A Biblical Theology of The Kingdom of God
The following study seeks to show how the Biblical theology of the Kingdom of God serves as a potent instrument for unlocking our understanding of both the New and Old Testament.
Ever since John Bright penned his book "The Kingdom of God", Christian theology has never been the same. Through his work and the works of others such as Graham Goldsworthy, we now have the tools to draw together the disparate strands of scripture into a unified whole.
There have been numerous attempts to find the key concept which unifies the whole of the scriptures. In conservative Christian circles most scholars opt for either the covenant or the Kingdom of God as that unifying theme.
The covenant is the term used to describe the legal agreement that God has made and renewed with mankind from the time of Adam up till the present gospel era. The primary covenant agreement is that made with Abraham, a promise of sovereign grace appropriated through grace, while the most detailed example of the agreement is found in God's renewal of the covenant with the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai.
The form of the Sinai agreement follows the typical legal arrangement made between a king and his vassal state. Two copies of the agreement would be made, one held by the king and the other kept by the vassal power. They would usually keep the document at their religious shrine. In the case of Israel, Moses had two copies of the Ten Commandments, one for Jehovah, and the other for Israel. Both copies were kept safe in the Ark, the wooden box or throne upon which the Lord sat when his shekinah glory entered the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle. The content of the Sinai covenant was simple enough, although its details were quite extensive. The books of Numbers, Deuteronomy and Leviticus set out the covenant in detail. In it the Lord notes that he is their God and they are his people. He details all that he has done for them - brought them out of Egypt with a mighty and powerful arm (saved them). He sets out what he intends to do for his people (the blessings) and details obligations and the consequences of rebellion (cursing). The actual Ten Commandments is a short-hand version of the covenant details, and of course, the New Testament, or New Covenant of the gospel era, follows much the same form.
In simple terms, the Sinai covenant reaffirms the Abrahamic covenant, namely the promise of divine grace and this appropriated through faith. The Law, of course, gives shape to the fruit of faith, while at the same time forcing dependence on faith, rather than works, for the appropriation of the promised blessings of the covenant.
Yet, although the covenant is such a dominant theme in the scriptures, it is not so much the agreement itself which dominates, but rather the divine grace which the agreement promises. The content primarily concerns the promise of a kingdom. The Bible is the story of a kingdom lost and of God's promised intention and active intervention to re-establish that kingdom, and that in a far grander way. This then is the unifying concept of the scriptures.
The Nature of the Kingdom
A kingdom, as we all know, is a defined area containing a subject people, ruled by a lord or king, who defines the laws of the land and blesses all who faithfully serve him.
The Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of Heaven as Matthew likes to call it) is similar to an earthly kingdom. God as a king and lord rules over his people, subject to his commands, and blesses them out of his gracious mercy. As we experience the Kingdom today, and as we will experience it in the age to come, we are actually entering into a promise made long ago - "I will be your God and you will be my people", Lev.26:3-13. In fact, it is the promised experience of the garden of Eden, yet even now, and certainly in the age to come, it will be a far grander reality. The Kingdom is the assembling together of all God's people under his rule and care, experiencing complete unity and oneness with each other and the Lord God. God being present, the people seeing him face to face, knowing him intimately as well as knowing each other in the same way. The Kingdom is the dimension in which we find God, ourselves and each other. It is the ultimate community of fellowship and love.
Throughout history it has been possible for mankind to enter into the Kingdom of God - into the community of God's children. Those who have entered have (partly) experienced the blessings of membership, for God keeps his covenant, his agreement, his word. They have come to know God, they have found peace, IJn.1:3, Eph.2, Heb.12. Yet, the ultimate reality of the Kingdom has always awaited a future consummation. So today, as with the saints of old, we await the dawning of heaven, of the picture of Revelation 21-22. Of most importance, we rely on the promise of scripture that those who experience the Kingdom in the present will be full members in the age to come; they will participate fully in the blessings of heaven, Jn.5:24.
What will the Heavenly Kingdom be like? Attempting to visualize such a dimension is quite beyond us. It is more than we could ever imagine. The Bible gives us a few hints, but that's about all. It seems that the Kingdom of Heaven is going to be a new community, a community or society which, when established, will hail the glory of God. It won't just exist for resurrected humans, but it will exist as a united whole of the created order - Angles, Powers and Authorities. The Kingdom of God will infuse the whole cosmos and into the eons of all ages peace shall reign. The most marvelous truth is this, we mere humans, under Jesus, will rule over it all, Matt.19:30, 1Cor.6:2-3.
It would be nice to know why God is creating this glorious Kingdom - this new community of love. Yet, the scriptures say little on the matter and so we are left with conjecture. A similar question concerns his reasons for creating the earth, especially given God's foreknowledge of our rebellion and the subsequent need for Jesus to die. Again, this question leads to our place and purpose in the grand scheme of it all. What indeed is the purpose of a believer's life? Life's purpose is usually put in the terms: "To tell others about Jesus and so gather a people unto the Lord". There is little doubt that we should make the good news of the gospel known in our world, but is this the purpose of our life? Why does God need to use such a rebellious group of servants for a task he could well do himself? Why bother creating us in the first place, given the inevitable outcome?
No, life has more to do with preparing us for our place in the Kingdom - preparing us to rule with Christ. The center of it has to do with God's determined will to gather a people to himself, a new creation, a Kingdom of priests. Why he determines to do that we really don't know. Is it just his character of love? What does matter, is that God is shaping an eternal Kingdom, and in Christ we are part of it.
So, for us today the nature of the Kingdom of God is that of a community of believers bound under the rule of Christ and blessed through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit - a people gathered with God, ruled by him, blessed by him. At this moment in time we await the coming of the Kingdom in its final glorious manifestation at the return of Christ; we await the dawning of the eternal heavenly society.
Modes of the Kingdom
The whole movement of the Bible is the record of God setting up a simple expression of his Kingdom in the garden of Eden, of the destruction of that Kingdom and of God's step by step re-establishment of the Kingdom in a far greater form, which in its fullness, for us, is still future.
There have been numerous manifestations of the Kingdom of God throughout human history. In fact, every time God's rule is established in the life of any group of people, any family, or indeed in the life of an individual person, there and then a manifestation of the Kingdom of God becomes a reality. This manifestation, this realization of the Kingdom, is fully and completely the Kingdom of God on earth. Not only does it image the heavenly reality of the Kingdom for which we await, it is for that moment the Kingdom. Being members of that Kingdom guarantees membership of the Kingdom in the age to come.
The scriptures record the establishment of a number of manifestations of the Kingdom. Each Kingdom which God has established within human history has, with ever increasing clarity, imaged the Heavenly Kingdom of God. In that sense, each has served to reveal to mankind, through an unfolding revelation, God's plan to establish a Kingdom through which he unites all things to himself.
This does not mean that these Kingdoms are merely bare representations to show us what is to come. For that moment in time for which they exist, they are the real thing. What happens is that the future reality of the Heavenly Kingdom bursts into our earthly dimension in a way we can perceive and understand, and yet in a way that points beyond itself to something greater. So therefore, those who are in it, are in the Kingdom. They are in the Kingdom for that moment and for the infinite future.
What we need to do now is examine the different modes of the Kingdom of God - the different ways in which the fellowship, the community, the society of God's children, has emerged within human history.
The Creation Kingdom
At the beginning God formed a simple expression of his Kingdom. He made a people in his image where relationships were possible. He ruled those subject to him and he blessed them - especially with the blessing of his friendship; Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden of Eden, Gen.3:8. Yet, what they had was lost through their rebellion. In the human family their were many "great ones", but finally judgement came in the flood.
The Post-Flood Kingdom.
The Lord God saved a people to himself through the surging waters of the flood. Noah and his family shared in the Post-Flood Kingdom of God. Under the promised blessing of the rainbow they lived as a people bound under the rule of God. Yet, sin continued to affect the Kingdom and finally at Babel the people rose up against God's rule and so were scattered.
The Abrahamic Kingdom.
Abram, along with his family, left Ur for the promised land. He was called by the living God and promised a Kingdom. Following a harsh journey and a time of struggle in Canaan, his family, under the living God, began to possess the promised Kingdom. Yet it was a minute realization of the promise, with his family ending up as slaves in Egypt.
The Historic Kingdom.
With a mighty and an outstretched arm the Lord led his people out of slavery. Following their struggle to possess the land of Canaan, the Kingdom came to fruition in the nation of Israel. In its institutions the coming Kingdom was prefigured in a tangible way, 1Kings 10. So, the people lived in their city of God where he was pleased to dwell, 1Chron.23:25, ruled by their king who represented the rule of God, Deut.17:14-20, and through the priestly office came close to him. Yet, failure again beset the Kingdom, a failure that ended in the destruction of the nation by the Babylonians.
The Prophetic Kingdom.
During the time of the Historic Kingdom, while it was beset with failure, prophets were raised up by the living God to comment on what was happening. On the surface they spoke to the people of their day and encouraged them to turn from their rebellion and to live again for the Lord. They warned the people that continued rebellion would result in the destruction of the nation of Israel. The people, following the lead of the popular prophets, saw the Kingdom of Israel as eternal and safe in the hands of the Lord. Few, therefore, responded to the bleak words of the prophets of the Lord. Slowly the prophets revealed that the Kingdom of Israel was but an image of a coming Kingdom whose glory would outshine all the institutions of the nation - even the glory of Solomon's reign. What they pictured was something quite beyond the earthly reality they had already experienced, although similar in form, eg. Ezekiel's New Temple.
The Restored Kingdom.
When the people of Israel returned from exile in Babylon they certainly expected that the Kingdom they were about to set up would be the real thing. The prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah rightly convinced them to establish a representative expression of the Kingdom for that moment in history. Yet, very soon the people saw that the Kingdom, which was unfolding before their very eyes, shared little of the glory of the Historic Kingdom of their forefathers. At the completion of the Temple, some of those who had known the glory of Solomon's temple actually cried at the sight of their own meager efforts. In the end, what eventuated was a poor imitation of the Historic Kingdom. The people soon began to realize that the words of Haggai and Zechariah had more to say about a coming Kingdom than the limited attempts at Jewish nationalism which was to come to an end in 70AD. None-the-less, there was set in motion a driving expectation in the Jewish people for a Davidic Messiah who would establish a Kingdom in power.
The Present Spiritual Kingdom.
When Jesus appeared in Palestine he announced, "The Kingdom is at hand", Mk.1:15. ie. it is about to burst into history. Although the Jews were waiting for the coming Kingdom, they were unable to align Jesus with the expected mighty Davidic Messiah. Even John the Baptist was confused, Lk.7:18-23. Jesus pinpointed the problem when he said, "my Kingdom is not of this world", Jn.18:36. Only those who have their eyes opened can see Jesus' messianic role and the Kingdom at hand.
It was after Jesus' had fulfilled his messianic role, particularly his crucifixion, that the Kingdom came in its present spiritual dimension. The actual moment in time was at Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out upon the disciples gathered together in the upper room at Jerusalem. This was the point of Peter's sermon to the crowd which had gathered to watch the strange behaviour of the disciples. What Joel had prophesied concerning the outpouring of God's Spirit as the heralding sign of the coming of the new age, was now being fulfilled in the sight of all. The Kingdom has come, Acts 2:14-42.
For us then, as members of the Present Kingdom, Christ is at this moment ruling a people gathered about him, Acts 2:36: He is protecting us like a city wall, Heb.13:6; he is mediating between us and the Father as our great high priest, Heb.9:24, and we as a temple are indwelt by his Spirit, Eph.2:21-22.
Although the Present Kingdom is in a sense spiritual rather than physical or tangible, it does become localized and visible in the church. For it is here, where two or three gather together in the name of Christ, centered on his presence, Matt.18:20, that the reality of the Kingdom becomes visible. Here, at a localized point in time and space, a people gather as they will gather in the last day. In fact there is a sense where the gathering is actually the gathering in that last day. It is as if we are actualizing the reality of our place before the thrown of the living God; it is as if we are there now. As the children of God confront their living God, they worship him, they bow before him and adore him. Then, from that confrontation, they experience friendship with God and with each other - they commune; they become the body of Christ, one with him, bound in love, Eph.2:16, 19, 3:6, 4:3-4, 25, 5:21-33.
Although the organization or the institution of the church is not the Kingdom, the gathered people of God's people is certainly a visible manifestation of the Kingdom in the here and now. The root meaning of "church" in the Greek is of "assembly" or "gathering". There are many assemblies other then a Christian one, Acts 19:32. The church we are concerned with is the assembly around God, and it is this for which we await. Yet in a sense, we are even now gathered with Christ in the heavenlies, Eph.2:6, for where he is, there will his servants be also, Jn.12:26. The reality of this gathering is made real to us through the Spirit, for where two or three are gathered together, there is Christ in the midst, Matt.18:20, and so we are to exhort each other not to forsake the gathering together of the brotherhood, Heb.10:24-25. So, the primary substance of the Kingdom is the gathering of a people unto the Lord - a community, a new society, a fellowship of love and unity. This people gathers subject to God's word, blessed by his presence. Such is the nature of the church.
The Heavenly Kingdom.
The Present Kingdom, and its visible expression in the church, is in itself a foretaste of the Kingdom to come, Eph.1:10. We, as God's children, await the return of Christ to bring in that Kingdom in all its fullness. We wait for all things to be made subject to Christ so that in that coming day we may gather in the heavenlies before our father God, Rev.21:3, 22:3-5. It is then, with Christ, we will begin our task as a new creation, to rule the cosmos, to bring light to darkness, that all may be united under the one head, even Christ.
From all this it can be seen that the central unifying concept of the scriptures is the Kingdom of God. It holds together what may seem to be a loose collection of books of various literary types. From this central truth, as it has been revealed to mankind through the apostles and prophets, the whole of the scriptures take shape, directed toward the Kingdom's final manifestation.
Structural development of the Kingdom
The scriptures reveal a common sequence of events leading up to the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
1. A repeated pattern
When we examine the historical process involved in the establishment of the various modes of the Kingdom, we can't help but note a repeated pattern. If the kingdom itself is a community, a brotherhood, bound to God and one another in unity and love, then the realization of that kingdom emerges out of pain and suffering. What we need to do is carefully note this repeated pattern. The illustration below serves as a diagrammatic representation.
The scriptures are held together by a constant unfolding of manifestations of the future Kingdom of God and by a constantly repeated pattern of events that leads to the establishment of that Kingdom. Once the different modes of the Kingdom are identified and the pattern understood, it is very easy to understand and interpret any Bible story and then relate that story to our own place within the Kingdom of God.
The Creation Kingdom.
The preliminary events are caught up in the creation itself and do not form any observable pattern. The Kingdom is inaugurated when Adam and Eve are placed within the perfect environment of Eden. The blessing of the Kingdom is perfect harmony - God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. The rot sets in with the first sin and slowly the Kingdom degenerates and is finally judged in the flood.
The Post-flood Kingdom.
God's warning to Noah and the provision of the Ark (which Noah had to build) serves as the salvation event. Forty days and forty nights through the surging sea, a time of testing and trial. Then there is patient struggle, awaiting the water to subside. Finally the Ark rests on firm ground, the rainbow declares its blessing and the Kingdom is established. Of course the rot set in again and the Kingdom ends in judgement at Babel.
The Abrahamic Kingdom.
Salvation from Ur, the test and trials of the journey to the promised land, and the struggle of Abraham's family to establish itself in the land, serves to inaugurate the Kingdom in the covenant family of Abraham. The family tastes God's blessings, but end up as slaves in Egypt.
The Historic Kingdom.
The events that lead to the establishment of the nation of Israel, particularly imaged in the glory of Solomon's rule, serves as the the fundamental type for the New Testament writers. The life of Jesus and the life of the church is seen in terms of the life of Israel.
The pattern of events leading up to the Kingdom's establishment begins with God's people as slaves in Egypt around about 1500BC:
Release. The Exodus. God with a mighty and outstretched arm sets the captives free.
Test. The test of the wilderness and the peoples failure to go up and take the land - the security of Egypt seemed a better choice. The forty years wanderings serves as chastisement for their little faith.
Struggle. The entry into the promised land under Joshua, and the ongoing struggle to secure the land during the period of the Judges, Samuel, Saul and finally David.
Victory. The overcoming of the powers opposed to the establishment of the Kingdom. David destroys the Philistines.
The Kingdom established. Under the rule of David the Kingdom is established around 1000BC, although it is with Solomon that it is realized in glory. The capturing of Jerusalem and the bringing of the Ark to the city, heralds the Kingdom's coming. The building of the temple by Solomon heralds the Kingdom's realization - the blessings of the Kingdom shine out in the glory of the temple and of Solomon's rule. The Bible describes the nation of Israel at this time as the richest and the greatest of all nations. This, of course, is a theological perspective where Israel represents the glory of the Heavenly Kingdom. As far as its place in the political world, at its height it was a very small but successful city state. The Bible notes that even during the reign of Solomon sin began to take hold - "Solomon had many wives". Political marriages between foreign powers brought the inevitable intrusion of pagan gods. So, sin beset the nation and finally led to its cursing in the Babylonian invasion and the destruction of Jerusalem in 590BC.
The Prophetic Picture.
With the obvious failure of the Historic Kingdom, the prophets began to bring a word of God to its members. First, that they should turn from their sin to serve the living God and so make real the Kingdom in their midst. If they turn in repentance they will live, if not, they will face judgement. Second, that the true reality of the Kingdom is something beyond their present experience; it will be bigger and better. God's people will again find themselves in bondage, but they will experience a new exodus and wilderness wanderings. The scattered children of Abraham will return to establish a new glorious Jerusalem. They will engage in a new battle against the enemy, and under a Davidic Messiah they will secure a new victory and enter into a new and eternally glorious Kingdom. God will be present with his people and will never leave them again. From all the nations gentiles will seek to join with the people of Israel to share in God's new community.
The Restored Kingdom.
With the destruction of Jerusalem, most of the inhabitants of the city are taken as slaves to Babylon. With the defeat of the Babylonians by the Persians, the people of Israel are offered their freedom. Following the prompting of the prophets Ezekiel and Second Isaiah, a large number of the Jewish people head back to the destroyed city of Jerusalem, 536BC. They undertake a new exodus, a new journey. After a period of struggle, Nehemiah is victorious over Sanballat and the Restored Kingdom is established. It is obvious to all that this is but a shadow of the former glory, only an image of what is to come, Ezra.3:12. This Kingdom is finally destroyed by the Romans, as prophesied by Jesus, in 70AD.
3. The pattern in the New Testament
In the New Testament the different modes of the Kingdom may be represented in time terms as a present reality experienced in the Christian church and as a coming future heavenly reality. The present reality is a fading reality as the church moves toward the great falling away / the tribulation and the coming of "the new heaven and the new earth."
The Present Kingdom.
John the Baptist bursts into Palestine with the message that God is about to act to release his people, to secure the victory, and set up the Kingdom through the work of the long expected Messiah. A great expectancy develops, but the people look toward the political sphere instead of the spiritual. The Kingdom established by Jesus is not of this order of things, and therefore is not easily seen.
In a quite unexpected way, the preliminary events that lead up to the establishment of the Kingdom are fleshed out in the life of Jesus himself. He, representing the new Israel, enters the sea at his baptism. He stands the test in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. He struggles against the enemy, bringing ruin to his cities, Matt.12:25-29. Finally he is victorious over the enemy on the cross, 1Cor.15:55-57. It turns out that the Messiah, the Suffering Servant, is a corporate identity; he represents the people of Israel, the children of God. Unlike faithless Israel, always rebellious, Jesus is the faithful servant of God; he does not fail the test. The glorious truth is, that we, in all our frailty, can identify with the Messiah, we can stand in his shadow, join in his journey and share in his victory, Phil.3:10.
At Pentecost the Spirit is poured out and God's people share in the blessing of knowing him as Father, Rom.8:15, Gal.4:6. The Kingdom, in which Jesus is prophet, priest and king, has finally come for us to dwell in. Yet, even the Kingdom's coming in this spiritual mode is not the final reality; this Kingdom too will fade. Trouble will beset the church and finally all will be shattered in the great and terrible tribulation. Yet in that day, when all melts away at the return of Christ, a new Kingdom will dawn - eternity will be ours, Matt.24:9-14.
The Heavenly Kingdom.
Although we are at this moment members of the Present Kingdom, we are also part of the preliminary events which are even now moving inexorably toward the establishment of the future Heavenly Kingdom. In Christ, the initial events have already been fulfilled, and so we await the great and final battle heralding Christ's return and the establishment of the Kingdom in glory
The sequence of events began with Jesus' death on the cross. Here the captives were released from their bondage to sin and death. Jesus achieved on the cross an "Exodus" for his brothers, Lk.9:31. Then in the wilderness of Galilee he meets with his disciples and teaches them, and on the mountain, in glory, he leaves them. Following Pentecost, like Joshua of old, the Spirit of Jesus leads his people into battle against the powers of darkness. So at this present moment we struggle, "not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms". Soon Jesus will return to work the final victory over Satan. The dead in Christ will rise, a legion to stand with Christ in the heavenlies. Then shall the new heavens and a new earth unfold and all principalities and powers in the cosmos will kneel before Christ the king, and he will he hand over the Kingdom to the Father, perfected, 1Cor.15:28.
There is a sense where we find ourselves in two places. As members of the Present Kingdom, we experience the blessings of Christ's indwelling, particularly when two or three gather together. We experience faith, hope and love. Yet, we also experience the limitations of the present moment - of compromise, failure. We experience chastisement and the disciplining of the Lord. All about us fades and so our eyes look upward to the coming age of glory. As members of an army striving to bring in the Heavenly Kingdom, we experience the the times of testing and trial, of pain and suffering of struggle. We do know pain, we do experience trouble, but we also taste victory. So, in this present moment we are in the Kingdom and at the same time awaiting its final manifestation.
Generally speaking, within the preliminary events of the Heavenly Kingdom, we find ourselves in the struggle period. As such we can identify easily with the books of Genesis, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and Ezra and Nehemiah. Yet, it is also true that we, as a group or as individuals, are able at times to identify very readily with the period of test and trial. In our personal lives, or in the life of our church, we can find ourselves at different points in the journey toward the promised land. Thus books such as Exodus, Numbers.... are also very relevant for the disciple today.
So then, we find ourselves within the Kingdom, experiencing the blessings, but also the discipline of the Lord. We also find ourselves in the lead-up to the Kingdom's establishment, experiencing salvation, test and trial, struggle and victory. We straddle life, members of the Kingdom while struggling to bring it in.
4. The Kingdom: now and not yet
In the following mouse-over illustration, the different now / not yet modes of the Kingdom are represented from a heavenly perspective where the Present Kingdom is overlapped by the Heavenly Kingdom; the now / not yet reality of the Kingdom of God.
It's not hard to conceive of the Kingdom of God as an entity presently inaugurated and experienced both spiritually and physically in the church. As members of the Present Kingdom we await the day of the kingdom's final realization in the Heavenly Kingdom. Yet, the Kingdom is far too dynamic to be confined to a time-line. In our experience, the Kingdom is not yet - it is inaugurated, but not realized. Yet, from God's perspective the Kingdom is already realized; it is now. The Son of Man has come with that great throng of the redeemed to the Ancient Days, is upon his throne, and all knees bow before him, Dan.7:13-14. As Paul put it, "God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus", Eph.2:6.
Over the expanse of Christian history, believers have sensed this reality, particularly during times of persecution. The fading reality of the Present Kingdom is at times consumed by a far greater reality, the nowness of the Kingdom of Heaven. As C.S. Lewis put it, we live in a shadow land, we live in the shadows of another place, a place of brilliant light. This moment in time, in the presence of a God who is beyond time, the creator of time, is but a moment of divine grace, a moment to be grasped or lost forever.
The shape of the Kingdom of God is of a community of love. That community is being forged through the imperfection of our present moment. The day will come when it will be revealed in all its glory. For the present, we who are members of this new society, share in part its future wonders, and also struggle to hasten its coming. At different times in human history, the Kingdom, this heavenly society, has manifested itself in different modes which increasingly radiate its heavenly reality. At each time its dawning has followed a pattern which has revealed to us that the Kingdom comes only through pain and struggle. The Bible records God's design-plan for the creation of his Kingdom, revealing the pattern of its formation and its shape. The whole of history moves toward the dawning of the new age when the Kingdom comes in glory. Thus for Christian theology, the Kingdom of God is the fundamental unifying theme of the scriptures and is therefore the key to its interpretation.
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