisions, for He alone is wise and He knows what decisions are to the best interest of His honor and glory. This is the God we serve, because the Bible tells us so. Therefore we suspect that the cursing of the fig tree has something to do with a curse on the nation of Israel. Now we have to insert:

Matthew 21:12
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,

Matthew 21:13
And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

The Lord has come to the temple which symbolized the place where God dwells. But the religious rulers have made it a den of thieves. In the court of the temple where even the Gentiles were allowed they were selling animals suitable for sacrifice. And if anyone would come with animals that were bought outside, the priests would find something wrong with them, so that their sacrifice was denied. As a result the prices for animals sold in the court of the temple were greatly inflated. This was the system invented by the religious rulers. And thus the Lord Jesus called them a den of thieves. Then when even was come He went away out of the city, probably again to Bethany. Now we enter into Tuesday morning, and here the Lord introduced another parable. We read here in Matthew 21:19-22,

Matthew 21:19
And presently the fig tree withered away.

Matthew 21:20
And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!

Matthew 21:21
Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.

Matthew 21:22
And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.

In one night the fig tree has totally withered and was dead and dry. Then the Lord spoke about us being able to remove a mountain and cast it into the sea. All we need is faith.

Has it ever occurred in the history of mankind that someone spoke and as a result a mountain was cast into the sea?

No! We do not read about this in the Bible, except when the Lord will do this Himself near the end of time, in Revelation 8:8.

Does this mean that absolutely none of the saints has enough faith?

No! This cannot be, for then all the prophets whom God used to write the Bible are all hypocrites. And so, we come to the conclusion that this truth that the Lord Jesus spoke about being able to cast a mountain into the sea must have a spiritual meaning. We shall dig into this parable at a later date, for this requires much more time.

As you may already know, Matthew 24 contains the Olivet Discourse, where the Lord Jesus summarized the events leading up to the Last Day and the end of the world. But then beginning in verse 32 the Lord gave us many warnings and conditions of the Final Tribulation Period, and the events leading up to the end of time. When we read the story of the fig tree in Matthew 21 we wonder, “What is the big deal?”

Why are we spending so much time here?

The answer is, "The Lord points us to this parable of the fig tree as an important event"

Matthew 24:32
Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:

Matthew 24:33
So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.

Matthew 24:34
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

We read in our King James Bible, “Learn a parable of the fig tree”. And we are inclined to learn that just as the fig tree in spring naturally brings forth leaves and then fruit, so we should interpret the cataclysmic events of the end of time that the second coming of the Lord Jesus is near. But that is not what the Greek text says. The Greek text in Matthew 24:32 says literally, “Learn The parable from The fig tree”. In other words, the Lord Jesus says: “Go back to The parable of The fig tree I already told you, and learn from it that this parable is dealing with end time events”. In other words, there is a definite fig tree, only one fig tree, and there is a definite parable attached to this fig tree that you must learn to apply to end time events, so that you will understand the signs of the times. We must understand that the Lord is not engaging in any speculation about His second coming, for in verse 36 He emphasizes that “No man knoweth the day or the hour”, and the context clearly indicates that this is referring to a time element. Likewise in the Gospel of Mark 13:28, which runs parallel to this passage in Matthew 24, we must also make this change in our King James Bible, for there the Greek text also reads: “Learn The parable from The fig tree”. And so, we must dig a little deeper into the parable of the fig tree from other parts of Scripture. We will do this by turning to Mark 11:12. We have here a passage that runs parallel to the storyline of Matthew 21, but we are given here a little more information. We learn from this passage:

It Was Not the Season for Figs (Mark 11:12-24, 13:28, Matthew 24:32)

We begin verse 12 on Monday morning, the day after the glorious entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem.

Mark 11:12-14
And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.

Mark 11:15-16
And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.

Mark 11:17-19
And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine. And when even was come, he went out of the city.

We read here clearly in verse 13, “He found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet”.

Did the Lord Jesus, the omniscient Lord of glory, not know that it was not the season for figs?

We find this unbelievable. Of course the Lord Jesus knew that it was not the season for figs. But these words were written for our learning, so that we would understand that the Lord was deliberately giving us a parable. The main point of this story is not whether the Lord Jesus knew that it was not the season for figs, but the main point of this story is that the people who are symbolized by that fig tree were cursed. And this was not an incidental curse. The Lord Jesus said, “No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever”. And notice the words “for ever”. And His disciples heard it. The Lord made sure that these words would be recorded. Now, the Lord did not give us this story of the fig tree for a teaching about prayer. The commentaries want us to believe that. The focus is not about prayer, but a parable about end time events, for this is clearly what the Lord taught us in Mark 13:28 and in Matthew 24:32. From the context wherein we find the teaching of this parable we understand that this has to do with a curse on the religious rulers of the Jews, or a curse on the entire nation of Israel. Let us see where the Scriptures take us to. The next day was Tuesday morning. We read in Mark 11:20-24,

Mark 11:20-22
And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.

Mark 11:23-24
For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

The fig tree was dried up from the roots. If this fig tree represents a religious group of people, then certainly their roots are not in Christ, but in some other person than Christ. Remember that, in Mark 11:14 the Lord Jesus said to the fig tree, “No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever”. And in Matthew 21:19 the Lord said to the fig tree, “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever”. And thus we understand that there was a time that this fig tree was bearing fruit that was pleasing to the Lord, but from this time forward it would no longer bear fruit that was pleasing to the Lord. And the moment in time almost coincided with the time that the Lord Jesus died on the cross.

In other words, what nation, or what religious organization did bear good fruit until the time of the cross?

There is only one possibility. It was the nation of Israel which was a special nation before God, all the way from Abraham until the time of the cross, which produced some fruit that was pleasing to God. In the Old Testament time God had no other nation that was constantly under His care. For a brief period of time the Ninevites produced good fruit under the preaching of Jonah. But only the nation consisting of the physical descendants of Jacob was the nation where God sent His prophets for hundreds of years. Throughout the OT time we see a trickle of true believers come forth out of that nation, for the prophets preached the true Gospel to that nation. But after the Lord cursed the fig tree, after the cross, that nation as a whole remains adamantly opposed to the true Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. They want Moses but not Christ. Let us investigate this matter:

Another Parable of The Fig Tree (Luke 13:6-9)

We turn now to Luke 13. The context where we find this parable is that the Lord urges the nation of Israel to repent and be saved. And if they are saved they will be called children of Abraham. In the beginning of this chapter the Lord Jesus spoke of the Galileans who were killed by Pilate, and of the 18 people of Judah who were killed by a tower in Siloam falling on them. In both cases the Lord ended His admonition with the words, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish”. Then the Lord Jesus spoke this parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9,

Luke 13:6-9
He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.

Is the Lord speaking about the same fig tree that we saw in Matthew 21 and in Mark 11?

Of course He is. The Lord would not deliberately confuse us with two different fig trees, for He spoke in Matthew 24:32 and in Mark 13:28 about a definite singular fig tree. And thus we are still on track when we see in this parable that the fig tree represents the nation of Israel. But listen also to the bottom line that we glean out of the context. The bottom line is: “Except ye repent, ye shall be cut down”.

What then do those three years refer when the owner of the fig tree sought fruit thereon, and found none?

There were three events in the history of the nation of Israel that the Lord found no fruit, and therefore He cut it down, but left a remnant to take root and grow the nation again. The first time was in the year 709 BC when God sent the Assyrian army as the rod of His anger to the northern kingdom of Israel, and they wiped the northern kingdom of Israel off the map. The apostacy in the northern kingdom had reached the limit where God no longer tolerated it.

The second time was in 587 BC when God sent the Babylonian armies to the kingdom of Judah, and they wiped the kingdom of Judah off the map. At that time also, the apostacy in the kingdom of Judah was so great that God would no longer tolerate it.

The third time was in AD 70 when God sent the Roman legions under the Roman general Titus, to destroy the nation of the Jews, Judaea and Galilee. They totally destroyed Jerusalem, and scattered the Jews all over the Roman Empire, because the majority of the nation of the Jews refused to humble themselves before their Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Three times did the Lord look for good fruit, and all three times He took away the nation because of their worship of other gods; there was no good fruit. And for almost 1900 years there was no possibility of seeing another nation of Jews come to existence. But miraculously in 1948, a remnant of the Jews, which was drawing support from the Premillennial movement in the United States, settled in the land of Palestine and established a new state of Israel. And here is where the prophecy of this parable in Luke 13:6-9 came into fulfillment. The fig tree is cultivated one more time, but now the nation of Israel is tested for the last time.

And can we ask what the outcome will be?

Even until the present time there is great resistance from almost all who belong to this new nation of Israel to resist and to oppose the Gospel of Christ. And no wonder. A nation who considers Adolph Hitler as one of the Christians is not going to submit to a Gospel which turns them into Christians. Just like a person who commits the unpardonable sin, which is one who believes that Jesus Christ was a messenger of Satan, is not going to submit to a Gospel which makes him a follower of Jesus Christ. And so, a nation who has adopted the lie that Adolph Hitler was a Christian is never going to be converted. The curse on the fig tree is having its effect. Israel as a nation is not bearing spiritual fruit.

And so, what can we expect the outcome to be?

The Lord Jesus said, “Except ye repent, ye shall be cut down”. And thus we can expect that the nation of Israel shall be destroyed for the fourth time, for this is what the Lord says in Luke 13:9, “And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down”.

The Sign of the Fig Tree in Eschatology (Matthew 24:32-34, 21:19, 8:12, Mark 11:14, Luke 13:9, Galatians 4:25)

What do these parables of the fig tree have to do with events near the end of time?

Let us again look at the words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 24. For almost 1900 years the fig tree was nowhere in sight. But in the parable of Luke 13:6-9 the fig tree was promised another chance. And since 1948 suddenly the fig tree appeared. We read in Matthew 24:32,

Matthew 24:32
Now learn The parable of The fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:

Matthew 24:33
So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.

Matthew 24:34
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

The fig tree is presently in leaf. But it is only in leaf. It is alive, but there is no fruit on the fig tree that is pleasing to the Lord Jesus Christ. And since the Lord cursed the fig tree for ever, it is guaranteed that the fig tree will not bear spiritual fruit. For ever means there is no repentance for ever. And thus, if someone derives a Premillennial scheme from the Bible whereby the nation of Israel as a whole will repent, and be converted, and will fervently proclaim the Gospel to an unsaved world in the millennium, let it be known that this Premillennial scheme is in conflict with Matthew 21:19, and Mark 11:14, and Luke 13:9, and Matthew 8:12, and Galatians 4:25, and with 19 other verses in the Old Testament and the New Testament where the words: “this generation” appears. Here also in Matthew 24:34 we read, “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled”. In this context it means that “this generation”, representing the cursed fig tree, shall not pass away to be replaced by a fig tree that has not been cursed. This is not possible, for then Christ would be a liar. And so, the conclusion is that all the Premillennial schemes that have been concocted in the past 200 years are absolutely unbiblical. God cannot make two contradictory statements at the same time, for that would make God a liar in one of those statements. Some churches keep the back door open by stating that these are not salvation issues. But when we invent an eschatology in which we make God a liar, we definitely have salvation issues, no matter how small the error is.

In this passage paraphrased the Lord Jesus is saying, “When you see the nation of Israel again appear as a viable nation among the nations of the world, you know that summer is at hand. It means that Christ’s second coming is at the very door. We do not know when the Lord is coming, but when someone dies today the Lord has come for that person. And so, when our Lord urges us to be ready in Matthew 24:42, it does not mean that we must be aware on what day or what hour He comes, but we must be ready any time, for when our body dies that is the moment that the Lord has come for that person.

But do we not read in Romans 11 that there will be a glorious future for the Nation of Israel?

The Future of National Israel (Matthew 2:15, Romans 11:5, 7-9, 25-27, Matthew 24:14, Acts 2:17, 1 Corinthians 15:22)

One problem that arises in the interpretation of Romans 11 is the answer to the question: “Who is Israel?” We know that the people who are physical descendants of Jacob are called Israel. We have already seen from Matthew 2:15 that the Lord Jesus is also called Israel, and therefore all those who belong to Christ have also the right to be called Israel. And then when we read Romans 11 we must decide from the context which group of people is in view when God uses the name Israel. So let us begin in Romans 11:7-9

Romans 11:7-9
What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded, (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them:

In these verses God is teaching that national Israel is divided into two parts, for in Romans 11:5 God speaks of a remnant according to the election of grace which have not bowed the knee to Baal. The other part of national Israel consists of those who were blinded. Today we see this same division in national Israel, as well as in every nation of the world. There is a trickle of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ among those who are blood descendants of Jacob, but the majority remains in unbelief.

And what is their position?

We find that in Romans 11:9 where God says, “Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them”. This table is the Table of Showbread, pointing to the ceremonial law that the nation of Israel shall stick to, but they will not turn to Christ.

How long will this blindness continue?

Romans 11:25-26
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:

Romans 11:27
For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.

How long will this blindness continue?

Verse 25 says, “Until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in”. But the fulness of the Gentiles has to include every Gentile who has been chosen by God to be saved. As long as there remains one Gentile to be saved, we can expect that the greater part of national Israel remains in blindness. But when we combine this conclusion with Matthew 24:14 where the Lord Jesus says, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come”, it means that when the last Gentile will have been saved then the end of the world has arrived. And thus the blindness on national Israel will continue until the end of time.

Does Romans 11:26 promise that all Israel shall be saved?

Indeed it does, but which Israel does God have in view?

Certainly God does not have in view all the blood descendants of Jacob, for there are many among the blood descendants of Jacob who will not be saved. The Bible says that Judas Iscariot will not be saved. And many of the Pharisees who committed the unpardonable sin will not be saved. And many of the Old Testament nations of Israel and Judah will not be saved, for only a remnant was truly saved. Yet they are as much a part of Israel as many of the blood descendants of Jacob who are living today. And so, we can see that we must look for another meaning of the term “all Israel”. We can look for “all Israel” in two directions. One direction refers to all Israel as all the elect in the world, for all the elect were and are in Christ, who is also called Israel. But the other direction refers to all the elect only from the nation of Israel whom God intends to save.

Does the key word “All” apply in this case?

When the Bible uses the word “All”, its meaning is conditioned by the context in which it is found. When God declares in Acts 2:17 that He will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh, it means that He will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh whom God intends to save.

When God says in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “so in Christ shall all be made alive” God does not refer to each and every person in the human race, but God refers to all those whom God intends to make alive.

And so, just like “all flesh” in Acts 2:17 and “all to be made alive” in 1 Corinthians 15:22 refers to the totality of God’s elect who are to be saved, so in Romans 11:26 the term “all Israel” must refer to the totality of God’s elect who are to be saved from within national Israel. Therefore, when we read Romans 11:26 we should understand it this way, “And so all Israel who are of the remnant chosen by grace shall be saved”. And let us not change the word “So” into “Then”. The Greek word “So” is never translated “Then” or “After”; it is never translated to indicate a chronological event. We may not understand Romans 11:26 to mean, “And then all Israel shall be saved”.

Rather, Romans 11:25-26 teach that blindness will continue on the major part of national Israel all the way to the end of time. And this agrees with the curse on the fig tree from Matthew 21 and from Mark 11. It also means that there will always be that other part of national Israel, the remnant chosen by grace. As long as one Gentile remains to be saved, there is the remnant in national Israel who will be saved. And so, in this manner, all Israel who are to be saved will be saved. We must be careful that we do not misuse the phrase, “All Israel shall be saved” to generate two salvation plans of God, for God has only one salvation plan. And God’s salvation plan is summed up in verse 27, where we read, “This is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins”. This does not refer to a future event, for the Deliverer has already come. There was only one day in all of human history when sins were paid in full, and that was when Christ hung on the cross. We may not be teaching that the Deliverer must still come to save national Israel, for then we are denying the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. Indeed the Lord Jesus Christ has already come as the Deliverer from Zion to take away the sins of those He came to save out of national Israel. But the majority of the nation of Israel shall remain in unbelief until the Last Day. And this completely harmonizes with the curse on the fig tree. When the Lord Jesus admonished us to “Learn The parable of The fig tree” He led us to passages of Scripture that clearly taught us that “God is done with the nation of Israel as a special nation before God”. Beginning at the cross all the nations of the world are at an equal standing before God. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. But just as there is the curse on the fig tree, indicating that there is a blindness on the majority of the nation of Israel, so there is a curse on all the nations of the world, for only a remnant of the Gentile nations shall be saved. We must warn the nations of the world that Judgment Day is near, for the fig tree is in leaf. Christ is coming soon, and in fact has come already for the many thousands who will die today, and most of them will have died without Christ, and without God. Most of them will stand before the Judgment throne of Christ and will be cast into the eternal fires of Hell. I am not making this up. This is what the Bible says. And therefore, to tell the world of this wonderful Gospel whereby they can be saved from their slippery slide into Hell is the most precious and God glorifying thing we can do. Pray to God that He will use our work to reach many with the true Gospel. Praise God that He has counted us worthy to do this wonderful task.

AMEN.

By Alfred Chompff

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