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Why is Jesus very implicit in sharing his identity? In the synoptic gospels Jesus speaks in parables and metaphors and at the end of many of these encounters it is mentioned that the people did not understand what Jesus meant (Luke 2:49-50, Luke 9:45, Luke 18:34). Jesus uses various titles and refers to himself as the Son of Man, and calls God his Father. In Luke 9:20 Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is, they say the Messiah of God, and he leaves it at that, and does not give them further information.

Demons he cast out would tell of his identity yet he would silence them (Luke 4:35, Luke 4:41)

After some of his miracles he tells people not to share what they've seen (Luke 5:14, Luke 8:56). People are stumped at his authority to cast out demons, forgive sins, and control the weather, yet he does not explain this to them and leaves them befuddled (Luke 4:36, Luke 5:21, Luke 7:49, Luke 8:25)

And whenever he does share or speak of his identity, he also does so implicitly, never clearly (Luke 17:18).

During his temptation he alludes to himself being God when he recites biblical verses. (Luke 4:12)

There are also confusing verses which might lead us to believe that Jesus is not claiming to be God (Luke 18:19).

Jesus has no issue exhibiting his supernatural powers either to crowds or to individuals, but in some instances requests that they be kept secret in order to conceal his identity. Jesus tends to be very mystical in his speech -- he speaks in parables and does not expand upon them even if his audience does not understand. Jesus does not correct his followers regarding his identity or directly explain to them who he is. Even if Jesus alludes to his divinity it is always muddy and never a clear-cut and definitive "I am God" or "I am the Messiah".

Why is Jesus very vague about his identity and sometimes outright tries to conceal it?

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    I think this is largely covered by our question What explanations have been offered for the “messianic secret” passages? – curiousdannii Sep 5 at 12:56
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    This is actually, in my opinion, a better expressed question than the previous. And it is focused on 'identity', as such, rather than on the messianic title aspect. (+1). – Nigel J Sep 5 at 15:20
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    You should know that "implicit " is not the opposite of "explicit " here. – DJClayworth Sep 5 at 20:13
  • See Matthew 7:6 or John 6:26. – Lucian Sep 5 at 22:21
  • Pls define how Jesus has 'supernatural powers' when He maintained 'he could do nothing of himself'? – user47952 Sep 6 at 3:32
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By providing an extensive list of passages to buttress the legitimacy of your question you show yourself astute in biblical matters.

Rather than attempting to wow you with a list of my own, I will simply suggest three inescapable principles behind Jesus's modus operandi regarding his identity.

  1. Jesus was guided in each of his waking hours by his Father. What his Father wanted him to do, he did.

And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him (John 8:29 KJV).

If Jesus seems at times to be hedging, the reason is that he is being led by his Father to do so.

  1. Dovetailing with the above reason are the times when Jesus neither said nor did anything which would unnecessarily alter the timetable regarding his glorification at the cross. In Cana of Galilee where Jesus performed his first public miracle, he said to his mother,

“Woman,[The Greek for Woman does not denote any disrespect.] why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come" (John 2:4 NIV).

That pre-miracle comment by Jesus was a teaching moment, in which he cautions his mother against being out of step, so to speak, with his Father's will. Jesus went on, of course, to perform the miracle, but the cautionary remark to his mother was to appear in different forms and situations throughout his public ministry, leading up to the cross. For example,

Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ (Matthew 16:20).

Interestingly, as if to explain why he cautioned his disciples against revealing his Messiahship, we then read in the next verse in Matthew 16,

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

In other words, while Jesus's face was set like a flint going toward Jerusalem (see Isaiah 50:7 NKJV), the timing of his final arrival in the city of Peace was perhaps just as important as his determination to get there.

  1. Jesus's modus operandi included instances in which he was deliberately cryptic, primarily, I believe, to weed out the looky-loos and hypocrites from the truly sincere and committed followers. What you could call a proof text for this assertion is found in Matthew 13 (cf. also Mark 4 and Luke 8):

Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive . . .(vss. 13-14).

If Jesus seems to have been a bit cagey about his identity, which I personally believe he was not, really, he may have been because he never engaged in braggadocio or cockalorum. In the instances in which he was more direct in revealing his identity, he meant to get his audiences to think seriously about the implications for them regarding his Deity and Messiahship. He had no need to trumpet his greatness, as did Mohammed Ali in my day, who said frequently, "I am the greatest."

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    "My hour has not yet come" (John 2:4) sums it up suscinctly. – Lesley Sep 6 at 16:56
  • A couple of interesting words you used: 'looky-loos' and 'cockalorum'! My imagination is up to it (if not my dictionary!) +1 for a biblically sound answer. – Anne Sep 7 at 10:36
  • @Anne: Thanks for the encouraging words, Anne. Truth be told, the latter word came straight from wordhippo dot com. A great resource! Don – rhetorician Sep 7 at 18:21
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Jesus did tell the Jews in the most certain terms exactly who He is. Keep in mind that Jesus came and preached primarily to the Jews, who had the Scriptures and who, unless already hardened by unbelief, had everything that they needed to recognize His identity as Christ, Messiah, Son of God, and Heir of all things.

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil - John 8:42-44a

His seeming refusal to clearly vocalize His identity is, in itself, an indictment of their preexisting and willful unbelief. His words produced division within the ranks of those He came to save and that division arose from the harmony of His words with His deeds:

There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” - John 10:19-21

The Jews then demand:

“How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” John:10:24b

Jesus' reply is that He has told them and they do not believe and then immediately asserts that the works He is doing in the Father's name bear witness to Him:

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. - John 10:25-26

However when the High Priest and the council demand, on oath by the living God (Matthew), a direct answer from Jesus he gives them one, plainly telling them that if He answers they will not believe:

If thou be the Christ, tell us.' And he said to them, 'If I may tell you, ye will not believe; and if I also question you , ye will not answer me or send me away;  henceforth, there shall be the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the power of God.' And they all said, 'Thou, then, art the Son of God?' and he said unto them, 'Ye say it , because I am;' and they said, 'What need yet have we of testimony? for we ourselves did hear it from his mouth.' - Luke 22:67b-71 (YLT)

When Jesus appeals to His works as the basis for their belief this is exactly what He is saying; that the Jews, seeing that He is doing just what the Messiah was prophesied to do, should believe without a personal confession, i.e. that their hearts should have been prepared and receptive rather than hard at His arrival:

If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” - John 10:37-38

This is exactly the answer that He gives to John the Baptist when John expressed doubt and sent his disciples to question Jesus:

“John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” - Luke 7:20-23

In answering this way Jesus gently referred John back to Isaiah 35 in order to strengthen John's wavering faith by rooting it, once again, in Scripture. We might think that a simple 'yes' should suffice but the Lord knows that the bread of our faith must be every word that comes from the mouth of God.

And Jesus agonized over the hard hearts of his people:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” - Luke 13:34-35

This is why Jesus marveled out loud at the faith of the Canaanite woman and the Roman centurion and when He announced to the Jews in Nazareth, directly from the Scripture, who He was:

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  - Luke 4:17-21

it is why He chastised them so severely for their unbelief. They knew He was indicting them and, rather than repent, they were infuriated.

But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. - Luke 4:25-28 

The same is reflected in the parable of the vineyard owner and the wicked tenants:

And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” - Luke 20:9-18

In that parable Jesus is referring the Jews back to Isaiah and the Jews knew then that He was not only plainly claiming to be the Son of God and the rightful heir to God's Vineyard (Israel) but also indicting their stubborn unbelief and they were incensed:

Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry! - Isaiah 5:1-7

Jesus was already concealed from the sight of Israel by the blindness of willful unbelief and no amount of word or deed can change that. They should have been looking for the Messiah that God had promised rather than inventing for themselves hope in a false Messiah that would rescue their nation from captivity, strengthen their political/religious power, and assuage their desire for self-righteousness. Those who had eyes to see, saw. Those who had ears to hear, heard. The rest were hardened.

God resists the proud and He will not be what we want Him to be: God IS. He has spoken to us in His Son and if we truly see Him we have seen the Father. What remains for each of us is to decide whether we really want to see Jesus as He is no matter the cost (to fall on that stone and be broken) or if we prefer to force Jesus to be what we desire. That stone will fall on us and grind us to powder. If we cry out to God with a pure heart He will reveal Jesus.

“Thus says the LORD who made the earth, the LORD who formed it to establish it—the LORD is his name: Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. - Jeremiah 33:2-3

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The short answer is if Jesus was "explicit" in His identity by saying, "I am God" the Jews (rightly so) would come to the conclusion that Jesus was claiming (in their eyes) to be another god.

As it is, they didn't even believe that Jesus was the one and only "Son of God" according to John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." And remember Matthew 16:13, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"

Peter replied, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Matthew 16:16. Jesus says to him, "Blessed are you Simon, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven." I believe God wants us to come to our own conclusions not only based on God's help, but on the evidence of Scripture.

Please notice the progression starting in John's gospel at John 5:17-18. But first I want to make the following very important statement in order to understand that the Jews knew exactly what Jesus was claiming all along.

What was it that Jesus said, that caused the Jews to want to "stone" and finally "kill Him/crucify Him after His trial? John 5:17-18, "My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working." Verse 18, "For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking ALL THE MORE to kill Him because (or why) He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but ALSO was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God."

John 8:56-59, What did Jesus say? "Abraham rejoiced to see His day, and he saw and was glad." Jesus says, "Truly I say to you before Abraham was born or before Abraham "sprang into existence, I Am." Verse 59, "Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus his Himself."

I find this exchange ironic? There is no doubt the Jews are taking Jesus seriously. Think about it? If I said to anybody, "You know before Abraham Lincoln was born I existed before he was even born." No one would take me seriously and they would be laughing at me. Notice the Jews weren't laughing."

John 10:30, "I and the Father, We are one." Yes, it goes without saying that God the Father and Jesus are one in purpose but this verse is declaring that the Father and Jesus are one in nature/essence.

Immediately after Jesus made the statement the Jews, "took up stones again to stone Him." Why? Verse 33, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You being a man make Yourself out God."

Then there is John 19:7 when the appeal to Pilate and they say to him, "We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because (or why) He made Himself out the Son of God." As a side note, if the Jews were misunderstanding Jesus why did they bring up the law at Leviticus 24:16?

According to the trial record at Matthew 26:57-66 the high priest Caiaphas ask Jesus to swear an oath as to His identity. Verse 63, "But Jesus kept silent, And the high priest said to Him, "I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether (1) You are the Christ/Messiah, (2) the Son of God?" At Luke 22:70 Jesus replies, "Yes, I am."

Finally, at John 20:30-31 we can see John's authorial intent of his writings, "Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; verse 31, but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."

Two more points I would like to make. Remember, Jesus said if you don't believe Me (as to who I am) believe the works. John 10:37-38, "If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; verse 38, but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me and I am in the Father."

Last point, why would the Jews want to kill Jesus for claiming to be the Son of God since they also claim to be the sons of God?

An addendum to what RandomUser stated. You ask, "why does Jesus act differently in John than to the way he acts in the synoptic gospels?" It's not a matter of Jesus acting differently, it's a matter of "emphasis" by the writers. Matthew, Mark, and Luke focus on the parables of Jesus, the signs and sayings of Jesus. John focuses on the identity of Jesus, who He is. This can been seen at John 1:1 and Genesis 1:1 starts out by saying, "In the beginning or "in beginning." John 1:1 states the same thing, "In the beginning or in beginning." The main thought of Genesis 1:1 is what happened "in the beginning." The main thought of John 1:1 the emphasis is on who existed in the beginning.

This means that John's 1:1 "in beginning" antecedes the Genesis 1:1 "in beginning."

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    It is very interesting that although Jesus is still implicit, he makes many more allusions to his divinity in the gospel of John. The author of the gospel of John also explicitly mentions that Jesus is God (John 1:18). The question then arises, why does Jesus act differently in John than to the ways he acts in the synoptic gospels? Also, in Luke 22:70 Jesus does not say "Yes, I am", he says "You say that I am" – RandomUser Sep 5 at 19:34
  • @RandomUser I use the NASB and it says, "Yes, I am." At Matthew 26:64, "You have said it nevertheless I tell you hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." I also believe that each of the gospels seem to take a different approach and I do not believe they contradict each other. In fact, you just proved my point when you stated "Luke 22:70 does not say "Yes, I am," he says "You say that I am." Do you look at this as contradictory or meaning the same thing? – Mr. Bond Sep 5 at 19:51
  • I am afraid the NASB is inaccurate in the translation of this verse after looking up the Greek. No I don't view "Yes, I am" and "You say that I am" as meaning the same thing. I don't know if the gospels are contradictory, but if all gospels are testimonies of the same person then we should assume them to be consistent regarding his character. This secrecy seems to be an authentic theme of Jesus' ministry because it appears in all synoptic gospels. – RandomUser Sep 5 at 20:21
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    @RandomUser The NASB is inaccurate? What are your qualifications in understanding the Greek? Greek Scholar A.T.Robertson says the following. Ye say (υμεις λεγετε — Humeis legete). Just a Greek idiom for “Yes” (compare “I am” in Mark 14:62 with “Thou has said” in Matthew 26:64). At Mark 14:62 it simply says, "I am;" and you shall see the Son of Man etc." And again, it does mean the same thing. Btw, the shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35, "Jesus wept." So tell me, if the verse read, "Jesus cried" would it mean the same? Now, can you give me examples of Jesus' character being inconsistent? – Mr. Bond Sep 5 at 20:47
  • It seems that the NASB is the only bible which translates it as "Yes, I am", so I'll take it with a grain of salt. And I don't see how "You say that I am", "Yes, I am" as meaning the same thing. The former is deflecting the question, the latter is an explicit answer. And I never said Jesus' character was inconsistent, but his implicity and secrecy which is a common theme in all synoptic gospels is absent in John, which raises suspicions if they are all historical testimonies of Jesus. – RandomUser Sep 5 at 21:08
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Why did Jesus appear to conceal his identity?

Jesus had to remain incognito in order to accomplish his mission. The Pharisees were already plotting to kill him, but Jesus knew that the time was not yet right to reveal who He was. Jesus had an appointment with the cross and no man, no religious leader, could thwart God’s plans.

When Jesus told the Jews, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!” they attempted to stone him to death for blasphemy (John 8:58-59). They knew full well that by announcing his identity as “I am” he was directly applying the Old Testament name for God to himself (Exodus 3:14).

On another occasion, Jesus declared “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). The reaction of the Jews was to stone him to death for blasphemy. “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33). At that point, Jesus could have corrected the Jews by saying, “I did not claim to be God.” Jesus did not correct them. The claim made by Jesus was blasphemous to the Jews, and that is why they wanted him dead. Jesus was declaring his divinity.

This is one of the reasons Jesus spoke in parables. A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Parables were a common form of teaching in Judaism. There came a point during his ministry when Jesus explained the meaning of his parables only to his disciples. He left those who had rejected his message to remain in spiritual darkness. This is explained in Matthew 13. The spiritual truths Jesus taught were wasted on the Pharisees because they had publicly rejected Jesus as their Messiah and had blasphemed the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:22-23). However, when Jesus was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them (Mark 4:34b).

As for the miracles performed by Jesus, he did not want people to focus on his ability to heal people. Rather he wanted them to hear and understand his message about the Kingdom of God. Look what happened after he healed a man of leprosy (Mark 1:41-44). The leper was warned by Jesus not to tell anyone what had happened because he knew that such publicity would hinder his mission and turn attention away from his message. The healed leper disobeyed and, as a direct result, Jesus was unable to openly go into a town. Jesus was forced to stay in lonely places and preach in desert regions (Mark 1:45).

Rhetorician has rightly pointed out that the timing of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem was vitally important. As the Servant King, who humbly rode into Jerusalem on the back of young colt, his mission was to do the will of his Father who had sent him. Jesus’ appointment with the cross at Calvary was essential and no man, no religious leader, was going to thwart the divine plan of salvation by having Jesus put to death by stoning.

That is why Jesus’ identity - his divine relationship with God the Father and his divine authority – was kept low-key. The Jewish religious leaders hated Jesus because of who he claimed to be, but they had to wait till it was God’s time for events to unfold in the prescribed manner He had decreed.

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Jesus taught in the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)

Paul said this:

6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

The crowds were filled of the impure in heart who would never change, the impure who could and would be washed by the Word, and the pure whom Jesus had already cleansed. Jesus could not reveal himself as God in a way recognizable by all those categories in a mixed audience; God can only be seen by the pure. When Jesus is beheld in faith by a pure heart, that person sees God.

As a further example, when Saul of Tarsus saw Jesus on the Road to Damascus, what happened to his companions?

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. (Acts 9:7)

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Jesus' brothers criticize him for being secretive

John 7:3 Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 "No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him.

6 Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do".

The reason why Jesus is picky regarding his audience and the way he conducts his ministry, and even the way he presents himself in the language that he uses is because Jesus has a specific time in mind where his ministry would be concluded, while doing so earlier would change it of its intended course and cause it to come to a different conclusion in time, because his life was already sought after during this period, as John 7:1 says:

After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him

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