1 John 3:1-12 – 2023 Feb 23

Up to this point, John has been speaking about what it means to be a child of God, and he is using very personal, very intimate terms, like a father of children would use with his own children.  We have considered that John is at least 30 years older at this point than his nearest brethren in age, and his love for these “little children” is plain from the tone he uses.  He has been an “eyewitness” of what he is describing, and is plain in describing it.

He is also not pulling punches with respect to those that would deny that they have this thing called “sin” in themselves or deny that they are capable of sin.  In the first part of the letter, he has spoken of how entrance into the forgiveness of God is gained and maintained, and has discussed the identifying characteristics of those who follow Christ and those who will not.  In this next section, there is a subtle shift in emphasis, though similar or identical terms are being used.  That should whet your appetite for the Word.

I broke down the text as follows:

KV2:  The presentation of the children of God

2:  Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.

1-3:  The children of God revealed, now and forever

4-10:  Defining comparison of the children of God by actions

11-12:  The first example in Scripture of this definition

You will note as we go through the text that John has shifted his focus from the actions of the righteous versus the unrighteous in terms of identification and action to the idea of what I will call “sonship,” the actual belonging to Christ, or well, someone else.

KV2:  The presentation of the children of God

2:  Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.

John here is actually switching from recognition to presentation.  Before, he was just listing characteristics of the righteous in contrast to the unrighteous.  Here, he is making a point of presenting both groups, and defining them BY those characteristics.  This is no longer a fruit inspection, but is instead a greater revealing of these groups as a whole, with a focus on the Children of God.  Let’s look at the text and see what he means.

1-3:  The children of God revealed, now and forever

As at least I would expect, and you probably did too, John starts with the redeemed as a group.  What he says here identifies those who are redeemed by the blood of Christ on the Cross in an incredible way, and though we can see that even the Apostle John doesn’t have all the facts here, he has enough to send the average believer into the depths of joy.  Let’s jump in here.

1:  See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.

  • The first phrase “see how great a love” is interesting.  The aorist tense of see [idete] simply gives the imperative to observe or realize.  “How great” is the Greek potanpēn, which originally means “from what country,” means more figuratively “of what sort.”  Greatness is not implied at all, but the kind or type of love.  That is of course, agapēn, that divine love.  Agape always is a love of the will, a choosing to love.  It is THIS sort of love, which although greatest in rank, is also of greatest quality.  This is the highest that love can be.
  • And who bestowed this love on us?  The text says that the Father gives this to US.  Recall that John is writing to believers and not the world at large here.  WE are the intended audience if we are real believers who have trusted Christ’s atoning sacrifice made once for all on the cross at Calvary.  Whatever you may think of what John is saying, this is his intended meaning: only those that have repented of their sins and believed on that atoning sacrifice are a part of this group.  Don’t get mad at me, John said it.
  • Now for the reason you may be angry: THESE (and only these) are called the children of God.  Not individuals that deny the eternal sonship and Godhood of that Christ who died on the cross in our place.  Not those who suggest that Christ is a created being, or an alien that evolved to become worthy of dying for this planet, or even those who think their own system of merit-gaining behaviours or Latin “masses” (or even the more modern ones in the language of the people) can save them from “purgatory” or “hell.”  Beloved, you can’t earn this!  Isaiah tells us that all our righteousnesses are as used menstrual rags (64:6)!  To be called the children of God, you must come to God in God’s prescribed way!  You can’t just make stuff up and repeat it over and over until a bunch of gullible people believe it!  That’s the World’s way, and John even talks about that IN THIS VERSE!
  • What John says is that this is why the world [kosmos, the world, its’ denizens, and the forces of darkness behind its system of repression] does not know us!  Beloved, it does not know US because it CLEARLY did not know Him.  Again, this is the aorist tense of ginosko, simply stating that they did not know Him, a fact that has happened, whether we like it or not.  The good news that John hasn’t said here is that we can know Him, and he will come to that in 5:13, but here, what John tells us is that the world did not know Him, and therefore does not know us.  How’s that old song go?  This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through, my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue; The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door, and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.  That’s what John is saying in this verse.  Because God loves us by His will, He has made us to be His children by that new birth into His family, made possible by that once-for-all sacrifice on our behalf at Golgotha by the anointed One, Jesus.  Therefore, the world does not know us because it did not know Him.

2:  Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.

  • This status of children of God is conveying to us a future status according to what John is saying.  Even John did not seem to know what that would mean for us as humans.  The best news of all is here, though: When Christ appears [phaneroō, to make manifest, again aorist tense, a fact that is being stated and nothing else], we will be like Him.  What will that look like?  Beloved, I really have NO idea, but I have no doubt in His ability to conform us to whatever image He chooses for us.  Romans 8:29 tells us that we were in fact predestined to be conformed to His image.  And we will see Him then in His chosen and permanent form.  We may not know what that all means or looks like, but it is something to be excited and filled with joy about.  This image of Christ will be revealed to all of His creation, and WE will also be revealed as His redeemed and chosen people to creation at that time as well, and for the rest of eternity if I have read the Scriptures correctly.

3:  And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

  • John even tells us the proper response to that joyful revelation in v.2: purify yourself by His standard.  Everyone who wants this will do this.  Those who only pretend to be His will not.  And my friend, if you think you’re getting away with this, you are only fooling yourself.  Literally everyone who is paying attention can see this, with even a modicum of discernment.  What do I mean by that?
  • Beloved, the word for “purify” here is the Greek hagnizo, which means to make pure or cleanse from defilement.  How does the theoretical “one” accomplish this?  By becoming an adherent to some monastic order and pursuing the secret knowledge?  [Gnosticism in a nutshell] NO!!! We come to this purification by REPENTANCE, the act of changing our mind about our own wrongdoings, not because we got caught and called out on them, but because we want to change!  We no longer want to commit those acts, have those thoughts, or speak those words that offend CHRIST, not to mention the FATHER!  We turn from those things, that is WE STOP DOING THEM, and then we ask the Father to forgive these things of us.  We should also, as a part of this, forgive others that have wronged US!  If we don’t the bitterness that arises will consume us, believe me.  I beg you to forgive others.  Then we believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross had enough efficacy to change us!  Because it does. 
  • A moment ago, I suggested that we purify ourselves by His standard.  What I meant by that is that we constantly read and study the Word of God so that we may learn what He wants and expects of us so that we may do what He says; obey Him.

This task of obeying Him and purifying ourselves should be because we are filled with hope of Christ and a joyful thing, not a cringing and fearful one, or one performed grudgingly.  If those are your real feelings, please consider repenting (again).  The wording John uses here should invoke joy, not drudgery.  Hope is the characteristic John gives in this verse.  Hope is not used the same way by John as we use today.  Today, we say things like “I HOPE local sports team wins regional/national sports championship.”  It is more describing s wish.  John is using it in the sense of seeing these events as already certain in the future and living in response to the new and unseen reality it defines.  With that, let’s move on.

4-10:  Defining comparison of the children of God by actions

John is not simply repeating himself when he uses the same terms and repeats his arguments a chapter later in this case.  This is a situation where John isn’t offering so much a test as to how to check oneself (or God forbid someone else) to see if you are in the faith, but is rather saying that these behaviours are in fact defining marks of those who are already in the faith.

I need to say here that just because we fail occasionally (or if we are being honest a great deal), it does not mean we are not in the faith.  A couple of weeks ago, I saw a video of Alistair Begg say a line that encapsulates why we are all Christians.  He told the story of an admitted convicted and executed thief showing up at the entrance to heaven, and the angels were running doctrine checks to see if they could let him in.  The supervising angel finally asked, okay, you clearly don’t know any of this stuff, explain why we should let you in.  The man simply replied, “Well, the man on the MIDDLE cross said I could come.”  It brought a tear to my eye.  Beloved, we can all fail, but these things should at least be beginning to take over your life and being if you are really His.  Peter said, “For if these things are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the full knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 1:8)  The big question is: Are they?  If they are, great, but if you question this, you can ask God to make them yours and repent, the same way everyone else finds entrance to His kingdom.  Let’s see what it says.

4:  Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.

  • I think it’s clear from the start of this thought unit that John isn’t going to pull punches not speak the truth.  He starts here by defining a principle.  One who does sin also practices lawlessness.  I could get into all kinds of grammatical arguments here, but John has spared me from the work.  In the second part of the verse, he simply equates sin with lawlessness by saying they are the same practice. 
  • The Greek word here for sin is hamartia, and Vine says in this particular use, it is a generic term that includes concrete doing of wrong, as in the first part of the verse.  In the second part of the verse sin is actually defined as lawlessness by equation of words.  In language usage, we say the words are synonyms.  We miss the mark, we miss the mark on purpose, and we do not care that we miss the mark!  Considerations of shame or guilt do not necessarily enter into it, and they do not here.
  • Lawlessness in Greek is anomia, a negation (the use of a at the start of the word) with “law.”  What Law?  Well, mostly we mean, all things being equal, ANY Law in any nation.  Romans 13 comes to mind, but Peter reiterates the principle in his own letters.  How’s that lead-lined shoe, Ger?  Better take the lead out of the shoe, dude.  Why?  It is SIN to be LAWLESS, and if that makes you angry, leave me alone, John said it.  And he is correct!  Any law or regulation that is justly placed by the legitimate government of a jurisdiction is fair game here, Beloved.  Don’t avoid the law, that’s lawlessness.  We won’t take the time here, but the coming man of lawlessness will stand in opposition to everything Christ stands for, and you don’t want to be identified with him.  That’s the definition we should see here, and we will step over to use it in the next verse.

5:  You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.

  • John next defines something else that is blisteringly clear.  “He” here refers to God the Son, the Christ.  That One appeared to take away sins.  And He did.  He paid for them all when He died in the place of humanity on the cross.  We got caught speeding, He paid the fine, if I were going to use a simple analogy.  That means the Judge can let us off the hook.  Why did He do it?  Well, because we couldn’t.  Any sin in us would negate the payment we made.  Therefore One without sin appeared and paid the price we should have paid before God.  Because there was in fact no sin in Him, it worked.  This is a simple concept you have hear me say in eight English words: Jesus died for our sins and rose again.  And there is no other way to understand that correctly.

6:  No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.

  • The Phrase “abides in Him” can also be said “continues in Him,” just to make this easier to understand, because “abide” is an older word in English and some today do not know what it means.  It means to continue or remain.  John is saying that if you are continuing in Him, the equivalent of Paul’s “walking in the Spirit,” you will not be sinning. 
  • Sinning as a regular practice means the exact opposite.  It means you have not seen Him, Christ.  How could you continue to insult God by your actions of continued, practiced lawlessness if you have?  More, John says that if this pattern of practice in your life is to be lawless or to follow your own standard and call yourself adequate is yours, they you DO.  NOT.  KNOW.  HIM.  Actually, that’s in the Greek perfect tense, so you never have known Him and you still don’t.  My friend, that’s a very bad place to be.

7:  Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous;

  • Right off the bat, I have a small issue with this translation of the Greek text.  The words “make sure” do not occur in Greek at all, and it actually changes the meaning a bit, though not in a way to introduce error.  In fact, I think I can understand it.  John is speaking in imperatives, so they insert something that makes it seem like John is speaking this as an imperative.  He is, but even the KJV gets this wrong, and wrong at the text base level.  Something I don’t talk about a lot because I typically wish to stay out of the KJV-onlyist debate is that I have an electronic copy of the TR, and I do consult it.  Neither the Textus Receptus or “Received Text” in English nor the more modern texts have any kind of modifier in the Greek like “make sure” or “let no man” or “see to it that” in it, and THIS IS NOT ITALICIZED!  This is kind of concerning, because it means that people who do not have a familiarity with the ancient language won’t catch this.  I guess that’s my job, so here it is.
  • In my opinion, and I am not a Greek scholar by any stretch, but I have learned a fair bit about Koine Greek at this point, this line should read more like, “Little children, no one deceives you.”  This isn’t so much of an imperative, but more of a simple statement of fact.  This in itself won’t introduce error, but it makes an imperceptible shift in emphasis.  In my opinion, it places a burden on the reader that is not there in the Greek, though that burden is placed there in other places, so nothing is really changed.  Rather than John making a charge to the reader, I read this more as John saying, “Hey, little children, no one is lying to you about what I am saying, a more defensive statement than imperative.  This isn’t quite a difference that makes no difference, but I do think we should know the subtleties of the text, after all this IS a Bible Study.  Stan Lee used to call this a No-Prize.  It went to the guy that could find an “error” and then explain why it isn’t really an error.  So what isn’t anyone deceiving John’s audience about?
  • The one who is continuing to do rightness is right, just as He [Christ] is right.  I’ve chosen a kind of modern take on the words for a simple approach at clarity by comedy, but in essence, the one that is doing what is right is right as Christ is right, and that is a good thing.  John sentence here isn’t at an end, and neither is his comparison though.  Verse 8.

8:  the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.

  • If no one was deceiving the little children before, then no one is now either.  If you are continually living in a state of hamartia, that is SIN, practicing atimia, the Greek word for SHAME or disgrace, then you, as John says here, “of the devil.”  What does that mean?  Beloved, the first cross reference here is to Matthew 13, the parable of the wheat and the tares.  You are a false believer, a false convert, and you were planted to interfere with the growth of the wheat, that is of real Christian believers.  And you are doing the works of your father below in all of the divisiveness and instability you sow under the guise of doing “good works” “to serve the church.”  Why?  John tells us: because the devil [diabolos] has sinned from the beginning. 
  • The devil has never in the history of man ever had good intentions in anything he has ever done, and in fact Isaiah tells us that it is his plan to usurp the very throne of God if he can.  He can’t, but it will not stop him from trying.  (Isa. 14:12-15)  He will try, he is scheming to do it now, and he will fail in all attempts in every way.  Actually he already has.  How do we know?
  • We know because the Son of God appeared for this very purpose, to thwart all the works of this evil angel that has designs on being the despotes of the universe [or multiverse if you want to play with that math].  What works has Christ, the Son of God come to destroy of the devil?  I suggest we have been talking about it for some time this evening: the works of sin and lawlessness, the work of fakery and trickery, of sin and shame, and every evil work we have NOT listed here.  Next verse.

9:  No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

  • Here, John even gets what I would call metazoological [the word is my own, but you will see it is correct and descriptive], talking about one of the main arcs that can be traced from Genesis 3–that of the two seeds, the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.  Genesis 3:15 starts it all, when God speaks to the serpent, which seems to have been under direct control of that diabolos we spoke about earlier.  It reads, “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”  That arc can be traced from Genesis 3 through Revelation 20 at the very least, and it goes right through this verse.  What is John saying?
  • John tells us that no one who is “begotten” [gennaō, same word in John 3] of God will do or make sin as a regular practice, and that is because His (GOD’S!) “seed” continues or remains in him.  That Greek word is sperma.  It means exactly what you think it means.  God’s spiritual seed has created a spiritual rebirth inside the believer and it cannot be seen, detected, or even divined by things of, people of, or principles of the world, the flesh, or the devil.  And yet it is there in truth, and because of that that individual, that person is not capable of sin spiritually speaking, because he or she is begotten of God!!!  Yes, we all still live in this rotting bag of flesh that still has bad habits that will dog us until the day we die, but as we confess those and forsake them afresh and anew, God forgives them, and they diminish, being mortified, that is PUT TO DEATH by our continuing in Christ, or walking in the Spirit!  And to anyone that looks honestly at all this, it is incredibly obvious!  Look!  See what John says!  Verse 10!

10:  By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

  • JOHN says it’s obvious!  He MADE it obvious!  I can see it, and if I can see it, it’s obvious, beloved, because I’m a little thick at times, especially with the diabetes!  It is SO CLEAR to see the difference between real believers and false converts that I couldn’t trip over it if I tried!  But the word does not tell me (and it doesn’t tell you either) to go around inspecting everyone’s fruit.  What it means is that we need to have PATIENCE with these people, and teach them in longsuffering with the truth that comes from Scripture!  It doesn’t mean pull your punches, but it does mean we should practice decorum in public settings, and manners in private settings.  Look, just this past Sunday I had a problem with a brother that “inserted” something into the worship service.  I politely asked him about it, and he was receptive, and it turns out that he just didn’t know who to ask about a particular issue.  I was happy to help and accommodate in any case!  And John states it very plainly.
  • Anyone that does not do or make what is right as a habit of life is NOT of God, and neither is someone that does not love [agapeōn] his brother or sister in Christ by treating these holy brethren (Heb. 3:1) with the honour, respect, and love of the will that they deserve as fellow believers.  Those brothers and sisters are joint heirs with the King of kings and Lord of lords.  How is it that you treat them with any less than full aristocratic honour?  Those are sons and daughters of the King!  Anyone who will not or does not is not of God.

As I said before, at this point in the text these are no longer tests we can apply.  These are to be the defining characteristics of all those who ARE children of the King, and all those who are not.  To this point, maybe you think that it is okay to treat pagans with the same level of dishonour they treat us, or to treat false brothers with the same vindictiveness and pettiness with which they seem to treat us.  It isn’t, and John is about to explain it with the first ever example from the Scriptures, so buckle up, all you would-be fruit inspectors…

11-12:  The first example in Scripture of this definition

You know, I thought about what John was doing here, and it is the very same thing God called me to do, and that’s exposit the Scriptures.  I like the way Ezra did it in the book that bears his name.  They all gathered, and Ezra read the word of God.  Then he gave the sense of it, explaining what the Lord meant when He inspired the holy men who wrote it to choose the words they used in writing God’s message down for posterity.  This is what John is doing here.  Let’s see what he says about it.

11:  For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another;

  • John prefaces his remarks with something Jesus had told all of the gathered disciples.  The short version of that text of that is found in John 13:34-35, which reads, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  I think this is one of the most misquoted, misapplied texts of the NT.  You might argue for Matt 7:1, “Judge not, lest you be judged,” but that one has responses that we all know and have given over the time we have been believers.  This one, not so much.  Most believe that Jesus was saying that we are supposed to wimpy milquetoasts of men that are girly, soy-latte-sipping skinny jeans men that wear ugly sweaters.  (No offense to Dr. James White, that’s a sweater VEST, and it’s something different, though decidedly Presbyterian, and why I wouldn’t wear one.)  That isn’t what that text says, and it doesn’t originate with the incarnated Son of God as Jesus.  This concept comes from the OT passage of Leviticus 19:18, which reads, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.”  Jesus was telling his disciples that they needed to keep this law towards EACH OTHER, that is, other believers.  This means that we should not be taking vengeance for wrongs done against us by others, real or perceived.  And we aren’t supposed to clench our teeth (or anything else) when these folks come around, either.  We are to love our NEIGHBOUR the same way we love ourselves, in fact putting their interests before our own.  The Hebrew word for “love” in this passage is aheb, and it is the OT equivalent of agapē, God’s love, the self-deprecating, self-sacrificial love that is an act of the will, not just emotions, and in fact often in conflict with our own human emotions that are crying out for vengeance and justice, or to even the score permanently.  In fact, this verse isn’t telling you to love yourself, it assumes you already do.  And if you had any question about who this comes from, it concludes with “I am Yahweh!”  And Jesus said it too, because He is ALSO Yahweh.  And it appears in Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit, who is also Yahweh.  God said this must be done, no matter who you are, and God demonstrated it to us on the cross.  In fact, Christ said to love your NEIGHBOUR, not just your brother, and He said to love them AS HE LOVED US.  How did He love us?  He died for us.  While we were His enemies.  I don’t care who said what.  Don’t tell me I don’t or can’t understand.  I don’t need to.  He showed us how to do it.  He died in our place so that we could be redeemed.  You want to be like Christ?  Try denying yourself when someone crosses or insults you.  THAT’S hard, beloved.  THAT is what John is talking about.  And what example does John exegete for us?  What Scripture does he pick out?  Next verse.

12:  not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.

  • He picks out Genesis 4, and the story of Cain and Abel, two brothers from very early human history.  Both these men were sons of Adam and Eve.  What that tells me personally is that being children of God or children of the devil is not determined by simple genetics!  Although there are families in which all the members are saved and following Jesus, there is no guarantee of that.  I find it useful to see the passage.
  • So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. (Gen. 4:3-8)
  • This is what John is referring to here.  We could talk about how Abel offered a blood sacrifice of a living creature in contradistinction of Cain; his sacrifice was of produce that he grew with his own hands and no blood was associated with it.  We would not be wrong in doing so.  But this is not the reason that John gave for the killing.  John simply concludes it is because Cain’s deeds (his sacrifice in direct context and comparison here) were evil while Abel’s were right before God.  No mention is made here of the material sacrificed, the efficacy of those sacrifices, or their motive in being offered, all of which are discussed in Genesis.  I will remind you of this principle of exegesis:  you do not have to completely exegete everything in your passage, just enough to make your point, assuming you are accurately and reverently declaring the passage.  All John does here is show that Cain was a son of Satan, while Abel was called righteous for sacrificing a sheep of the flock.  We could speak for an hour on how Adam or Eve or both would have told the story of how the Lord slew an animal to cover their shame and how Abel took that literally.  But that isn’t what John does.
  • What John does here is demonstrate from Scripture that those who are begotten of God in new birth by faith do the right thing before God, and also demonstrate that those who do not know God do NOT do the right thing.  My own observation is that this wrong action by those who do not know Christ always leads to sin, and often they are far more able to justify their actions to the rest of the world that we are ours, because they just don’t know and understand.

It is clear from John’s text here and the text in Genesis 4 that the identifying characteristic of the children of God is that they do what He says in obedience, and typically find it their joy to do so, consequences notwithstanding.  Those that are not children of God follow their father the devil, and John pulls no punches in saying this.  He is not unkind, but he plainly says that they do not do the works of God joyfully if they do them at all, and that is just who they are, unless He draws them to Himself by means of the gospel, that is the good news that Jesus died for our sins and rose again.  That eight-word phrase has a lot of meaning, and John knows it, but he is concerned in at least this passage of telling us how WE as BELIEVERS should react to the things going on around us.  In the days of John, there were attacks from without in terms of persecution from both Jews and Romans, and there were attacks from within by false teachers and false believers trying to deceive the elect if that is possible.  Is it?  I don’t know, but I also don’t want to find out, and so I will obey the Lord and make my calling and election certain, to borrow Peter’s phrase.

And that is what I saw in this evening’s text.

Next time, we will be in 1 John 3: 13-24, which is the rest of the chapter.

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