Jesus: the Pioneer and Perfecter of our Faith

In Hebrews 12:2, Jesus is identified as “the founder and perfecter of our faith.” What do these two titles mean?

The title “founder” is variously translated: “author” (NASB, NIV, KJV, NKJV); “pioneer” (NET Bible); “source” (HCSB). Other suggestions in commentaries are “forerunner,” “initiator,” “beginner,” “champion,” “leader,” and “originator.” I remember a sermon in which He was the “trailblazer.” The same Greek word (archēgos) is used to identify Jesus as “the Author of life” in Acts 3:15. Likewise, God exalted Him as “leader” in Acts 5:31.

Closer to our meaning and within the book of Hebrews itself is Hebrews 2:10: “it was fitting that He…should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” “Founder” is the same as in 12:2, and “make perfect” is the verb form (teleioō) of the title “perfecter” (teleiōtēs). Insomuch as Jesus “founded” our salvation, He could be said to be its origin or source, which is why the HCSB gives its translation “source” in 12:2. At the same time, while this thought is in the background in 12:2, the emphasis of 12:1–3 is upon Jesus as an example of enduring and not so much the theological significance of His work as it pertains to our salvation. In other words, He is highlighted as an example for perseverance in 12:1–3, and relationship of His suffering to our salvation is not center-stage.

The title “perfecter” is used only once in the NT and, as best we know, nowhere else in Greek literature. It may have been coined by the author of Hebrews. It carries the idea of someone bringing something to perfection or completion. Hebrews 5:9, speaking of Jesus, states, “And being made perfect [teleioō], he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” As in 2:10, this perfection came through obedience in His suffering (cf. 5:8). While these other verses are helpful, they speak of how He Himself was perfected through suffering and not so much what it is that He perfected (i.e., “our faith”) as in 12:2.

Some clues from the surrounding text also push us closer to the titles’ meanings.

First, as just mentioned, both of these titles somehow relate to “our faith.” Technically, the word translated “our” is the Greek article “the,” and the article is used with the word “faith” in Hebrews only when referring to the faith of a group of people, such as “those who listened” (4:2), “all these” (11:39), and “your leaders” (13:7). The faith here is of the “we” in 12:1 who “are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” whose faith is likewise mentioned in 11:39. So, whatever Jesus’ titles may mean, they are somehow related to the personal and active faith of the readers of Hebrews.

Second, the titles share the one article “the,” indicating that there is some notion that ties them together. “Founder” has the idea of beginning something, just as “completer” brings out its end. What is brought out, then, is that Jesus is somehow related to our faith’s beginning and end.

Third, another technical point, the name “Jesus” comes after “founder and perfecter” in the Greek. Literally, the text reads, “Looking unto the of-the-faith founder and perfecter Jesus.” The emphasis, then, is to give these titles first so as to help us think in a certain way about who Jesus is. While Hebrews 11 gave us many examples of faith, they fade to the background, surrounding the runner. Now we look to the man Jesus as the best example for our faith, for He lived it perfectly from beginning to end. We should run the race with endurance like Him.

Putting together all of the above, it is tempting to identify Jesus as the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith. He is certainly the source of our salvation, and, more the point of Hebrews 12:1–3, He also pioneered what it was to perfectly live by faith. And, in so doing, He perfected and finished how to do so, even unto the cross, bearing immense hostility along the way. His joy and reward was to sit down at the Father’s right hand, and we will likewise one day reign with Him (cf. Rev 3:21). When we run the Christian race with endurance and look at Him, we will not stumble but be faithful to the finish.

 

The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 13:1–4)

Passage Summary

John saw a beast rising from the sea (13:1), elsewhere identified as the abyss (11:7; 17:8), symbolizing, if nothing else, an evil origin. The beast had ten horns and seven heads, symbolic of kings (17:10, 12), shown for their royalty though crowns (13:1). The seven heads were littered with blasphemous names (13:1). The beast will run like a leopard, devour like a bear, and ravage like a lion, all by the power and authority of Satan (13:2). One of the seven heads, killed and then resurrected, it seems, represents the Antichrist (cf. 17:8, 11) who is followed for this death-and-life experience (13:3). Mankind gives himself to the worship of Satan and the Antichrist at this time (13:4; cf. 2 Thess 2:3–4).

 Old Testament in the New

Revelation Old Testament Connection Between the Two
13:1 Dan 7:3, 7, 8 A beast comes out of the sea with ten horns, symbolizing kings.
13:2 Dan 7:4–6, 8 Whereas Daniel has four beasts, John’s beast combines features of these four (like a lion, leopard, and bear).
13:3 Dan 7:8 One king stands out among the others.
13:4 Dan 7:6; 8:24 The beast has incredible power from an outside source (Satan)

A Parting Thought

Left to himself, man will always replace God with something or someone else, however sinful his idol may be. Let us beware that neither thing nor person steal the amazement we have in God, even if the person were to be raised from the dead!

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The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 12:13–17)

Passage Summary

 Continuing John’s vision (cf. 12:1–12), Satan the dragon persecuted Israel the woman (12:13). Symbolized by help from a great eagle’s wings, God gave her strength (great) and speed (wings) to escape into the wilderness where she would be given provision for three and one-half years (12:14). Maybe a literal flood or perhaps symbolic of an army, the dragon attempted to drown the woman (12:15). Either way, an earthquake swallows the river from his mouth (12:16). Angered by his failure, the dragon went to make war against her children, those who obey God and believe in Jesus (12:17). Standing on the sea, the dragon readied himself to call his allies in opposing the people of God (12:17; cf. 13:1–18).

 Old Testament in the New 

Revelation Old Testament Connection Between the Two
12:14 Exod 19:4; Deut 32:11; Isa 40:31 Protection by God is pictured as the delivered being carried away by the eagle’s wings.
12:14 Dan 7:25; 12:7; Hos 2:14-15 Israel is persecuted in the latter half of the Tribulation, taken into the wilderness.
12:15 Hos 5:10 The one who sends the flood is angry with those who bear its waters. Sometimes this water is symbolic of armies (cf. Jer 46:7–8; 47:2–3). Some suggest Dan 9:26 is in view.
12:16 Exod 15:12 God opens the earth against His opposition.
12:17 Gen 3:15 The serpent is at enmity with the woman’s offspring.

 A Parting Thought 

Whatever animosity we as God’s people may feel from Satan and his forces, God’s protection is enough, even if it be of our souls and not our bodies. As He does so, let us persevere by keeping God’s commandments and upholding the testimony of Jesus.

Cleanse Yourself: A Look at Paul’s Metaphor and Its Application in 2 Timothy 2:20–21

In between two passages telling Timothy how to deal with false teachers (2 Tim 2:14–19, 22–26), Paul uses a variously understood metaphor in verse 20 and applies it in verse 21: “20 Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (ESV).

Let’s begin with some points of contact that are easy to identify, which allows to navigate through details that are not as clear at first glance.

First, “a great house” in 2 Tim 2:20 refers to the church. In 2 Tim 2:19, the immediately preceding verse, Paul spoke of “God’s firm foundation,” which, in context, is people―“those who are His” and “everyone who names the name of the Lord.”

Second, the “vessels” in 2 Tim 2:20 (whatever their material―gold, silver, wood, or clay) refer to people. That these vessels are either “for honorable use” or “for dishonorable” is immediately applied to people in 2 Tim 2:21―“anyone” can be for “honorable use” by being cleansed from what is “dishonorable.”

Third, putting these people into two categories, the honorable vessels (gold and silver) are faithful believers (like Timothy), and the dishonorable vessels are the false teachers in 2 Tim 2:20. The contrast between Timothy and his opponents in the surrounding passages (2 Tim 2:14–19, 22–26) implies as much.

Having these points of contact in hand, we can better understand how Paul applies his metaphor in 2 Tim 2:21. As the metaphor continues, it takes a slight twist in 2 Tim 2:21 in that “anyone,” whatever vessel he may be (even the one for dishonorable use), may be cleansed by cleansing himself, literally translated, “from these,” which refers to the vessels designated, “some for dishonorable” use in 2 Tim 2:20. To clarify, rather than finding the vessel being cleansed by being washed from filth upon the vessel itself, its cleansing comes from being separated from the other vessels. Further support for this understanding is in 2 Tim 2:22 in which Timothy was to pursue good things “along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart,” that is, he was to fellowship with one group within the church and not the other.

If, then, vessels are cleansed by being separated from vessels of dishonorable use, the silver and gold vessels maintain their honorable use by their continued distinction from the dishonorable use of the vessels of wood and the clay. And, insomuch as “anyone” in 2 Tim 2:21 may cleanse himself, wood and clay vessels may also have an honorable use by removing themselves from the other wood and clay vessels that continue in their dishonorable use. Applied to the characters in the text, false teachers could be cleansed by removing themselves from other false teachers who continue in error. In the language of the immediately following passage, 2 Tim 2:25–26 would describe such a situation as “opponents” to whom God granted “repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,” having “come to their senses” to “escape from the snare of the devil.”

One final clarification―from a cursory reading of 2:20–26, it would seem from 2 Tim 2:22 that Timothy was to cleanse himself from youthful passions. While this is indeed part of what Paul has in mind, it is not all of what is meant in the metaphor in 2:20–21. Timothy was to separate himself from false teachers themselves. In doing so, he would likewise “flee youthful passions,” “having nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies,” and “not be quarrelsome” (2 Tim 2:22–24). As Timothy cleansed himself from bad company, so also would they not corrupt his good morals.

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The Resurrection of Jesus in the OT

Isaiah spoke of Jesus in Isaiah 52:13–53:12, with thoughts of the resurrection in Isaiah 53:10. Hinting at His death, Jesus would be “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” (Isa 53:7), and, indeed, He would be “taken away” and “cut off out of the land of the living” (Isa 53:8). He would die and lie in “His grave,” being made “an offering for guilt” (Isa 53:9–10). Nonetheless, Isaiah promised of Jesus that “He shall see His offspring” and that the Father would “prolong His days” (Isa 53:10). Though Isaiah does not specifically mention the resurrection, it is obviously implied between the prophecies of the death of the Messiah and His prolonged days thereafter

Psalm 16:10 gives another clear prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection. Speaking of Christ, David promised, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” Similar to how Abraham believed that God would have raised Isaac from the dead because of His promise of Abraham’s descendants through him (Heb 11:17–19), David knew that his Descendant would one day rule forever, which meant for Him that Sheol and corruption would be overcome by a resurrection (Ps 16:10; see also Acts 2:30–31; 13:34–37).

Many OT texts could be added to the two above.1 In summarizing the gospel, Paul pointed out of Jesus “that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:4). If only Paul could have told us which Scriptures!

Similarly, when Jesus spoke to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection, Jesus rebuked them for their failure to believe in His resurrection. (They did not realize it was Him at the time; cf. Luke 24:31.) Luke 24:25–27 states, “25 And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.’”

We only wish we could know in detail from Jesus Himself what Moses and the prophets had to say of Christ’s resurrection, a necessary event for Him to “enter in His glory.” At the same time, we at least know what some OT passages say of His resurrection, and, in our place in redemptive history, we can see the story and significance of the resurrection in the NT. Paul gives a snapshot of both in 1 Corinthians 15:20–22: “20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Praise be to God for the resurrection of Christ, a picture and guarantee of our resurrection to come!

  1. For a fuller discussion of the above, see Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity: The Doctrines of Man, Sin, Christ, and the Holy Spirit (Allen Park, MI: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2009), 221–23. []

The Grace of Jesus Christ

What is the grace of Jesus Christ? A search for “grace” and “Jesus” or “Christ” allows us to answer this question in brief, as seen below. This grace is divine favor to us, given to us, His undeserving people, for a variety of reasons.

This grace from Christ is from the Father as well, as the opening prayers of many of Paul’s letters show (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1; 1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4; Phm 3; 2 John 3). Often, however, when Paul ends a letter, he simply prays for his readers to have grace from Jesus Christ (Rom 16:20; 1 Cor 16:23; 2 Cor 13:14; Gal 6:18; Phil 4:23; 1 Thess 5:28; 2 Thess 3:18; Phm 25). In keeping with this thought, John, too, ends the book of Revelation and thus the NT and all of Scripture with this prayer (Rev 22:21).

The grace of Christ is His divine favor that is expressed in a variety of ways. This favor is to us for our salvation in general (Acts 15:11; Rom 5:15, 17; 1 Cor 1:4; 2 Cor 8:9; Eph 2:5; 1 Tim 1:14). We could even narrow His grace down to specific aspects of our salvation. This grace is shown to us in electing us to salvation in eternity past (2 Tim 1:9), in drawing us to Himself through His effectual call through the gospel (Gal 1:6), in enabling us to serve others (Eph 4:7; 2 Thess 1:12), and in giving us eternal comfort and good hope that salvation is truly ours (2 Thess 2:16).

Not only does this grace extend to eternity past and find its experience in the present, we will also find His grace in time to come. This is the grace of our glorification at His revelation (1 Pet 1:13) and even the grace that we receive in the ages to come thereafter (Eph 2:7).

Until that time, we are commanded to grow and be strengthened in His grace (2 Tim 2:1; 2 Pet 3:18). We need this grace for power to overcome what trials may come our way (2 Cor 12:9). This grace comes to us by the Spirit of grace (Heb 10:29) through the word of God’s grace (Acts 20:32), from the throne of grace through prayer (Heb 4:16), and through the grace we are given to minister as much to one another (Eph 4:7, 16).

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The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 12:7–12)

Passage Summary 

Michael and his angels fought Satan and his angels, defeating and throwing them out of heaven (12:7–9). This expulsion yields a triumphant announcement that the salvation, power, and kingdom of God along with Christ’s authority had come (12:10). Martyrs shared in this victory in that Satan’s accusations could not stand up to the blood of the Lamb, their faithful testimony for Christ, and just so even to the point of death (12:11). This victory meant rejoicing for the inhabitants of heaven but woe to those on earth who would suffer the wrath of a desperate devil who knew his time was short (12:12; cf. 8:13; 9:12; 11:14). 

Old Testament in the New 

Revelation Old Testament Connection Between the Two
12:7 Dan 10:13, 21; 12:1 Michael is Israel’s helper in the Tribulation.
12:9–10 Gen 3:1; Job 1:6, 9–11; 2:1, 4–5; Zech 3:1 Satan is the serpent who accuses the brethren and presently has access to heaven to do so.

A Parting Thought

Whether martyrs to-be or not, we, too, can answer Satan’s claims against us with the fact that Christ’s blood has been shed for all of our sins that would give Satan ammunition for accusation. As Job long ago, our faithfulness and perseverance further show our blood-bought faith, giving us and all of heaven reason to rejoice.

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Did the Holy Spirit Dwell in Old Testament Believers? Or Should We Be Asking Something Else?

If one were to do a bit of reading, he would see that many who have historically asked the first titled question really intend to answer, “Was the Holy Spirit active in an Old Testament believer’s salvation and sanctification?” And, because most would at least say that the Spirit was active at the initial point of a believer’s salvation in the OT (cf. Deut 30:6 with Rom 2:29), usually the intention is to discover the similarity or disparity between how believers are progressively sanctified from one testament to the next.

In the OT, the Spirit of God is said to occasionally or even continuously empower some of those who ruled over Israel (e.g., Num 11:17, 25; 1 Sam 11:6; 16:13). On rarer occasion, the Spirit also granted unique skills and strength to individuals to aid Israel in some way (e.g., Ex 31:3; 35:31; Judg 15:4). These works of the Spirit are not necessarily transformational in the sense that the individual so empowered was being progressively sanctified through these unique works of the Spirit. At the same time, an individual’s lack of sanctified behavior could forfeit one of these unique works of the Spirit (1 Sam 16:14; cf. Judg 16:20).

So, if we are looking at any of the above works to answer the question, “Did the Holy Spirit dwell in Old Testament believers,” assumedly as He does NT believers (something continuous and part-and-parcel of our salvation and sanctification; cf. Rom 8:9–11), we don’t have enough biblical data from the above to answer our question. And, if our true intention is to really answer the question, “Was the Holy Spirit active in an Old Testament Believer’s salvation and sanctification,” the passages cited above are not directly to the point. The above works of the Spirit are not necessarily intended for an individual’s sanctification but for unique works of service that benefit others in some way, perhaps somewhat analogous to the Spirit’s work in granting spiritual gifts today (again, please note the “somewhat”―the parallels are not perfect).

It would seem that Israel at some point and at least to some degree understood the nature of the Spirit’s indwelling when God promised as much to the nation through some of her prophets (Ezek 11:19–20; 36:26–27; 37:14; cf. Jer 31:31–34). And while good men beg to differ, it is my understanding that what was promised involves the scope of this indwelling (for all of Israel) and not so much that God would sanctify the recipients of these promises in a fundamentally different way than how He had been doing so for individual believers in any OT era (i.e., that He would be in them and not just near them with His presence in Israel’s temple or in some other way). If this understanding is correct, one is then left to figure out whether or not what was promised to all of Israel was already true of believing Israelites in the OT (or other believers that lived before Israel came to be, for that matter).

My painfully short answer to that final question is this―if one can be told that God created all things in the OT and then find out in the progress of revelation that the Son was involved in this creation (see Gen 1:1 with Col 1:16), so also we could be told in the OT, for example, that some walked with God (e.g., Gen 5:21; 6:9) and can now describe this walk in NT terms, that is, that the Spirit was at work in their sanctification. The absence of this terminology in the OT does not necessarily mean that this work of the Spirit was absent at that time as well.. And to say that selective, occasional empowerments in the OT prove that progressive sanctification by the Spirit for all OT believers was missing would be akin to talking only about spiritual gifts in the NT when asking how sanctification works today. What is difficult is that the matter is not later detailed as, say, something like Christ’s involvement in creation. And for this reason, we should show each other charity when we do not theologically connect the dots of biblical data on this matter in the same way.

To put it another way, one can say that the Spirit was active in salvation and sanctification in the OT and still recognize that there are differences between the Spirit’s manifold work in the OT and NT believers today, such as unique empowerments for service. The Spirit’s selective and occasional works for service then are now matched by a uniform grace to all believers to serve the body of Christ, recognizing that this grace is variously tailored for and thus differently displayed by one Christian to the next (1 Cor 12; 1 Pet 4:10–11). For those such as myself, the difference for the Spirit’s work in a believer from one testament to the next primarily involves what is given (or not) for his service and not for his sanctification and certainly not for his salvation.

A final caveat would be this―if the Spirit’s grace for unique works of service was selective and infrequent in the OT, and if the Spirit’s grace for gifts in the NT is uniform (though varied in manifestation), and if this grace is intended for building up our fellow Christian (1 Cor 12:7), then we certainly enjoy a regular means of grace that aids our sanctification in a way that was not enjoyed before Pentecost. Yet still, to say that we have an external aid today that believers did not have then still falls short of saying that there is a fundamental difference between the Spirit’s internal work in sanctification from one testament to the next.

Was The Holy Spirit Active in an Old Testament Believer’s Sanctification and Salvation?

Most would at least say that the Spirit was active at the initial point of a believer’s salvation in the OT (cf. Deut 30:6 with Rom 2:29). Good theologians begin to disagree when it comes to claiming that believers are progressively sanctified by the Spirit in the same way from one testament to the next.

It would seem that Israel at some point and at least to some degree understood the nature of the Spirit’s indwelling when God promised as much to the nation through some of her prophets (Ezek 11:19–20; 36:26–27; 37:14; cf. Jer 31:31–34). And while good men beg to differ, it is my understanding that what was promised involves the scope of this indwelling (for all of Israel) and not so much that God would sanctify the recipients of these promises in a fundamentally different way than how He had been doing so for individual believers in any OT era (i.e., that He would be in them and not just near them with His presence in Israel’s temple, which, as this explanation breaks down, did not always exist anyway, whether before or sometimes during Israel’s existence). If this understanding is correct, one is then left to figure out whether or not what was promised to all of Israel was already true of believing Israelites in the OT (or other believers that lived before Israel came to be, for that matter).

My painfully short answer to that final question is this―if one can be told that God created all things in the OT and then find out in the progress of revelation that the Son was involved in this creation (see Gen 1:1 with Col 1:16), so also we could be told in the OT, for example, that some walked with God (e.g., Gen 5:21; 6:9) and can now describe this walk in NT terms, that is, that the Spirit was at work in their sanctification. The absence of this terminology in the OT does not necessarily mean that this work of the Spirit was not present at that time.

To put it another way, one can say that the Spirit was active in salvation and sanctification in the OT and still recognize that there are differences between the Spirit’s manifold work in the OT and NT believers today, such as unique empowerments for service. The Spirit’s selective and occasional works for service then (e.g., Exod 31:3; Num 11:17; 1 Sam 11:6; 16:13) are now matched by a uniform grace to all believers to serve the body of Christ, recognizing that this grace is variously tailored for and thus differently displayed by one Christian to the next (1 Cor 12; 1 Pet 4:10–11). For those such as myself, the difference for the Spirit’s work in a believer from one testament to the next primarily involves what is given (or not) for his service and not for his sanctification and certainly not for his salvation.

The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 12:1–6)

Passage Summary

John sees two signs, symbolic of things both past and present. In the first, a woman appears with details indicating that she symbolizes the nation Israel (12:1; cf. Gen 37:9–11). Her pain symbolizes the anticipation of Christ’s coming and national salvation while undergoing persecution (12:2; cf. 12:3–4). This persecution is pictured by another sign, a dragon with heads, horns, and diadems, symbolizing Satan and his power over the world’s rulers and kings at this time (12:3). With a third of the stars under his rule, likely angels who fell with him, Satan attempted to kill Jesus at His birth (12:4–5a; Matt 2:13–18). However, He ascended to the Father’s throne and will rule the nations with a rod of iron (12:5b; cf. 3:21; Acts 1:9–11; Heb 10:12–13). Now looking ahead to the future, Israel would be on the run but protected by God for the latter half of the Tribulation (12:6; cf. 12:14).

 Old Testament in the New 

Revelation Old Testament Connection Between the Two
12:1 Gen 37:9–11 The sun, moon, and stars are found in both visions, referring first to literal people, then to the nation that came from these people.
12:2 Gen 3:15–16 The serpent is at enmity with the woman, and her Seed will conquer the serpent and reign.
12:2 Isa 26:17; 66:7; Micah 4:9–10; 5:3 Pain in childbirth pictures Israel’s suffering before rescue by her Messiah.
12:3 Isa 27:1; Dan 7:7, 20, 24 God will conquer the serpent and his horns.
12:5 Ps 2:8–9 Christ will rule the nations with a rod of iron.

 A Parting Thought

Satan always opposes the people and Son of God. God’s future protection of Israel reminds us of His protection today. Whatever Satan may do, the body may be harmed but never the soul (Matt 10:28), and all who are persecuted can take hope that the rod of iron will eventually give them relief.

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