Pastor David B. Curtis

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The Final Warning

Hebrews 12:18-29

Delivered 03/17/2002

A pilot guiding a steamer down the Cumberland saw a light, apparently from a small craft, in the middle of the narrow channel. His impulse was to disregard the signal and run down the boat. As he came near, a voice shouted, "Keep off, keep off." In great anger he cursed what he supposed to be a boatman is his way. On arriving at his next landing, he learned that a huge rock had fallen from the mountain into the bed of the stream, and that a signal was placed there to warn the coming boats of the unknown danger.

Many believers regard God's warnings in the same way and get angry with any who tell them of the rocks in their course. Some day we will understand God's warnings, but for now we do well to obey them.

The epistle of Hebrews could be described in a word as a "warning." This book is famous for its warning passages; there are a total of five of them. We are studying the fifth and final one, and we come this morning to the final warning itself.

We must understand that the writer is not warning about losing everlasting life. Neither is he warning false professors of the danger of not going all the way and trusting the Lord. He is warning Christians of the danger of turning away from the Lord, of committing apostasy:

Hebrews 10:34-35 (NKJV) for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. 35 Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward.

Hebrews was written to a group of suffering, persecuted Jewish believers who, because of the persecution, are tempted to turn their back on Christianity and go back to Judaism. The writer is warning them that to do so would put them in the category of Esau. He lost his birthright, and so would they if they turned away from Christ. And they would some day deeply regret it.

Throughout this epistle the writer has constantly contrasted the Old Covenant with the New, showing the superiority of the New Covenant and our Lord's High Priesthood. The writer has also emphasized that the greater privilege of the New Covenant also brought a greater responsibility.

What is the purpose of these contrasts? To provide a basis of warning those who were considering going back to the Old Covenant and its rituals. He is warning them by means of contrast.

This final warning has two parts:

1. Verses 18-24 contrast the Old Covenant with the New Covenant showing the superior privileges of the New Covenant, and therefore, the greater responsibility we have under it.

2. Verses 25-29 show the necessity to heed the voice of the God of that covenant. If they were punished in the Old Covenant for refusing to listen to Him who spoke from Sinai, how much more severe will be the punishment that comes upon those who refuse to listen to him who speaks from Mt. Zion.

Verses 18-21 describe the events which took place on Mt. Sinai when the 10 commandments were given to Moses, and the Mosaic covenant was enacted. This description of the terrors of Sinai is drawn from Exodus 19, let's look at it together:

Exodus 19:7-12 (NKJV) So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the LORD commanded him. 8 Then all the people answered together and said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do." So Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD. 9 And the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever." So Moses told the words of the people to the LORD. 10 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. 11 "And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 "You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.

Notice in verse 12 the contrast to what we've been seeing in Hebrews. God's presence is restricted here, but In the New Covenant we have free access to God:

Hebrews 4:14-16 (NKJV) Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Here we are told not to stay away but to come boldly to the throne of grace. Paul put it this way in Romans:

Romans 5:1-2 (NKJV) "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God."

We have peace and access to God. John put it this way:

Revelation 21:1-3 (NKJV) Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.

In the New Covenant God is not warning men to stand back; he dwells with us.

Exodus 19:12 (NKJV) "You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.

Notice the end of the verse "....Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death." Why? Because God is holy and man is sinful. God wanted man to be aware of the separation that sin has caused.

Exodus 19:13 (NKJV) 'Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow; whether man or beast, he shall not live.' When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come near the mountain."

They weren't even allowed to touch that which touched the mountain. They had to kill it from a distance.

Exodus 19:14-16 (NKJV) So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and sanctified the people, and they washed their clothes. 15 And he said to the people, "Be ready for the third day; do not come near your wives." 16 Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.

Verse 16 is a synopsis of what we read in Hebrews 12.

Exodus 19:17-19 (NKJV) And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. 19 And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice.

Now skip down to:

Exodus 20:18 (NKJV) Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off.

In verses 1-17 we have the giving of the 10 commandments.

Exodus 20:19-21 (NKJV) Then they said to Moses, "You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die." 20 And Moses said to the people, "Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin." 21 So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.

These were the terrors of Sinai, where the people, because of their sin, were unable to draw near to God's presence. What a contrast we have here between this and Zion.

Hebrews 12:18-21 (NKJV) For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, 19 and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. 20 (For they could not endure what was commanded: "And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow." 21 And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.")

In these verses the author of Hebrews reiterates what we have just read from Exodus 19. May God grant us grace to realize the privilege we have of access to the throne of grace.

Put yourself in the sandals of an Israelite standing at the foot of that mountain with all it awesomeness. You have probably seen the power of a severe thunder storm; imagine what this was like.

In verse 21 Moses said, "I exceeding fear and quake". Moses was the leader of the people. He was known as one who had an especially close relationship with God:

Exodus 33:11 (NKJV) "So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend." Yet even he was terrified. When God reveals his holiness to man, fear and trembling result.

The writer of Hebrews is saying, "People, don't turn back to that system, to do so is to come under God's judgement."

This situation which the readers faced cannot be reproduced today. I doubt very seriously that any of you are being tempted to turn back to the Mosaic covenant. But it's important that we understand that the principle still applies. I'm sure that there are some of you who are or have been tempted to turn away from your Christian testimony in order to escape the persecution that comes from it. The threat of apostasy that they were facing is still very real today. In fact, I believe that many believers live in a state of apostasy and are squandering away their rewards. I know many people who, because of the trials of life, have become bitter at God and left the church. This warning against apostasy is very relevant to us today, it is a sin we must guard against.

Verse 22-24 Show us the superiority of the New Covenant:

Hebrews 12:22 (NKJV) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels,

"But" is a strong adversative introducing a marked contrast between Sinai and Zion. Compare these two verses:

Hebrews 12:18 (NKJV) For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest,
Hebrews 12:22 (NKJV) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels,

The writer says, "But you have come to Mount Zion..." The name "Zion" was mentioned first in the account of David's conquest of Jerusalem (2 Sam. 5:6-10; 1 Chron. 11:4-9). After David captured Zion, he resided there and changed its name to the "City of David." Zion was used by biblical writers in a variety of ways. Many of the psalmists used the term to refer to the Temple built by Solomon (2:6; 48:2; 84:7; 132:13). In Isaiah 1:27, the idea of "Zion" included the whole nation. Zion also stood for the capital of Judah (Amos 6:1). The most common usage of Zion was to refer to the city of God in the new age (Isa. 1:27; 33:5).

Isaiah 28:16 (NKJV) Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; Whoever believes will not act hastily.

Zion was understood, also, to refer to the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22; Rev. 14:1).

Isaiah 60:14 (NKJV) Also the sons of those who afflicted you Shall come bowing to you, And all those who despised you shall fall prostrate at the soles of your feet; And they shall call you The City of the LORD, Zion of the Holy One of Israel.

Look at verse 22 of Hebrews 12 again:

Hebrews 12:22 (NKJV) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels,

The word "and" ought to be rendered: "even" or "that is". Mt. Zion is the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem. So, Mount Zion, heavenly Jerusalem, city of the living God, the church, and in verse 28, the kingdom ALL refer to those redeemed in the body of Christ, New Covenant believers.

Hebrews 12:23 (NKJV) to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect,

This is not "heaven", this is the church that is registered in heaven, this is the New Covenant.

Hebrews 12:24 (NKJV) to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

Abel's blood cried for vengeance:

Genesis 4:10 (NKJV) "And He said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground."

But the blood of Christ speaks of pardon.

There is a strong note of encouragement in many of these elements. But against the background of verses 18-21, we are probably mainly to see the far superior solemnity of the New Covenant privileges.

Old Testament Israel marveled that God would communicate with them as He did from Sinai, but feared. Our relationship is far more amazing and wondrous and should be treated with deep reverence.

The application is now made in verses 25-29:

Hebrews 12:25 (NKJV) See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven,

Great privilege brings great responsibility. "See that you do not refuse Him who speaks". The Greek word for "see" is rendered "take heed" in 3:12. It is the Greek word blepo, which means: "be seeing to it constantly, keep a watchful eye open". The word for "refuse" means: "to deprecate, to disregard". To put it positively, we could say, "Hear Him!" Note carefully the present tense "who speaks". Christ is still speaking through His word, and we refuse Him who speaks when we live in disobedience to His Word.

"For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven..."If those who rejected God at Sinai were punished, we will be chastened to a greater degree. This is very similar to the warning we saw in 2:1-4 If under the Old Covenant the law stood firm and its penalties were enacted with swift force, how much more will be the punishment of the believer in the New Covenant who turns his back on God?

Hebrews 12:26-27 (NKJV) whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, "Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven." 27 Now this, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.

"...but now He has promised...." - this promise comes from:

Haggai 2:6-7 (NKJV) "For thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; 7 'and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,' says the LORD of hosts.

Haggai wrote this in about 520 BC. So how could he say, "...it is a little while I will shake heaven and earth..."? How could it be "a little while" in Haggai's day and still not have taken place when Hebrews was written in around 65 AD? Notice that Haggai includes the shaking of the EARTH, the SEA, the DRY LAND, and "ALL THE NATIONS." The Hebrew writer does not mention these other nations or entities (the SEA and the DRY LAND and "all the nations"). I think this is because Hebrews is only concerned with the final phase of that shaking PROCESS that began back in Haggai's day - namely, the shaking of ALL THE NATIONS culminating in Israel's "heaven and earth" being shaken, and the new heaven and earth being established. It is important to notice that Hebrews 12 does not use the "in a little while" part of Haggai in his statement about the shaking. This could imply that the shaking was not only imminent, but that they were already in the process of receiving that new unshakable kingdom while the old heaven and earth were being shaken out of existence. Hebrews 12:28 seems to imply this. It could also be a recognition on the writers part that the shaking process had indeed begun back in Haggai's day; "in a little while" after Haggai wrote. Since the writer of Hebrews doesn't quote that "time statement" part of Haggai 2:6 here, there is no reason for us to believe that the "in a little while" was referring to the shaking of Israel in AD 70. It referred only to the beginning of the shaking process that was imminent in Haggai's day.

So, I see Haggai talking about a PROCESS of shaking "all the nations" that began in his day, and was consummated in AD 70, when even the Jewish nation was shaken out of existence. That process was about to begin in 520 BC when Haggai was written. Already in Haggai's day, Babylon had fallen to Medo-Persia, and the incredible series of events mentioned in Daniel 11 of the Persian, Greek, Maccabean, and Roman conquests was looming on the horizon. Daniel 11 is certainly a very good commentary on the "shaking of all nations" that Haggai is talking about here, where nation after nation is shaken to its foundations and defeated by other nations who go through the same rise-and-fall scenario that Persia and Greece were about to undergo. Daniel 2 and several other visions within the book of Daniel talk about the four kingdoms that would be shaken and the eternal Messianic Kingdom that would be set up at the end of that process:

Daniel 2:44 (NKJV) "And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.

After the process of shaking the nations was finished, the Jewish nation would be shaken so that the eternal kingdom of Christ could arrive and fill the earth. This new unshakable kingdom was the new temple that the gentiles had their "desire" toward. All of this seems to be included in the language used by Haggai.

So, Haggai is looking at the PROCESS of shaking that is ABOUT TO BEGIN, while the Hebrews' writer is looking at the NEAR CONSUMMATION of that process. Haggai is talking about more than just the AD 70 event, and includes "all the nations" from his time onwards being shaken until the "desire of nations" came and God's temple was "filled with glory" that would exceed even the splendor of Solomon's temple. If this was speaking physically and materialistically, we would also have a problem. But if this temple is the Church that was espoused to Christ in AD 30 and was married to Christ in AD 70, then we have a real fulfillment to focus on.

Haggai talks about this whole nation-shaking process that is about to begin. Hebrews talks only about the shaking of Israel and the arrival of the unshakable kingdom that would complete the whole "shaking" process begun in Haggai's day.

The writer of Hebrews says, "Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven" - Could this possibly be referring to a different "heaven and earth" than the physical creation of the world? Is that even a possibility? I think it is a strong possibility; if you look at the use of "heaven and earth" in Scripture, you will see they have some other meaning besides the literal physical heaven and earth.

If you want to know what a term means in the New Testament in relation to prophecy, you need to go back to the Old Testament and see what it meant there. If it was used a certain way in the Old Testament, wouldn't it make sense that the New Testament writers would use those expressions in the same way? We must get our understanding of "heaven and earth" from the Old Testament.

Deuteronomy 31:30 (NKJV) Then Moses spoke in the hearing of all the assembly of Israel the words of this song until they were ended:
Deuteronomy 32:1 (NKJV) "Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; And hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.

In the song of Moses, God is speaking to Israel. He calls them, "O heavens," and, "O earth." He is clearly not speaking to the physical heavens and earth, but to Israel.

In biblical apocalyptic language, "heavens" can refer to governments and rulers, and "earth" can refer to the nation of people. This can be seen in the book of Isaiah:

Isaiah 1:1-2 (NKJV) The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. 2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: "I have nourished and brought up children, And they have rebelled against Me;

Here we see "rulers" used for "heavens" in verse 2, and "people" used for "earth." So the terms "heaven and earth" can be used to speak of rulers and people of a nation. Please, store that in your memory banks! It is possible that the expression "heaven and earth" has, or may have, a meaning other than the literal physical heaven and earth. To further clarify this, look with me at:

Isaiah 51:12-13 (NKJV) "I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you should be afraid Of a man who will die, And of the son of a man who will be made like grass? 13 And you forget the LORD your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens And laid the foundations of the earth; You have feared continually every day Because of the fury of the oppressor, When he has prepared to destroy. And where is the fury of the oppressor?

God is talking to Israel here. Is he talking to them about the creation of the physical world? Verse 13 sounds like the creation of the physical planet. But notice how Young's Literal Translation puts verse 13:

Isaiah 51:13 (YLT) And thou dost forget Jehovah thy maker, Who is stretching out the heavens, and founding earth, And thou dost fear continually all the day, Because of the fury of the oppressor, As he hath prepared to destroy. And where is the fury of the oppressor?

Notice that it is in the present tense. God is saying to Israel that He "is" stretching out the heavens and founding the earth. Was God still creating the physical creation? I don't think so!

Isaiah 51:14-16 (NKJV) The captive exile hastens, that he may be loosed, That he should not die in the pit, And that his bread should not fail. 15 But I am the LORD your God, Who divided the sea whose waves roared; The LORD of hosts is His name. 16 And I have put My words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, That I may plant the heavens, Lay the foundations of the earth, And say to Zion, 'You are My people.'"

Please notice carefully that the time of planting the heavens and laying the foundation of the earth that is referred to here, was performed by God when He divided the sea (ver. 15), and gave the law (ver. 16), and said to Zion, "Thou art my people". What do those terms speak of? God did this when He took the children of Israel out of Egypt and formed them in the wilderness into a covenant nation. He planted the heavens and laid the foundation of the earth; that is, brought forth order and government.

So, the term "heaven and earth" is used in Scripture for something other than the physical creation, it is used to speak of the nation Israel. God was about to remove earthy, physical Israel forever.

Hebrews 12:27 (NKJV) Now this, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.

The things that cannot be shaken are the New Covenant.

Hebrews 12:28 (NKJV) Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.

The word "receiving" is from the Greek word paralambano, and it is in the present tense showing progression. The kingdom was being brought into its fullness during the first century by progression.

Most believers don't understand that we live in a different age than Paul did. Paul lived in what the Bible calls the "last days"- they were the last days of the Old Covenant. Those "last days" began at Pentecost and ended at AD 70 when the Jewish temple was destroyed. We now live in what the Bible calls "the age to come", which is the New Covenant age. This forty year period, from Pentecost to Holocaust, was a time of transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. In this transition period, the New Covenant had been inaugurated but not consummated. It was a time of "already but not yet."

This "kingdom that cannot be shaken" is the church of Jesus Christ, it is the New Covenant, it is Mount Zion the heavenly Jerusalem. That the heavenly Jerusalem is

the New Covenant is seen clearly in:

Galatians 4:21-31 (NKJV) Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, 24 which things are SYMBOLIC. For these are the TWO COVENANTS: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar; 25 for this Hagar is MOUNT SINAI IN ARABIA, AND CORRESPONDS TO JERUSALEM WHICH NOW IS, AND IS IN BONDAGE WITH HER CHILDREN; 26 but the JERUSALEM ABOVE IS FREE, WHICH IS THE MOTHER OF US ALL. 27 For it is written: "Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children Than she who has a husband." 28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. 29 But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, EVEN SO IT IS NOW (during the transition period). 30 Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? "Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman." 31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.

In this allegory, we have two women who are also said to be two cities, and they derive their origin from TWO COVENANTS, giving birth to two kinds of children. The first is Hagar, answering to physical Jerusalem, unto whom is born a nation after the flesh. The second is Sarah, answering to new Jerusalem, unto whom is born a nation after the Spirit. These two nations, or Israels, are the theme of Old Testament prophecy, the gospels, the epistles, and finally the Revelation message.

Just as Hagar and her son (Old Covenant system and people) coexisted for some time with Sarah and her son (New Covenant system and people), so also both covenant systems coexisted for a time. However, the bondwoman and her son were eventually cast out, just as the Old Covenant system would be cast out when God finished His redemptive work in the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem.

We, as 21st century believers, are NOT receiving a kingdom, the kingdom arrived in its fullness in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem. We live in this spiritual, eternal kingdom of God that will never be shaken:

Daniel 2:44 (NKJV) "And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.

But to the first century saints, the kingdom had not arrived in its fullness, so, our author exhorts his readers, "...let us have grace". What they needed on the way to receiving this kingdom is grace. That grace, we have learned, is available through our High Priest at the throne of grace.

He goes on to say, "...by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear". God's grace is always provided for enablement in serving God. Since this kingdom is eternal, we should devote our lives to serving in it. And that this service should be with "reverence and godly fear" are appropriate in light of all that has been said about our relationships to God.

Hebrews 12:29 (NKJV) For our God is a consuming fire.

This is another reminder that the God of Sinai is the same God of Zion. He is warning them of the dreadful consequences of abandoning their faith in God. Apostasy, as they have already been told, can only mean one thing: "a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries" (10:27).

Believers, our salvation is secure, Jesus has paid our sin debt, and He has given us his righteousness. But this is not a license to sin, we are responsible for how we live, and if we fail to hear Him who speaks from heaven, we will be disciplined. God will discipline us hear and now, and we will lose our rewards for all eternity.

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