Heaven: Who Will Be There? (Revelation 21:5-8)

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Heaven: Who Will Be There?

Revelation 21:5-8

Heaven and Hell are filled with people who showed their eternal desires in this life.

1.  Heaven is filled with (v.6 to 7)

a)  those satisfied by God alone

b)  those who overcame the world

c)  those adopted by God

2.  Heaven is absent of (v.8):

a)  those who rejected God

b)  those who loved sin

c)  those who worshipped other gods

Today, heaven tourism has become very popular. Two years ago, the movie Heaven is for Real came out. In 2003, Colton Burpo was 4 years old, and during an emergency appendectomy he flat-lined. While dead, he went to heaven and met Jesus, who rides a rainbow horse. He saw Mary and many angels. In heaven, no one wears glasses, all people have wings and his great grandpa had really big ones. He met him as he was sitting by the Holy Spirit, who would shoot down power to help people on Earth. He also met his sister who was miscarried early in pregnancy.

In 2008, Eben Alexander was a Harvard neurosurgeon who contracted a rare bacterial meningitis. He slipped into a seven-day coma. While in heaven, he saw clouds and a big blue sky with flocks of shimmering beings flying above them. He traveled through heaven, surrounded by millions of butterflies, with a woman who told him three things:  1) you are loved, 2) you have nothing to fear, and 3) you can do nothing wrong.

In 2014, Brian Miller, a truck driver, suffered a major heart attack and was dead for 45 minutes. During that time, he says that he visited heaven–he saw a light and walked towards it. He found a beautiful path with flowers on the side and a man and woman greeted him. It was his recently deceased mother-in-law and long-dead father-in-law. They said, “You don’t belong here, it is time for you to go back.”

Who will be in heaven and what will they say to you? Are there millions of butterflies? Will you meet long-dead relatives who look perfect and have wings? Will you see shimmering, translucent beings in flight around you?

Rather than try to figure out which near-death experience to believe, it seems wiser to entrust ourselves to the proven authority and accuracy of the Bible and see what it says about what Heaven will be like and who will be there. I believe that you may be surprised by who is there when you arrive. And you may be surprised by who is not. Last week we saw that the Bible gives us an amazing amount of detail about what Heaven will be like. We are in week two of a four-part series on Heaven, where we look at Revelation 21 to 22 and see what awaits us in eternity.

21:1-4  Heaven: What should I expect?

21:5-8 Heaven: Who will be there?

21:9-27  Heaven: What will it be like?

22:1-5  Heaven: Won’t I get bored eventually?

This week we are looking at Revelation 21, verses 5 to 8. Go ahead and open up your Bibles there. This passage helps you answer the most important question you can ask. Will I go to Heaven? If you are here, you have to be concerned about that question a little–you came to church. People don’t just do that anymore.

With terror attacks on the rise and the state of our nation in turmoil . . . with every loss of a loved family member . . . with every pain you experience as you age, you are confronted with your mortality. Recent studies have confirmed that ten out of ten people will die–it’s a scientific fact. You will cease to breathe. Your heart will cease to beat. Your brain waves will slow down and stop.

What happens then to you? It’s the most important question. And Revelation 21:5 to 8 leads us to that answer. Look at verse 5 and you’ll see a summary of what we covered last week. “And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ And He said, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true.’”

This is one of the few times in the book of Revelation when the person speaking is clearly God the Father. And what He says is just what we talked about last week (vv.1 to 4). At the end of all days, God is going to make all things new. The apostle John is there witnessing how the world and all the universe just collapsed in a rush, and a new Heaven and new Earth had been created. He saw a city come down out of Heaven, made ready for people to live in. And he heard an angel say that God and man would dwell together forever. That’s verses 1 to 4.

Then here in verse 5, God Himself says we are starting over. “I am making everything new.” And if you were captivated by what you heard from Scripture last week, well verse 6 tells us that John got a bit awestruck right here also. When this whole vision started back in Revelation 1, John was given a job. Write down what you see–write it down and send it to the churches. And he’s seen some crazy stuff–some amazing things.

But this part is where he forgets his job. He is blown away by the truth of what just happened. Listen to last week if you missed it. And so somebody, probably an angel, maybe God Himself–says to him, “Hey! Keep writing. For these words are faithful and true.”

This morning, I told my kids, “Tonight we’re going to see fireworks!” Even now they have forgotten it. Give it another day and the words will cease to be important at all. What the apostle John is seeing and hearing is not like that. These are not hollow words. These are not words that lose meaning over time. It’s imperative that John record what happened and what God is about to say.

And that’s because in verses 6 to 8, we hear the summary conclusion of God’s whole plan. “Then He said to me, ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. 7 He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. 8 But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.’”

At the conclusion of time, God Himself declares the eternal end for every person. You may not realize it, but you are everlasting. I don’t just mean that you, Christian, will live forever in Heaven. I mean that every person who ever comes into existence will live forever. You’re not eternal, for that would mean that you have no start–and you do. It’s called your birthday.

But you are everlasting. You are actually indestructible. You will never cease to exist. Heaven and Earth will pass away, but you will continue to exist. And you know this–it’s why everyone wonders, “What happens when you die?” We all have a natural sense that this life is not all that there is. And God here in verses 6 to 8 tells us what happens when you die.

Do you know the answer for yourself? Do you know what happens to you when you die? Who will be in Heaven and who will go to Hell? Here’s the simple answer to that question. Heaven and Hell are filled with people who showed their eternal desires in this life. There’s three basic descriptions that God uses in verses 6 to 7 to describe those who go to Heaven.

1.  Heaven is filled with: Verses 6 to 7

a) those satisfied by God alone Verse 6

Revelation 21:6, “I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.” Do you know that feeling you get around 11:30 am when your stomach starts to churn, telling you that you’re hungry? That’s not what he’s talking about. Maybe you know the feeling of being on a long hike and letting your kids drink the last of the water because they need it more, but your lips are dry and you really want some. That’s not what he’s talking about either.

He is describing a desperate need, a thirst on which the balance of your life hangs. Not a thirst for water, but a thirst for God. A complete dissatisfaction with what this world has to offer. It’s like one of those mini-chocolate donuts. It looks small and beautiful on the outside–then you bite into it and you realize it’s not actual chocolate. Nor is it an actual donut. It just looks like one. It’s got a five-year shelf-life. And even after you’ve swallowed it, you’re just as hungry as before.

Things in this world are like that–they look beautiful, they look attractive. Like the mini-donut box, they promise things they can’t provide. But you can’t stop eating them. And eventually you recognize you need help. So you want redemption from this body of sin. You recognize that you are helpless and lost without God. You see your sin and you want His righteousness. You’ve given up on your own. It doesn’t satisfy!

Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Psalm 42:1 to 2, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?”

Heaven is filled with people who desire God more than anything else. They were unsatisfied by the taste of this world. And God hears your cries and He shows you Jesus and He pours out mercy in your life. Heaven is filled with recipients of mercy who are satisfied by God alone. They drink from the spring of the water of life.

And he’s not talking about a drinking fountain in Heaven. He’s talking about a river–not a stream, not a creek, not a trickle. Revelation 22:1, “Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, through the middle of the street of the city” (ESV).

The river of life exists in Heaven. It’s quite possible that we’ll drink from it regularly. It is pure, unpolluted water–better than the most pure, untouched glacial lake. But we don’t seem to need to drink from it in order to live. Instead, similar to communion today, the water of life is a symbol of the salvation we have from God through Jesus. It is a visible reminder of the flow of everlasting life from God’s throne to God’s people.

It is the same water that Jesus told the woman at the well about (John 4:14). Heaven is filled with those who realized that this life would never satisfy them and turned to God. They hoped in Christ and drank the water of life that leads to salvation. The second description that John hears is that Heaven is filled with . . .

b)  those who overcame the world Verse 7a

Verse 7, “He who overcomes will inherit these things.” The context indicates this is the new Heaven, new Earth, and the new Jerusalem. So what does it mean to overcome? You want to know this, because there are some amazing promises made to overcomers (actually eight in Revelation alone).

Revelation 2:7, “To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.”

Revelation 2:11, “He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.”

Revelation 2:17, “To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.”

Revelation 2:26,”He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations.”

Revelation 3:5, “He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”

Revelation 3:12, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.”

Revelation 3:21, “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

Revelation 21:7, “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.”

I read this and think, “Are you kidding me? This is crazy!” Do you feel that way? Let’s just pretend that President Obama came up to you and said, “If you beat John at thumb-war, then I and the US government will grant you tax-free status for life, exemption from income tax, sales tax and business tax, admission to the White House and any room inside whenever you want, you will be the new governor of California. I’ve got a new wardrobe for you–part Versace, part Louis Vuitton. We’re going to add your name to the Declaration of Independence. And you’ll also be filling in on the Supreme Court.”

You’d be putting your thumb and shoulder out of socket just to win that game. And God’s promises are much, much, much better than anything Obama can offer you. So what does it mean to be an overcomer? How can you overcome the world? First John 5:4 to 5, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

And you should be reading this thinking, “Are you kidding me?” The rich promises that God has made to those who overcome the world are promises He has made to all Christians. That’s right. That’s the truth. Heaven is filled with people who believe that Jesus is the Son of God and lived for Him. They did not love this world. They didn’t care what this world offered. They overcame.

In 2006, I was in Kazakhstan ministering at a Bible Institute there. I was talking to one of our translators one afternoon and they were lamenting a friend’s move to America. I asked why, and here is what he said. “I would never want to move to America, because most of my friends have stopped going to church and believing in God because life was too easy. It’s too comfortable there for Christians.”

To overcome the world is not an easy thing. When you believe in Jesus as Son of God, you cannot continue to love sin. You can’t be okay with sin and think you’re okay with God. You cannot enjoy sin and also enjoy Christ. It is one or the other. A Christian cannot compromise with the world.

Some of you think that you can play with sin and still be a Christian. That you can show up here on Sunday for God and then you live for yourself during the week. You remember when you believed in Jesus and you raised your hand or walked an aisle. And you prayed a prayer of apology to God. You told him you believe in Jesus.

That may have been a long time ago, or it could have been three days ago at camp. Is it clear that you are not living for this world? Your Netflix queue, text message archive and web history should all show a life devoted to Christ. The world is filled with people hungry for money, fame, sex, possessions, and relationships. But those people are not in Heaven. Heaven is filled with those who are satisfied with God and therefore overcame the world.

c)  those adopted by God Verse 7b

This is the concluding promise to those who overcome the world. And to be honest, there is no better promise than this one. Revelation 21:7, “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.” Heaven is filled with the adopted children of God. And to be clear, I am not talking chronologically. Heaven is not a place where everyone is a child. There is not much said about our age in Heaven, but there are a few indicators–we’ll talk about those in week four.

Heaven is filled with men, women, boys and girls who have been adopted by God. We are not His biologically. We are not His naturally. Our father was the devil. But the heavenly Father adopted us. This is the conclusion of the promise he made earlier in 2 Corinthians 6:18, “’And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty.”

Romans 8:14 to 17, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”

Though you are adopted into the family of God at the time of your salvation, there is a future element to it when you finally meet with and live with the rest of your family. This is that future time. Many of you have experienced the blessing of adoption–either when you were adopted, or when you brought home a new adopted child.

There is a day when they arrive at your house. And some of yours were old enough to realize, “This is my new home! These are my parents!” And they find that they have brothers and sisters. And all of you are full of love for one another.

And it is a more perfect adoption than any earthly one. There is no crying to go back. There is no struggle over who the real parents are. They never reject, despise or grow angry at their brothers and sisters. Heaven is not an orphanage, but the most beautiful family that you will ever see. Brothers and sisters in Christ, living in perfect unity and harmony, in perfect obedience to the heavenly Father, enjoying Him forever.

And if you want to join this family, it’s easier than any process in the States. There is no home study. There is no paper work. There is no background check. It requires you admitting that the family you are in now is flawed and imperfect. You have to own your part in how messed up your life is and your family is. And it requires you to realize that you can’t fix it on your own.

In fact, there is nothing that the world offers that will make your life right. Your spouse could do things perfectly. Your kids could be the very best they could be. Your job could be more fulfilling than you ever believed. But at the core, you are the problem. It’s not them–it’s you. You have violated God’s commands, over and over. You can’t seem to do anything else. You recognize that He is right and just to punish you. You already condemn yourself for what you’ve done. But you also agree that God is just and right to punish you.

This is why God sent His Son, Jesus, to live a perfect sinless life and then be put to death. When you believe in Jesus, it means that you believe that Jesus is God and that He died to forgive your sins. You confess your sins and repent of them, desiring to change. And you put your confidence in Christ. That God poured out the punishment you deserve on the cross, on Jesus, in your place. And Jesus died, was buried, and then rose again on the third day, defeating death.

This is what it takes to be adopted into the family of God. This is who is in Heaven. Men and women who understand the depth of their sin and have put all their hope in Jesus for salvation. Because He is their hope and love, they overcome the world and enter Heaven. They will not be satiated by the world, but will thirst for God alone. Heaven will be filled with people like that. And that is what will make the fellowship so rich! Will you be there?

The last verse reminds us who will not be. Revelation 21:8, “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” John ends with a reminder of eight types of people that will not be in Heaven. They can be clumped into three categories . . .

2.  Heaven is absent of: Verse 8

a)  those who rejected God

Oftentimes, we only put atheists into this category of rejecting God. But the category is much broader. There are many people in our nation today who profess the name of Christian, but are cowardly–unwilling and without desire to stand for Christ against our culture. They take the name of Christ, but it is only a name. They are fearful of what others think. They worry about what will happen to them. They keep the name of Christ when it’s convenient. By their actions and sometimes their words, they are rejecting God and His Son.

There are others who are unbelieving. Again, they may even have the name of Christ, but they reject what the Bible actually says. The Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly met this week. That is all the leaders of the various PCUSA churches, and they opened with prayers to Allah led by a Muslim. They are unfaithful and disloyal–they deny a faith in Christ.

Heaven is absent of those who are cowardly and unbelieving. If they reject the God of the Bible in this life, He will also reject them from His presence. Matthew 10:33, “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” Heaven is also absent of:

b)  those who loved sin

The next three categories fit this description:

1)  Detestable/abominable–those who do things which the Lord hates

Titus 1:16, “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.” It is not talking about someone who did something bad, but someone who’s nature is saturated with the sins of a lifetime. In the same way that a cigarette smoker is unconscious of their odor, so the abominable do not see how the stench of various sins have bled over into everything else.

2)  Murderers–those who have hated others in their hearts

This does not only refer to those who have committed manslaughter. Matthew 5:21 to 22, “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”

3)  Sexually immoral/immoral persons

We see in Scripture many warnings to the sexually immoral. Sexual sin is a tempting bait which has carried away many to Hell. Christians, even today, seem to think that this is one that God gives a pass on. If you are hiding sexual sin, be very afraid. Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”

Here’s the common thread in all these people. They loved sin more than they loved God. They cared for their own pleasures more than they cared about God’s desires. Their lives revealed a supreme love for themselves. Not one person with those priorities will enter Heaven. And Heaven will also be absent of:

c)  those who worshipped other gods

Sorcerers would be those involved in witchcraft, magic and other occult practices. Idolaters are those who most love things created by human hands and hearts. This may be a golden talisman, a ’64 Mustang, or your job. It is something other than God that controls you and animates you.

All liars–this description wraps up many of the previous ones. Liars are those who are untruthful in their speech and their actions. Everything they say is for their own advantage. They think that they have everyone tricked. But God is not tricked–He is the God of truth and they do not worship Him. And they will not enter Heaven.

For those who rejected God, loved sin and have worshipped things other than God, here is what happens when they die. Just like a Christian, your physical body dies and your soul lives on. There is no soul sleep and it is not annihilated. There is no purgatory where you will receive a second chance or be able to work off your sins. Your soul will enter immediately into conscious torment. It seems likely that you will have some sight of the pleasure and comforts which believers experience, but they will be denied to you. But that’s just the beginning.

You see that when Christ returns and reigns and the Millennial Kingdom ends–then you will be resurrected and reunited with your physical body again. You will stand before God rejoined–physically alive once again. And you will give an account for your life, and because you know the torment you have already experienced, you will have even greater fear of what awaits. You will bow your knee before Him and confess that He is God. But your destiny will already be set. You will be judged and cast into the Lake of Fire, punished forever by God.

Matthew 13:40 to 43, “So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”

It’s called the second death, which seems to convey that you will literally die again, and then in a disembodied state be subject to greater pain than anything you can now know. You will forever be . . .

conscious of personal blame (Luke 16:25)

a deep, abiding sense of shame (Luke 12:2 to 3)

remorseful in your conscience (Romans 2:15 to 16)

the withdrawal of all good influences (Luke 8:18)

locked into your sinful habits (Jeremiah 13:23)

hopeless of your condition (Luke 16:26, Matthew 22:13)

raging in your unsatisfied desires  (James 4:1 to 2)

surrounded by those who are unswervingly evil (Revelation 21:8, 22:15)

sensing the displeasure of God, and His steady, unflinching wrath towards you (John 3:36)

And if you think that all that is metaphorical, then you are in an even bigger world of hurt, because that means that words couldn’t capture the utter anguish and pain that Hell is. What’s certain is that the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars will all experience the second death, which is in the Lake of Fire.

And you need to know that the Far Side is not accurate. Demons are not in charge of Hell–God is. The occupants in the Lake of Fire will receive active punishment by God. Hell is not simply absence from God. God will be pouring out His wrath. He will be the one delivering the punishment–because He is the only one with the right to. He is the offended party. He is the one sinned against.

And if you remember, it was He who crushed Jesus so that we might be forgiven. For those who reject His willingness to place their sins on Christ, He gives them their wish and allows them to bear the weight of their own sins. Those in the Lake of Fire will experience unquenchable anguish as they forever experience the wrath of God for their sins. They will never repent and never acknowledge the justice of God in their punishment. It will be horrible.

They will experience something they were not designed to endure. Matthew 25:41, “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.’” And notice something in our passage–it’s back up in verse 6. The first thing that the Father says is, “It is done.”

The words parallel Christ’s words on the cross when he says, “It is finished.” Jesus meant that His work of redemption is complete and accomplished. Here in Revelation, God is saying that His plan for all of history is over–it is complete.

Beth and I recently started watching Cutthroat Kitchen on Netflix. It’s a cooking competition—each contestant has 30 minutes to cook with obstacles thrown in. At the end of the time, Alton Brown always calls out, “Time’s up. Step away from the plate.” At that point, everything has to be done. They have to present whatever is there to the judge–no changes can be made. Nothing else can be done.

When God says, “It is done,” he means the same thing–there are no second chances. All decisions and consequences are locked in at this point. The occupants of Heaven will not move. Those in Hell will never leave. All the time that God has given you will be complete. He will be the Judge on that day. It’s why He calls Himself the Alpha and Omega in verse 6. He is the only one there from beginning to end, with the right and ability to judge all things.

Where will you go when you die? There is no more important question. Heaven is open to you today. God is presenting you with the opportunity today to know and enjoy Him forever. If you reject that offer, then you experience His rejection for all of eternity. I’m pleading with you to repent. Would you do that today?

Heaven and Hell both exist for Him, for His glory. Romans 9:22 to 23 says that even condemnation happens so that the riches of God’s glory would be made known. These twin truths about Heaven and Hell should lead you to . . .

1.  Concern for your soul

You are indestructible. You will live forever. What are your days consumed by? If you are not living for God, I would plead with you to repent, before it’s too late. Psalm 90:11 to 12, “Who understands the power of Your anger and Your fury, according to the fear that is due You? 12 So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.”

Mark 9:43 to 48 (ESV), “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”

Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”

2.  Gratefulness for His mercy

If you know anything of your own heart and how you gravitate towards sin, and you know something of the holiness of God, then you should be awestruck that Christ suffered the pains of Hell for us. And grateful for the Lord’s mercy to save you from what you deserve.

3.  Boldness in your witness

These truths about Heaven and Hell, God and sin, have been the backbone of missions around the world. These are the truths that God used to stoke spiritual awakening in our country and others. A conviction about eternity is indispensable to any lasting passion for evangelism and missions. If we believe that Hell is for real and that Heaven is for real, then it is to our shame that we do not talk about it with every person around us. Not all will believe, but all should be told.

Matthew 7:13 to 14, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

About John Pleasnick

John serves as a pastor and elder at Faith Bible Church

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