Jesus’ Description of the Ministry of the Holy Spirit

In John 16, just before His famous prayer, Jesus promises that He will send the Holy Spirit. Jesus begins this section by giving a prediction: He says that it will be to the disciple’s advantage for Him to go away because they will receive the Holy Spirit. This is a profound statement. According to Jesus, it is better for the apostles to have the indwelling Holy Spirit than it is for them to have His physical presence with them without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

7Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7 ESV)

After that statement, Jesus continues to describe the work of the Holy Spirit. In verses 12-15 He tells us how the Spirit will minister to the people of God. These verses are very important because they tell us what we should expect from the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus describes how He will function and how He will empower the church to perform its mission in the world. Jesus summarizes the ministry of the Holy Spirit in verse 13 by saying “he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13 ESV)

When most of us think about the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we do not primarily think about Him speaking of the things to come the things that Jesus says are His (John 16:14-15). We tend to think of the supernatural and miraculous activity of the Holy Spirit, which is also critical for the church, but we must understand why Jesus chose to specifically highlight this aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.

This may well be, the most overlooked part of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the church, but it is critical for the church and will be increasingly important as the earth experiences incredible instability and the church comes under pressure in many parts of the earth.

The Work of the Holy Spirit

Jesus gives us a summary of the work of the Holy Spirit in verses 12-15.

12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12–15 ESV)

Jesus identifies several key things the Holy Spirit will do:

  • He will guide us into all truth.
  • Whatever He hears He will speak.
  • He will declare the things that are to come.
  • He will glorify Jesus by taking what belongs to Jesus and declaring it to His people.

These are the things that the Holy Spirit loves to do and the things we should expect Him to do. He is listening to the Father and the Son and He speaks what He hears. He is eager to tell us the things that belong to Jesus, and He is eager to anoint the Word of God. Sometimes we miss this work of the Holy Spirit because we miss that fact that God enjoys working in processes. All throughout creation things grow and develop and mature and they do this because God loves it and because He designed things to grow that way.

We have to be careful not to limit the work of the Holy Spirit to those moments when God does something unusual – something vivid and dramatic. That is a critical part of the activity of the Holy Spirit, but it is not the complete picture of the work of the Holy Spirit. There are things God does instantly, but many things He does gradually over time. This is part of the work of the Holy Spirit. Over time He speaks to us about Jesus. He does not just “give” us truth; He leads us into it. He trains our mind, our discernment, and our senses by maturing us over time.

Because we tend to emphasize the dramatic and the instant we sometimes completely overlook much of the work of the Holy Spirit. God loves processes. Whether it is Moses, David, John the Baptist, or Jesus Himself God always develops His servants over decades. We want to value all the work of the Holy Spirit and this means valuing those dramatic moments when the Holy Spirit breaks in as well as valuing His labor with us over time to mature us into who God calls us to be. The Father matured Jesus over time (Luke 2:52; Hebrews 5:7-9) and He will do the same thing with us. The Holy Spirit loves to do this work just as much as He loves to break in suddenly in a moment.

There is much we could say about the work of the Holy Spirit, but we want to look specifically at two things:

  • How the Holy Spirit’s ministry to the church is a picture of the church’s ministry to the world.
  • What it means for the Holy Spirit to take what belongs to Jesus and to declare it to the church.

The Holy Spirit as a Pattern for the Ministry of the Church in the World

In the second half of verse 13 Jesus says the Holy Spirit will not speak on His own authority, but instead whatever He hears He will speak. When He speaks He will declare the things that are to come.

13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13 ESV)

These are the things that the Holy Spirit does for the church. Because this is what the Holy Spirit does, it is also what a person filled with the Holy Spirit will do.

A person filled with the Holy Spirit is empowered to speak out of another’s authority of the things he has heard in order to declare to people the things that are to come.

As we will see the “things that are to come” are at the heart of the gospel. What we need to understand is that in the same way the Holy Spirit serves believers by making known the things that are to come, the church is called to function the same way with regard to the world. He hears what we do not hear and declares to us the things that are to come. We in turn hear what the world does not hear and declare to the world the things that are to come.

The three things that Holy Spirit does in verse 13 are three keys for how we are to function in the world.

The Holy Spirit Does Not Speak on His Own Authority

We are not called to speak on our own authority, but instead to speak on the basis of heavenly authority. This is what gives true glory to any verbal witness to the gospel. This is also the basis of biblical preaching. It is a tragedy that too often there is nothing beyond human authority in our witness and preaching. Too often our words have their sole power in our gifts, abilities, and the force of our personality. God does use our gifts, abilities, and our personality but they are not to be the ultimate source of our authority.

God wants to give us His own authority. When we speak – whether it is preaching, singing or in conversation – He wants to anoint our words with His power. He wants us to experience the exhilaration of the power of God resting on our frame and anointing our words. God is so committed to partnership that He gets deep pleasure out of giving us His authority to speak His words. He could speak His words on His own, but He wants to speak His word in partnership with us. Because of this we have to ask, are we speaking things that God can wholeheartedly anoint with His authority? Are we speaking that which we have truly heard from Him?

The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth because He does not speak on His own authority. This is a sobering warning to us that we are not to speak on our own authority if we want to lead others into truth. Our basis for authority is the Word of God and what God has revealed. When we begin to give our opinions the same weight as Scripture we are speaking in our own authority and can no longer lead people into all truth. This is how cults form and people are led away from the truth.

The Holy Spirit Speaks What He Hears

We are called to speak what we hear. One of Jesus’ favorite phrases referred to having “ears to hear.” He used that phrase repeatedly in the gospels and in His messages to the churches in the book of Revelation. In order to speak what is true, we must develop a hearing ear.

There are several ways we hear. We are called to hear and respond to the written Word of God. In the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit has given us the words of God so that we can hear and respond to them. We have so many opinions and ideas, but we are called to re-orient ourselves to the word of God. We also hear the word when we speak it to one another, both in biblical preaching and in conversation.

16Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. (Malachi 3:16 ESV)

This is the reason that Paul told us to sing spiritual songs to each other. Singing the word touches our emotions and reminds us of the truth of God’s word.

16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16 ESV)

19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, (Ephesians 5:19 ESV)

Finally we learn the voice of the Holy Spirit and recognize when he speaks to us. We do not want to neglect the practice of listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit as He speaks to us.

The Holy Spirit Will Declare the Things That Are to Come

Like the Spirit we are called to declare the things to come. We are to be a witness to the world of a coming King and a coming Kingdom. Though a small number in history have declared the return of Jesus in a way that was unbiblical and not helpful, that does not change the fact that we are called to speak to the world of the things to come.

The gospel is ultimately a statement about the King who is coming. It is a warning to repent, turn, and prepare for a glorious day in the future when the King will come and restore all things.

Our gospel is ultimately the message of a coming great salvation. Things will not always be the way they are right now. Jesus is going to redeem and restore creation. He is going to make all things new. We are also called to warn the earth of a coming judgment. God will answer sin. God’s judgment is coming. When you look at the New Testament and examine the preaching of the apostles you can see that they preached the “things that are to come.”

This is why Jesus instructed them to declare the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 24:14). This is why they were accused of preaching “another king, another Caesar.” (Acts 17:7). It is why Paul gave detailed information about the return of Jesus and the end of the age to a relatively new church plant in Thessalonica (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5).

He Will Take What is Mine and Declare It

In John 16:13, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will declare the things that are to come, and in verse 14 and 15 He expounds on that phrase.

13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13–15 ESV)

Verse 14 and 15 tell us why the Holy Spirit will speak to us of things to come. He does this in order to glorify Jesus. The Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and declares it to the church. Jesus tells us twice in two verses that the Holy Spirit will take what is His and declare it to us. The fact that Jesus repeats this ministry of the Holy Spirits tells us how important it is.

Verse 15 also tells us how valuable the things that belong to Jesus are because all that the Father has belongs to Him. Jesus is not just a man or a prophet or even a sacrifice for sin. He is all those things, but He is also much more. Everything that belongs to the Father belongs to Him. That is a profound and weighty statement.

Of all the things that the Holy Spirit could do, why is it so important that He declare to the church the things that are to come? The reason is that without this proclamation neither the church nor the world understand who Jesus is. We live in a time right now when Jesus is not on the earth and His glory has yet to be revealed. Our understanding of who Jesus is remains extremely limited. We know the sacrifice, the suffering Savior, but not the one to whom the Father has given all things.

His glory will be demonstrated in the things to come, which is why the book of Revelation is summarized as the “revelation of Jesus” (Revelation 1:1). In the future the earth will, in dramatic fashion, both see and experience the fact that everything that belongs to the Father belongs to Jesus. However, we have not yet seen that.

As human beings we are designed to live by hope. We are designed to look forward to glorious things to come. When people lose hope and believe the best things are behind them they slowly begin to die. However, when people are filled with hope and anticipation they live very differently. Every day is filled with meaning and purpose. They look forward to waking up the next day.

Too often our Christianity only looks in the past to Jesus’ work of redemption and the work of the new birth in our own life. In reality though, Christianity is mostly forward looking. We have far more to anticipate than remember about Jesus. So many of the greatest promises of the Bible remain to be fulfilled in the future. So many tend to think that the cross fulfilled all of God’s promises when in fact the cross did not fulfill all the promises of God – it is what enables all His promises to be fulfilled. Part of the work of the Holy Spirit is to energize the church with hope by giving us revelation of the glorious things that remain in front of us.

A great day is coming when the glory of Jesus will be revealed to all creation. In the season of waiting before that day, we need the ministry of the Holy Spirit to make known to us all the things that belong to Jesus. Because the fullness of Jesus’ glory is currently hidden, we desperately need the ministry of the Holy Spirit to speak to us about what is to come.

Because Jesus’ glory is veiled, the church can be tempted to lose heart when we see the sin, oppression, opposition, and hopelessness in the earth. Because Jesus’ glory is veiled, the world is increasingly emboldened in her wickedness.

God’s answer to strengthen the church and to challenge the world is for the Holy Spirit to make known to the church all the things that belong to Jesus, particularly by declaring to us the things that are to come. What are the things that belong to Jesus?

The first passage to begin with is Revelation 1:1. Though it does not begin with the same exact language as John 16:13, there is an obvious similarity between the two verses.

1The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, (Revelation 1:1 ESV)

The book of Revelation is, by far, one of the most dramatic books in the Bible. It is filled with extraordinary predictions and apocalyptic imagery.

How interesting it is that arguably the most dramatic and complex book in the Bible is introduced as the Revelation of Jesus. God is going to create the most dramatic stage imaginable to reveal the glory of His Son.

Revelation 1:1 tells us that God gave this dramatic description of the things to come in order that Jesus could “show His servants the things that must soon take place.”

In John 16, Jesus predicts that the Holy Spirit will declare the things that are to come.

In Revelation 1:1, the Father gives Jesus a revelation of things that must take place so that He could show these things to His servants.

Revelation 1:1, like John 16:13, tells us that the Father wants to make known the things to come. There is something incredibly important for the church related to having understanding of the things that are to come. Of course, this does not mean we will know every detail of things to come, but it does mean that it is incredibly important for the people of God to have revelation of what is coming.

Though many think of the book of Revelation as a book primarily about the Antichrist and His terror, the reality is that the book of Revelation begins and ends with the majesty of Jesus. In this book we see Him as the exalted God who will be worshipped by all creation (Revelation 4-5; 7) and as the conquering King and global Judge (Revelation 19) who will redeem and restore creation (Revelation 20-21).

The book of Revelation ultimately serves to describe the things that belong to Jesus and the way in which the Father will ensure that He receives those things. The Holy Spirit will remind us of those things until the day the Father gives them to His Son.

Here are just a few of the things to come for Jesus:

Jesus will be given the judgment of the nations. Though the subject of judgment is not always popular, this is far more important than we realize. Most of the earth experiences some sort of oppression and wants a Judge. This is why in Luke 18 Jesus describes faithfulness in terms of crying out to Him to come and judge.

7And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:7–8 ESV)

Part of making Jesus known is declaring that He will come and Judge. The promise of a judge gives hope to the earth and challenges the brazen sinfulness of man. The Bible repeatedly promises that Jesus will be given the right to judge.

4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. (Isaiah 11:4 ESV)

1Who is this who comes from Edom, in crimsoned garments from Bozrah, he who is splendid in his apparel, marching in the greatness of his strength? “It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save.” 2Why is your apparel red, and your garments like his who treads in the winepress? 3“I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood spattered on my garments, and stained all my apparel. 4For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and my year of redemption had come. (Isaiah 63:1–4 ESV)

13“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13–14 ESV)

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matthew 25:31–32 ESV)

22The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, (John 5:22 ESV)

27And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. (John 5:27 ESV)

42And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. (Acts 10:42 ESV)

1I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: (2 Timothy 4:1 ESV)

15From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. (Revelation 19:15 ESV)

In Philippians 2 Paul describes the reward that is coming to Jesus because He voluntarily gave Himself for the sake of humanity.

6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, (Philippians 2:6–12 ESV)

Jesus will receive the worship of the nations.

27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. (Psalm 22:27 ESV)

10In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. (Isaiah 11:10 ESV)

13And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13 ESV)

9After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9–10 ESV)

Jesus will rule the nations.

7I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” (Psalm 2:7–9 ESV)

1The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” 2The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! (Psalm 110:1–2 ESV)

7Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:7 ESV)

8But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. (Hebrews 1:8 ESV)

16On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:16 ESV)

Jesus is going to sit on the throne of David and receive the love of Israel.

32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32–33 ESV)

10“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10 ESV)

39For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ” (Matthew 23:39 ESV)

These are just a few of the things that belong to Jesus, and what all these things have in common is that they are all related to things to come. They are all promises that have been made to Him or things that are true about Him that have not yet been made visible on the earth but will be. The things that belong to Jesus’ future need to be revealed to us so that we can live in the right way and know Him as He truly is.

This work of the Spirit is what gave the apostles such boldness in the New Testament. They had a substantial revelation of the things that were to come. They had a profound assurance that everything that belongs to the Father has been given to the Son.

This is what gave them incredible strength to face persecution and trouble. This is what undergirded their preaching of the gospel. Throughout the New Testament you see the apostles setting the hope of the people on the return of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:50-58; Ephesians 1:14-15; Philippians 3:9-12; 1 John 3:2-3), challenging the existing order with the proclamation of the coming King (Acts 10:42; 17:7, 30-31), and fully convinced that Jesus was sovereign over everything including wicked empires (Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13-17). This is all because of the work of the Holy Spirit speaking to them about the things to come and declaring to them the things that belong to Jesus.

We desperately need the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We need the miracle working power of the Holy Spirit healing bodies and bringing conviction on human hearts. However what we have not fully recognized is just how much we need the work of the Holy Spirit declaring to us the things that are to come – all the things that belong to Jesus. Without the revelation of the things to come we do not have a full revelation of who Jesus is. Without declare these things, we declare an incomplete gospel. Without this we are tempted to lose hope and lose heart. It gives us great courage to declare the gospel in the face of opposition.

This is a neglected work of the Holy Spirit and yet as Jesus considered the survival of the church on the night before He was crucified it was the first thing that came to His mind. He knew that the church would need miraculous power, but He chose not to emphasize that on the night of His betrayal. It is hard to image just how burdened Jesus was for His disciples that night, and it is incredibly significant that He choose to give them strength by promising the Holy Spirit was coming to give them understanding of what would come.

The revelation of the things that are to come gives the human heart strength, excitement, and anticipation in a way that nothing else does. It invigorates and strengthens our heart. Biblical preaching of the return of Jesus gives courage to the church and challenges the culture with the promise that a judge is coming before whom every man just give account. That is why we so desperately need it.

The Work of the Holy Spirit

One key to understanding this passage is to see the connection between the way Jesus describes the ministry of the Holy Spirit to the world and the way He describes the ministry of the Holy Spirit to the church. Before Jesus describes the ministry of the Holy Spirit to the church, He summarizes the ministry of the Holy Spirit to the world in John 16:8-11:

8And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (John 16:8–11 ESV)

Jesus predicts that the Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. We tend to think of the Holy Spirit’s ministry to the world as being His own sovereign activity, and He certainly does that, but He also prefers to move through the church. Understanding the Holy Spirit’s desire to do His work through the church is key to understanding how the Holy Spirit’s ministry to the world happens.

To understand the full picture of the Holy Spirit, we want to put together His ministry to the world (John 16:8-11) with His ministry to the church (John 16:13-15). As the Holy Spirit strengthens the church by revealing the things that are to come and revealing all the things that belong to Jesus it produces a church that boldly declares these same things to the world. This revelation to the church of the things that belong to Jesus empowers the church to be a true and powerful witness in society of who Jesus is.

We are ultimately called to declare to the world the full message of who Jesus is which include the things that are to come. God uses every part of the gospel to bring conviction to the human heart, but the message of the things that are to come – both Jesus’ judgment of the nations and His glory – are especially intended to warn the nations and to provoke them to embrace repentance. The Holy Spirit tells us about the things that belong to Jesus and reminds us of things to come so that we can give a witness to the earth of the majesty of Jesus and His coming kingdom.

One of the ways that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment is by empowering the church to preach the return of Jesus and all that accompanies it. Empowering biblical preaching of everything that belongs to Jesus is one of the Holy Spirit’s primary ministries in the church and one of the things that our world desperately needs. We have to remember that the Holy Spirit loves to do His work through the church.

We Need This Work of the Spirit

There is so much we could say about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. So often when we think of His ministry and His work we think primarily about the gifts of the Spirit and the supernatural. We think of healings, miracles, and other signs. There are all critical parts of the work of the Holy Spirit but we cannot neglect the work of the Spirit that Jesus highlights in John 16.

It is very interesting that, as Jesus approached His death – no doubt burdened by the opposition he knew the apostles would face – He chose to highlight this work of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus spoke with the apostles he also knew that He was not only giving the apostles courage, He was giving courage to His church down through the centuries. He knew that the church in the generations following would face the same challenge as the apostles – staying stead in the midst of opposition while Jesus is not in our midst. What is even more interesting is that we tend to neglect this work of the Spirit while emphasizing His other work. However, it was one of the first things on Jesus’ mind as He thought about leaving the church.

We need to remember that part of the power of the Holy Sprit is the power to declare the things that are to come. This is a power the Church desperately needs and will need more as darker days approach. It is part of the Holy Spirits ministry to the church, which in turn equips the church to partner with the Spirit in His ministry to the world.

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