by Epiphany Bible Students

No. 692

“But now hath Christ been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of them that are asleep.” (1 Cor. 15:20, ASV)

The name Easter is of heathen origin, Easter being the name of a goddess of olden times. Likewise, the days of the week are also named after heathen deities, although these names have gradually lost their heathen significance. For Christian people today, Easter Sunday commemorates the resurrection of our Lord Jesus from the dead on the third day after His death. To those that appreciate Him as the great Light sent into the world for man’s deliverance, to those who appreciate Him as the Sun of Righteousness (Mal. 4:2) which shall ultimately shine forth to the blessing of all the families of the earth, to such there could be no more appropriate day named than Sunday to mark the day upon which He rose from the dead, and entered upon the new life which is yet to bring such blessing to all mankind.

Given that Christians generally celebrate Easter as the memorial of Jesus’ resurrection, why is it that today resurrection is considered of little significance by the vast majority of Christians? It appears that a change in theological beliefs has made void and meaningless the Bible teachings on the subject of the resurrection. During the days of our Lord and the Apostles, believing Jews and Christian converts alike generally held the view that death was as real with mankind as with the brute creation, and that man’s hope of a future life consisted not in his possession of an indestructible nature, but in the promise of a resurrection. It was clearly understood that death not only affected the body, but the entire man; the penalty for original sin was death in the full, complete sense of the word, in harmony with the decree “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (Ezek. 18:4)

Among the Jews there were two principal classes: (1) the Sadducees and agnostics who denied a resurrection and future life, and (2) the Pharisees who believed the resurrection hope taught in the Scriptures. Our Lord Jesus refuted the arguments of the Sadducees that the dead were hopelessly dead and would have no resurrection by quoting God’s words to Moses at the bush, pointing out that it would have been inconsistent for God to say that He was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob if they were hopelessly dead as are the beasts that perish. Our Lord said these words proved the resurrection of the dead; from the divine standpoint Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were not dead in the sense of being extinct. (Mark 12:26,27) Our Lord further declared that the hour was coming when these Ancient Worthies and “all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth.” (John 5:28, 29)


On one occasion St. Paul was in the hands of a Jewish mob and, perceiving that they were part Sadducees and part Pharisees, he cried out, “I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.” (Acts 23:6) The Pharisees, who believed in a resurrection, at once insisted that Paul should not be persecuted by those who denied the resurrection – the Sadducees and agnostics.

Paul presented the strongest possible arguments proving the resurrection in chapter 15 of First Corinthians. He met the issue squarely and declared that none could be Christians who denied the resurrection, who did not believe in it thoroughly. The chapter opens with the declaration that the foundation for the gospel lies in the fact that Christ died for our sins and arose again on the third day. He recites that this fact is well attested by the words of reliable witnesses. Then he says: “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised.” (1 Cor. 15:12-16)

How clear and distinct this argument is. The Apostle in so many words shows that anyone who denies the possibility of a resurrection of the dead must deny the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and if this be denied the entire bottom falls out of the Christian faith. And if we acknowledge that Christ rose from the dead, and thus admit the power of God for the resurrection of the dead, then we have the foundation upon which to build a hope of our own resurrection in due time and of the resurrection of others, that all that are in their graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God and come forth.


Paul was not one to quibble or dodge issues because some of his hearers were lacking in faith. Mark the force of his argument when he says, “For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised; And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” (1 Cor. 15:16-18) Note his argument: Christian faith is vain without the resurrection of Christ. Why would that be the case, if it be true that good men go at once to heaven in the moment of death? How could faith in Christ’s resurrection affect their interests either one way or another? How could the Apostle say that those who have fallen asleep in Christ are perished, if He did not rise from the dead?

The difficulty is that during the Dark Ages the Lord’s people seriously departed from the Scriptures and from facts, following false, heathen doctrine, doctrine that implied that when a man dies he is not dead, but more alive than ever before, and hence needs no resurrection from the dead. This heathen error, engrafted upon Christian theology long ago, has become so interwoven with the body of Christian faith and hope that it has gradually perverted it and nullified the scriptural teaching of the necessity for the death of Christ, the necessity for His resurrection, the necessity for His coming again and the necessity for the resurrection of both the just and the unjust.

We are only beginning to awaken to a realization of the confusion that has come to us through this neglect of the Word of God and acceptance of platonic philosophy. Surely no one can read thoughtfully this argument of the Apostle without being convinced that the writer believed that those who go into the tomb must “sleep” until the resurrection morning. Moreover they must see that this sleep is a figure of speech, which signifies that the dead are really dead, but are reckoned to be asleep because of the promise of a resurrection. Mark the Apostle’s statement: if Christ has not risen from the dead, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished; that is to say, those we thought of as sleeping in Christ, and waiting for the Millennial morning for the Master’s call to come forth from the tomb are not really sleeping but are eternally dead, if there has been no redemption accomplished for them, if He who died at Calvary stayed dead and did not rise from the dead on the third day as He foretold He would, and as the Apostles as witnesses declared He did.


Our opening text sums up the Apostle’s argument: he assumes that he has convinced any Christian who is inclined to doubt the value, the necessity, the fact of Christ’s resurrection. He says in effect: We Christians acknowledge the fact that Christ did rise from the dead: this is the very foundation of our faith. And more than this we believe that He was the first fruits of those that have fallen asleep. Note carefully the thought here expressed that Christ’s resurrection was a first fruits or sample, in some respects at least, of a resurrection that is to apply to others. The meaning is plain; the world of mankind had been dying for more than 4,000 years when the Apostle wrote these words.

Adam and all his posterity would have been hopelessly dead, extinct, as the brute beasts, had it not been for divine grace. Intimations of the coming redemption and deliverance were given as far back as Eden when the LORD said that ultimately the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head, implying that the victory of sin and death over Adam and his race would not be perpetual but be reversed. (Gen. 3:15) The same divine grace was still more clearly stated to father Abraham in the words, “In thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” (Gen. 28:14) Upon these words, further corroborated and reiterated through the Prophets, the people of Israel came to have hope in a resurrection of the dead, building their hopes upon Messiah’s power. The Apostle’s argument is that Jesus is the Messiah, that by His death He paid the ransom price for father Adam and redeemed him from his death penalty and thus redeemed all of his race, since all were condemned in Adam, while in his loins. (Rom. 5:19)


The words “them that are asleep” should leave no doubt in the minds of any as to what the Apostle meant. The sleeping ones, the dead, were still dead, still asleep, when he wrote, although this was years after Jesus had died for our sins and risen from the dead. Later on in this same wonderful resurrection chapter the Apostle shows clearly both how and when all these sleeping ones shall be called forth from the tomb. He points out a first resurrection of holy blessed ones who shall come forth in the resurrection spirit beings, heavenly beings. (1 Cor. 15: 43,44) This class will constitute the first resurrection or, as the Apostle puts it, they will share in His resurrection because they have shared also in His sufferings and in His death. (2 Tim. 2:11,12; Rom. 6:5) Here is further corroboration then that our Lord was not risen from the dead a man, but He was “put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit,” a spirit being. (1 Pet. 3:18) Or, as the Apostle again declares, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name.” (Phil. 2:9) Of Him the Apostle again declares that He is the second Adam, the second life giver and head for the race, and he adds, “Now the Lord is that Spirit.” (1 Cor. 15:45; 2 Cor. 3:17)

He assures us that our Lord was manifest in the flesh at His first advent in order that He might suffer death on our behalf, in order that He might pay the ransom price for Adam and his race by dying the just for the unjust, to sacrifice Himself as the man Christ Jesus. His resurrection was then in the nature of a reward for His obedience unto death and placed Him back again on the spirit plane, “Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named,” and the express image of His Father’s person. (Eph. 1:21; Heb. 1:3)


Jesus was the first fruits of all who ever died in the sense that He was the first to rise from the dead, as the Scriptures so plainly declare. Some have confusion on this point when they think of some three cases in the Old Testament and as many in the New Testament in which the dead were brought back to life before our Lord’s death and resurrection. The explanation of how Christ could be the first that should rise from the dead, without ignoring these Scriptural cases, is a very simple one. According to the Scriptures, life and death are opposites; hence the very beginning of the working of death and imperfection in any being vitiates his life to that extent. He is no longer a living being but a dying being. From this standpoint Adam’s dying began the moment the death sentence was pronounced against him, although he did not fully succumb to the death powers for nearly 930 years.

Christ Jesus Himself was the first one to come under the power of death and be raised completely out from under that power to full perfection of life and being. He was therefore in the highest and fullest sense of the word, as our opening text states, “the firstfruits of them that are asleep,and “the first that should rise from the dead.” (Acts 26:23) This expression “firstfruits” surely implies there are “after fruits;” that as Jesus was the first to come completely out from under the power of death, so eventually others will be fully delivered.

The Apostle James speaks of the Church, saying that in God’s plan “we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:18) Here we have an elaboration of the same thought. Jesus Himself was the first fruits of all, and the Church adopted and begotten of the Holy Spirit as the body members of the glorified Christ are declared to be with their head “a kind of firstfruits.” This shows most distinctly that there are others besides the Church for whom a blessing is in reserve, a blessing of rescue from the power of sin and death by a resurrection.

The Apostle Paul refers to this same participation of the Church with her Lord a little later on in his argument. After pointing out that the blessing of the Lord is to be upon two classes, a heavenly class and an earthly class (the one as the stars of heaven the other as the sand upon the seashore – Gen. 22:17), and after pointing out that the Church, the elect, is to constitute this heavenly class of the first resurrection (1 Cor. 15:40-44), the Apostle proceeds to indicate that the resurrection of the Church will bring the elect into the image and likeness of their Lord and Redeemer as spirit beings, while the resurrection of the world will bring them to the standard of human perfection represented in father Adam. He says, “As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.” (1 Cor. 15:48)

Continuing to speak of this heavenly class, the elect Church, he says, “As we have born the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” (1 Cor. 15:49) He proceeds then to point out a mystery or secret, assuring the Church that in the resurrection the Lord will complete that work of “change” already begun in them. (1 Cor. 15:51)

The Apostle further shows that after the Church shall have experienced this change from mortal to immortal conditions, from earthly to heavenly conditions, the promise of God through the Prophet will have fulfillment, namely, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, [hades] where is thy victory?” (1 Cor. 15:54,55; Isa. 25:8) Thus the death of Christ, operating first for the deliverance of the elect to the heavenly conditions, will be made available to the world of mankind during the Millennial Age to deliver them to perfect earthly conditions, so that death itself may be swallowed up in victory. The power of the grave shall no longer prevail against the human family who have been bought with “the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:19); all who will accept the divine favor then extended to them may come to a full victory through Christ over sin and over death.

The Apostle refers to Christ as the first fruits twice in this connection but evidently with a difference. In 1 Cor. 15:20 he speaks of Christ Jesus as “the firstfruits of them that are asleep,” while in 1 Cor. 15:22,23 he draws a different picture in which he again speaks of Christ as the first fruits, here, however, signifying the entire Christ, Jesus the head and the Church His body. He says, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits [Christ the head and the Church His body, gathered during the Gospel Age]; afterward they that are Christs’s at his coming [presence].”

With the completion of these first fruits will come the great harvesting of the world, the great ingathering from all the families of the earth the great time of blessing to all who were cursed in Adam and redeemed by the blood of Christ. Such as will be saved during the Millennial Age are here briefly referred to as “they that are Christ’s at his coming,” that is to say those who will become His during His presence, His parousia during the Millennial Age under the mediatorial Kingdom. That this is the Apostle’s argument is evident from the verse following which says, “Then cometh the end [of the plan of salvation], when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.” (1 Cor. 15:24)


Those of God’s people most clear in their knowledge of His word have the greatest joy and blessing in connection with every feature of His truth, including those precious things represented by Easter Sunday. To these the significance of the day is one of spiritual exhilaration and refreshment; their faith grasps the fact that the human race, condemned to death because of sin, has been provided by the heavenly Father with a great Savior. This Savior has already given His life as our ransom price, and been raised from the dead by the power of God to that high glorious station in which we recognize Him as King of kings and Lord of lords, possessed of glory, honor and immortality. We hail Him as the one who is to be the Lord of all in His coming Kingdom and who is already the Lord of our hearts; Lord of all those who have heard and tasted of the grace of God, by faith, in advance of the world.

Easter Sunday means the “adoption” of the elect Church through faith, to be “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” in His heavenly inheritance and glory and work of the Millennial Kingdom. (Rom. 8: 17,23) It bids us wait with patience for our share in the resurrection; then “shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings,” (Mal. 4:2) to bless the sin-benighted world of mankind, “to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning;” (Isa. 61:3) to bid them to look up, and to help them rise up in the glorious restitution, which the LORD has promised to all the families of the earth. (Acts 3:19-21)

Not only Easter Sunday but every Sunday celebrates the resurrection of our Lord and head. Let us be assured by the words of the Apostle, “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed toward his name.” (Heb. 6:10) Let us be assured that every sacrifice made in the interest of the Lord’s name and honor and cause and for His brethren’s sake will be appreciated by Him who knows the secrets of the heart and who knows those that are His. (Psa. 44:21; 2 Tim. 2:19)

 (Based on a sermon given by Pastor Russell in 1907 and printed in Harvest Gleanings, Volume 3.)



“And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations [peoples] shall flow unto it.” (Isa. 2:2)

This text tells of great events in the “last days.” It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that these words imply the end of time or the end of the world, in the ordinary sense. The Bible declares that “the earth abideth for ever,” (Ecc. 1:4) and it tells of the wonderful blessings of Restitution, when the Lord’s footstool shall blossom as the rose – Paradise restored. (Isa. 35:1; 60:13) All this is to come in the “last days.”

The Jews understood that the seven days of the week, six of labor and the seventh of rest, were typical of seven greater days of a thousand years each. Some say we are living in the Friday night of the world’s history which means that the great Sabbath of Rest, the thousand years of Messiah’s reign, is about to begin (the Jewish day beginning in the evening).

The New Testament writers seem to have had the same thought. Thus our Lord declared, “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” (John 12:48) Similarly, Martha declared her faith in the resurrection of her brother, saying, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (John 11:24) The last day is the Millennial Day, the Day of Christ, the great Day which will witness the overthrow of sin and death and the uplifting of humanity.

Of that Great Day we read that the righteous will flourish and evil-doers will be cut off. (Psa 72:7, 37:9) This Seventh Day is frequently spoken of as “that day,” as indicating the time when Divine power will no longer permit the reign of sin among men, but Messiah’s Kingdom will actively intervene. The overthrow of Satan, sin and all unrighteousness will then take place. During this Day the Messiah will put down all things opposed to righteousness: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor. 15:26)

The resurrection process will be in operation throughout that glorious Day; mankind will be rising out of its meanness, sin, sickness and death, back to all that was lost in Eden, and redeemed by the Cross. After those days (the days of the reign of sin), God promises to make a New Covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah, through which they shall be uplifted; and the blessings will flow from them to all nations. (Jer. 31:31,33) After those days also God promises, “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.” (Joel 2:28) After those days, in the promised Day of Messiah, the Mountain of the Lord’s House shall be established, fixed, in the very top of the mountains above all other kingdoms. A mountain symbolizes a kingdom and, as the Prophet declares, God’s Kingdom will be the highest Mountain; it will be over the top of all other kingdoms. It will be established or fixed permanently above all others. (Isa. 2:3)

Messiah, the great King, with His Elect Bride and Associate with Him, will exercise His Divine power, Satan shall be bound for a thousand years, and sin will no longer be permitted. (Rev. 20:2) From the invisible plane of glory and majesty, justice will be executed in the earth; every good word, thought and deed will be rewarded, and every evil thought, word and deed will be punished, “for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” (Isa. 26:9) It is certain that, “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa. 11:9)

How speedily the world will then learn righteousness! Now it doubts the very existence of God, and declares that if He exists He pays little or no heed to wrong-doers: “And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.” (Mal. 3:15)

But the New Day will change all this: “Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.” (Isa. 28:17) “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.” (Isa. 35:5) “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD.” (Hab. 2:14) “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them.” (Jer. 31: 34, Heb. 8:11)


The present tendency is to gravitate downward, but our opening text tells of a reversal of this order. All nations shall then flow or gravitate upward toward the righteous Kingdom of Messiah. The Kingdom, in its original establishment, will be Israelitish; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the Prophets will be made “princes in all the earth.” (Psa. 45:16)

The Jews will naturally rally to their standard and begin to recognize the fulfillment of the prophecies of old. Other nationalities will begin slowly to realize the significance of the great, new Jewish dispensation. While their ideas and ideals will be antagonistic for a time, they will gradually see the Restitution blessings coming to Israel, in harmony with the Divine arrangements of the Kingdom. Then, as the scripture declares, “Many people shall go and say, come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the House of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us [as well as the Jews] of his ways, and we [as well as they] will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” (Isa. 2:3)

Both Spiritual and Natural Israel are in the picture. The law shall go forth from Zion (the Spiritual Kingdom, the Messiah Head and Body, Bridegroom and Bride) while the word of the LORD, the directing and instructing, will go forth from Jerusalem (the Earthly Kingdom, represented by the Patriarchal Princes).

The new King, Messiah, will judge the people, first as nations and later as individuals. The national judgments will mean calamities upon the nations, their great institutions and armies proving powerless as peacemakers. On the contrary, those who put their trust in these institutions will suffer most severely. All must learn the lesson that Messiah’s Kingdom comes not by human might or power, but by the power of the LORD, at His own appointed time.

The lesson will be so thoroughly learned in that Day of Trouble that war will forever cease. As the Prophet David tells us, God will make “wars to cease unto the end of the earth.” (Psa. 46:9) Thereafter, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isa. 2:4) Human energy will be fully employed in conquering sin, sickness and death.


The Prophet Isaiah tells us that idolatry to gold and silver shall be brought to an end, and the great trouble of that Day will cause many to hide themselves in the rocks for fear of the LORD and for the glory of His Majesty. “The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.” (Isa. 2:9-11) Those who worship the idols “shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.” (Isa. 2:18-21)

The same picture is presented in Revelation where the great ones of earth are represented as calling upon the mountain to fall on them and to hide them from the presence of the Lord: “And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.” (Rev. 6:15,16) As the Prophet Malachi asks, “But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth?” (Mal. 3:2)

The mountains and rocks of society (all social, financial and political institutions and alliances, etc.), will all fail in that great Day of trial and judging; the result will be the overthrow of every human institution, in full accord with the Divine requirements of Justice, Righteousness.


Let us ask ourselves, where is our treasure? Where is our security? The long foretold Day of the LORD is near. The great Time of Trouble is upon us, a time “such as never was since there was a nation.” (Dan. 12:1) If our treasures are upon the earth and our confidence rests in human organizations, the time is near when we may seek protection in these holes, these social and financial arrangements, but there will be no protection possible. The Apostle declares respecting that Day that everything that can be shaken will be shaken; everything that is not in full alignment with the Divine standards will go down. (Heb. 12:26,27)

Knowing this, we should set our affections on spiritual things, not on earthly things. If we have been careless in this matter in the past, it is time for us to invest what little we have of time, influence, talent and money in the service of the King of kings, promoting the interests of the great Kingdom wherein we trust, which will be on earth as well as in heaven.

We are not counseling foolishness, the throwing away of money, of time and influence. On the contrary, we counsel the spirit of a sound mind, that every hour, every talent, every penny be used, not as our own, but as the LORD’s; not according to our selfish desires, but according to the Divine will, so far as we are able to understand it; that we may glorify God in our bodies and spirits which are His.

Jesus said, “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” (Luke 21:36) This watching means faithfulness in how we use our talents, knowing that we will be called upon to give an account of our stewardship.


It is impossible for us, or for anyone, to avert the great catastrophe which is surely bearing down upon the world. The LORD’s people are to have nothing whatever to do with bringing about the great catastrophe, any more than had the Prophets who foretold it. It is for us to be faithful to our consecration and, as far as possible, to send out the Divine Message to all of God’s people, assisting them in the faithful use of their pounds and talents. As the Apostle says “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” (Eph. 5:15-17)

We see that the world has gone pleasure mad, “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.” (2 Tim. 3:4) The spirit of the world surrounds us, threatens to engulf us and destroy our spirituality. There never was a greater need than now for the soldiers of the cross to arise, to “take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day,” to “watch and pray,” and fight a good fight against their own weaknesses and against the darts and snares of the Adversary. (Eph. 6:13; Mark 13:33; 1 Tim. 6:12)

Many dear Christians realize that we are living in strange times, but do not realize that we are in the transition period between the reign of sin, sickness and death, and the reign of Messiah’s Kingdom of righteousness and light. Let each one whose eyes of understanding have opened to a better appreciation of God’s great Book be on the alert to “show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” (1 Pet. 2:9)

 (Based on a sermon given by Pastor Russell in 1911 and printed in Harvest Gleanings, Volume 3.)


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