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Perspectives on Israel: What’s at Stake?

Reformed theologians emphatically maintain that their Covenant Theology is not Replacement Theology. I have read their arguments in support of their position over and over again and I don’t see a dime’s worth of difference, except what seems to me more semantics than actual differences. Every time I go back and compare the two, I still essentially come up with the same sum totals. So what can you add, correct, or clarify of this perception?

There are different kinds and degrees of replacement theology that has very little to do with how one cuts the covenants. Covenant theology is usually placed over against dispensational theology / eschatology. Once again, it is largely illusional of extremes that are more imagined than real, and certainly not necessary.

There are many amillennialists who do not believe Christ can return any moment like pre-trib dispensationalists do. Why? Because they recognize what Paul calls, “their fullness” (Ro 11:12). By this, they understand a future fullness for the natural branches. Many of our premillennial brethren do not know this, but it’s a conviction among more amills and post-mills than many think. So you can see why they may not think they’re being fairly tagged ‘replacement’. Give me those guys any day to many who are virulently replacement like JW’s, Adventists, and many amills who believe Jesus can just show up, no Jews needed.

The same could be said of many historic pre-mill types who are willing to see a sizable number from among the Jewish branches that will be grafted in again to their own good olive tree before the age can end. (They identify the olive tree as the covenant with Israel, and those who persevere in faith as the true body of Christ, so that when the branches are grafted back in, they are coming into the body, baptized by the Spirit into the one body). So, while not denying a future for a sizable remnant of Jews, this is still, in one sense, yet a ‘kind’ of replacement. How so? It is because of the implications that follow from NOT seeing the particular relation of the Jew to the Land in the covenants of promise.

Failing of this, they likewise fail to discern the significance and covenant investment of God in the ‘controversy of Zion’, i.e., the Jerusalem centered crisis of the end. Thus, they do not see the covenantal necessity of a post-tribulational deliverance of Israel, as a nation born in one day, with a millennial destiny that is peculiar to an all saved Jewish nation, preserved in uninterrupted holiness for a thousand years of covenant faithfulness (“their fullness”; Ro 11:12) and vindication of every jot and tittle of the literally interpreted scripture.

In short, they do not see, for reasons they think the NT supports, the covenant necessity of a literal, Jewish Israel at the head of the nations during a millennial rule of Jesus out of a restored Zion, here on earth. They thus deny a ‘Judeo-centric’ crisis over Jerusalem at the end of the age, and the Judeo-centric millennium to follow. They see it as building again the middle wall of partition. If there is a millennium, it is the meek, Christians in general, that inherit the world in general. The specificity and particularity of the covenants and promises to Jews as Jews, are considered a myopic, nationalistic anachronism that the NT, not only expands but corrects.

Covenant theologians are such simply because they apply to the elect in general the many scriptures that we show to have a clearly post-tribulational, millennial context. That’s why they’re mystified and divided among themselves on just how to understand why all their kids (“children of the covenant) don’t all get saved. It’s been a great puzzlement, because they’re trying to take over Israel’s millennial promises and have them all fulfilled, in all their implications for the children of born again families in this age, so that every child born to regenerate parents are necessarily sure of eventual salvation and a home in heaven. But obviously, that doesn’t always work out, so its been a perennial problem and source qualification and debate.

It is this understanding of the covenant’s promise of continuance to all who are truly regenerate that led George Whitfield to caution and exhort his close friend, John Wesley, concerning Wesley’s contention that true regeneration can be fatally and finally reversed. That is to say that a truly regenerate believer can lose salvation. Whereas both expected a great falling away, and had already seen many leave a promising beginning, they were divided on whether the many that would fall from the faith once delivered to the saints, as a body of saving truth, had ever really passed through the straight gate of true regeneration, as having no deep root, as in the example of Judas, Hymenaeus and Philetus, etc. (Jn 6:64, 70; Mt 7:21-23; Jn Acts 15:54 with 1Jn 2:19; 2Tim 2:17-20. Whitfield saw Wesley’s assumption that true regeneration can be reversed as striking ultimately at the heart of the everlasting covenant and ‘foundation of God’.

On a certain occasion, when in heated exchange of papers between Wesley and Augustus Toplady, author of “Rock of Ages”, Wesley was pronouncing imprecations on his own head if the God of the Calvinists exists, to him an impossible thought. Disturbed and concerned at his friend’s haste and presumption, Whitfield endeavored to restrain Wesley by appealing to him to make a more “careful reading of the covenant”.

By this, George was trying to help John to see God was able to keep His own eternally, as represented in the covenant promises to be realized by millennial Israel. It is this that made many of that era incline towards the ‘covenant theology’ of the Reformation, many of whom, even most of whom, did grant some ‘kind’ of necessary future ‘fullness’ for the natural branches. Among the great covenant theologians of the Dutch Reformed, most saw a future for Israel, NOT necessarily millennial (though there were some millennialists), but before this age can end. They never, or many of them, never entertained the possibility of a return of Jesus without the prior return of a future remnant from among the natural branches.

So this is the dilemma: Whether or not the passages that we see as manifestly post-tribulational, and millennial in their context, how far can believers of this age claim the blessing of the New Covenant, as it will be true of millennial Jews and their children?

Before answering that, we need to observe that this understanding of the end and goal of the covenant, as made exclusively and specially to the natural seed of Abraham, means that the Jewish nation in the millennium is promised a uniformity of salvation that is NOT promised to any other nation in the millennial age. Many prophecies, and even the logic of a final revolt, proves this beyond reasonable dispute. So while there is an election of grace among the nations, it is only in ONE Land, with ONE people, that an unbroken continuity of salvation is promised and maintained, whereby all the seed / children born to born again, Spirit filled Jewish parents, are scripturally guaranteed salvation and preservation, without exception forever (the thousand years). Conspicuously, this is only among the Jews, and that is the divinely intended spectacle, defying all nature, that is set before the nations for a thousand years.

It is rare to find any writer, let alone any well known school of interpretation, that seems to face or draw out what should seem the unavoidable implications of this profound truth, so continuously reiterated throughout the prophets. It is the background and logic of Paul’s insistence on the outstanding ‘covenant necessity’ of an all saved Jewish nation on this earth, and not merely the gathering into the body of Christ some extra Jews at the end of this age. Even when this much is granted among covenant theologians, it is seldom in the scriptural context of a Judeo-centered tribulation and end of this age.

Usually, interpreters of this school will recognize some kind of Jewish re-ingraftement, but they will plead modest ignorance of just how or when this will come about, when in fact, scripture could hardly be more pronounced as to exactly when and how. This view of a Jewish, Jerusalem centered millennium is so decisive for the question of the covenant, as scripture conceives and unfolds it. When this is missed, and even when it is acknowledged, many fail to connect the divinely intended meaning, the point that God is making through a nation appointed to resurrection and new birth in one day (Isa 66:8; Eze 39:22; Zech 3:9), with a thousand years following of astounding preservation in un-forfeited holiness. How can such a thing be? Exactly! And what is God’s point? If we know everything about Israel and miss the main point, we have missed the very point of God’s unspeakably costly investment in their covenant history, and its vital instruction for the church.

To me, any view that comes short of THIS understanding of Paul’s meaning when he says, ‘and so then all Israel shall be saved’, is inherently replacement in its perhaps unconscious denial of the millennial vindication of the covenant, as conceived by the prophets and passionately reiterated by Paul. And not only this, but the whole meaning of why the age ends just where it does, around the issues it does, is also missed, leaving the church disarmed and unprepared to be the maskilim (persons of insight) bringing the key of interpretation to Israel and the nations. Yet, who but he church, as the ‘pillar and ground of truth’, will God entrust with this holy task? Dispensationalism says the 144,000 Jewish evangelists that come to faith after the church has been taken to heaven by the rapture.

What Paul means by this much disputed phrase (“and so all Israel shall be saved”) has been the topic of great disagreement and challenge among interpreters. I believe the case is easily made that Paul was reading the prophets as teaching the covenant necessity of the existence on this earth of a completely saved and eternally secure Jewish nation that would now be able to hold the Land promised to their fathers in permanent continuance. This is all presented by the prophets as requiring conditions that will not obtain on this earth until the tribulation has ended with the great and terrible day of the Lord.

So never did Paul expect these conditions of an all saved Israel before this age had run its course to its appointed end in the day of the Lord. It is the tribulation, and the Antichrist as obsessed most directly with Jerusalem and the Jewish descendents of Jacob that seems most neglected by covenant expositors. It is the weakest link in their defenses. Once it is shown beyond reasonable dispute that the Antichrist is pitted particularly against the covenant symbols centered at Jerusalem. Once you show that the tribulation begins THERE, with the object of exterminating the covenant nation, it is a small step to establish the covenant background and abiding literal promises that must follow to Israel, which, of course, requires a millennium. It all stands or falls together. That’s our apologetic. It is to show that one cannot separate events that God has indivisibly joined.

At the end of the final tribulation, the Deliverer comes out of Zion to accomplish the final purification of the elect nation, which will then exist in abiding righteousness, while yet in natural bodies in their own Land on this earth, and, as we are informed by John’s Revelation, this witness in the sight of angels and nations will continue for a thousand years. Obviously, this is not the majority view. It is comparatively quite rare. I have only heard one other expositor make mention of it in a short quote from Adolph Saphir in his commentary on Hebrews that Bryan Purtle sent to some of us recently. We must be prepared to show and defend what any plain reading of plain language demands, as these things are NOT veiled in symbol or figurative speech. Moreover, we are prepared to give account of its purpose and meaning. It is one thing to know the what, even the when of God’s declared intention, and still miss the all important ‘WHY’ of His ultimate point in the eschatology of the covenant.

Had Paul seen the millennium as a definite limited interim between the DOL return of Jesus and the post-millennial revolt? I think the interim most likely, but we have nothing conclusive of what was believed about its duration till John’s Revelation. However, it is likely that many saw the 7th millennium as following the 6 millennia of the kingdom of man. But this depends on what Peter may have had in mind in his reference to a day equalling a thousand years in 2Pet 3. We know that among some examples of inter-testamental evidence, and rabbinical speculations that the future age was divided and sometimes conceived of as a sabbath millennial rest in analogy to the 7 days of creation.

I speculate that it was Paul’s wrestling with the coincidence of the glorified saints co-habiting the millennial earth with a Jewish nation still in their natural bodies that led him to the revelation of the mystery of the rapture (1Cor 15). It seems a necessary inference then, that since the body must be changed, translation of those saved during the millennium will evidently come at the next great transitional epoch in the history of redemption at the end of the millennium, as necessary to begin the eternal state. In the meantime, it seems probable that the glorified church of this age will be present and ruling with Jesus over the cities of the millennial earth, but perhaps not at all times visible to the saints on earth, and obviously not to the unregenerate multitudes that will repopulate the millennium.

I mention this, because it is to be admitted that we premillenialists have some ‘loose ends’ that are not directly, and explicitly addressed in scripture, as true of a great many things. It is true we are left with some more or less necessary inferences, but none of this can be turned into a justification to diminish or in any way ‘re-interpret’ the plain, grammatical, historic sense of scripture, particularly when the language used does not fall under the category of poetic, hyperbolic, symbolic, or figurative.

So how far does Israel’s millennial experience of the New Covenant apply to believers and their children in the present age of New Covenant fulfillment through the Spirit of Christ? That is the very thing that covenant theologians and their adherents wrestle with at a practical level when their children do not show the necessary signs of regeneration. It is also some of the thinking behind infant baptism, though they do not make the baptism of their children to count for regeneration, as in the sacramentalism of Catholics and Lutherans.

I think we can take the post-tribulational experience of the nations as our key to this question. They will be no less saved, loved, and promised glorification of their bodies than Jews living in the millennium. But uniform continuity of salvation is NOT promised to every one of their children, as the case with millennial Israel. If that is true, it is an inference, since it is not explicitly stated in scripture. We also know that Jesus applies the millennial promise concerning the uniform salvation of all of Israel’s children to believers of the present age who are drawn to faith in Jesus (compare Isa 54:13; 59:21 with Jn 6:45) but this cannot be taken to mean that every child born to this elect company is guaranteed salvation, as we see of the children of Jews in the millennium.

Thus, there is the necessary distinction between the spiritual application of ‘eternal life’ promised in the covenants, as properly applied to ‘all’ the spiritual seed of Abraham, but this has limits in this age, as the scripture itself makes clear. Neither believing gentiles nor believing Jews of this present age, are explicitly promised that it is impossible that any of their children fail of regeneration (Mt 10:36). But this is precisely what is promised in the millennium, along with their perseverance in holiness.

As much as we would like to believe that not one of the children of regenerate parents can fail of salvation, there is a reason we do not see this kind of uniformity of salvation among the elect of this age. It is NOT promised! It is only promised to Jews in the coming age after the tribulation, and it exists in just that way it does, at that time it does, for a very special purpose of divine demonstration of God’s great point in His original election of Jacob, as apart from works, but that is another discussion.

For Israel to be sure of the promises of a people who can continue in the Land forever, without further threat from the curse of the broken law, something had to be done with the habitual tendency to backslide. For this, true and lasting regeneration would have to come to ‘all Israel’ and NOT only to the perennial, typically small remnant. This is clear; because if only a remnant is saved, as the case throughout Israel’s history, then the remnant would also suffer exposure to the discipline and judgements of the covenant, including exile. What then would be necessary to guarantee perpetuity and assured freedom from the curse of the broken covenant? Nothing short of an ‘everlasting righteousness’ (Jer 32:40; Dan 9:24) that would extend to children’s children, from which they would “never again depart” (Isa 59:;21; Jer 32:40).

So the logic of the covenant, as understood by the prophets, was clear: Israel must at some point exist as an all righteous nation, no more as a mixed multitude. A mere remnant would not suffice. They must all be saved. This would require an ultimate solution to the problem of apostasy. Only then could the Land be safe from enemy invaders and the promise sure of eternal continuance. And for this to be sure, not only to those entering the Land after the final tribulation, but to all future generations, it must follow that ‘all’ their children must also be saved and kept saved (Jer 31:34; Isa 54:13; 59:21; 60:21; 65:23; 66:22 et al).

Otherwise, new and succeeding generations would put the covenant back in jeopardy. Hence, the divinely intended necessity of a New Covenant that would insure the regeneration and sure continuance of ‘all Israel’, a particularly Jewish Israel, safe in the Land forever. Even where the New Covenant scriptures will expand on these themes, they are not changed, nor require to be changed. Israel continues to mean Israel in the sense intended by the prophets, and manifestly understood by Paul.

Jews must be Jews, not only in the coming calamity, but in its millennial aftermath. It is crucial to the divine purpose that Jews be preserved as Jews. They are the sign people! They must be Jews, sufficiently visible and distinguishable, in order to make the point that God has invested an entire history of covenant unfolding to make THROUGH THEM! (Ro 11:27). This is the primary purpose of the millennium. It is not an unnecessary appendix in the divine drama. The millennium is the scene of that necessary stage of God’s making good on every promise, every jot and tittle of His Word and oath to the natural branches.

Now we come to covenant theology’s principal opposition and alternative view of the covenants. Since many historic, post-trib premills hold to some form of what dispensationalists brand, ‘covenant theology’ (a term that should NOT be taken as NECESSARILY replacement), the competing position opposing covenant theology is, of course, pretibulational dispensationalism. A good example of someone who holds our view of covenantal development along the controlling principle of the history of the promise, is Walter Kaiser. I believe I recall correctly that dispensationalists consider him a ‘covenant theologian’. But some would categorize him as a ‘modified dispensationalists’, simply because he is premillennial, but NOT pre-trib. Here is an example of a world renowned evangelical scholar who is miles removed from replacement theology of any kind, yet takes a non dispensational approach to the covenants.

Old school dispensationalists would speak of two new covenants, one for the church now, and another, completely distinct new covenant (though based on the same blood) for Israel after the tribulation. More recently, so-called, “progressive dispensationalism”, sees the ‘already and not yet’ aspects of the one and only New / Everlasting Covenant, but still divide the church from Israel in order to justify a pre-trib rapture. According to pre-tribulational dispensationalism, the dominant view among those who see the great tribulation as future, the body of Christ must be distinguished as completely distinct from saints that come to faith after the rapture. Though blood washed and born again by the Spirit, these so-called, ‘tribulation saints’ are held o belong to another people of God. This is what covenant theologians rightly find so repugnant and inconceivable.

Both classical and progressive dispensationalists see the necessity of the literally interpreted prophecies as demanding a Jewish nation, all saved and returned to their land, with none ‘left behind’ (Eze 39:22, 28-29). So far so good. But then, as mentioned, they divide the regenerate elect into two distinct peoples with two distinct destinies. Therefore, they do not see the saved of the tribulation, nor the saved of post-tribulational Israel, as belonging to the body of Christ.

So obviously, in this view, the covenants of God with Israel are retained just for Israel, as gentiles and Jews of the present age belong to a distinct and separate body, i.e., the body of Christ. This means that the body of Christ does NOT inherit Israel’s promises, but our question is, ‘what other promises, and what other covenants are there to inherit? We are grafted “in among them”. We are made fellow heirs and of the same commonwealth of Israel with all saints (not only the saints since Pentecost) in one body, one new man, as the mystery of Christ has been revealed to show God’s eternal intention to gather together into one all (elect) things (and persons) into Him (Eph 1:9-10).

While we make the distinction between saved Jews and saved gentiles both in this age and the age to come; we do not divide them. They are one body, one new man, yet not without divinely ordained distinctions. Jews in the millennium have a unique stewardship over the city and the Land for God’s millennial purpose and demonstration, but they are no less the body of Christ, and one Spirit with their brothers and sisters from the nations.

The great disjuncture between this age and the next is that NOT all Israel is regenerate, but, as Paul insists, “all Israel shall be saved”. When is this? How is this? According to the language and logic of what is promised in the covenants, as understood and applied by the prophets, the covenant has not reached its full scope and goal until there is not to be found a single descendent of Jewish parents that will not know the Lord and be filled with the Holy Spirit. This would be one thing for the saints in glory, but this is NOT what the scriptures envisions. These penitent survivors of the last holocaust will enter the millennium in natural bodies.

As the Jewish survivors of the tribulation see the One whom they pierced, as the tribes all mourn at the revelatory, transforming sight of their returning Joseph (Zech 12:10-13:1), in remarkable analogy to Paul’s Damascus road vision, the Spirit is poured out, but this is the first-fruits of the Spirit that leaves the survivors of Israel still in their natural bodies to fulfill the millennial promises. Their repentance and new birth is happening at the same the last trump (1Cor 15:52 with Mt 24:31; Isa 27:13; Rev 10:7) is translating the members of Christ’s body (1Cor 15:23) into final glorification. So Paul reveals the mystery of the rapture, which accomplishes the divide between those receiving regeneration at the last trump, and those already regenerate receiving final glorification of their bodies.

So the penitent survivors of Israel enter the millennial period in their natural bodies, born again and full of the Spirit, but able still have children, build houses and multiply in the Land, but without the threat of lapsing again under covenant failure that would jeopardize their security and everlasting continuance in the Land. That is how the prophets saw it, as any plain reading will confirm. They didn’t see all that God had planned, true, but what they saw was true and requires no change or re-interpretation. From the perspective of the NT, the Day of the Lord still lies ahead, as does the great tribulation, and not one word shall fail of its plain literal sense.

The Land will be theirs uniquely and specifically. Others will come and go, as joyous, grateful sojourners, with certain assigned portions, defrauded of no good thing in Christ. But only one people, preserved in that mysterious distinction that has sealed them to unparalleled suffering and incomparable glory, will ‘all’ be holy in their Land. The kingdom, in this sense, will NOT be given to another people (“not another”; Isa 65:21-23; “not left to another people”; Dan 2:44). Then and only then will they lie down in safety so that none make them afraid, so that the “children of wickedness will NEVER AGAIN afflict them as before” (2Sam 7:10).

Like the face of Pharaoh, they will not see the face of another Antichrist or gentile invader to threaten their peace. Isaiah shows that from the time that the last gentile aggressor is destroyed, as prefigured by the kings of Bablyon and Assyria (Isa 14:4, 25), which is to say, from the time that Satan is bound, “no feller is come up against us” (Isa 14:8; KJV). And when the Lord, in His providence, permits the last rebellion to gather in utter futility, it accomplishes nothing, except the ordained display that is given to prove that when Satan is released for the last test, the hidden depravity that lurks in the untested heart of the unregenerate will be fully exposed for a last time in the appointed day of temptation. Thus, the post-millennial exhibition of man’s depravity is also designed to show the invincibility of the Davidic covenant in its millennial expression. “They shall surely gather together, but NOT by Me … no weapon formed against you shall prosper” (Isa 54:15, 17).

Hallelujah! What a witness they will be in the earth! What an anomaly! What a burning bush of inexplicable divine testimony! Everyday, as people carry on their natural lives, this will be set before them. It can only be compared to what we can imagine it must have been for Abraham. Everyday, as God’s friend went about his normal routine, with all the tests and adversities common to this life, he could look over to his side and see that little miracle boy, who, by every natural reckoning, should not be there. What a constant reminder of the supernatural existence and intervention of His / our mighty God. It is that kind of daily reminder that Israel will be to the nations.

As the physically preserved sign nation, God has a statement ‘through them’ that will reverberate through all eternity, world without end (Isa 45:17). It is His ultimate, eschatological statement. It is very intentionally, necessarily visible, public, and literal. Not only through the return of Jesus, but through the return of Israel, God will once and for all answer the question, ‘has God really said?’ That’s what’s most ultimately at stake in the covenants and their eschatological conclusion on this earth.

The grand point is clear. It is to answer the question first raised by God Himself, as first put to Moses. It is the question of replacement theology (see Num 14). Can He bring into the Land and keep in the Land, the very people He first brought out of Egypt? What will be required? The answer is an apocalyptic transformation that will circumcise the heart of an entire nation. Moses sees at the end of a final and unequaled tribulation (Deut 4:29-30; 29:4; 30:1-5). The prophets will call this apocalyptic intervention the day of the Lord. This is the New Covenant, “My covenant with THEM”, but it is first, according to the mystery, established now ‘in Christ’ in unexpected advance of ‘that day’. Yet, this mystery does nothing to compromise the sure fulfillment that remains to be established with ‘all Israel’ in the coming, post-tribulational day of the Lord.

Present access into the grace of the covenants does nothing to redirect or cancel their predestined appointment with post-tribulational Israel. What possible NT passage has ever remotely suggested otherwise? Scripturally, biblically, with no violence to the present New Covenant standing of believers of this age, WHY CAN”T every outstanding promise in its plain, post-tribulational context, yet be made good to the literal people of Israel at the time appointed? (Ps 102:13; 1103). Not to a mystical Israel, without arguing that question, but the people that to this day have borne the heat of the day, in covenant curses, divine discipline, and untold suffering among the nations? All for what? Shame on those who can conceive what to God is impossible (‘as I live …’), that the covenant of the Land made with the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could conceivably stop short of an all righteous Jewish nation, safe in their Land forever. Read there in your Bible! But do not restrict your reading the final third. Ask the Holy Spirit if one truth need rule out another.

Why either or? Why not believe both, since God said both? If we don’t believe, how will we get God’s costly point? How will we enter into the fellowship of His suffering where Israel is concerned, and the unspeakable cost He’s invested in the outworking of the covenants that demand more than the discipline and judgment of God’s national son, but his future millennial glory on earth?

Yes, there is mystery. There is great difficulty in managing the many facets, but there is no excuse for unbelief or to be taught of man rather than the Spirit. Here’s the issue: The plain language and ‘authorial intentionality’ of Moses and the prophets show clearly their expectation of an age on this earth beyond the climactic Day of the Lord, wherein all the promises made to recalcitrant Israel would be established without fail, here, where the odds are most opposed. The NT still looks forward to that day. Why deplete that day of all that the prophets and apostles of both testaments bind inextricably to that day?

Without the perspective that comes from a plain reading of the promises, covenants, and prophecies, the question of why a millennium? must remain in misty non-resolution. When the centrality of Israel and a ‘Jewishly’ centered, millennial Jerusalem is denied or dissolved, the assemblies of God’s people are robbed of vital instruction concerning their covenant standing in the everlasting covenant in its present fulfillment. Moreover, they are robbed and disarmed of crucial preparation to understand and give answer in the coming time of Jacob’s trouble. “What meaneth these things? But but most tragically, ignorance of this mystery (Ro 11:25), whether willing or unconscious, robs God of His greater glory in revealing His secrets to His friends (Gen 18:27; Isa 41:8; James 2:23; Amos 3:7; Jn 15:15; Rev 10:7).”Come and see!”

It’s not about unprofitable academic arguments; it’s about care for a harmonized Bible and to grasp what God has been pleased to reveal to His servants in a rather manageable, lifetime stewardship of only 66 books.

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