The Woman, the Beast, and Babylon

The Woman, the Beast, and Babylon

Who or what is the beast and what is the mark of the beast? And in the midst of the challenges of Babylon, what hope do we have?

Remember, the symbols of Revelation show us the truth, important things we wouldn’t see otherwise. It reminds me of The Lord of the Rings.

Sin is bad and serious. That truth, however, often falls on deaf ears. But if I tell you the story of Sméagol who turns into Gollum and ends in lava that picture is more poignant and communicates at a different level. Revelation paints powerful pictures, which vividly show us the truth.

In Revelation, we see that it says the time is near a lot of times (Rev. 1:1, 7; 22:6, 7; 22:10, 12, 20). That was like 2000 years ago. I believe the time is now for some of what it talks about in Revelation. I believe it’s happening. I believe some of it happened, is happening, and will continue to happen until the end. That’s partly how Revelation as a letter was relevant to John’s original audience and continues to be relevant to us today.

Let’s look at what I mean. First, let’s look at Revelation 12 and the…

1. The woman (Rev. 12:1-6)

“And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon,[1] with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished[2] for 1,260 days” (Rev. 12:1-6).

Who is the woman here?[3] The woman is God’s people throughout the history of redemption.[4] The woman in the garden was promised one that would crush the head of the serpent/dragon (Gen. 3:15). The woman Mary was part of the “woman” Israel from whom the Messiah, the Promised One came (was “birthed”). And it is through Jesus the Messiah, the one with the “rod of iron,” that the Bride, the Church, is wooed and won.

Satan, the dragon of old,[5] has been trying to destroy this woman all along. He tempted Eve in the garden, Jesus in the desert, and we daily face temptation. Satan seeks to steal, kill, and destroy.

The woman, the Church, however, is and will be protected. The gates of hell will not prevail. The 1,260 days refers to the limited time[6] she, God’s people, be in the “wilderness” (c.f. Ex. 16:13-18; 1 Kings 17:6; 19:5-8). We also see in Revelation 12:14 that she is given “the two wings of the great eagle” which reminds us of how God protected His people in the time of the exodus (see Ex. 19:4; Deut. 32:10-12).

So, we see the church is buffeted but the battle will end and the victory is sure. The reference to “a time, and times, and half a time” in Revelation 12:14 is a half-sabbatical period which comes from Daniel 7:25. It “signifies the brevity of the saints’ suffering”[7] because it is half of a complete period (which is signified by the number seven).

Therefore, we see that “the woman’s stay in the desert is characterized both by trials and favors from God, just as the journey of the Israelites was”[8] and just as the history of the Church has been and will be.

After we see the woman and the dragon, in Revelation 13 we see…

2. The beast(s) (Rev. 13)

John sees a hideous beast rise out of the sea. The imagery alludes to Daniel 7. In the vision in Daniel 7 we see that the beast “made war with the saints… until” Jesus comes with judgment and the saints once and for all possess the Kingdom (Dan. 7:21-22). That Kingdom shall be an everlasting Kingdom (v. 27).

It’s interesting and I believe important to note that the context of Daniel and the context of John’s Revelation is exile and apparent defeat. It looks as if the evil scary beast is going to be victorious. It looks like God’s people are going to get gobbled up.

As we look at the situation it doesn’t look good. The dragon gave his power to the beast (Rev. 13:2). And the beast imitates the Lord in some ways. Notice v. 3 says it “seemed to have a mortal wound” and v. 11 says it was “like a lamb” although it “spoke like a dragon.” The beast has things that look impressive and even resemble the Lamb. But, the beast is a sham and leads to shame.

People believe the beast will rescue them. And so, they follow the beast (v. 3) and worship the dragon (v. 4).[9] Notice, however, that doesn’t mean that they knew that’s what they we’re doing. These people are not all Satanists. Remember, Satan is the father of lies and the greater deceiver. And so, a lot of people who worship the dragon don’t know they’re worshiping the dragon. As v. 14 says, the beast deceives those who dwell on the earth.

The Devils Deception

The beast is scary for a lot of reasons. The beast causes those who don’t worship the beast to be slain (v. 15 cf. Deut. 13:5). “Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666” (Rev. 13:16-18 cf. 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4).

What or who is the beast?

First, it should be understood that numbers in the book of Revelation have a lot of significance.[10] The number 7 is the number for completion and perfection. Whereas 6 is a number that represents missing the mark, it is a number for deficiency. So, the number 666 represents defect. It’s contrasted with the number 7, which, as we said, is the symbol for divine completeness.

Thus, 666 is a symbol and not a code to be cracked. It shows us that the best the beast can do is mimic. This shows us that the beast, though a convincing imitation to some, is actually completely incomplete.[11]

This, however, is not the full significance of the number 666 because Revelation 13:18 says, “the number of the beast… is the number of a man.” Who is this man?

This form of numbering was actually at least somewhat common. There is a poem of sorts on one of the walls of Pompeii that says, “I love her whose number is 545.” Let me briefly explain how this works…

Nero and His Name

Interestingly, as the ESV Study Bible points out, “Both ‘beast’ and ‘Nero Caesar,’ written in Hebrew characters, add up to 666.”[12]

I believe that 666 referred to Nero at that time. I believe, however, that there have been other similar beasts[13] and other beasts will come.[14] Just as there are many antichrists (1 Jn. 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn. 7). What, then, does it mean to be a beast in this way?

Other historical figures have been compared to beasts.[15] Nebuchadnezzar even became actually beastly (Dan. 4) and Nero acted as if he were a beast. And so beast and 666 in reference to him is fitting. There are, however, others who have and who will in the future act in a beastly way.[16] They too are also a beast and all who follow such a person have the mark of the beast.[17] They have been bitten, as it were, with the fangs of the deathly red serpent.

The Bible talks about people behaving like “irrational animals, creatures of instinct” (2 Pet. 2:12). It says that these people have their bellies as their god; that is, they instinctively pursue what they crave and their thoughts rise no higher than the earth (Phil. 3:19). Actually, since the fall, that is our default position (Eph. 2:1-3).

How do we keep from accidentally following the beast? Or being like a beast ourselves?

We follow hard after Christ the King. Jesus, “the Son of Man” (Dan. 7), shows us what it means to be fully human.[18] He exercises the dominion that Adam and Eve were commissioned to. It is as we love and follow Christ that we’re more like Christ and less and less beastly.

What is the mark of the beast?

Is the mark of the beast an implant? After all, Revelation 13:17 says, no one can buy or sell unless they have the mark. Perhaps the mark of the beast is a form of electronic currency?[19]

The mark is mentioned in various places (Rev. 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20) and is contrasted with the seal of God’s faithful. It’s interesting to note that the word for “mark” here is the Greek word charagama which is used in Acts 17:29. It means “imprinted mark.” Charagama can also be used to refer to the scar or abrasion of a serpent’s bite.

There’s historical precedence for a “mark” or “branding” being enforced by a godless ruler. Pharaoh Ptolemy IV (who from 221–204 BC) “proposed to inflict public disgrace on the Jewish community, and he set up a stone on the tower in the courtyard with this inscription: ‘None of those who do not sacrifice shall enter their sanctuaries, and all Jews shall be subjected to a registration involving poll tax and to the status of slaves. Those who object to this are to be taken by force and put to death; those who are registered are also to be branded on their bodies by fire with the ivy-leaf symbol of Dionysus’” (3 Maccabees).[20]

Dionysus was known as the god of wine and ecstasy. So, the “mark” here is the mark of idolatry. This happened in the past and no doubt a similar thing will happen again.

It’s interesting that in the book of Daniel, Daniel and his friends were given new names[21] and taken in by a pagan king, a beast. Yet they didn’t have the mark of the beast. What then is the mark of the beast if it isn’t a new name?! The mark of the beast is the mark of wicked idolatry. It is the bite of the serpent that bends people to foolish lies.

So, I think what’s being said here is that there is historical precedence for a beast ruler acting this way, and it’ll happen again. The question then is, will you be willing to suffer instead of taking the idolatrous mark?

Revelation “is a call not to be identified with the beast or with Babylon and to share their doom, but to bear couragesly and faithfully the testimony of Jesus to the point of death.”[22]

Satan, however, is often more subtle. As the ESV Study Bible says, “Neither the beast’s mark nor the seal of God on believers’ foreheads (cf. Rev. 7:3; 14:1; cf. also Ex. 28:36–38; Ezek. 9:4) have to be understood as physical features, though they may be that. Both symbolize the spiritual control of heart allegiance and behavior, either by the beast or by the Lamb.”[23]

The beast(s), however, are not the only foes of God’s people. We also see…

3. Babylon the harlot (Rev. 17-18)

We tend to marvel at Revelation 17-18. There’s so much mysterious imagery. Yet, we are told, “the mystery” (Rev. 17:3). Revelation tells us what’s going to happen. Remember, that’s what revelation means. It means revealing. And that’s just what the book of Revelation does. It reveals the truth. And that’s what it does here as it talks about Babylon.

The city Babylon allures us with its temptations and beauty (v. 4) but we know her end.[24] Her end is destruction along with the beast. That’s what’s going to happen.

We may see the allurements in Babylon, we may marvel greatly (. 6), but we must remember what has been revealed about the “mystery of the woman, and of the beast” (v. 7). “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come” (Rev. 17:8).

Babylon is any type of kingdom or empire founded on any king except Christ the King. Babylon rides on and is propped up by Satan and his beast (cf. Rev. 13:1 with 17:3).

We also see that there are many leaders aligned with Satan. They are part of the beast and promote the idolatry of Babylon. As Darrell W. Johnson has said,

“John is opening up for us a sobering unseen reality of the present: governments which step out from under the rule of God do not become more divine. They become demonic. Governments that exalt humanity as the measure of all things do not become more humane; they become more bestial.”

They’re literally in a pact with the devil even if they don’t really realize it.[25] They “are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. They will make war on the Lamb” (Rev. 17:13-14). Matt Chandler has said, “The objective of the beast is capturing the loyalties of men and women and diverting their worship from the praise of God to the praise of the state.”

Yet, that’s not the end of the story. The kings of earth seem so powerful and unbeatable. It seems like they will be able to crush Christians. It seems like Babylon will stand forever. But, that is not the case.

Their time, however, will be short, only “one hour” it says (v. 12). And then, “the Lamb will conquer them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with Him are called and chosen and faithful” (v. 14).

That’s what’s going to happen. That’s the life-changing reality we need to see. The one who beats will be beaten, the one who crushes will be crushed. The Lamb that was slain, will slay the wicked oppressors.

Look with me at Revelation 18:1-2, John says, “After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. And he called out with a mighty voice,

‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
She has become a dwelling place for demons,
a haunt for every unclean spirit,
a haunt for every unclean bird,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.’”

The harlot and her people will get full payment for their wicked ways (18:6). For their exploitive abuse of “human souls” (18:13).[26] And it will happen swiftly. “Her plagues will come in a single day” (v. 8), “in a single hour” (v.10, 17, 19). The build up and apparent power of Babylon and the beast are contrasted with their utter obliteration in a mere 60 minutes.

This is making an important point for us. Things are not as they appear. What looks mighty and attractive is not always what it appears.

People may live for wealth, but in a single hour, all wealth will be laid waste (v. 17). Revelation 18:14 says,

“All your delicacies and your splendors
are lost to you,
never to be found again!”

All the sinful entanglements, all the things you look to and love, that you think will fulfill and make your life happy, gone. They were poisoned pills, 3/4s but not whole. They were contaminated puddles that cut you off from living streams. They were the shadow that made you miss the substance.

Listen! You who live for all that is found here: Babylon, the great city,[27] will be thrown down with violence and will be found no more (v. 21). Don’t be seduced by her promises or deceived by her sorcery (v. 23).

The city and all she represents may be tempting but heed this warning:

“Alas, alas, for the great city
that was clothed in fine linen,
in purple and scarlet,
adorned with gold,
with jewels, and with pearls!

For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste” (v. 16-17). The great city will be like a huge stone thrown into the sea (v. 21).

So, how do we respond to that revealing? What should we do?!

We know the end of the enemy and we know the sweet eternal victory of those who conquer by continuing to trust and follow Christ the King.

So, we rejoice (v. 20). Of course, we don’t rejoice at the destruction for destruction’s sake.[28] We rejoice because of…

4. The wedding (Rev. 19)

I have a friend who is engaged to be married. He’s super stoked. He loves his fiancé and has pursued and wooed her, and bought a ring.

Jesus the Bible tells us, loves us, pursued and wooed us, and bought us by dying on the cross for our sins. The Bible says that the Church is the Bride of Jesus. It says that there will be a wedding.

We’ve not had the wedding yet. The Church is Christ’s; He bought her, loves her, and protects her. But Christ and the Church are not in perfect wedded bless yet. But, that day is coming soon.

I know the picture of the Church being Christ’s Bride is kind of weird in ways but it is also profoundly beautiful and fitting.

In Revelation 13-19 we see various attacks of the enemy. We see Satan’s beast with intimidating violence, we see the false prophet with deceptive heresy, and we see the city Babylon, the prostitute, with her beguiling seduction. Revelation reminds us of the threat we face. And it encourages us to remain resolved and trusting.

Look with me at Revelation 19:1-2: “After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,

‘Hallelujah!
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for His judgments are true and just;
for He has judged the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.’”[29]

Look with me also at verses 6b-8a:

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give Him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and His Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure.”

Then in verse 9, it says that the angel said to John: “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”  

Conclusion

The beast’s roar will be forever silenced by the overwhelming power of the Lamb. Babylon the great will be forever shattered in a moment and the New Jerusalem will forever stand in her place. The woman that looked defeated will arise to be the forever-glorious Bride.

What city are you in?

Who are you following?

Are you with the lion who is the lamb? Or, are you with the beast and the dragon?

Will you rejoice at the end, or weep and howl?

Notes

[1] It is of note that the color of the dragon in Revelation 12:3 is “red like the Babylonian snake and the Egyptian typhon. The Leviathan… is the monster that comes out of the sea. He also has many heads and Yahweh is said to smash them (Ps 74:13-14) and piece ‘the fleeing serpent’ (Job 26:13, AB)… The monster is the embodiment of chaos, the antithesis of Yahweh who is the source of all order in the world.” It is also interesting that “’diadem’ occurs only in Revelation (12:3, 13:1; 19:12); in all instances it is used of royal power. Our dragon is king (and possibly priest) of chaos” (J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, 199).

[2] “The verb ‘support,’ Gr. trephein, is employed in Deut 32:18…” and recalls God “providing quails and manna to feed the Israelites in the desert” (J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation: Introduction, Translation and Commentary [New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1975], 192).

[3] “In Revelation ‘woman’ or ‘women’ occurs nineteen times: 12:1, 4, 6, 14, 15, 16, 17; 17:3, 4, 6, 7, 9f., 18 and elsewhere in 9:8, 14:4, 19:7, 21:9. It might be said therefore, that the woman symbol is almost as important as the Lamb. This woman and the new Jerusalem are the antithesis of the harlot” (J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, 188).

[4] “Although the woman may be an individual, a study of the OT background suggests that she is a collective figure, like the two witnesses. In the OT the image of a woman is a classical symbol for Zion whose husband is Yahweh (Isa 54:1, 5, 6, Jer 3:20, Ezek 16:8-14, Hosea 2:19-20)” (J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, 195).

[5] In Revelation we see various names given to the evil one: Dragon (Rev. 12:3, 4, 7, 9, 13, 16, 17; 13:1, 2, 4; 16:13; 20:2), Devil (12:9, 12; 20:2, 10), Serpent (Rev. 12:9, 14, 15; 20:2), and Satan (2:9, 13, 24; 3:9; 12:9; 20:2, 7).

[6] The number 7 in revelation is the number of perfection and completeness whereas 3 ½ is half the number for completeness (3 ½ year = 42 months = 1,260 days). So, even here we see a subtle reminder that God’s people will not forever be pursued by the dragon, will not forever be in the wilderness. The time is short. So, we can and must endure. See Revelation 11:2-3; 12:4, 14; 13:5 for other references to limited time.

[7] The ESV Study Bible.

[8] J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, 202.

[9] In direct contradiction to what God’s word says (Ex. 20:34; cf. Ex. 32), the beast makes an image of a beast (Rev. 13:14) And it says, the beast is “allowed to give breath to the image of the beast” (Rev. 13:15).

[10] See Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, 15.

[11] Gregory Beale, “Why Is the Number of the Beast 666?”

[12] Richard Bauckham explains that one can calculate the Beast’s number based upon the Greek word for “beast” (thērion). If one takes the Greek letters of thērion and transliterates them into Hebrew, the numerical value of the Hebrew word is 666 (see Bauckham, Climax of Prophecy, 389).

[13] It’s also interesting to note that Nimrod’s name adds up to 666 using cryptogram, and Nimrod seems to be the main founder of the tower of Babel (see Gen. 10:8-12). “Babel is also the name used in the OT for the city of Babylon. As a city, Babylon symbolizes humanity’s ambition to dethrone God and make the earth its own” (ESV Study Bible on Genesis 11:9).

[14] As the ESV Study Bible says, “many interpreters expect a future, greater fulfillment in a world ruler who is violently opposed to God and his people.”

[15] “Babylon is compared to a devouring dragon in Jer 51:34; Pharaoh to one (perhaps a crocodile) who lives in the Nile in Ezek 29:3; 32:2; Pompey is probably alluded to as a dragon in Psalms of Solomon 2:29” (J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, 199).

[16] “When a human ruler fails to acknowledge the sovereignty of God and gives way to hubris he becomes subhuman. He becomes like a beast of the field. So, in [Daniel] chapter 7 the human superpowers, all of which to some extent give way to hubris, are depicted as beasts” (“Daniel” in the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 234).

[17] Thomas R. Schreiner has pointed out that “The number 777 represents perfection, but John says 666 is the number of a man. The number 666, then, represents what is anti-god and antichrist, all that is in opposition to the one true God. If 777 represents holiness and perfect goodness, then 666 signifies the enormity and totality of evil. Hence, John does not intend to point to any particular individual here. Rather, the kingdom of the beast is a human kingdom, an evil kingdom, instead of a divine one. The nature of humanity apart from God is demonic. The kingdom of the beast promises life and prosperity but brings death, misery, and devastation” (Thomas R. Schreiner “What Is the Mark of the Beast (Revelation 13)”).

[18] In fact, it’s been said that only One who was fully alive, fully human, could be an adequate substitutionary atonement for fallen humans.

[19] I think it’s significant that Revelation doesn’t say make sure you decipher what the mark of the beast is so that you’ll be sure to not receive it. And it doesn’t say if you can decipher the code you’ll be protected from suffering. Nope. It says, “If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain.” So, how does Revelation 13:10 have us respond? It says, “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” Christians are called to preserver not to keep the time of persecution from coming. It will come. We can’t keep that from happening. What we must do, however, is endure and be faithful to Christ in the midst of it.

[20] “Such branding of a deity was not uncommon in ancient times” (The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha commenting on 3 Maccabees 2:28).

[21] Nebuchadnezzar sought to assimilate the exiles into Babylonian culture by obliterating their religious and cultural identity and creating dependence upon the royal court. For this reason, the exiles were given names linked with Babylonian deities in place of Israelite names linked with their God. Daniel (“God is my Judge”), Hananiah (“Yahweh is gracious”), Mishael (“Who is what God is?”), and Azariah (“Yahweh is a helper”) became names that invoked the help of the Babylonian gods Marduk, Bel, and Nebo: Belteshazzar (“O Lady [wife of the god Bel], protect the king!”), Shadrach (“I am very fearful [of God]” or “command of Aku [the moon god]”), Meshach (“I am of little account” or “Who is like Aku?”), and Abednego (“servant of the shining one [Nebo]”). They were schooled in the language and mythological literature of the Babylonians, and their food was assigned from the king’s table, reminding them constantly of the source of their daily bread” (ESV Study Bible).

[22] Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 103.

[23] The “mark” also recalls phylacteries, which are black leather cube-shaped cases containing Torah texts written on parchment (see Deut. 6:8 cf. 11:18; Ex. 13:9, 16). They served as reminders of God and His Law and marked off people as God’s people.

[24] Parallels and contrasts between Jerusalem and Babylon:

  1. The chaste bride (21:2, 9) vs. the harlot (17:2)
  2. The city that provides light to walk by (21:24) vs. Babylon the city of deception (17:2; 18:3, 23; 19:2)
  3. Uncleanness will not enter the new Jerusalem (21:27) vs. Babylon is a city of uncleanness (17:4, 5; 18:23)
  4. Jerusalem provides the water of life and the tree of life (21:6; 22:1-2) vs. Babylon makes the nations drunk on wine (14:8; 17:2; 18:3)
  5. Jerusalem is a place of life and healing (22:1-2) vs. Babylon is a place of blood and slaughter
  6. God’s people are called to enter the New Jerusalem (22:14) vs. God’s people are called to come out of Babylon (18:4)

[25] Evil always implodes in on itself. It’s interesting to note that the “ten horns… the beast” will “hate the prostitute” which is the great city (cf. v. 18). “They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire” (v. 16). They will do that because God has hardened their heart (v. 17 because of their idolatry cf. Rom. 1 & Pharaoh). And so, the kings destroy their own precious cities, and all the good, peace, and harmony they’re supposed to bring, because the beast and the dragon influence them. And the dragon has been a lying destroyer from the beginning. “The ancient mythic ideal” of a city was for it to be a “place where human community lives in security and prosperity with the divine in its midst. Babylon represents the perversion of this ideal, what it comes to when, instead of the true God, humanity’s self-deification is the heart of the city” (Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 130).

[26] “Any society which absolutizes its own economic prosperity at the expense of others comes under Babylon’s condemnation” (Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 156).

[27] The Great harlot in the OT is a picture of idolatry.

[28] “The fall of Babylon, which occupies so much of Revelation, is what human opposition to God must come to, but it is not celebrated for its own sake. Babylon must fall so that the New Jerusalem may replace her. Her satanic parody of the ideal of the city must give way to the divine reality” (Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 130).

[29] “There are clearly only two options: to conquer and inherit the eschatological promises, or to suffer the second death in the lake of fire (21:8)” (Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 92).

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