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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 1

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4100. A.D. 96.

This chapter contains,

(1,) A preface, showing the divine original, the design, and importance of the book, Revelation 1:1-3 .

(2,) John’s salutation of the seven churches of Asia, wishing them grace and peace from all the three Divine Persons in their distinct economical characters, Revelation 1:4-8 .

(3,) An account when, where, and how he received his revelations, Revelation 1:9-12 .

(4,) A vision of Christ, with an affecting display of his divine glory, encouraging and animating to true believers, but terrible to back-sliders and apostates, Revelation 1:13-20 .

Verse 1

Revelation 1:1. The book opens with the title or inscription of the book itself, and an account of the scope and design of it, namely, to foretel things which should shortly begin to be fulfilled, and should succeed in their due season and order till all were accomplished. The Revelation Properly so called; for things covered before, are here revealed, or unveiled. No prophecy in the Old Testament has this title; it was reserved for this alone in the New. It is, as it were, a manifesto, wherein the Heir of all things declares, that all power is given him in heaven and earth; and that he will, in the end, gloriously exercise that power, maugre all the opposition of all his enemies. Of Jesus Christ Not of John the divine, a title added in latter ages. Certain it is, that appellation, the divine, was not brought into the church, much less was it affixed to John the apostle, till long after the apostolic age. It was St. John indeed who wrote this book; but the Author of it is Jesus Christ. Which God gave unto him According to his holy, glorified humanity, as the great Prophet of the church. God gave the revelation to Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ made it known to his servants. To show This word recurs Revelation 22:6. And in many places the parts of this book refer to each other. Indeed, the whole structure of it breathes the art of God; comprising, in the most finished compendium, things to come; many, various; near, intermediate, remote; the greatest, the least; terrible, comfortable; old, new; long, short; and these interwoven together, opposite, composite; relative to each other, at a small, at a great distance; and therefore, sometimes, as it were, disappearing, broken off, suspended, and afterward unexpectedly, and most seasonably, appearing again. In all its parts it has an admirable variety, with the most exact harmony, beautifully illustrated by those very digressions which seem to interrupt it; in this manner does it display the manifold wisdom of God, shining, in the economy of the church, through so many ages. His servants Much is comprehended in this appellation. It is a great thing to be a servant of Jesus Christ. This book is dedicated particularly to the servants of Christ in the seven churches in Asia; but not exclusive of all his other servants, in all nations and ages. It is one single revelation, and yet sufficient for them all, from the time it was written to the end of the world. Serve thou the Lord Jesus Christ in truth. So shalt thou learn his secret in this book. Yea, and thou shalt feel in thy heart, whether this book be divine or not. The things which must shortly come to pass The things contained in this prophecy did begin to be accomplished shortly after it was given; and the whole might be said to come to pass shortly, in the same sense as St. Peter says, The end of all things is at hand; and our Lord himself, Behold I come quickly. There is in this book a rich treasure of all the doctrines pertaining to faith and holiness. But these are also delivered in other parts of Holy Writ; so that the Revelation need not to have been given for the sake of these. The peculiar design of this is To show the things which must come to pass. And this we are especially to have before our eyes, whenever we read or hear it.

It is said afterward, Write what thou seest; and again, Write what thou hast seen, and what is, and what shall be hereafter; but here, where the scope of the book is shown, it is only said, the things which must come to pass. Accordingly, the showing things to come, is the great point in view throughout the whole. And St. John writes what he has seen, and what is, only as it has an influence on, or gives light to, what shall be. And he Jesus Christ; sent and signified them Showed them by signs or emblems; (so the Greek word properly means;) by his angel Peculiarly called in the sequel, The angel of God, and particularly mentioned chap. Revelation 17:1; Revelation 21:9; Revelation 22:6; Revelation 22:16; to his servant John A title given to no other single person throughout the book.

Verses 2-3

Revelation 1:2-3. Who bare record of, or testified, the word of God That is, who, being honoured with so important a message, did not fail faithfully to declare it; and the testimony of Jesus That which Jesus, as the faithful and true Witness, appointed to be declared; and all things that he saw Was made acquainted with in such a manner as was attended with the fullest and most satisfactory evidences of their truth and importance. Blessed Μακαριος , happy; is he that readeth Some have miserably handled this book. Hence others are afraid to touch it. And while they desire to know all things else, reject only the knowledge of those which God hath shown. They inquire after any thing rather than this; as if it were written, Happy is he that doth not read this prophecy. Nay, but happy is he that readeth, and they that hear and keep the words thereof Especially at this time, when so considerable a part of them is on the point of being fulfilled. Nor are helps wanting, whereby any sincere and diligent inquirer may understand what he reads therein. The book itself is written in the most accurate manner possible; it distinguishes the several things whereof he treats by seven epistles, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven vials, each of which sevens is divided into four and three. Many things the book itself explains, as the seven stars, the seven candlesticks, the lamb, his seven horns and seven eyes, the incense, the dragon, the heads and horns of the beasts, the fine linen, the testimony of Jesus. And much light arises from comparing it with the ancient prophecies, and the predictions in the other books of the New Testament. In this book our Lord has comprised what was wanting in those prophecies, touching the time which followed his ascension, and the end of the Jewish polity. Accordingly, it reaches from the Old Jerusalem to the New, reducing all things into one sum in the exactest order, and with a near resemblance to the ancient prophets. The introduction and conclusion agree with Daniel; the description of the man-child, and the promises to Sion, with Isaiah; the judgment of Babylon, with Jeremiah; again, the determination of times, with Daniel; the architecture of the holy city, with Ezekiel; the emblems of the horses, candlesticks, &c., with Zechariah. Many things, largely described by the prophets, are here summarily repeated, and frequently in the same words. To them we may, then, usefully have recourse. Yet the Revelation suffices for the explaining itself, even if we do not yet understand those prophecies; yea, it casts much light upon them. Frequently, likewise, where there is a resemblance between them, there is a difference also; the Revelation, as it were, taking a stock from one of the old prophets, and inserting a new graft into it. Thus Zechariah speaks of two olive-trees; and so does St. John, but with a different meaning. Daniel has a beast with ten horns; so has St. John. And here the difference of words, emblems, things, times, ought studiously to be observed. Our Lord foretold many things before his passion; but not all things, for it was not yet seasonable. Many things, likewise, his Spirit foretold, in the writings of the apostles, so far as the necessities of those times required; now he comprises them all in one short book, therein presupposing all the other prophecies, and at the same time explaining, continuing, and perfecting them in one thread. It is right, therefore, to compare them; but not to measure the fulness of these by the scantiness of those preceding. Christ, when on earth, foretold what would come to pass in a short time; adding a brief description of the last things. Here he foretels the intermediate things; so that both put together constitute one complete chain of prophecy. This book is therefore not only the sum and the key of all the prophecies which preceded, but likewise a supplement to all, the seals being closed before; of consequence, it contains many particulars not revealed in any other part of Scripture. They have, therefore, little gratitude to God for such a Revelation, reserved for the exaltation of Christ, who boldly reject whatever they find here, which was not revealed, or not so clearly, in other parts of Scripture. He that readeth and they that hear The distinction here made of him that readeth and of them that hear, is remarkable; for books, being then in manuscript, were in few hands, and it was a much easier way to publish a prophecy, or any thing, by public reading, than by transcribing copies. It was also the custom of that age to read all the apostolical writings in the congregations of the faithful. And perhaps John sent this book by a single person into Asia, who read it in the churches, while many heard. But this likewise, in a secondary sense, refers to all that shall duly read or hear it in all ages. The words of this prophecy It is a revelation with regard to Christ, who gives it; a prophecy with regard to John, who delivers it to the churches. And keep the things which are written therein In such a manner as the nature of them requires; namely, with repentance, faith, patience, prayer, obedience, watchfulness, constancy. It behooves every Christian, at all opportunities, to read what is written in the oracles of God; and to read this precious book, in particular, frequently, reverently, and attentively. For the time

Of its beginning to be accomplished; is near Even when St. John wrote. How much nearer to us is even the full accomplishment of this weighty prophecy!

Verses 4-6

Revelation 1:4-6. John The dedication of this book is contained in the 4th, 5th, and 6th verses; but the whole Revelation is a kind of letter. To the seven churches which are in Asia That part of the Lesser Asia, which was then a Roman province. There had been several other churches planted here; but it seems these were now the most eminent. And it was among these that St. John had laboured most during his abode in Asia. In these cities there were many Jews. Such of them as believed, in each, were joined with the Gentile believers in one church. Grace be unto you, and peace The favour of God, with all temporal and eternal blessings; from him who is, and who was, and who cometh, or, who is to come A wonderful translation of the great name, JEHOVAH: He was of old, he is now, he cometh; that is, will be for ever. And from the seven Spirits which are before his throne Christ is he who hath the seven Spirits of God. The seven lamps which burn before his throne are the seven Spirits of God. The Lamb hath seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God. Seven was a sacred number in the Jewish Church. But it did not always imply a precise number. It sometimes is to be taken figuratively, to denote completeness, or perfection. By these seven Spirits, not seven created angels, but the Holy Ghost, is to be understood; the angels are never termed Spirits in this book; and when all the angels stand up, while the four living creatures, and the four and twenty elders, worship him that sitteth upon the throne, and the Lamb, the seven Spirits neither stand up nor worship. To these seven Spirits of God, the seven churches, to whom the Spirit speaks so many things, are subordinate; as are also their angels, yea, and the seven angels which stand before God. He is called, The seven Spirits, not with regard to his essence, which is one, but with regard to his manifold operations. And from Jesus Christ, the faithful Witness, the First- begotten from the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth Three glorious appellations are here given him, and in their proper order. He was the faithful Witness of the whole will of God before his death, and in death, and remains such in glory. He rose from the dead, as the first-fruits of them that slept; and now hath all power both in heaven and earth. He is here styled a Prince. But by and by, he bears his title of King; yea, King of kings, and Lord of lords. This phrase, the kings of the earth, signifies their power and multitude, and also the nature of their kingdom. It became the Divine Majesty to call them kings with a limitation; especially in this manifesto from his heavenly kingdom. For no creature, much less a sinful man, can bear the title of king in an absolute sense, before the eyes of God. To him that loved us, and Out of that free, abundant love, hath washed us from the guilt and power of our sins with his own blood; And hath made us kings Partakers of his present, and heirs of his eternal kingdom; and priests unto God and his Father To whom we continually offer ourselves, a holy, living sacrifice; to him be the glory For his love and redemption; and the might Whereby he governs all things.

Verse 7

Revelation 1:7. Behold In this and the next verse are the proposition and the summary of the whole book. He cometh Jesus Christ. Throughout this book, whenever it is said He cometh, it means his glorious coming. The preparation for this began at the destruction of Jerusalem, and more particularly at the time of writing this book, and goes on without any interruption, till that grand event is accomplished. Therefore it is never said in this book, He will come, but, He cometh. And yet it is not said, He cometh again. For when he came before, it was not like himself, but in the form of a servant. But his appearing in glory is, properly, his coming; namely, in a manner worthy of the Son of God. And every eye Of the Jews in particular; shall see him But with what different emotions, according as they had received or rejected him! And they who have pierced him They, above all, who pierced his hands, or feet, or side. Thomas saw the prints of these wounds, even after his resurrection. And the same, undoubtedly, will be seen by all, when he cometh in the clouds of heaven; and they that condemned him shall be arraigned at his tribunal. And all the tribes of the earth The word tribes, in the Revelation, generally means the Israelites; but where another word, such as nations, or people, is joined with it, it implies likewise, (as here,) all the rest of mankind. Shall wail because of him For terror and pain, if they did not wail before by true repentance; even all who have rejected his government and opposed his interest, shall lament the fatal opposition, by which, instead of prevailing in the least against him, they have only effected their own destruction. In this verse is prefixed the great moral, which the whole book is designed to illustrate; namely, that though there should be great opposition made against the cause and kingdom of Christ, yet it should be utterly in vain, and his kingdom should triumph in the most illustrious manner, so that all who opposed it should have the greatest reason to mourn. And as this series of divine prophecy begins, so it ends with this sentiment, and with the joyful consent of his faithful servants to this glorious truth, which should fill the enemies of Christ with both terror and dismay. Yea, amen This refers to, every eye shall see him. He that cometh saith, Yea; he that testifies it, Amen. The word translated yea is Greek, amen is Hebrew; for what is here spoken respects both Jew and Gentile.

Verse 8

Revelation 1:8 . I am Alpha and Omega, saith the Lord Alpha is the first, Omega the last letter in the Greek alphabet. Let his enemies boast and rage ever so much in the intermediate time, yet he is both the Alpha, or beginning, and the Omega, or end, of all things. Grotius and Bengelius read, λεγει Κυριος ο θεος , saith the Lord God a reading with which the Vulgate accords, having, it seems, understood the verse as spoken by the Father. Accordingly Bengelius’s note is, “God is the beginning, as he is the Author and Creator of all things, and as he proposes, declares, and promises such great things. He is the end, as he brings all the things which are here revealed to a complete and glorious conclusion. Again, the beginning and end of a thing is, in Scripture, styled the whole thing. Therefore, God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end; that is, one who is all things, and always the same.” See Wesley. It will, however, as Doddridge observes, be difficult to give sufficient proof that the words of this verse were spoken by the Father. “Most of the phrases which are here used concerning this glorious Person, are afterward used concerning our Lord Jesus Christ; and παντοκρατωρ , almighty, though in ecclesiastical writers of the earliest ages it is generally appropriated to the Father, may, according to the Syriac version, be rendered, He who holds; that is, superintends, supports, and governs all; and then it is applied to Christ, Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3. But if, after all, the words should be understood as spoken by the Father, our Lord’s applying so many of these titles afterward to himself, plainly proves his partaking with the Father in the glory peculiar to the divine nature, and incommunicable to any creature.” See Bishop Pearson on the Creed, p. 175.

Verse 9

Revelation 1:9. I John The instruction and preparation of the apostle for the work are described from the 9th to the 20th verse: your brother In the common faith: and companion in tribulation For the same book peculiarly belongs to those who are under the cross. It was given to a banished man; and men in affliction understand and relish it most. Accordingly, it was little esteemed by the Asiatic churches after the time of Constantine; but highly valued by all the African churches; as it has been since by all the persecuted children of God. In the tribulation, and kingdom, and patience of Jesus Christ The kingdom stands in the midst. It is chiefly under various afflictions that faith obtains its part in the kingdom. And whosoever is partaker of this kingdom, is not afraid to suffer for Jesus, 2 Timothy 2:12. I was in the isle that is called Patmos A desolate island in the Archipelago, now called Palmosa, mountainous, but moderately fruitful, especially in wheat and pulse, though defective in other commodities. The whole circumference of the island is about thirty miles; and on one of its mountains stands a town of the same name, having on the top of it a monastery of Greek monks; and on the north side of the town the inhabitants, by tradition, show a house in which the Apocalypse was written, and, not far off, the cave where it was revealed; both places of great esteem and veneration with the Greeks and Latins. To this island, after he had come unhurt out of a caldron of boiling oil, he was banished for the word of God Namely, for preaching it; and for the testimony of Jesus For testifying that he is the Christ: in other words, he was banished for the confession of the gospel. This, according to the testimony of Irenæus, who was the disciple of Polycarp, who had been the disciple of St. John, was in the reign of the Emperor Domitian; and, if we may credit ecclesiastical history, he was here employed in digging in a mine. But the historical evidence produced for this is very uncertain. One thing, however, is certain, that it was in this island he received the wonderful discoveries which make the subjects of this book. There he saw and wrote all that follows. And it was a place peculiarly proper for these visions. He had over against him, at a small distance, Asia and the seven churches; going on eastward, Jerusalem and the land of Canaan; and beyond this, Antioch, yea, the whole continent of Asia. To the west he had Rome, Italy, and all Europe, swimming as it were in the sea; to the south Alexandria and the Nile, with its outlets; Egypt and all Africa; and to the north, what was afterward called Constantinople, on the straits between Europe and Asia. So he had all the three parts of the world which were then known, with Christendom, as it were before his eyes: a large theatre, for all the various scenes which were to pass before him: as if this island had been made principally for this end, to serve as an observatory for the apostle.

Verses 10-11

Revelation 1:10-11. I was in the Spirit That is, in a trance, a prophetic vision; so overwhelmed with the power, and filled with the light of the Holy Spirit, as to be insensible of outward things, and wholly taken up with spiritual and divine. What follows is one single, connected vision, which St. John saw in one day: and therefore he that would understand it should carry his thoughts straight on through the whole, without interruption. The other prophetic books are collections of distinct prophecies, given upon various occasions. But here is one single treatise, whereof all the parts exactly depend on each other. Revelation 4:1, is connected with Revelation 1:19. And what is delivered in the 4th chapter goes on directly to the 22d. On the Lord’s day On this our Lord rose from the dead. On this the ancients believed he would come to judgment. It was therefore with the utmost propriety that St. John on this day both saw and described his coming. And I heard behind me St. John had his face to the east: our Lord likewise, in this appearance, looked eastward toward Asia, whither the apostle was to write: a great voice as of a trumpet Which was peculiarly proper to proclaim the coming of the great King, and his victory over all his enemies. I am Alpha and Omega, &c. That these titles should be repeated so soon, in a connection which demonstrates they are given to Christ, will appear very remarkable, whatever sense be given to the 8th verse. The argument drawn in the preceding note upon it would have been strong, wherever such a passage as this had been found; but its immediate connection with this greatly strengthens it. “And I,” says Doddridge, “cannot forbear recording it, that this text has done more than any other in the Bible toward preventing me from giving into that scheme which would make our Lord Jesus Christ no more than a deified creature.” And, What thou seest, and hearest, write He both saw and heard. This command extends to the whole book. All the books of the New Testament were written by the will of God: but none were so expressly commanded to be written; in a book So all the revelation is but one book: nor did the letter to the angel of each church belong to him or his church only, but the whole book was sent to them all: and send it unto the seven churches Hereafter named; and through them to all churches, in all ages and nations. To Ephesus Mr. Thomas Smith, who, in the year 1671, travelled through all these cities, observes, that from Ephesus to Smyrna is forty-six English miles; from Smyrna to Pergamos, sixty-four; from Pergamos to Thyatira, forty-eight; from Thyatira to Sardis, thirty- three; from Sardis to Philadelphia, twenty-seven; and from Philadelphia to Laodicea, about forty-two miles.

Verses 12-16

Revelation 1:12-16. And I turned to see the voice That is, to see him whose voice it was; and being turned, I saw It seems the vision presented itself gradually. First, he heard a voice, and upon looking behind him he saw the golden candlesticks, and then, in the midst of the candlesticks, which were placed in a circle, he saw one like the Son of man That is, one in a human form. As a man, likewise, our Lord doubtless appears in heaven; though not exactly in this symbolical manner, wherein he presents himself as the Head of his church. He next observed that our Lord was clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt with a golden girdle Such the Jewish high-priests wore. But both of them are here marks of royal dignity likewise; girt about at the breast He that is on a journey girds his loins. Girding the breast was an emblem of solemn rest. It seems that the apostle, having seen all this, looked up to behold the face of our Lord, but was beat back by the appearance of his flaming eyes, which occasioned his more particularly observing his feet. Receiving strength to raise his eyes again, he saw the stars in his right hand, and the sword coming out of his mouth: but upon beholding the brightness of his glorious countenance, (which probably was much increased since the first glance the apostle had of it,) he fell at his feet as dead. During the time that St. John was discovering these several particulars, our Lord seems to have been speaking. And doubtless even his voice, at the very first, bespoke the God; though not so insupportably as his glorious appearance. His head and his hairs That is, the hairs of his head, not his whole head; were white as white wool Like the Ancient of Days, represented in Daniel’s vision, chap. Revelation 7:9. Wool is commonly supposed to be an emblem of eternity; as snow Betokening his spotless purity; and his eyes as a flame of fire Piercing through all things: a token of his omniscience. And his feet like fine brass Denoting his stability and strength; as if they burned in a furnace As if, having been melted and refined, they were still red hot; and his voice To the comfort of his friends, and the terror of his enemies; as the voice of many waters Roaring aloud, and bearing down all before them. And he had in his right hand seven stars In token of his favour and powerful protection. And out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword Signifying his justice and righteous anger, continually pointed against his enemies as a sword: sharp, to stab; two-edged, to hew. And his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength Without any mist or cloud.

Verses 17-18

Revelation 1:17-18. And when I saw him In this awful, this glorious, and resplendent form, I was perfectly overwhelmed with the majesty of his appearance, so that I fell at his feet as dead Human nature not being able to sustain so glorious an appearance. Thus was he prepared, (like Daniel of old, whom he particularly resembles,) for receiving so weighty a prophecy. A great sinking of nature usually precedes a large communication of heavenly things. St. John, before our Lord suffered, was so intimate with him as to lean on his breast, to lie in his bosom. Yet now, near seventy years after, the aged apostle is by one glance struck to the ground. What a glory must this be! Ye sinners, be afraid. Cleanse your hands. Purify your hearts. Ye saints, be humble. Prepare. Rejoice. But rejoice unto him with reverence. An increase of reverence toward this awful Majesty can be no prejudice to your faith. Let all petulancy, with all vain curiosity, be far away, while you are thinking or reading of these things. And he laid his right hand upon me The same wherein he held the seven stars. What did St. John then feel in himself? Saying, Fear not His look terrifies, his speech strengthens. He does not call John by name, (as the angel did Zachariah and others,) but spoke as his well-known Master. What follows is also spoken to strengthen and encourage him. I am When in his state of humiliation he spoke of his glory, he frequently spoke in the third person, as Matthew 26:64, but he now speaks of his own glory without any veil, in plain and direct terms. The first and the last That is, the eternal God, who is from everlasting to everlasting, Isaiah 41:4. I am he that liveth Another peculiar title of God; and I have the keys of death and of hell Or hades, that is, the invisible world; in the intermediate state the body abides in death, the soul in hades. Christ hath the keys of, that is, the power over both, killing or quickening of the body, and disposing of the soul as it pleaseth him. He gave St. Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, but not the keys of death or of hades. How comes then his supposed successor at Rome by the keys of purgatory? It must be allowed that αδης hades, sometimes signifies the grave; but, as Mr. Howe has largely proved in his excellent discourse on this text, the interpretation here given is most reasonable. That which would refer it to hell, as the seat of the damned, limits the sense in a manner very derogatory from the honour of our Lord, as he there shows unanswerably. According to Grotius, (in his note on Matthew 16:18,) the word αδης always denotes either death, or the state after death. Our English, or rather Saxon word, hell, in its original signification, (though it is now understood in a more limited sense,) exactly answers to the Greek word αδης , and denotes a concealed or unseen place, and this sense of the word is still retained in the eastern, and especially in the western counties of England; for to hele over a thing, is to cover it. From the preceding description mostly are taken the titles given to Christ in the following letters, particularly the first four.

Revelation 1:19-20 , Write the things which thou hast seen Contained in this chapter, which accordingly are written, Revelation 1:11-18: and the things which are The instructions relating to the present state of the seven churches; these are written Revelation 2:1-29; Revelation 3:1-22; and which shall be hereafter The future events which begin to be exhibited in the fourth chapter, where ( Rev 1:1 ) it is said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter, namely, to the end of the world. The mystery The mysterious meaning; of the seven stars St. John knew better than we do, in how many respects these stars were a proper emblem of those angels; how nearly they resembled each other, and how far they differed in magnitude, brightness, and other circumstances. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches Mentioned in the eleventh verse. In each church there was one pastor or ruling minister, to whom all the rest were subordinate. This pastor, bishop, or overseer, had the peculiar care over that flock: on him the prosperity of that congregation in a great measure depended; and he was to answer for all those souls at the judgment-seat of Christ. And the seven candlesticks are seven churches How significant an emblem is this! For a candlestick, though of gold, has no light of itself; neither has any church, or child of man. But they receive from Christ the light of truth, holiness, comfort, that it may shine to all around them. As soon as this was spoken, St. John wrote it down, even all that is contained in this first chapter. Afterward, what was contained in the second and third chapters, was dictated to him in like manner.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Revelation 1". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/revelation-1.html. 1857.
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