Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Bible (ESV) except where they are indicated to be from other translations.
ESVSB = English Standard Version Study Bible
NIV = New International Version
Please note References at the end of the article.
My own commentary
The narrative takes a turn from verses 14:6-13. In those verses, the focus is more on the earthly recipients of judgment and on the saints of the earth, who escape judgment. Verses 14:14-20, for the most part, focus on those who exercise power from heaven. The first person to wield power is, no doubt, Jesus Christ. He is identified as “one like a son of man.” There is no definite article, which is also true of the only other instance of “son of man” in Revelation (1:13). In that occurrence, the description makes it obvious that the glorified Jesus is being described. The description in 14:14 also seems to be of Jesus, who called Himself the Son of Man.
He is sitting on a white cloud. Clouds play a prominent role with Jesus. A cloud overshadowed the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration when the Father spoke to them. (Matthew 17:5) Jesus predicted that He would be “coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30) at His Parousia. Revelation 1:7 also assures us: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds…” Jesus replied to the High Priest, who was pressing Him on whether He was (or believed He was) the Messiah: Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64) His ascension is described as follows: “he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:7) The Resurrection/Rapture of the saints is described as an event that involves clouds: “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…” (I Thessalonians 4:17) In this particular scene, in Revelation 14:14ff, Jesus does not seem to be descending, but simply to be suspended over the earth.
He has a golden stephanos (crown) on His head. The stephanos crown is usually one that is a symbol of triumph or accomplishment. So, Jesus is one who has deserved a crown. Revelation 1:5b-6 describes His worthiness: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” This description and praise is echoed in 4:9-10.
He is carrying a sharp sickle, an instrument of harvesting. This prepares us for what follows.
At this point “another angel” appears. I count six angels in chapter 14. No doubt there are plenty of angels in heaven, so this should not surprise us. This angel came from the Temple. My assumption is that this Temple is in heaven and not on earth. We do know that angels were known to be in the earthly Temple. The most notable example is Isaiah’s vision, which is described in Isaiah 6. The angelic creatures there are called seraphim (singular, seraph). The ESVSB says the word means a “flame.” We do not know how the Temple in heaven is distinguished from the rest of heaven. We do know that the original tabernacle that is described in the Exodus was modeled from a heavenly vision (see Exodus 25:9, Hebrews 9, especially 9:23). We know also that the plan of Solomon’s temple and subsequent temples (that of Zerubbabel and Herod) followed the plan of the tabernacle. We also know that there is a heavenly tabernacle/temple which Christ entered (Hebrews 9:11-12) by His own blood. Thus, there is a heavenly Temple of God, which, from Hebrews, I gather to be the focal point of our blood-bought justification and redemption. In Revelation 4-5, the focus is on God’s oversight of human history. Thus, it seems appropriate that the throne of God should be the focus. In this passage, 14:14ff, the harvest of the earth is focused on. That is a focus on souls who have been bought by the blood of Jesus and on those who have not been bought. So, the heavenly temple is seen.
The angel calls out to the one sitting on the cloud and gives an “order.” If we consider the one on the cloud to be Jesus, it seems unsettling that this angel would tell Jesus what to do. However, I believe that this is not a “deal-breaker” in determining the identity of the one on the cloud. This call from the angel is not necessarily an order from a superior to a subordinate. Rather, it is an encouragement, much as when a cheerleader shouts from the sideline: “First-and-ten, do it again!” The angel calls for Jesus to “reap, for the hour to reap has come.” This instance of reaping is the reaping of a grain harvest. In 14:17-20 there is another description of a “harvest,” but this is a harvest of grapes. The wording in the two accounts, 14:14-16 and 14:17-20, is parallel, in such a way that it is obvious, but the parallelism creates a contrast and not an equivalency. The words for “reap,” “harvest,” and “ripe” in 14:14-16 all refer to grain and not to grape harvest. Jesus said (Matthew 9:37-38): “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” It is obvious that He is speaking of a harvest of people into the Kingdom in that passage. In Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, Jesus discusses, in the Parable of the Weeds (Tares), the “harvest” at the “end of the age.” The wheat plants that are reaped in that harvest are the “sons of the Kingdom.”
Jesus is encouraged to put in His sickle “for the harvest is fully ripe.” The word for ripe is often used for “dry up”—referring to rivers, blood, figs, even wheat plants. However, one of the characteristics of wheat is that the seeds in the head lose moisture as they ripen. This is the opposite of what is true of grapes.
If we consider the harvest and ripening in, for example, Matthew 9:37-38 and John 4:35, we do not think of the end of the age. Yet, Jesus compares the “end of the age” with the “harvest” in Matthew 13:39 as well as in the present passage. We recognize, however, that the New Testament perspective of the times is that the entire New Testament period can be thought of as the “end of the age.” So, the gathering of the harvest is both an ongoing process—which we would call evangelism—as well as a last-days process—which we would call the separation that judgment entails. It is possible that both processes are in view in the present passage. The judgment that the second part of the passage implies is linked to the “good” harvest of people in the first part of the passage. But that good harvest could both imply evangelism in the end times as well as the final harvest of the Rapture.
This brief verse introduces the second part of the passage. “Another” angel adds to the growing number of angels in this chapter. He is carrying a sickle. This contrasts with the first part, in which the Lord carries the sickle.
Yet another angel appears. He is described as coming “out from the altar” and as having “authority over the fire.” The altar in heaven is mentioned in Revelation 6:9, 8:3 and 5, and 9:13. It is at times strange, for it is a place where souls of martyrs are found (6:9), a place where the prayers of the saints are offered with incense (8:3), and an object that actually speaks (9:13). We can conclude that our earth-bound ideas about “inanimate objects” do not apply in heaven. In 8:5 an angel scoops up fire from the altar and throws it on the earth to bring about frightening phenomena. Those phenomena (thunder, lightning, and an earthquake) all seem to signal that the time of the end has come. It seems reasonable that this same angel is now the one coming from the altar. He has charge over the fire, which both burns incense with prayers (8:3) and brings about the end (8:5). Thus, he is associated with the welfare of the saints and with the end. It makes sense, then, that he should announce judgment.
He commands—or speaks a word of encouragement, as does the angel in 14:15—to the angel of verse 14:17 to effect another harvest, different from the harvest of verses 14:15-16. The previous harvest was of grain and this one is of grapes. The grapes are on the “vine of the earth.” In verse 14:16 the “earth was reaped” of the grain harvest. Now the earth is reaped of the grape harvest. It is announced that the grape harvest is ready.
The angel with the sickle complies and gathers the grapes. Most grapes of that time were probably used for making wine, and these grapes are thrown into a winepress, which appears to be the kind that calls for people to get in and trample the grapes, squeezing the juice out so that it flows into collecting vessels. This particular winepress is called the “great winepress of the wrath of God.” It is located “outside the city.” This description would correspond with a place of alienation, no longer within the community. There the grapes are trodden.
The amazing word picture vividly portrays the development of the wrath of God. This particular wrath is “thumos,” which we think of as being the emotional component of God’s wrath. The other word for wrath, “orge,” is more the settled, calculating component of God’s wrath. The picture is that the grapes enter into the winepress as the “raw material” for the creation of wrath. The grapes are trampled on to create a flow of God’s rage. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” used this image powerfully, as did novel The Grapes of Wrath.
The grape juice is transformed in the vision into blood that flows from the winepress. This says that God’s fury is going to produce a blood bath in the final days. The extent of the blood is staggering. Up to “a horse’s bridle” would be four or five feet. The 1,600 stadia would be about 184 miles. (This is calculated with the assumption that one stadion = 0.92 furlong, which is 1/8 of a mile.) No width is given. One commentator noted this was roughly the length of Israel, so the picture may be of the entire nation covered with blood.
The picture that is given is of horrific, violent bloodletting, most likely in a battle. Notice that this is gathering of grapes is parallel to the harvest in verses 14:1-16. We can understand the first harvest of grain to be a gathering of the people of God. The second gathering, or grape harvest, is retribution upon those who are not the people of God. It is also a statement that this retribution comes because of the fury of God.
This is not a picture of God that is very “politically correct.” This fury comes when the grapes become fully ripe. That is, God has waited a long time as human disobedience and unrighteousness and unholiness has accumulated more and more “grapes on the vine.” Moreover, it is paralleled by a “good harvest” of souls. God does not abandoned the redemptive project. But time does run out, and God will punish disobedience.
These vivid word pictures describe Jesus wielding a sickle to bring a great harvest of souls on the earth and an angel harvesting grapes to be trampled by the fury of God, resulting in an horrific shedding of human blood. The parallel accounts display God’s concern to bring souls into the people of God and the end of God’s patience and unleashing of His fury.
The identity of the sickle-bearer as “Son of Man” convinces that him this is anticipation of the “second advent of the conquering Christ.” He believes the sharp sickle is a “weapon of punishment.” The angel who gives orders is “merely a messenger” from God. He believes the passage is inspired by Joel 3:13. Below is Joel 3:12-14:
Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great. 14 Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.
He says John is using “noneschatological imagery” for “apocalyptic symbolism.” In fact Joel 3 is without doubt eschatological and why Rist would believe otherwise is not understandable. He denies that this harvest of grain is a harvest of the righteous and the harvest of the grapes is a harvest of the wicked. He says there is no evidence for a harvest of the righteous.
This passage he considers a “doublet” of verses 14:14-16 and to be based on Joel 3:13. He believes the angel with “authority over the fire” is an angel who governs all fire on the earth. He is trying to insert “angelology of the time…” See the comments of Andrew of Caesarea below for a similar understanding. I think that my references to an angel using the fire of the altar makes sense. The location of the winepress outside the city, he believes, refers to outside Jerusalem. He considers the passage to be an echo of Isaiah 63:1-6, which certainly is very similar. He says John has “transformed this into an apocalyptic scene.” It seems to me that the Isaiah scene is apocalyptic as it stands. Isaiah puts this in the context of Israel and its enemies, whereas Revelation puts it in a more universal context.
He comments that one would think that this horrific scene would signal the end of the age, but other “apocalyptic catastrophes must take place [before the end].” Yet, he, at the same time, considers all the scenes of chapter 14 to be “anticipatory of the final punishments…and rewards…”
He describes the call of the angel to the one sitting on the cloud as “peremptory”—expecting immediate obedience without resistance. From this he concludes the one with the sickle is not Christ, but an angel. He adds the argument that he duplicates the action of the angel of verse 14:17. I still maintain that neither of these arguments is sufficient to rule out the person in verse 14:14 as Jesus Christ. He argues that this is not the gathering of the righteous, but, rather, that this is a “general” harvest, signifying the end of the age.
He notes that the angel of verse 14:18 comes from the altar, which is associated in 8:3-5 with the prayers of the saints and with judgment. “John sees the judgment as God’s final answer to the prayers of His suffering saints.” He, like Rist, refers to Joel 3:13 and to Isaiah 63:3. The “major concern” of the passage is that a “cataclysmic destruction of mankind” will take place at the end. The large amount of blood means that “all mankind” will be blotted out. He explains the 1,600 stadia as the square of the “number of the earth” (four) times the square of the number for completeness (ten). Thus, “blood stretching 1,600 stadia…stands for the complete judgment of the whole earth and destruction of all mankind.”
(METZGER does not comment on this passage.)
Ladd summarizes his view as follows:
John concludes this interlude with two visions: one of the harvest of grain and the second of the vintage of God’s wrath. The first pictures the eschatological judgment with special reference to the gathering of the righteous into salvation; the second pictures the judgment of the wicked into condemnation…[People] have made their decision: loyalty to Christ…or worship of the beast. These two visions portray proleptically and dramatically the fate of these two companies.
He identifies the person in verse 14:14 as Jesus Christ. He cites Daniel’s vision of a son of man receiving the Kingdom in Daniel 7:13 and the comparison of the final judgment to a harvest in Matthew 13:37ff as well as the reference to Christ as the Son of Man in Revelation 1:13. His argument regarding the “command” of the angel in Revelation 14:15 is that angels may act as the agents of Christ reflecting a “close” and mysterious relationship between Christ and the angels.
He cites the uses of “harvest” for the final judgment in the following:
Jeremiah 51:33: For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: The daughter of Babylon is like a threshing floor at the time when it is trodden; yet a little while and the time of her harvest will come.”
Hosea 6:11: For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed, when I restore the fortunes of my people.
Mark 4:29: But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Matthew 13:39b: The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.
He argues that, since the second vision in the passage is definitely a harvest of the wicked, this first harvest is of the righteous. He notes that the “fully ripe” description of the earth indicates that God is “watching over history” and will determine when judgment should come. He notes that Christ may use the “instrumentality of angels…but he is himself the reaper.” However, that reaping is described later in Revelation 19-20.
He notes that the the angel who has authority over the fire probably comes from the altar of incense, which is associated with the prayers of the saints. This reminds us “of the efficacy of God’s people…in bringing about the end.” The fire could be fire on the altar or fire “associated with judgment.” He quotes Isaiah 63:2-3 and Joel 3:13, for in both passages grapes are associated with the wrath of God. He also mentions Revelation 19:15 which gives a similar image of trampling the grapes of God’s wrath. The city of 14:20 is a “symbol of God’s dwelling in the midst of his people—possibly in the new Jerusalem—and the thought is that…[the wicked] are shut out from the presence of God.” He notes that the length of the blood is the length of Palestine, so that the “entire land is pictured as inundated in blood to a depth of four feet.” Thus “radical judgment” removes all “hostility to the reign of God.” Very likely he is referring to the end of the Tribulation period and the preparation for the Millennium.
He—as he does in commentary on other parts of the book—refers the reader to various other parts of the book that use similar descriptions. For example he lists various characters who have crowns, such as the elders in 4:4 and the first rider in 6:2. He also refers to Joel 3:13, Mark 4:29, and Jeremiah 51:33 as examples of the harvest. But he does not enlarge on this concept.
He refers to 19:15 and comments that the 14:17-20 “seems to be an image of judgment rather than of redemption (cf 14:3).” The location “outside the city” is a “place separated from the places of holiness…” He refers to 22:15 which excludes “dogs,” etc. He contrasts this concept with the admonition for Christians to be willing to go “outside the camp” in Hebrews 13:13. He compares other passages in Revelation where blood is shed, and, in those cases, it is either the blood of the Lamb or of the martyrs (for examples, 1:5 and 6:10). He cites Caird who believes this passage is describing the “martyrdom of the saints…” Somehow, Caird sees martyrdom to be the “judgment meted out on Babylon,” which is seen only by the “eye of faith.” Rowland refers to I Peter 4:17, which describes judgment as beginning with the church. In his usual fashion Rowland stacks together complex ideas without expansion. So, here, he states that the “slaughter of the martyrs, whose witness is, in some sense, vicarious.” Then, he quickly moves on to state that this passage is “an anticipation of judgement…from which the servants of God cannot escape. They, too, find that their time of trial comes when they must resist and that they, too, will be martyred.” This is a maddening set of ideas that Rowland refuses to make explicit and complete and is content only to be suggestive. This is his style, which leaves me unsatisfied. I am especially concerned that he seems to fuse together judgment of the unrighteous with martyrdom of the saints. It is true that the passage in I Peter 4:12-19 discusses three ideas—martyrdom, purification of the church, and judgment of the unrighteous. Peter considers suffering for the cause of Christ to be a glory for the Christian. He warns Christians not to get involved in sinful practices which also bring suffering, but the suffering of discipline from God (I Peter 4:15). He does warn that judgment begins at the household of God. He implies that such judgment will be painful, but nothing in comparison to the judgment of the disobedient (I Peter 4:17). So, I find in I Peter 4:12-19 that suffering of saints for the cause of Christ (whether it be death or something less) is lifted up as a badge of honor. There is also suffering of Christians who are disciplined for their sins. This results in a purification of the church. Finally, there is judgment of the unsaved, which is both horrific in its pain and completely lacking in glory. The latter two (discipline and judgment) are understood to be somewhat on a continuum. However, the discipline of the church brings refinement and purification, which is not the case of the judgment of the unrighteous. Rowland seems to conflate all of these ideas without an attempt at discrimination.
In his section on “Reflections,” he discusses the end of chapter 14 which, he says, “seems barbaric, unedifying, and theologically immature.” It “continues to be a scandal for modern readers.” He states that these verses stress “the utmost seriousness the choices we make and the consequences of these choices.” His approach is as follows:
Given that Revelation is an allusive, suggestive text rather than a prescriptive one, its function is to move readers and hearers to think anew, to allow their perspective to be changed and to portray the consequences of failing to respond rather than to describe in minute detail the future of the world.
However, he admits that his approach does not “diminish the sense of alienation” from the text for the “modern reader.” He believes this leads to ignoring the entire book and leaving it to “fringe religious groups.” He believes that the book should stimulate imagination and not be the subject of “slavish dependence on the minutiae of exegesis…” Instead we should be open “to the process of disorientation of our understanding…”
I can understand and appreciate Rowland’s perspective. I find it ironic, however, that he considers that somehow we, whom he describes as the “modern reader,” have outgrown the kind of material that we find in the book and especially in 14:17-20. Yet, the modern reader has witnessed Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the holocaust, Aleppo, 9-11-01, Boko Haram, and ISIS. I see on the news every night senseless killings from drive-by shootings that send bullets through four-year-olds. I read of forty and fifty-year-olds who are overdosing on heroin. I see children and women being assaulted in their homes. I could extend the list of horrors on and on. We may sit in some ivory tower and pretend that life has been scrubbed clean of the Scythian sword and the trampling of Roman legions and the hordes who slung babies against stones, but life remains brutal and ugly for many people throughout the world. God has sent His Son into the world to save the world. That salvation was bought on a cruel Roman cross, one of the worst forms of execution ever devised. It holds out hope for an eternity of joy and peace. But it calls us to stand up into the reality of a vicious world and proclaim that Jesus is Lord. God calls all people to identify with Jesus just as He identified with us on the cross. If they turn away, then they join the world in its viciousness and they will meet God in His fury. We have to look full-faced into God’s love and mercy but also into God’s judgment. Paul said: “…on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” Notice that he includes judgment as an integral component of the gospel. We have to take the Word that gives us love and mercy as truth and that truth includes God’s judgment, which is not a pretty sight to the “modern reader.”
Almost all of these ancient commentators engage in “spiritualizing” this passage. I shall be rather brief in summarizing their comments.
Oecumenius: The “cloud” either is a literal cloud, as in Revelation 1:7, or it represents angels, or it represents the “mother of God,” Mary. The crown represents the Kingdom. The sickle signals that this is the consummation of the age. The harvest by the sickle is the consummation in preparation to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Pramasius: The cloud is Christ’s literal body or is His church. The crown represents the 24 elders of chapter 4 or the 12 apostles. The sickle is the “judicial sentence” against the unrighteous. The use of the sickle on the ripe crop will bring about the fate of the good and the evil, as the grain is separated from the chaff. This will give the church illumination as to whom is excluded from her. So the church will sit on a cloud to judge, as Jesus predicted that the apostles would sit on thrones and judge (Matthew 19:28).
Caesarius of Arles: The cloud is the church and the gold is the 24 elders. The sickle separates the “catholics” (true Christians) from the heretics.
Andrew of Caesarea: He is in harmony with some of the others. The cloud is the literal cloud of His coming or “angelic power.” The crown is Christ’s authority to govern all things. The sickle represents the consummation of the age.
Bede: The cloud is Christ’s flesh, which He uses to cover His divinity and to be visible to those who pierced Him. The sickle is what separates the evil and the good. The loud cry of the angel represents the supplications of those in heaven who desire the good and evil to be separated. That the harvest is ripe means that the “seed of piety” has matured and is ready for the “heavenly granaries.”
Oecumenius: The angel is heavenly and a servant of God for the coming consummation. The vintage of grapes is the harvest of the serious transgressors who are “drunken and deranged.” They do not merit interrogation but are immediately thrown into the winepress. The place of torment (the winepress) is outside the city so that the happiness of the saints not be spoiled. The blood shows that the grapes that are trampled represent real people who are trampled and cut up. The horses can represent the angelic powers that the Lord rides on. The great length means that sinners close and far off spill their blood. The great amount of blood is “highly figurative” of the many who walk in the broad road of destruction.
Primasius: The winepress is outside the city, that is, outside the church, after the separation of evil and good. The trodding is the same as the threshing, for both prove or test the righteous. The blood reaches the bridles because the vengeance reaches even the leaders of the nations. He also changes figures and says that the blood is the blood of the saints and the blood to the bridles means the blood-guilt reaches to Satan and his princes. He also sees the horses to represent heretics who “started wars.” That blood will pursue them to the four corners of the earth (1,600 stadia).
Caesarius of Arles: The “vintager” is Christ in His “body which is the church.” The three angels of 14:14-20 represent the “threefold sense of the Scriptures, namely, the historical, the moral and the spiritual senses.” And the sickle differentiates among them.
Andrew of Caesarea: This angel with the sickle is not Christ, but a ministering angel. He will cut off the impious. There are various angels who govern parts of creation—water, fire, and so forth. So this one in verse 18 is in charge of the fire. The grapes are the impious and they “harvest” the wrath of demons and asps. The winepress is the place of torment prepared for the devil and his angels. The horses could represent transgressors who are “horses full of lust.” Their tortures will reach up to their bridles—for they did not bridle in their pleasures. The 1,600 stadia is the great distance between the righteous and the sinners. It also represents the perfection of their evil, since it is a compound of perfect numbers. For example 10 X 100 is the complete magnitude of evil. Creation took 6 days, and 600 is their misuse of creation. Also, the flood came when Noah was 600 years old.
Bede: The vintager is Christ as is the one who harvested the wheat in 14:14-16. The church has two fruits—wheat and vintage. Both have come to ruin “because of the neglect of the caretakers.” The announcements—that the wheat and the grapes are ripened—represent the prayers of the church for the Kingdom to come. The ripened grapes is either completion of sins or of the good. The threshing and trodding in the winepress grinds down the useless and tests the useful. He refers to Tyconius who considers that both the harvester (14:14-16) and the vintager (14:17-20) are the church. The angels who call out from heaven do so through the quiet suggestion of the Holy Spirit. The fire comes out of the mouth of the witnesses and consumes their enemies.
The cloud represents to him the Parousia of Christ. He is wearing the “victor’s wreath” as the Conqueror not the King. He comes, however, to reap. An angel conveys the command of the Father, the Lord of the harvest, to the Son, who does not know the time of the consummation. He cites Old Testament instances of the harvest and the use of the sickle. He considers that this harvest is restricted to the “wheat-harvest considered apart from the tares.” The second passage, 14:17-20, is the harvest of evil. The ripeness is judged by God and determines the time of harvest. Christ is the reaper, though He may use men and angels. How long it takes is not indicated by the text.
The two passages (14:14-16 and 17-20) treat the “two harvests as distinct, placing them in their natural order, and using them as symbols of two separate spiritual ingatherings.” Thus, “the Apocalyptist gives full expression to the Lord’s teaching as to the great separation between man and man which is reserved for the Parousia.” The city is the “idealized” Jerusalem. The winepress is outside of, but within sight of, the city. He considers that 1,600 stadia possibly represents the length of Palestine—similar to the phrase “from Dan to Beersheba.” However, he believes this is an “Apocalyptic arithmetic” as a symbol of completeness: 4X400. “The point to be illustrated is the finality of the blow dealt to the enemies of the Israel of God…” He considers that this final passage is part of the “general purpose of this chapter [chapter 14], which leads the reader from the existing condition of the church to her final triumph at the end of the present order.”
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