Did Christ Really Rise From the Dead?
Written by: De Haan, Martin R. II Posted on: 05/12/2003
Category: Bible Studies
CHRIST: His Resurrection
Did Christ Really Rise From the Dead?
So much depends on the answer to this question. The reliability of
the Bible. The answer to man's search for meaning. The destiny of all
people. It all depends on whether Jesus is alive or whether His body
never left the grave.
No matter which side of the issue you are on--a Christian who has
faith in the resurrection or a non-believer who finds this miracle too
good to be true--we hope this booklet will help you. In it Dave Branon
has explored why we can trust the biblical account of what happened that
first Easter morning.
Martin R. De Haan II
* Are We Too Sophisticated?
Consider for a moment what mankind has accomplished. We've built
spaceships that can leave our solar system. We've transplanted hearts
into week-old babies. We've computerized everything from architecture
to zoology. We've made tremendous progress in many areas of life.
Then why go backward? Why step 2,000 years into history to put our
faith in an event that violates the laws of science? Why insist that
the resurrection is anything more than a myth? After all, isn't "Dead
Man Comes Alive" the kind of headline we usually expect to find on those
tabloids that litter supermarket checkout lanes?
Can educated, refined people living on the threshold of the 21st
century be convinced that Jesus really did come back from the dead?
Many say no. They feel we have progressed too far to consider the
resurrection of Jesus to be an authentic historical event. These
"Miracles are not scientific." To people of science, dead means
dead. They have no evidence that anything that was dead ever came back
to life spontaneously. Therefore, they aren't easily convinced that one
special case the normal processes of decay were halted. It goes
against all of their established data to believe that a dead man came
back to life.
"It was spiritual, not physical, resurrection." Some "enlightened"
modern-day skeptics maintain that the disciples did not really see Jesus
with their eyes; they "saw" Him with their hearts. They had a spiritual
awakening because of Jesus' great sacrifice, and that spurred them on to
preach about Him. Thus, He could be "resurrected" in the heart of
anyone who accepted His teachings. To those who hold this view, Jesus
was a great teacher whose ministry ended on the cross but whose
influence continues through His words and philosophies.
"The biblical accounts are too contradictory." Some people think
that if the gospel writers couldn't agree on all the details, then we
cannot be sure they got any part of the story straight. For instance,
they point out that each of the four accounts of the morning scene at
the tomb records a different number of women who were there. "A
contemporary thinker," they say, "could never accept as evidence a story
with such discrepancies."
"The historical accounts aren't trustworthy." Obviously, no
reporters from the Jerusalem Star were at the garden on that
resurrection morning to record the event. Therefore, the nonbiblical
historical accounts we have concerning Jesus' resurrection were written
some time after the event. To people who have grown accustomed to
on-the-spot reporting and instantaneous news, that alone makes those
So the question remains. Can a technologically advanced society
that continues to open new vistas of scientific knowledge believe in a
miracle that 20 centuries of research have not been able to duplicate?
We say it can.
* Why is This So Important?
| If Jesus is, as the resurrection asserts, God Himself who has come to
| our rescue, then to reject Him, or even to neglect Him, is sheer
| folly. That is why Jesus is not, never has been, and never can be
| just among the religious leaders of mankind." -- Michael Green
Think of the key world events of your lifetime. The
Reagan-Gorbachev talks. The Challenger space shuttle tragedy. The
devastating Mexico City earthquake of 1985. The Camp David peace
accord. Watergate. The oil crisis of the 70s. The Vietnam War. Man
landing on the moon. Perhaps you've been around long enough to recall
the assassination of President Kennedy. Hiroshima. The Holocaust.
Pearl Harbor. Whatever comes to mind, you can be sure of this: No
event in this century has affected every human on earth--no matter where
Now think back through history. The Civil War. The storming of
the Bastille. The American Revolution. The discovery of the New World.
The invention of the printing press. The signing of the Magna Carta.
The Battle of Hastings. The Fall of the Roman Empire. Each of these
events had extraordinary historical significance. But none of them has
the kind of monumental, worldwide, eternal effects that one event almost
2,000 years ago claims to have. This event? The resurrection of Jesus
The Bible says that God came to earth as a man to pay the penalty
of death for the sins of the world (John 1:1-29; Romans 6:23). But the
Bible also says that if Jesus did not overpower death's grip to escape
that cold, rocky tomb, He would not be able to provide us with victory
over death (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).
The implications of the resurrection of Jesus Christ must be
considered honestly.. Everything depends on it. Here is what Paul
[God] commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has
appointed a day on which He will judge the world in
righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given
assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead (Acts
According to the Bible, the eternal destiny of every human is at
stake. We can live forever under God's blessing in heaven, or we can
suffer endlessly under Satan's devastating tyranny in hell. It all
depends on our response to Jesus and His resurrection.
So why is the resurrection so important in this sophisticated,
advanced age? Sophistication and advancement have nothing to do with
it. History is in God's hands, and He alone must be satisfied. Not
scientists. Not philosophers. Not educators. That's why what you
believe about the resurrection is a matter of eternal life or eternal
* Let's Get Logical
| The Christian Savior had lived and associated with men whose minds and
| senses apprehended His person, acts, and character. These witnesses
| had transmitted their knowledge directly, and they had testified to
| the life of Jesus Christ and His teaching. Jesus was then a
| historical, not a mythical being. --Clifford Moore
Truth is not negotiable. Historical statements of fact are not
open to question. When we read, for example, that George Washington and
his men spent the winter of 1777 enduring wretched conditions at Valley
Forge, we are obligated to believe it. Although none of us observed
their long, deadly winter, what we know about it is supported by the
written testimony of those who were there and by the scholarship of
later inquirers who studied the Revolutionary War. The written accounts
may differ on a few minor details, but we know that we can trust the
record of the historians.
In a historical sense, the resurrection stands on just as solid
ground as the story of George Washington's winter at Valley Forge.
Reliable witnesses wrote about meeting and talking with Jesus after His
death. Skeptical enemies noticed His disappearance from the tomb.
Extrabiblical, historical reports were given of His resurrection.
Eyewitnesses of Jesus' post-death appearances died defending their
belief in it.
In order for an honest historian to be convinced that something
actually happened, he needs to see two specific criteria met: (1) The
event in question must be supported by the testimony of believable,
trustworthy witnesses. And (2) the circumstantial evidence must be
authentic. When both of these demands are clearly supported by the
evidence at hand, the inquirer is compelled by logic to believe that
the event actually took place. We will see that each of these criteria
is met by the things we know about the resurrection.
Even so, some still don't believe. To make that refusal, a person
must not only reject the eyewitness accounts and the circumstantial
evidence, but he must make an even greater leap. The person who thinks
that the resurrection is a fraud or a hoax must reject the entire New
Testament. There can be no picking and choosing. If the resurrection
is a hoax, then so is the New Testament and everything Jesus said or
did. Claiming that Christ was a great teacher or a prophet--as even
most unbelievers attest--while rejecting His resurrection is an
impossible position. Consider what Jesus said during His ministry--
before the crucifixion:
The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the
elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be
raised the third day (Luke 9:22).
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the
great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights
in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40).
Think about it. Wouldn't we consider a man who made such wild
claims to be untrustworthy if he couldn't follow through on his
predictions? Instead of calling such a person a great teacher, wouldn't
we call him a charlatan and a threat to mankind? There can be no middle
ground. If Jesus did not do what He said He would do, He must be
rejected completely. And along with Him go the Old Testament Scriptures
(because of the predictions of the Messiah's coming), the
trustworthiness of Paul (who converted to Christ at the cost of
beatings, imprisonments, and banishment from his former colleagues), and
2,000 years of church history (which rests solely on the resurrection).
The evidence to be presented in the next few pages is based on the
biblical and historical data as we know it. We will see why both
secular and religious scholars find Jesus to be a captivating historical
person. So, let's get logical. Let's take a hard look at the evidence
that gives us reason to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
| It may be said that the historical evidence for the resurrection is
| stronger than for any other miracle anywhere narrated.
| -- William Lyon Phelps, Yale
* The Evidence: He Arose
OBSERVATION 1: He Was Dead
We have to start with the bad news. Jesus' confrontation with the
religious leaders of Israel cost Him His life. When His body was
removed from that awful cross of Golgotha, He was dead. As horrible as
this fact is, the validity of the resurrection accounts hinges on it.
If, as some critics say, Jesus did no more than faint from the
pain, there would be no need for a resurrection. For a person to be
raised from the dead, he must first have died. To deny Christ's death,
therefore, is to remove all possibility of resurrection. But the Bible
teaches that He died.
In the four gospel accounts of Jesus' crucifixion, His death is
spoken of in two distinct terms. In Matthew 27:50 and in John 19:30,
the writers said He "yielded" or "gave up" His spirit. The other
accounts both record that He "breathed His last" (Mark 15:37; Luke
Remarkably, Matthew, Mark, and Luke each recorded a simultaneous
event that occurred some distance from Calvary. They wrote that as
Jesus died, "the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom"
(Mark 15:38). This miracle signaled the end of the Old Testament era of
limited access to God and the cessation of animal sacrifices. But
that's not all it meant. It also verified Jesus' death because it
demonstrated that His complete sacrifice had satisfied God's demands.
For centuries, God had required the death of an unblemished lamb as an
atonement for sin. Now Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, had become the
final sacrifice. The veil was no longer needed, for access to God had
been opened to all who would believe in Him.
The following events at the site of the crucifixion verify that
Jesus was dead:
o The Roman soldiers did not break Jesus' legs because they "saw that
he was already dead" (John 19:33).
o The soldiers plunged a spear into Jesus' side, and from it came
both water and blood (John 19:34). Medical experts say that if He
were not already dead, this in itself would have killed Him.
Others have concluded that the pouring out of water and blood from
His side was proof that Jesus was no longer alive.
o When Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Christ so he and
Nicodemus could bury Him, Pontius Pilate ordered a centurion to
verify that Jesus was dead (Mark 15:43-45). The Roman governor
would not release the body to Joseph until the centurion was
certain that all signs of life were gone. You can be sure that an
officer in the Roman army would not make a mistake about an
important manner like this in his report to such a high official as
o Joseph and Nicodemus prepared the body for burial according to
Jewish custom. This included wrapping it "in a clean linen cloth"
(Matthew 27:59), anointing the body with "a mixture of myrrh and
aloes" (John 19:39), and placing it "in a tomb which had been hewn
out of the rock (Mark 15:46). It seems obvious that any sign of
life would have been detected by these bereaved friends. Surely
they would not have buried a breathing Jesus.
o The Pharisees and chief priests met with Pilate to discuss what had
occurred. They made such remarks as "while He was still alive"
(Matthew 27:63), and they ordered soldiers to secure the grave with
a seal. In addition, they placed guards on duty to prevent the
disciples from coming to "steal Him away" (v.64). They knew beyond
doubt that Jesus was dead.
| [Jesus] was crucified and died under Pontius Pilate. He really, and
| not merely in appearance, was crucified, and died, and in the sight of
| beings in heaven and on earth, and under the earth.... He also arose
| again in 3 days. --Ignatius, 2nd century historian
OBSERVATION 2: An Empty Tomb
| The resurrection proclamation could not have been maintained in
| Jerusalem for a single day, for a single hour, if the emptiness of
| the tomb had not been established as a fact. --Paul Althus
The Sabbath had ended, and Jesus' friends could now come to visit
the tomb. As morning broke on the new day, the women who had watched
Joseph and Nicodemus bury Jesus came back to anoint His body. It was
Sunday now--a somber day that as far as the women knew, would be
followed by many more days just like it. They were undoubtedly resigned
to a future of sad pilgrimages such as this one. They knew nothing else
they could do for their fallen loved one but to grieve at His tomb and
to put spices on His body. But what a surprise lay ahead!
As they walked toward the garden, they worked aloud about who could
roll away the heavy stone so they could go inside the tomb and apply
their spices. But when they arrived, they saw that the stone had
already been moved! Then they were greeted by an angel, who told them
that Jesus had arisen.
With this background in mind, let's look at the evidence that the
tomb was empty. First, we can depend on the historical record. Surely
the authorities of Jesus' day wanted nothing more than to have Jesus
stay where Joseph had put him. The mere fact that they put an official
Roman seal on the tomb and placed guards to protect it--a highly unusual
act--indicated that they were determined to keep the body behind the
stone barrier. Suppose they had been able to do that. You can be sure
the Sanhedrin and other officials would have been the first to use the
knowledge of an occupied tomb as evidence when the disciples began to
announce to everyone that they had seen Jesus alive. Yet no historical
evidence exists to suggest that those officials knew where the body was.
As we will see, the evidence shows that it was no longer in the tomb.
Second, there is something even more conclusive than the officials'
inaction--the actions of several eyewitnesses. The first to see and
report the empty tomb were the women with the spices. Mark's account
sets the scene for us:
And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long
white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.
But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of
Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here"
John and Peter were next to see that Jesus was gone. When they
heard the unbelievably good news from Mary and the other women, they
raced to the gravesite. John got to the tomb first but didn't go in.
Instead, he peered through the opening and saw the linen wrappings that
Jesus had left behind.
Characteristically, Peter was not content with a long-distance
view. He charged right into the tomb and spied the linen wrappings and
the face cloth lying undisturbed and neatly arranged. Then John
entered and saw the wrappings. John, it should be noted, is the one who
wrote this account as recorded in chapter 20 of his gospel. If you need
an eyewitness to convince you that the tomb was empty, you have one in
the apostle John. He was there, and he wrote down what he saw. That is
solid historical evidence in anyone's book.
A third strong piece of evidence that the tomb was empty is the
reaction of the authorities when the guards reported the events in the
garden. They wanted to destroy the credibility and influence of Jesus.
Therefore, they would surely have been foolish to spread the rumor that
the disciples had stolen the body--if Jesus were still in the tomb. No,
Jesus' disappearance was the sole cause for their concern. Surely their
collusion with the guards is solid proof that there was no body in the
We are faced with two facts. (1) Jesus died and was buried. (2)
in a short time, His tomb became empty. The question remains: Where was
OBSERVATION 3: The Appearances of Jesus
| For Jesus appeared to them the third day alive again, as the holy
| prophets had predicted. --Josephus, 1st century historian
Jesus' friends weren't looking for what they were about to see.
Although they had heard and closely followed Jesus' teaching for 3
years, they just never fully understood that He was going to rise from
the dead. Therefore, they would have had no reason to make up stories
in which they claimed to have seen Him. To them, that wasn't even an
option. Sure, they missed Jesus. And just as any of us who has lost a
loved one or friend longs to see him, so did they have the desire to see
Jesus. But they didn't expect they ever would (see John 20:9).
Yet see Him they did! First at the tomb. Then on the dusty Emmaus
road. Then in the upper room. Over and over, in different settings,
Jesus appeared to His friends. For 40 days He made His presence known
throughout the land (Acts 1:1-3). Let's look at who saw Jesus and where
He appeared. it's one more piece of evidence for the resurrection.
Mary Magdalene--tomb (John 20:11-18). Mary had been standing
outside the empty tomb crying because, as she said, "They have taken
away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him" (John 20:13).
His death, combined with her fear that His body had been stolen, had
engulfed her in heart-wrenching despair. But when Jesus startled her
into recognizing Him by calling out, "Mary!" she rushed to Him in joy
and relief. Then she ran to tell the disciples that she had seen the
Several women--near the tomb (Matthew 28:9,10). These women had
already heard that Jesus was alive, even though they had not yet seen
Him. They had just left the tomb, where an angel had told them that
Jesus had "risen from the dead." When they saw the Lord, they "held Him
by the feet and worshipped Him" (Matthew 28:9). Jesus told them to
spread the news that He was alive and to tell the disciples to meet Him
Two disciples---Emmaus road (Luke 24:13-32). Imagine the drama of
this scene. Two disciples were walking the 7 dusty miles from Jerusalem
to Emmaus when a fellow traveller caught up with them and struck up a
conversation--asking what they were talking about. Apparently they had
been discussing the death and entombment of Jesus, because they were
surprised that the stranger wasn't familiar with their topic. They said
in effect, "Do you mean to say that you don't know about Jesus' death?"
The two then explained why they were so sad--that though some women had
seen the empty tomb and claimed that Jesus was alive, they had not yet
seen Him. These disciples would not believe without seeing the evidence
An exciting surprise awaited the pair when they arrived at Emmaus.
The three of them stopped to eat, and as they ate, the disciples' "eyes
were opened" and they recognized that this mysterious stranger was
Jesus. But before they could speak again, He "vanished from their
sight" (Luke 24:31).
Peter--unknown location (Luke 24:33-35). In this passage, we are
not given a direct look at the meeting between Peter and Jesus. All we
know is that when the disciples who had been to Emmaus returned, they
learned that Peter had seen the Lord too. Imagine the excitement that
must have been generated in that place!
Ten disciples--upper room (Luke 24:36-43). Suddenly this praise
meeting of the disciples was interrupted. As they sat comparing notes
about the thrilling reality of seeing Jesus, He appeared in the room.
As might be expected, the men were startled because they thought they
were seeing a spirit (Luke 24:37). Jesus quickly laid that idea to rest
by offering to have them touch His hands and feet, and by eating supper
Eleven disciples--upper room (John 20:26-31). It must have been a
long week for Thomas. The other 10 disciples had met with Jesus in the
upper room, but he had not. Surely they had spent time trying to
convince Thomas that they really had seen Jesus. But he reacted as they
had whey they heard from the women who first saw Jesus. They were not
convinced without hard evidence, and Thomas wanted the same advantage.
Now he was about to get it, Jesus suddenly appeared to the men and said
to Thomas, "Reach your finger here, and look at My hands..." (John
20:27). Then Thomas believed exclaiming, "My Lord and my God!"
Seven men--Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-25). Things had begun to
return to normal for the disciples. They had gone back to work--some as
fishermen on an all-night fishing trip on the Sea of Galilee. But the
fish weren't cooperating, and the men had an empty boat. As daylight
broke over the water, they saw a man standing on the shore, shouting
advice to them. The seven seamen did what He suggested and nearly
capsized their boat with all the fish they dragged ashore.
When John informed Peter, "It is the Lord!" (John 21:7), Peter dove
in and swam to shore. When they all arrived on the beach, they saw that
Jesus had prepared a hot breakfast of fish and bread for them. Jesus
then offered to cook a few of the fish they had just caught.
Eleven disciples--a mountain (Matthew 28:16-20). This is the
first planned meeting between the disciples and Jesus that is recorded
after the resurrection. Matthew wrote that the disciples proceeded "to
Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them" (28:16).
There He met with the Eleven, and probably some others. Perhaps this
included the "500 brethren" mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:6.
What is significant is that even though the Eleven worshiped Jesus
when they saw Him, "some doubted" (Matthew 28:17). Although it is
possible that a few of these men were still doubting Jesus'
resurrection, it is more probable that the skeptics were disciples who
didn't have the advantage of touching Jesus and eating with Him. They
would naturally have been more hesitant to believe that this was the
same man who had been crucified a few weeks before. Yet the fact that
doubters are mentioned shows that the disciple who wrote the account
was not afraid to talk about the skepticism of some of the observers.
Disciples--near Bethany (Acts 1:9-12). The final appearance of
Jesus to His disciples ended with His disappearance. As He stood
talking with them about the command He had just given them to be His
witnesses, "He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their
sight" (Acts 1:9). This turned out to be a commencement of sorts for
the disciples. Just a few weeks before, they had been a disheartened
group whose leader was dead. Now, they were enthusiastic evangelists.
They "returned to Jerusalem with great joy" (Luke 24:52), and "they went
out and preached everywhere" (Mark 16:20).
The evidence was clear, Jesus was alive. Now their job was to go
and tell people about it.
OBSERVATION 4: Reactions of Officials
A Roman soldier was no coward. He was a specially trained,
toughminded, well-equipped warrior. Yet notice the reaction of the
soldiers who were protecting Jesus' tomb when they felt the earth move
and saw an angel roll back the stone (Matthew 28:2). They "shook for
fear of him, and became like dead men" (v.4).
They probably realized that they had more to be afraid of than an
angel. Their training told them that keeping watch was an important
commission. They knew that various punishments were handed out to
soldiers who couldn't stay awake on guard duty. Sometimes they were
beaten; other times they were set afire. Most of the time they were
executed. These brave, well-armed men had no way to stop the angel, so
they had more than one reason to be afraid.
But look what they did next. They turned themselves in! Facing
sure punishment, they still felt that they must report this amazing
event to their superiors. Once they had spilled their story to the
chief priests and elders, their fears turned to relief. The officials,
realizing that sending Jesus to His death had not accomplished their
purpose, decided to concoct a story. They bribed the soldiers to spread
the phone news that "His disciples came at night and stole Him away
while we slept" (Matthew 28:13).
The soldiers must have done what they were told for Matthew
commented that the story begun by those chief priests was "commonly
reported among the Jews until this day" (Matthew 28:15). Devised in the
face of the fact of the resurrection, this fabrication stayed alive for
many years among those who refused to believe that Jesus arose.
It wouldn't have taken much effort to refute their story. First,
if the disciples had indeed been able to steal the body of Jesus, how
would the guards have known that it was they who had stolen it? Didn't
the story go, "while we were asleep?" Second, it seems preposterous
that a group of men could have sneaked up on highly trained, albeit
slumbering, soldiers without waking them. And then to think that they
could have moved the stone, unwrapped 100 pounds of graveclothes, folded
them neatly, lifted the body, and carried it away while the soldiers
slept is even more ridiculous.
Yes, the officials knew that Jesus had risen. Their reaction
proves it. Their bribe verifies it. And their hastily concocted story
OBSERVATION 5: Outlook of the Disciples
| Nothing less than a witness as awesome as the resurrected Christ
| could have caused those men to maintain to their dying whispers
| that Jesus is alive. --Charles Colson
Sometimes you have to wonder about the disciples. They certainly
didn't seem to be the kind of men you would recruit if you wanted to
promote a revolutionary concept. For instance, when Jesus tried to
explain to them what would happen in the days ahead, they often
misunderstood. When He asked some of them to stay with Him during His
all-night prayer vigil, they kept falling asleep. When He talked of
servanthood, they argued about their own greatness. When He tried to
tell them that He would be raised up after 3 days they didn't get it.
On the night Jesus was arrested, the disciples ran for their lives.
Peter couldn't even stand up to a servant girl when she identified him
as a friend of Jesus. The disciples just didn't seem like the men of
action you would need if you wanted to win a following and influence
But something happened to change all that. What would change a
cowardly group of mourners into a courageous band of evangelists who
were willing to stand up and testify that the crucified Jesus was alive?
What changed them into willing martyrs for their faith?
Some would say that the disciples had nothing stronger to spur
them on than a story they had made up. But can you imagine what it
would take to believe this? Just picture Peter standing up before the
disciples, who had remained safely hidden behind locked doors after
Jesus' death for fear of their lives, and saying, "Well, the entire
weight of the Roman government was just used to put Jesus to death by
crucifixion. Even though He is still dead, we are going to start a
rumor that He isn't. We are going to say that He rose from the tomb and
that we all saw Him."
Is that what happened? If so, then why would they later risk their
lives for nothing? If they hadn't even understood for sure that Jesus
planned to rise from the dead, why would they break out of their
anonymity with such far-fetched scheme? And why would they record their
fabrication in the gospel accounts, complete with details?
A fictional story can't possibly account for the changes in the
disciples. Take for instance the transformation of Thomas. Of all the
disciples, he seemed the least likely to be convinced. His pessimism
was first revealed earlier, when Jesus mentioned His plans to go to
Bethany where Lazarus had just died. Thomas had suggested to his fellow
disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him" (John 11:16).
Although this statement suggests a degree of courage, it also implies
that Thomas was resigned to martyrdom. If that was his typical
response, it is no wonder he responded to the disciples' claim that they
had seen Jesus after His death by saying, "Unless I see... I will not
believe" (John 20:25). Does this sound like someone who is willing to
rekindle the anger of the Roman officials by claiming that Jesus was
alive if He really wasn't?
Now look at Thomas a week
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