Pastor David B. Curtis

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Follow Me!

John 21:15-25

Delivered 02/10/19

This morning we come to our final message in this amazing Gospel. I'm sad to see it come to an end. I have learned so much through this three year study. This is our 114 message on this book that so exults the Lord Yeshua. Today we look at the last half of chapter 21.

This final scene in John's gospel takes place on the shore of the Sea of Galilee after the breakfast Yeshua provided the seven disciples. I see the main purpose of this text as Yeshua reaffirming Peter's calling, following his denial. This exchange between the risen Lord and Peter represents Peter's public restoration to his apostolic ministry.

Yeshua most likely appeared to Peter before He appeared to the group of disciples. Luke chapter 24 tells us that Yeshua appeared privately to Peter following the resurrection.

And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. As they were talking about these things, Yeshua himself stood among them, and said to them, "Peace to you!" Luke 24:33-36 ESV

Paul verifies this in:

and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 1 Corinthians 15:5 ESV

I believe that it was in this private encounter that the Lord dealt with Peter's denial and forgave him. In our text last week, we saw that Peter is eager to be with our Lord. He doesn't act like a man who feels guilty. I think this is because Peter's sins have already been dealt with and he has already been restored to fellowship with his Lord. That was a private restoration of the apostle, but in our text for today we see a public restoration, in front of these other six disciples, to apostolic ministry.

Peter was called to apostleship after a miraculous catch of fishes that we looked at last week in Luke chapter 5. And here, again, he is reinstalled in his apostolic office after a miraculous catch of fishes.

In our text the breakfast and the other disciples disappear from view, leaving only Peter, the beloved disciple, and Yeshua.

When they had finished breakfast, Yeshua said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." John 21:15 ESV

This is the breakfast that our Lord had prepared for them on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The Lord had a charcoal fire going and a cooked fish and bread for them. This is a picture of fellowship. It seems that all seven of them are still sitting at the charcoal fire when the Lord singles out Peter.

"Yeshua said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of John'"here Yeshua calls Peter the "son of John" which in Hebrew would be, Ben Yehohanan. The Hebrew name Yehohanan means: "Yahweh's mercy". When Yeshua was first was introduced to Simon in John 1:42 He addressed him as "Simon, son of John". That was his name before he met the Lord, and the Lord had given him another name. "You used to be Simon, now you're petros, or Peter, which means: "rock." Simon means something like wishy washy or watery. And that's the name of weakness. Yeshua did not call him "Peter," maybe because he had been anything but a rock! Calling him Simon is a reminder of how the rock crumbled around that charcoal fire when the servant girl asked him if he was one of Yeshua's disciples.

"Do you love me more than these?"the question here is to whom or what does "these" refer? There are three possible interpretations: 1. Does Peter love Yeshua more than the other apostles? 2. Is Yeshua gesturing to the boat with the catch of fish, and is Yeshua asking Peter if he loves Him more than his fishing business? 3. Or is Yeshua asking Peter if he loves him more than the other disciples do? In other words, Peter do you love me more than) these guys love me? So, which is it? I don't see (1) as an option in light of the fact that they now all realize that Yeshua has overcome death proving that He is everything He said He was. Number two is a possibility but I think number three makes more sense. I think the Lord means: "Do you love me more than these love me?" And I think He is asking that to see if Peter has learned anything from his fall. Remember what Peter had previously claimed about his loyalty.

Then Yeshua said to them, "You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." Peter answered him, "Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away." Yeshua said to him, "Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." Peter said to him, "Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!" And all the disciples said the same. Matthew 26:31-35 ESV

So, Peter had declared, in effect, that he loved Yeshua more than the other disciples did. He had claimed a higher level of devotion than the rest. Yeshua is simply asking him to re-evaluate his boastful claim. Something like: "Peter do you still think that you love me more than any of the disciples do?" No matter what interpretation you hold to, we have to agree that Peter is being asked by Yeshua to declare his ultimate loyalty.

"Do you love me…"Yes, Lord; you know that I love you"the word Yeshua uses for love here is agapao, which is a self-sacrificing, spiritual love, the kind of love God has for humanity, and the kind of love Yeshua has commanded us to have for each other. And the word that Peter uses is the word phileo, which is a kind of brotherly love, an affectionate love, a friendship love.

Now some scholars have argued that these "love" words are synonyms and have been used interchangeably within this Gospel. Therefore, we should not read any particular significance into this interplay of words. It is true these words have been used as synonyms throughout this Gospel. John used both agapao and phileo to describe God's love for man (3:16, 16:27); of the Father's love for the Son (3:35, 5:20); of Yeshua's love for men (11:5, 11:3); of the love of men for men (13:34, 15:19); and of the love of men for Yeshua (8:42, 16:27). But I think that these words for love, agapao and phileo, have different meanings in these texts. Agapao is used in John 3:16 of Yahweh's love of the world, meaning the elect of both Jews and Greeks. Phileo is used in 16:27 of Yahweh's affection for His elect. He uses both words for His elect, but they have a different nuance. The Father's love for the Son is expressed as both agapao and phileo. In this text there are also two different nouns used for sheep, two different verbs are used for "feed" or "tend," and 2 different verbs for "know," and "love." And I don't think they are just synonyms.

To add to the confusion I believe that the original conversation probably took place in Hebrew. If so there would not have been any difference expressed because Hebrew has only one basic word for love, ahab. In the LXX both agapao and phileo are used to translate ahab. But I think the Greek translation is inspired, and the difference are significant.

I think that in this text the interplay is noted and obvious, and that Peter himself reacts to Yeshua changing from agapao to phileo in his questions. So, it seems to me that Lazarus intends something here.

Westcott says that, "Agapao denotes the higher love that will in time come to be known as the distinctively Christian love, while Peter cannot bring himself to profess more than 'the feeling of natural love, phileo." [2. 367]

It makes sense that Peter couldn't say, "Yes, you know that I love You at the highest level of love," because of his recent betrayal that has given him a far more realistic understanding of his own nature. He's cautious of making grand declarations of love as he did in the past. It sounds like Peter had reached a point where he recognized the weaknesses of his own character and so was being real before God. Peter answers by claiming his love for Yeshua as a friend.

"He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you"what is Peter appealing to here? Divine knowledge. Yeshua, you are God, you know that I phileo you. So, Peter's correct Christology is directing his actions.

Yeshua doesn't respond to Peter by saying, "That's not good enough Peter you need to agapao me." No, Yeshua accepts his declaration and commissions him:

"Feed my lambs"this is a present active imperative indicating that Peter is to make a habit of feeding Yeshua's lambs. In this text three times Yeshua says this, "Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep." One of those times, the middle time, He uses poimino (to shepherd). But the first and third time He uses the word "bosco," not "poimino." The verb bosco is used both literally and figuratively for feeding animals, providing nourishment, while the verb poimino includes shepherding duties toward the flock such as guiding, guarding, and ruling, whether literally or figuratively. A quote from the Jewish historian, Philo, employs both verbs, "Those who feed (bosco) supply nourishment…but those who tend (poimino) have the power of rulers and governors."(Philo, Quod Deterius Potiori Insidiari Soleat, viii #25).

So, from what Yeshua says to Peter, we see that the primary responsibility of the shepherd is to feed the flock, to teach them the Scriptures. This is the church leaders, whether you call them, "elder, overseer, or pastor," primary responsibility to teach the Word of God. This is what Yeshua called Peter to do, this is what Paul did, and this is what Paul calls the Ephesian elders to do.

In Ezekiel 34 we have a divine rebuke of the "shepherds of Israel," who have forsaken their task and calling as shepherds, and have begun to feed themselves from the flock, rather than feeding the flock:

"Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? Ezekiel 34:2 ESV

Their job was to feed the flock, but they were not doing it. Yahweh goes on in this text to rebuke the shepherds of Israel for the fact that His flock had been scattered and was being devoured:

As I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, Ezekiel 34:8 ESV

Then the Lord promises:

"For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. Ezekiel 34:11 ESV
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. Ezekiel 34:15-16 ESV

So, Yahweh promises Israel that He will "seek the lost" sheep of Israel. Now notice what Yeshua says:

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." Luke 19:10 ESV

Yeshua, quoting Ezekiel, is saying, "I am Yahweh." Yeshua is God in the flesh who has come to seek and save the lost. He is the Great Shepherd.

Notice what Paul says to the Ephesian elders:

for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. Acts 20:27-28 ESV

Paul tells these elders that their task is to "care for the church of God." Care for is from the Greek word "poimaino," which means: "to shepherd." This flock that these elders are to feed is "The Church of God"—this flock belongs to the Lord God. And then, he says, "Which He purchased with His own blood." The word "purchased" here is not the common word for "to buy" in the sense of buying a slave out of the slave market. This is the Greek word peripoieomaia, which means: "to get for one's own." The force of this word is, "I have made these things my own."

This flock was purchased with "the blood of His own One." These sheep were so valuable to God that He purchased them with the precious blood of His own Son.

So, let me say that I think that shepherding can be boiled down to "feed and lead." Teach the Word of God and live out a godly example. The Puritans sparked renewal in large part through their commitment to preaching as the pastor's primary task. J. I. Packer states, "To the Puritan, faithful preaching was the basic ingredient in faithful pastoring." He then cites from John Owen, who wrote, "The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the Word. This feeding is of the essence of the office of a pastor." (A Quest for Godliness, Crossway Books, p. 2830).

You'll notice that this is in a sense the first duty of any kind of shepherd of the flock. This is what the elders in a local assembly are called upon to do, to shepherd the flock of God. So, He says feed or pasture my lambs, not fleece them, feed them. Not count them, but feed them. We have a lot of fleecing of the flock these days, but feeding them is the responsibility of the shepherds of God.

Peter tells the elders the same thing in 1 Peter:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 1 Peter 5:1-2 ESV

Here Peter uses three terms to describe Church leaders; they are, "elder, overseer, and shepherd." Pastors are not distinct from bishops or elders. The terms are simply different ways of identifying the same people.

The main job of a church leader is to feed God's flock from His Word. Not to entertain them, wow them, make them feel good, fill the church, he is to teach God's Word. Paul stipulates that some elders are to be supported financially so that they can labor hard at preaching and teaching (1 Timothy 5:17). He says that the elders must:

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. Titus 1:9 ESV

The sheep are vulnerable to attacks from false teachers, who try to lead them astray from the truth. A pastor who doesn't feed the flock on sound doctrine is not doing his job!

Barrett writes, "This ministry is described in verbs, not nouns: Tend, feed, not Be a pastor, hold the office of pastor. And the sheep are Christ's sheep, not Peter's. Not, Tend your flock, but Tend my sheep"([Barrett," Essays," pp. 165-166).

In case you feel that this doesn't apply to you the "one another" passages in the New Testament show that shepherding the Lord's flock is the responsibility of every maturing member of the church. Older believers should shepherd those who are younger in the Lord. Husbands must shepherd their families and feed them from God's Word. Mothers should teach their children the ways of the Lord. If you're further along than another believer, then you have something to contribute to him or her. You can teach the newer believer how to feed himself from God's Word.

Yeshua is the "Good Shepherd," Who cares for His sheep (John 10). If Peter, and if we, really love the Lord, then our passion will be the Lord's passion.

He said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Yeshua said to him, "Feed my sheep. John 21:16-17 ESV

So, this dialog is repeated three times, Yeshua says to Peter three times,

"Simon, son of John, do you agapao me more than these?"

"Simon, son of John, do you agapao me?"

"Simon, son of John, do you phileo me?"

The first two times He uses agapao and the third time he switches to phileo.

Then three times Peter responds to Yeshua,

"Yes, Lord; you know that I phileo you."

"Yes, Lord; you know that I phileo you."

"Lord, you know everything; you know that I phileo you."

So, Peter responds ever time with phileo, "I have affection for you." To which the Lord responds three times,

"Bosco my lambs."

"Poimino my sheep."

"Bosco my sheep.

So, the Lord is reinstating Peter and telling him to shepherd the flock of God, feed them the Word of God.

"Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?"—why was Peter grieved? Was it because the Lord switched from agapao to phileo? Even questioning Peter's affection for Him? "Simon, son of John, are you really My friend?" Some think that, and that is certainly possible.

But let me give you another perspective. Where are Yeshua and Peter sitting during this exchange? They are sitting at a charcoal fire. What was the only other time that this Gospel mentions Peter near a charcoal fire? After Yeshua's arrest Peter denied Yeshua three times as he was standing near a charcoal fire. Now he has the opportunity to undo that wrong by expressing his love and devotion to Yeshua three times. These are the only two times that a charcoal fire is mentioned in the New Testament.

Three times Peter had denied Yeshua; three times Peter now affirms his love for his Lord, and three times Yeshua commissions Peter to care for the flock of God. A triple repetition oath is a common Semitic practice.

The Book of Acts records Peter's fearless preaching and witness before the same Jewish court that condemned Yeshua as well as other actions that testify to the strength and force of his commitment to the New Covenant Church. Peter's letters to the Church in 1 and 2 Peter also demonstrate that Peter more than rose to the level of self-sacrificing love and fulfilled Yeshua's calling. And, like the Good Shepherd, he will lay down his life for the sheep. That is why the Lord moves from verses 15-17 to verses 18 and 19. Peter had assured his Lord that he was willing to die for Him (Matthew 26:35), and so he will.

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go." (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) John 21:18-19a ESV

Peter had just said to Yeshua, "You know all things", and now Yeshua demonstrated that He did. In the future, Peter, you're going to be taken prisoner. You're going to be bound and hauled off to a place you don't want to go. Then, "you will stretch out your hands." He was describing crucifixion. The phrase "stretch out your hands" was a euphemistic reference to crucifixion in the Roman world.

As Peter grows old, rather than moving to Florida, playing golf or driving around to all the National Parks in his RV, Peter will face crucifixion. He needed to know that when they took him and captured him, and tied him up, and stretched out his hands, and nailed him to a cross, he would glorify God by his death.

Peter later wrote that Christians, who follow Yeshua faithfully to the point of dying for Him, bring glory to God by their deaths:

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 1 Peter 4:14-16 ESV

What is remarkable is that Peter lived and served the Lord for three decades with this prediction hanging over him:

since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Yeshua the Christ made clear to me. 2 Peter 1:14 ESV

In, The Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 3:1, Eusebius says, "Peter was believed to have preached in Pontius, Galatia, Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Asia unto the Jews of the Diaspora. Having gone to Rome, he was crucified head down at his own request." Clement of Rome (ca. A.D. 96) wrote that Peter died by martyrdom (1 Clement 5:4; 6:1). Accounts of Peter asking to be crucified upside down, because he felt unworthy to be crucified as his Lord was, are said to be too remote and too infected with legendary accretions to be reliable, there isn't a lot of corroborating support for this tradition.

By the time the Fourth Gospel was written, the prediction had been fulfilled, and Peter had glorified God by his martyrdom, probably in Rome, under the emperor Nero.

(This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, "Follow me." John 21:19 ESV

The kind of death by which Peter would glorify God echoes John 12:32-33, which predicts Yeshua's crucifixion. Peter imitates Christ, not only in the kind of death he suffers, but also, though to a lesser extent, in bringing glory to God by his death.

"Follow me"this is a present imperative in the Greek text, meaning: "Keep on following Me." The first time Yeshua called to Peter to "follow me" was after the huge catch of fish on the Sea of Galilee three years earlier. Now He uses the same words again, but this time there is a double meaning to the command "Follow me." Peter will indeed "follow" Yeshua and spread the Gospel message across the known world, but he will also follow Yeshua, not only in imitation of His life, but also His death.

"Follow me" is from the Greek word akoloutheo, we saw this same word used by Yeshua in His calling of Philip.

The next day Yeshua decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." John 1:43 ESV

"Follow Me" is a present active imperative. This was a rabbinical call to be a permanent disciple. Following Christ is something every believer should be doing. I have heard people say, "I don't follow the doctrines. I just follow Yeshua." Whenever I hear that I like to say to them, "Who is Yeshua?" and immediately we are involved in a doctrinal conversation. You can't define Yeshua with doctrinal proposition. The only way to follow Yeshua is to know His teaching, which is doctrine.

Again Yeshua spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 8:12 ESV

"Follows" here is also akoloutheo. The Greek verb for "follow" is a present tense, indicating a continuous action. To follow Yeshua is to not walk in darkness.

All believers are called to follow Yeshua. But, following Yeshua, despite what the health/wealth teachers preach, does not guarantee an easy life or a peaceful death. The Bible has many examples of faithful saints who suffered short, difficult lives, terrible persecution, and painful deaths.

Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— Hebrews 11:35-37 ESV

Peter knew that following Yeshua would cost him capture and crucifixion and he followed anyway.

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Yeshua loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, "Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?" John 21:20 ESV

As Peter and Yeshua are walking along the beach, Peter sees Lazarus following them.

When Peter saw him, he said to Yeshua, "Lord, what about this man?" John 21:21 ESV

Lord, I'm going to be crucified for you, what about Lazarus, what will happen to him?

Yeshua said to him, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!" John 21:22 ESV

This is a third class conditional sentence, which means: "potential action. Maybe it is my will, and maybe it isn't." This is an eschatological verse, Yeshua is talking about His Second Coming. Yeshua is saying, "If I want him (Lazarus) to live until I come, what is that to you?" Would Yeshua say this if His coming was thousands of years away? All the New Testament writers wrote as though the Lord would return for the church at any moment, not thousands of years in the future. Look at what Paul writes to the first century Thessalonians:

and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Yeshua is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Yeshua. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 ESV

In this passage we see several things; we see relief for believers, we see punishment for those causing affliction, we see Christ's Second Coming with angels, and we see judgment. Paul says that these believers will experience relief when Christ is revealed. If Christ still hasn't returned, then why did He promise relief to the saints in the first century? If Christ didn't return in the first century His promise of relief to the Thessalonians was a lie? Can you live with that?

Yeshua essentially told Peter that Lazarus' future was none of his business. Look, "if I decide he's going to live till the Second Coming, it's none of your business. Go on following me." And there's an emphasis on the "you." "You go on following me."

So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Yeshua did not say to him that he was not to die, but, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?" John 21:23 ESV

Something about this "other disciple" caused some or all of the disciples that were present at this event to jump to their erroneous conclusion that Yeshua's words, "If I want him to remain until I come" meant: "That disciple would not die".

I don't think that this rumor, "That disciple would not die," sprang from a misunderstanding about what Yeshua said. This error happened because of whom Yeshua was speaking about!

I'm sure that Peter and the rest of these disciples knew that this individual was Lazarus (who had already died and been brought back from the dead). In this case, a reason for one or more of those disciples jumping to the conclusion that they did, suddenly becomes evident. Since Yeshua had already raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, those who knew that Lazarus was the subject of Yeshua's words in John 21:22-23 had mistakenly interpreted Yeshua's words to mean that Lazarus would be "exempted" from having to undergo a second physical death.

This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. John 21:24 ESV

The disciple of Yeshua who wrote this fourth Gospel testifies that he is an eyewitness to the events he has recorded. He is pledging his honor that what he has recorded is true. Some scholars believe the "we" in verse 24 indicates that this conclusion was written by a group of John's disciples who copied John's Gospel for the Churches of Christendom. But the "we" here could be an editorial "we." Yeshua uses a plural verb in 3:11 where it is clear in context that only He is speaking. 1 John 1:1 uses plural verbs in the same way, in a context where authentication of testimony is concerned.

Now there are also many other things that Yeshua did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. John 21:25 ESV

How much of an exaggeration is this? Is this just hyperbole? No! Since Yeshua is the incarnate Son of God, as Lazarus has told us from the very first verse of this Gospel, then this is not really an exaggeration. The Yeshua to whom Lazarus bears witness is not only the obedient Son and the risen Lord, he is the incarnate Word, the one through whom the universe was created. If all His deeds were described, the world would be a very small and inadequate library indeed. There is far more to know about Yeshua than could ever be written down, or even known.

So Lazarus closes this Gospel with this last encounter with Christ on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias, where He calls Peter and all disciples to follow Him. In Ephesians 5:1 Paul tells the believers at Ephesus to imitate God:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV

Yeshua told us over and over that He came to reveal the Father, to see Him was to see the Father. So, to follow Christ is to imitate Him, which is to imitate God. Believers, this is our calling. We are to follow Christ so that we might show Christ to the world.

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