David Guzik's Commentary on the Bible
Mark 12 - JESUS DEBATES THE AUTHORITIES
A. The story of the tenant farmers.
1. (Mark 12:1-8) A parable about a landowner and his tenants.
Then He began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a place for the wine vat and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that he might receive some of the fruit of the vineyard from the vinedressers. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent them another servant, and at him they threw stones, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully treated. And again he sent another, and him they killed; and many others, beating some and killing some. Therefore still having one son, his beloved, he also sent him to them last, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those vinedressers said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard.”
a. He leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country: This sort of tenant farming relationship was a common practice in Jesus’ day, especially in the region of Galilee. Archaeologists have discovered records of this same sort of dispute between landowners and tenant farmers.
i. “In a day when title was sometimes uncertain, anyone who had had the use of land for three years was presumed to own it in the absence of an alternative claim.” (Morris)
b. That he might receive some of the fruit of the vineyard from the vinedressers: Because Jesus spoke to a Jewish audience, they were be aware that the vineyard is used in the Old Testament as a picture of Israel (Isaiah 5:1-7). Therefore, the vinedressers represent the rulers of Israel and the vineyard represents the people of God as a whole.
c. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed: The vinedressers didn’t buy the vineyard, and did they make it. A generous owner allowed them to work in his vineyard, yet they turned against the owner, and one day had to answer for it.
i. Again he sent them another servant . . . And again he sent another . . . and many others: How patient the owner is! He sends messenger after messenger, even though they are all abused and mistreated. How many messengers of God have we rejected?
ii. Because the owner of the vineyard was not present right at the time, the vinedressers doubted and mocked his authority. They would find out soon enough that even though they couldn’t see the owner, his authority was still real. When we think God is too distant to really exert His authority, we will be proven just as wrong.
iii. This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours: How foolish the vinedressers are! They apparently thought that if they killed the owner’s son, then the owner would just give up and let them have the vineyard.
d. So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard: This parable tells us that Jesus knew He was the Son - the Son of God - and that He knew that He would be killed soon.
i. The Son was the final messenger. There would be no other. Either they would accept the message of the Son, or face certain judgment. “If you do not hear the wellbeloved Son of God, you have refused your last hope. He is God’s ultimatum. Nothing remains when Christ is refused. No one else can be sent; heaven itself contains no further messenger. If Christ be rejected, hope is rejected.” (Spurgeon)
2. (Mark 12:9-12) Jesus applies the parable.
“Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others. Have you not even read this Scripture: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” And they sought to lay hands on Him, but feared the multitude, for they knew He had spoken the parable against them. So they left Him and went away.
a. Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do? The vinedressers were foolish enough to think that if they only killed the owner’s son, the vineyard would be theirs. Jesus draws the correct point - they rejected messenger after messenger, finally rejecting the Son, so their day of reckoning will come (He will come and destroy the vinedressers).
b. Have you not even read this Scripture: Jesus instructs them from the “Hosanna Psalm” (Psalms 118:22-28), because the Messiah has been officially presented to Israel. The hostility of the Jewish leaders shows that He is being rejected, even if He was initially greeted with hosannas quoting from Psalms 118.
c. The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone: Jesus is often likened unto a stone or a rock in the Bible. He is the rock of provision that followed Israel in the desert (1 Corinthians 10:4). He is the stone of stumbling (1 Peter 2:8). He is the stone cut without hands that crushes the kingdoms of this world (Daniel 2:45).
d. They knew He had spoken the parable against them: They were cut to the heart, and convicted by the Holy Spirit. They reacted to the conviction of the Holy Spirit by rejecting, not by receiving. They plotted to murder Jesus instead of repenting before Him.
B. God and Caesar.
1. (Mark 12:13-15 a) The Pharisees try to trap Jesus with a question about taxes.
Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words. When they had come, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?”
a. They sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words: Public opinion kept them from laying hold of Jesus, so now they try to turn the tide of public opinion against Him. Using a clever question, they want to make Jesus appear to side with the Roman government against the Jews.
i. We again see the Pharisees and the Herodians working together (last time was in Mark 3:6). Former enemies come together because of Jesus, but it is because they both oppose Jesus and want to destroy Him.
b. Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth: Jesus knew enough to not regard this flattery from His enemies. Sometimes our enemies flatter us because they want to hurt us. Sometimes our friends flatter us because they want to be kind and helpful. Either way, it is a mistake to put too much stock in what others say about us, either good or bad.
i. Charles Spurgeon said to pastors, “It is always best not to know, nor wish to know, what is being said about you, either by friends or foes. Those who praise us are probably as much mistaken as those who abuse us.” Benjamin Franklin said, “The Devil sweetens poison with honey.”
ii. “Here is a fair glove drawn upon a foul hand . . . There are those who will smile in your face, and at the same time cut your throat.” (Trapp)
c. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Since the year 6 A.D. the Jews were forced to pay taxes directly into the emperor’s treasury. Some Jewish patriots (like the Zealots) refused to pay this tax, because they did not want to recognize Roman rule as legitimate. Most others grudgingly paid it, but everybody hated it. It wasn’t just the money, but also the principle of paying your Roman oppressor.
i. There were three taxes imposed by the Romans on Judea. The first was the ground tax, which was 10% of all grain and 20% of all wine and fruit. The second was the income tax, which amounted to 1% of a man’s income. The third was the poll tax, paid by men aged from 12 to 65 and women from 14 to 65. This was one denarius a year, about a day’s wage for a working man.
ii. “It is important to appreciate the emotional trauma which pervaded the issue of the tribute money ever since it had first been imposed on the Roman province of Judea in A.D. 6.” (Lane)
d. Shall we pay, or shall we not pay? They seemed to put Jesus on the horns of a dilemma. If He agreed the tax should be paid, then Jesus seemed to deny the sovereignty of God over Israel, and He would lose popular support. If Jesus agreed that the tax should not be paid, He would openly declare Himself an enemy of Rome, and be treated like a revolutionary.
i. We can almost see the smug, self-satisfied smiles of the Pharisees and the Herodians as they skillfully threw this question on Jesus. They thought they put Him in a classic “no-win” situation, but you can’t put Jesus in a no-win situation.
2. (Mark 12:15-17) Jesus answers the question about taxes.
But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.” So they brought it. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at Him.
a. Why do you test Me? We should never say that Jesus taunted His adversaries in an ungodly way, but He did let them know that they could never win against Him.
b. Bring Me a denarius that I may see it: On the denarius they showed to Jesus, there would be a head of Tiberius, the reigning Roman Emperor. Around his head was written the abbreviation for “Tiberius Caesar, the Divine Augustus.” On the back was the title “Pontifex Maximus,” declaring Caesar the “high priest of the Roman Empire.”
i. As Jesus held the coin, He knew the government of Caesar would soon pierce His hand and crucify Him - and He still said, “pay your taxes.”
c. Whose image and inscription is this? Essentially, Jesus said “You recognize Caesar’s civil authority when you use his coins, therefore you are obliged to pay him the taxes he asks for.”
i. “There is a world of bitterness in the terseness of their one-word reply, Caesar’s.” (Cole)
d. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s: If we take advantage of the benefits of governmental rule, we are obliged to submit to government, as long as it does not infringe on our service to God. Simply said, Jesus tells us to pay our taxes. The Apostle Paul repeated the same idea in Romans 13:6-7.
i. “Jesus is saying that we are citizens of heaven and earth at the same time.” (Morris)
ii. Had the Jews rendered God His due, they would have never had to render Caesar anything - the fact that they were under Roman domination was due to their own departure from the Lord.
e. And to God the things that are God’s: Just as it is important to render to Caesar, we must also render to God the things that are God’s. The coin belonged to Caesar because his image was stamped on it. We should give ourselves to God because His image is stamped on us.
i. Give the coin to Caesar, but give your life to God. It may be fitting for you to die for your country, but only God is worth living for.
ii. Jesus’ answer tells us that Caesar does not have all authority; there are things that should be rendered to God alone. When the State treads on this ground that belongs to God, we are duty bound to obey God before the State.
iii. “This answer is full of consummate wisdom. It establishes the limits, regulates the rights, and distinguishes the jurisdiction of the two empires of heaven and earth.” (Clarke)
f. And they marveled at Him: They marveled, but they did not change. In fact, they twisted this wise answer of Jesus into a lying accusation against Him. In Luke 23:2, they accused Jesus of forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar - when He actually said just the opposite!
i. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how good an answer you give; some people will still twist your good words. They did this to Jesus, yet God’s truth prevailed. In the answer of Jesus, God is glorified, Caesar is satisfied, the people are edified, and His critics are stupefied.
C. A question about the resurrection.
1. (Mark 12:18-23) The Sadducees ask Jesus a ridiculous question.
Then some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him; and they asked Him, saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, and leaves his wife behind, and leaves no children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife; and dying, he left no offspring. And the second took her, and he died; nor did he leave any offspring. And the third likewise. So the seven had her and left no offspring. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be? For all seven had her as wife.”
a. In the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be? The Sadducees were well educated, sophisticated, influential and wealthy. They did not believe in immortality, spirits or angels. With their question, they wanted to make the idea of resurrection seem absurd.
i. Morris on the Sadducees: “They were the conservative, aristocratic, high-priestly party, worldly minded and very ready to cooperate with the Romans, which, of course, enabled them to maintain their privileged position.”
ii. The Law of Moses (in Deuteronomy 25:5-6) established something that came to be called levirate marriage, from the Latin word levir, meaning “brother-in-law.” Essentially, the practice made sure that if a married man died childless, his brother had to take the widow as a wife so a son and heir could be provided for the deceased man, and his family name and inheritance would not perish.
iii. Ironside said this question was “An imaginary tale designed to cast ridicule upon the doctrine of resurrection.”
b. Now there were seven brothers: Their question is absurd; it is similar to asking, “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” or “did Adam have a belly-button?” An absurd question isn’t less absurd because we direct the question to God.
i. The Sadducees believed that when the body died, the soul died. The Bible not only tells us that the soul lives on when the body dies, but that the soul will be given a new body, a body fit for eternity - a resurrection body.
2. (Mark 12:24-25) Jesus corrects their misunderstanding about resurrection life.
Jesus answered and said to them, “Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”
a. Are you not therefore mistaken: The Sadducees thought that if there was a resurrection, it was just this same life lived forever. With the principle when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, Jesus shows that in the age to come our lives will be lived on a completely different principle, in a dimension that we can’t imagine.
i. Many people make the same mistake as the Sadducees when it comes to their ideas about heaven. They think of heaven as just a glorious version of earth. So the American Indian thinks of heaven as the “happy hunting ground.” The ancient Viking things of heaven as Valhalla, where they fight as warriors all day and at the end of the day all the dead and wounded rise whole again, and the celebrate all night at a banquet, drinking wine from the skulls of their enemies. All this mistakes heaven for just a “better” earth. Heaven’s life is of a different order all together.
b. Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God? Jesus explains why the Sadducees had wrong ideas about resurrection. Their wrong thinking came from ignorance (you do not know) of both the Scriptures and the power of God.
i. When we don’t know the Scriptures, we don’t have an anchor for truth and belief.
ii. When we don’t know the power of God, we doubt God’s ability to actually do what He has promised in the Scriptures.
iii. “The Sadducees posed as men of superior intelligence and knowledge in opposition to the traditionalists among the Pharisees . . . and yet on this very point they were ignorant of the Scriptures.” (Robertson) Many today who are regarded as intelligent become dull when it comes to Jesus.
c. They neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven: We can’t take our present relationships and just figure they will be the same in heaven. On earth, human relationships are largely a matter of time and place - a man can be a son, then an adult, then a husband, then a father, and so on. In heaven, all that changes.
i. From everything we know, angels don’t have babies. Angels are made directly by God. In the resurrection, we won’t have babies any more. In that respect, we will be just like the angels. “Marriage ceases to have any sexual significance in heaven.” (Cole)
i. We know it won’t be the same as what we know on earth, but we can’t say for sure what it will all be like in heaven - other than to know that we won’t be disappointed.
ii. Knowing the resurrection of the dead is true doesn’t answer all of our questions. There are mysteries that remain, but they don’t take away from the basic truth of the resurrection.
3. (Mark 12:26-27) Jesus proves the resurrection from the Scriptures.
“But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.”
a. Concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read: Jesus assures the skeptical Sadducees that there is indeed a resurrection of the dead, that they do rise, and that this is demonstrated by the Scriptures.
i. “He has already explained what He meant by their ignorance of God’s power; now He will explain what He meant by their ignorance of the Scripture.” (Cole)
ii. The Sadducees said they believed in the Bible, but they said the true Bible only contained the first five books of the Old Testament. That is one reason why Jesus proved the resurrection from this passage in Exodus 3, one of the books of the Bible the Sadducees said was genuine.
b. I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob: If Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not continue to live, God would not say that He is their God, speaking in the present tense. He would have to say that He was their God. Therefore, the Scriptures prove there is a resurrection of the dead.
4. (Mark 12:28-34) Which is the greatest commandment?
Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. ‘And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” But after that no one dared question Him.
a. Which is the first commandment of all? With this question, they tested Jesus to see if He would show disregard or neglect for some area of the Law of Moses. Instead of promoting one command over another, Jesus gives defines the law in its essence: love God with everything you have and love your neighbor as yourself.
b. Love the LORD your God . . . love your neighbor as yourself: In this we see that what God really wants from man is love. We can obey God without loving Him, but if we do love Him obedience will follow.
i. Jesus said this was the first of all the commandments.
· It is the first commandment in regard to age. Before Adam and Eve had any other command, they were commanded to love the Lord their God who created them
· It is the first commandment in regard to priority. Every other act of obedience is empty if we do not love God first
c. To love Him with all . . . and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices: The scribe’s response to Jesus was right on the mark. It is easy to think that religious ceremony and devotion are more important than love for God and our neighbor, but this isn’t the case. A thousand empty burnt offerings are not more to God than a single act of love done in His name.
D. Jesus questions, warns, and commends.
1. (Mark 12:35-37) Jesus asks a question: how can the Messiah be both the Son of David and the Lord of David?
Then Jesus answered and said, while He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Spirit: ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”‘ Therefore David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; how is He then his Son?” And the common people heard Him gladly.
a. How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David? Since Jesus is the Christ, here He speaks of Himself. With the questions of the scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees to Jesus, they tried to make Him look bad or trap Him. Jesus did not do the same in His questions to them; instead He got to the heart of the matter: “do you really know who I am?”
i. These religious leaders thought they knew just about everything there was to know about the Messiah. Jesus is challenging this notion, and He asks them to consider that they may have something to learn.
b. David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; how is He then his Son? Jesus is not only the Son of David He is also the Lord of David. As Revelation 22:16 says, He is both the root and offspring of David. With this question Jesus challenges the religious leaders, asking them “do you understand this truth about the Messiah?”
2. (Mark 12:38-40) Jesus warns about the hypocrisy of the scribes.
Then He said to them in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.”
a. Beware of the scribes: The scribes were the “Bible Scholars” of Jesus’ day. They were entrusted with preserving, learning, and teaching the Word of God to the world. These are the men that the people of God should have been able to trust, but Jesus says instead they should beware of the scribes. The scribes represent a complete contrast to the picture of how a disciple should be - as a servant, as a child, as one carrying a cross. Jesus says that we should notice what they do as well as what they say.
i. Beware the scribes, because they like to wear their long robes. The scribes were men of leisure, who watched while others work.
ii. Beware the scribes, because they love greetings. They demand recognition from others in their walk with God, and love the “image” of a holy man.
iii. Beware the scribes, because they love the best seats in the synagogue and at feasts, showing they demand the “perks” of status and privilege.
iv. Beware the scribes, because they devour widows’ houses. They sin against the weak and vulnerable, but excuse it because they are so “spiritual.” In that day, a Jewish teacher could not be paid for teaching - but he could receive “gifts.” Apparently, many scribes used flattery and manipulation to wrangle big gifts from those who could least afford to give them - such as widows. The Jews of Jesus’ day taught that teachers were to be respected almost as much as God; they said that they deserved more honor and respect than any other people in life. They taught that the greatest act someone could do is give money to a teacher. Of course, it was the teachers themselves who taught this!
v. Beware the scribes, because they for a pretense make long prayers. Their relationship with God is far more show than substance. The scribes thought they were more spiritual because of their long prayers; but Morgan says that when a man is away from his wife, and the journey is short, the letters are short. The farther he is from his wife, the longer the letters become. Morgan said that some people must be a long way from God because their prayers are so long!
b. These will receive a greater condemnation: As in Mark 6:11, Jesus presents the idea of a greater condemnation - that some will receive a worse judgment, a worse condemnation, than others will.
3. (Mark 12:41-42) Jesus observes the widow’s giving.
Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans.
a. Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury: The sight of this poor widow must have been a welcome sight to a weary Jesus, after enduring a storm of questions from His enemies.
i. The line at the offering box, and the pride shown by the rich men in their giving shows us that it isn’t necessarily more spiritual to just have an offering box instead of passing offering bags. It isn’t a matter of right and wrong, but a matter of which is an easier way for people to give in a way that doesn’t call attention to their gift.
b. Saw how the people put money into the treasury: Jesus looks at us when we give and He notices how much we give. As Jesus looks, He is more interested in how we give than in how much we give.
i. In seeing how the people gave, Jesus wasn’t studying technique. He was looking at motive and heart.
c. Many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came in and threw in two mites: Jesus noticed a long line of rich people who put in a lot of money, perhaps making some kind of display to call attention to their gift. The one poor widow was different, and offered two mites.
i. How much was two mites? Mark tells us that two mites make one quadrans. Matthew Poole says that we can calculate the value of a mite based on the value of a denarius, which was the going rate of one day’s labor for a working man. According to Poole’s calculations, a denarius equals six meahs; one meah equals two pondions; one pondion equals two issarines; one issarine equals eight mites. When you figure it all out, two mites are 1% of a denarius. A mite was pretty small - perhaps our equivalent of putting $1 in the collection plate.
ii. A quadrans was a Roman coin. Mark is helping his Roman readers to understand how much a mite was worth. It wasn’t worth much.
iii. The ancient Greek word lepton literally means “a tiny thing,” and so in the Old English was translated mite, which comes from the word for a “crumb” or “very small morsel.”
d. Two mites: The wonderful thing about this widow’s giving is that she had two mites and gave them both. She might have kept one coin for herself, and who would blame her if she did? Instead, she gave with staggering generosity.
4. (Mark 12:43-44) Jesus assesses the widow’s gift.
So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”
a. This poor widow has put in more than all those who have given: Jesus did not say that she put in more than any one of them; He said that she put in more than all of them - all of them put together!
i. This poor widow: In the ancient Greek, the idea is “emphatic - the poverty-stricken; manifest from her dress and wasted look.” (Robertson)
b. They all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had: This explains how Jesus could say that the widow put in more than all. It was because all the others gave out of their abundance but she gave sacrificially.
i. Jesus’ principle here shows us that a gift’s value is determined by the spirit in which it is given; God doesn’t want grudgingly given money, or guilt money. God loves the cheerful giver.
ii. The widow’s gift and Jesus’ comment on it also shows us that the value of a gift is determined by what it cost the giver; this is what made the widow’s gift so valuable. David refused to give God that which cost me nothing (2 Samuel 24:24).
iii. Jesus’ principle here shows us that God does not need our money. If God needed our money, then how much we give would be more important than our heart in giving. Instead, it is our privilege to give to Him, and we need to give because it is good for us, not because it is good for God.
c. Out of her poverty: Why was the woman poor? Because she was a widow and had no husband to help support her. It also may be significant that Jesus just criticized the scribes as those who devour widow’s houses. Now a lone widow makes a spectacular contribution - had her house been devoured by a scribe?
i. The widow challenges the mindset that says, “I’ll give when I have more.” The widow had virtually nothing, yet was a giver. This means that we can all please God with our giving just as much as the richest man can please God with his giving. Whatever we give sacrificially to God, He sees it and is pleased.
ii. “I do not thing a collection is ever taken but that somewhere He finds a copper coin, and kisses it into gold.” (Morgan)
iii. There is a sense in which may have looked at the widow and saw Himself. He would soon offering everything He had in humble sacrifice on the cross. Jesus didn’t hold back His “two mites.”
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The Triumph of the King (Matthew 18-28)
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