Revelation 12: Don’t Rush at Ground Zero

Don’t rush at Ground Zero — whether in New York or in Revelation 12, the chapter at the hub of the wheel in Revelation. Consensus is hard to find on most things in Revelation, but there is near-unanimity about the centrality of chapter 12. Adela Yarbro Collins’ comment is not atypical, “Here, at the structural midpoint, it becomes explicit ‘for the first time that the combat myth is the conceptual framework which underlies the book as a whole.’”

Let my homemade illustration (above) suggest three things. First, go slow in chapter 12. This is the best and possibly the last opportunity to get a handle on the key issue(s) in the cosmic conflict.

Second, the influence of chapter 12 extends equally to the chapters preceding it as to the chapters following. This challenge can only be resolved by becoming a re-reader. How could a first-time reader possibly know that he or she should have Revelation 12 in mind while reading about the seals and the trumpet — and all before reading it! On this point, we have to say to ourselves: we’ll do better next time. Next time, we will not miss the cosmic conflict theme in the seven seals and the seven trumpets.

Third, from Revelation 12 the story marches on toward chapter 20 in a way that resembles narrative conventions in modern literature. And yet most scholars, as I hope to show some weeks from now, arrive almost empty-handed in chapter 20. In that chapter, Satan is bound, which is just fine with most readers (Revelation 20:1-3). It is about time! But then he is released (20:7-9)! Indeed, the narrator says that “he must be released” (20:3). At that point, most readers are confounded. They have been dismissive of Satan in the first place, and they have had periods of inattention. As a result, the binding and release of Satan in chapter 20 generates some of the wildest comments on the book. We could make this an assignment from chapter 12 onward: Why must Satan be released after the thousand years (20:3)?

Who Started the Conflict and How?

Revelation knows who, using strange Greek to say it. “Michael and his angels had to wage war [tou polemēsai] with the Dragon” (12:7). This is odd in Greek, but it is precise for the way it captures the causal relations. Who, then, was the instigator when “war burst forth in heaven”? It was not “Michael and his angels.” They were the responders, drawn into a war started by “the Dragon.” The formulation assigns blame to Satan. An emergency arose to which Michael’s response became a matter of necessity. The opponent in the conflict is described as “the Ancient Serpent, who is called the Mudslinger and Satan, the Deceiver [ho planōn] of the whole world” (12:9). The piling up of synonyms suggests that John is “consciously attempting to expose the real role of this antagonist of God throughout cosmic and human history” (Aune).

Wars start in this world on the flimsiest of pretexts. World War I was a war in the flimsy category: everyone knew that there would be war, but no one knew why. What was the pretext (or “cause”) when “war burst forth in heaven” (12:7)? Our text abounds in subtlety, but we must work with what we have. First, then, why does Revelation describe it as a conflict between the Dragon and “Michael and his angels”? Who is Michael? Many scholars agree that this is an example of “angel Christology.” Michael is Jesus. When victory is declared, it is ascribed to “the Messiah” and to “the Lamb” (12:9-12). Michael is not mentioned, but we should not be fooled. “Michael” is Jesus, and it is Michael-as-Jesus who has won. “Angel Christology” is considered risky for those who think that it compromises the dignity of Jesus. Perhaps he was a created being after all? Perhaps he was, ontologically speaking, only “the Highest Angel”? (Ontology is the discipline that describes categories of being.) The most important ontological divide is the distinction between Creator and creature. On which side of this divide is Michael?

If he is on the Creator side of the divide, why is he represented as an angel? I have written at length on this subject in God of Sense and Traditions of Non-Sense, in a chapter entitled, “What God Did Not Say and Jesus Did Not Do — and Why It Matters.” Revelation is not the only place that has “angel Christology.” If the pre-incarnate Jesus, although a sharer in the divine identity, was in the habit of “emptying himself” (Philippians 2:5-11) — if “emptying oneself” is intrinsic to God’s disposition — how was Jesus seen by the angels?

The ontological divide between the Creator and created beings should be vast and insurmountable. One of my mentors, the late Carsten Johnsen, had a handout of fifty pages that he used to distribute to his students. It had the headline, “How could Lucifer conceive of a rivalry with Jesus Christ?” Again, no matter how glorious a being, the ontological divide should be immense and impassable between God and “the Shining One” (Isaiah 14:12-15). And it was. But it did not look that way, in part because Jesus was in the habit of being Michael. God’s disposition in Jesus made the ontological divide look smaller; God’s disposition, fully as much as God’s power, captures the difference between God and created beings. In God of Sense and Traditions of Non-Sense, I used the following imperfect analogy from medical school for God’s disposition.

I was once a medical student at the university where I am now teaching. Before my time, the university had a legendary professor of anatomy whose name was Samuel Crooks. Anatomy is a foundational subject in medicine, appropriately placed at the head of the curriculum and taught at a time when the students are in the most intimidated state of mind. I was told by reliable sources that professor Crooks, the head of the Department of Anatomy, would start the course every year dressed in blue overalls. He would first meet the students for orientation in the lab where the dissections take place and then face them in the auditorium for the opening lecture.

One year as the new students were getting familiar with cadavers and the smell of formaldehyde in the lab on the first day of school, a student accidentally bumped into a glass jar that contained an anatomical specimen. The specimen fell to the concrete floor, broke, and spilled its content of a human body part and foul-smelling formaldehyde. Flustered, the student spotted a man in blue overalls in the lab. Assuming that he must be the janitor, he walked over to him and explained his predicament. Would he be willing to clean up the mess on the floor? The man in blue overalls nodded in agreement. Fetching a bucket and the appropriate cleaning materials, he cleansed the floor of the formaldehyde and swept up the broken glass. Moments later, when the students assembled in the auditorium for the first lecture, the man in blue overalls, no longer self-evidently the janitor, walked to the lectern. The shock and embarrassment of that student on his first day of school does not need to be explained. Professor Crooks wished to make a statement about the dignity of labor so as to disabuse budding physicians of the idea that janitors in blue overalls are of lesser value than physicians in white coats.

If we think similarly about God’s disposition in Jesus, we should not think of it as though God “wished to make a statement” or as an example of humility. I have often heard it said that worship is due God because God is the Creator. That is too simplistic. What kind of Creator is God? What is God’s disposition, aside from the fact that he is the all-powerful Creator? When Revelation says that it was “Michael and his angels” who responded to the Dragon, Michael is a cipher for God’s disposition.

Second, the instigator of the conflict is in Revelation 12 and 20 called “the Ancient Serpent” (12:9; 20:2). Again, it is time to go slow. The allusion to Genesis 3:1 will not be missed, but we may not linger long enough to get the meaning. The Ancient Serpent found a flaw in God, that is, he found a pretext in God’s command that he exploited to the hilt (Genesis 3:1).

God’s command had emphasized freedom (Genesis 2:16-17): you may freely eat. The serpent, however, represented the command as an all-out prohibition (Genesis 3:1). Even though the woman corrected the serpent’s misrepresentation, a residue of suspicion lingers: God is more interested in restriction than in freedom. Gone from the horizon are other possible meanings of the strange Tree of Knowledge, such as permission, promotion, and protection. There is now a cloud of restriction in the human condition; there is a freedom-deficit in God.

Third, “the Dragon waged war and his angels, but they were not strong enough, neither was a place found for them in heaven” (12:7–8). Not being “strong enough” is not a metaphor that measures the two sides by muscle or might. That is too simplistic. A battle of ideas is the best proposition, in which case not being “strong enough” proves the Dragon to have a weak case. “Not strong enough” and not finding “a place in heaven” will then be two sides of the same coin, neither a matter of physical strength. We have, at Ground Zero in Revelation (12:7-12), a case of “irreconcilable differences.” When we telescope the story of the war in heaven, seeing “loss of innocence” at the point of origin and “loss of influence” at the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we get to know which side had the stronger case.

Further Reading:

Revelation: For Re-Readers Only, January 5, 2019

Apokalypsis, January 8, 2019

Revelation and the Neighborhood, January 14, 2019

Timeout: Revelation and the Crisis of Historicism, January 18, 2019

Crisis in the Heavenly Council, January 21, 2019

Timeout: Cosmic Conflict vs. Historicism, January 25, 2019

Silence in Heaven — for about Half an Hour, January 28, 2019

Timeout: From Daniel to Revelation, February 1, 2019

Revelation 7: The 144,000 and the 233,000, February 4, 2019

Timeout: Storm Clouds over Historicism, February 7, 2019

Revelation’s Trumpets: The Devil is in the Details, February 11, 2019

Timeout: Disarray and Trivia in the Trumpets, February 14, 2019

Sigve K. Tonstad is Research Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Loma Linda University.

Photo by Alexander Nachev on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9421
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Here is another example of God’s self-limiting in order to position Himself closely to His creation, where relationship can be cultivated.

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For a long time I’ve suggested that the serpent lied by telling the truth.

“God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”(Gen3:5.KJV)

This was the truth. But like so many lies, it was not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The lie was that being like God in this regard was a benefit. When in fact, knowing good and evil is not a benefit.

It was true that God knew both good and evil. But it was the knowledge of evil from which God wished to spare the newly minted pair - neither experiencing it or even knowing about it. Only goodness was created within their realm. That was to be their atmosphere.

If they had trusted God, that every thing He created and wanted for them was sufficient and already the very best, they would have avoided all their suffering and prevented passing it along to the rest of mankind. God warned them, but they did not Trust Him enough.

So, beware of evil which tells the truth, because what evil knows does not prevent it from being evil.

“Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” (James2:19.KJV)

Over many years I wondered how it could ever have been much of a contest when Lucifer wanted to displace God because surely it would be self-evident that God was so much higher and brighter and more powerful and extraordinary. Yet somehow it was a fairly close question because a third of the angels bought into his claim. What is suggested in Sigve’s article makes a lot of sense to me; that even before the incarnation of Jesus the disposition or character of God was to identify with his creatures and Michael was something like the angelic incarnation. The momentous part of this to me is that this means the emphasis is placed not on might and not on power and not on brightness or even creative genius, but on character, on God’s disposition that he modeled for all to emulate.
Thank you, Sigve, for what can be such a shocking insight.

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In Greek all the word “ANGEL” means is Messenger.
So Michael is the Chief Messenger of the God Head.
Is it allowable to assume a Chief Messenger of the God Head would
be One Of The 3 Gods?

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If rev 12 is ground zero or the hub then get ready for take off & the wheel 2 start spinning because i am convinced with factual evidence we are right there. Having studied that chapter & book for decades, i’ve been gifted 2 know exactly who the woman is, who the 12 stars are, who the dragon is, & precisely what the water flowing from his mouth represents, & how the earth swallows it (which it will do in the near future).

The detail with which each prophesy is being fullfilled & lived by actual people, the woman battling for survival & 2 keep her crown of 12 stars & having lost her most precious spiritual partner (symbolized as an unborn son) down to the day & hour is astounding. But it is hidden purposely, & that must be honored for now.

By the end of this year it will become national & international news (greatly affecting & transforming one finacially infuential industry & many others indirectly) but most of the world will barely notice it … & on we will go thru revelations right to the end with incredible accuracy.

This is the 1st time ive spoke of this publically, tho its been put on my heart to find an outlet for some time now. & as im inspired (if the reaction is respectful here) ill give more clues so the answers & undeniable proof are there for those genuinely seeking the truth, as the time draws near & god encourages us to prepare for the inevitable climatic battle humanity has been warned of for thousands of years.

I’m interested in what you have to say on this.

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Thats good. I follow orders (spiritually speaking) & rev 12 is not done & its not time to push this truth on the world, because mass fear is not how this is meant to unfold. Just a gentle understanding & transformation & preparation for those ready & searching for the truth & answers (which is why the battle is both public & powerful yet hidden). I believe we are still about 15 years from a climatic event that will take many lives in an instant & set us back to the stone age for about 10 years (for those not prepared) before the good guys rule & all is made right.

The actual public life of the woman, her being driven into the wilderness, & the ongoing battle with a powerful man consumed by the dragon, is the proof many will need to be motivated to prepare. To not take the mark, & survive economically & physically preserving that which matters to each of us the most in this world, while following our spiritual guidance. All in good time. Im not going anywhere, but for now i think ive said enough.

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Seems like another subtle attempt at date setting to me. We do well to take heed to Christ’s last word of counsel just before he ascended almost 2,000 years ago. “It is not for you to know the times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” Acts 1:7 NASB.

If our readiness to meet Christ face-to-face is time based, we have serious problems with our understanding of the gospel. We love Him because He first loved us, not because some supposed prophetic interpretation is about to be fulfilled.

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Subtle, Ray? Just the bit I’ve read betrays a serious misunderstanding of sound exegesis and interpretation. Not to mention being out of sorts with Jesus’ own admonishment about it how it was not for his disciples, and now for us, to know the times or the seasons, or his parables teaching his followers to always be ready, because you don’t know the time.

Thanks…

Frank

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Climatic or climactic? Is that a hint?

Absolutely love that someone is covering rev 12. Revelation is most definitely a complex read not very linear and not at all chronological. The very nature of the text itself is one of extreme controversy being titled as The Revelation of Christ given to Christ. Being a direct vision from God to God-man to angel to man makes it much different than Genesis from God to man (Moses). The relevance of this being the hidden yet Intrinsic glory gleaned from Genesis over a millennia i.e. In beginning God said Light be and light was, fastrack forward a couple thousand years and "oh wow big bang! Revelation having a common source and authorship being attributed to God would, without a doubt, maintain the same properties while holding its own glory, having been reserved for the time and place that it was and is and it’s uniquely strange model of transmission.

The realm of the characters must be taken into account when reading revelation in order to obtain a proper perspective. For example when Daniel was relaying a message to the King of Babylon the characters where illustrations of entire empires. The common man operates on a single realm in his everyday, he focuses on his family and his work, his God and so on and does not have an eye for an entire kingdom taking over another. This book offers a rare insight into a completely different realm of reality and a special awareness from a different vantage point than most would have been given the opportunity to appreciate had it not been written and preserved over the past couple thousand years. Mercy and truth have met together, righteousness and peace have kissed. Eternal beings with massive consequence and exposure over all of human history interacting with each other illustrating a point for human beings like a giant picking a choice fruit off of the top of a tree to hand to a little girl.

Michael being a proxy Christ seems extremely unlikely given some pointed scriptures such as “Michael one of the chief princes” “Michael your prince”, Michael meaning ‘One who is like God’ in comparison to God’s Word being God Himself just as you (made in His Image) speak and maintain your word is you or part of you not your word is like you etc.

It’s worth the re-read, and Michael is not Christ.

“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” (Rev12:7-9.KJV)

Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee." (Jude1:9.KJV)

“And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan12:1-2.KJV)

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this has been a fantastic series Sigve, thank you. If chapter 12 is the centre of the book, then yes, cosmic conflict must be at the centre of our seeking to understand its message. These messages have been so uplifting. thank you. To many interperters the cosmic conflict is a side story, the real issue is their own personal salvation, the injustices of Rome (the empire or the Church), all these things do not really require neither do they come from a cosmic conflict reading of revelation. But if indeed chapter 12 is at the centre then, before deciding what the book is about we must first decide what the war is about.

When I did my reading of revelation I noted the number of times the Devil goes to war in Revelation, first to eat the boy, then to deceive the world through the beasts, then in the form of frogs, then as a united earthly army, and finally to try and capture the city. in All these fights its always Satan vs Jesus. To me it just makes it clear that Jesus is Michael, otherwise it would be weird that in all other battles in revelation its Jesus vs Satan but in this one instance its just an Angel. So I find making Michael be Jesus would make sense within the book because then all battles in the book would be Satan vs Jesus. But if revelation 12 is at the centre, how can the war in the centre be against anyone less than Jesus?. So to me the identity of Jesus as Michael seems solid.

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Similarity of Satan with Jesus => great controversy

The great controversy between God and Satan must be considered universal (not limited to humanity alone). Satan’s goal is to be like God. Isaiah 14:12-14 emphasizes that Satan wanted to sit above the angels of God because of his rising pride. He wanted to be like the highest, like the angel Michael (= “Who is like God?”) (Rev 12). In this sense, the envy of Satan against Michael (Jesus) is reflected.

Conclusion: Satan’s COMPARISON with Jesus nourished his ENVY because of his burgeoning PROUD.

a) In Judas 9 the Archangel "Michael" is mentioned and equated in Daniel 12,1 with the "great prince" or in Dan 10,13.21 as the one who assists the angels in battle. Many theologians see in "Michael" (Rev 12,7) Jesus. This is at least an indication that Jesus might be the "angel of the Lord" in the OT (but not always) (eg 1 Mo 22,11-12 Abraham sacrifices Isaac, 2 Mo 3,2 Burning Bush, Judg 2,1-4 in Gilgal the eternal covenant with the people is emphasized, but …; Judg 13,21 not any angel appeared to Manoah, but the angel of the Lord). Satan is a covering cherub (Eze 28,14.16).

b) Jesus is called the "bright and morning star" (Rev 22:16), while Lucifer is the "shining morning star" or "day star, son of dawn" (Is 14:12).

c) "Michael your prince" (Dan 10,21) and "… Michael … the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people …" (Dan 12:1) is Jesus; conversely, Satan is the "prince of this world" (John 12:31, 16:11)

d) Jesus is the leader of the angels and Satan is also the commander of the angels. (Rev 12,7)

e) Jesus is the "Anointed of the Lord" (Jo 1:41, 4:25). In Eze 28,14 it is even hinted that Satan was "anointed".

f) Jesus is the "Lion of the tribe of Judah" (Rev 5:5), and Satan is also described as the "roaring lion walketh about" (1 Pt 5:8).

Since Jesus was the "ANGEL OF THE LORD," it becomes understandable why 1/3 of the angels could fall.

For which "angel" do you decide?

It seems that Satan became jealous of Jesus, as Jesus was apparently also "ONLY" an angel, but given divinity and compared to God, while Satan was not. (See EGW: The Truth about Angels, pp. 32-33)

Psalm 110 also describes the enthronement of Jesus, but the destruction of the enemies still lies in the future. Also compare Rev 5, where the Lamb is enthroned and linked to the Pentecost event in Acts 2:33-35, this means the first act of Jesus as the enthroned Lamb is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. (See Ranko Stefanovic [2002]: Finding Meaning in the Literary Patterns of Revelation, p. 36)

In addition to the similarities, there are plenty of differences: Jesus is the Son of God (John 10:36), while Satan is only a creature (Eze 28:13). Jesus forgives (Lk 23:34) (creates reconciliation as high priest [Heb 8, 3 Mo 16, Rom 5:10]), while Satan (= accuser) accuses [Rev 12,10]. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6), while the devil is the father of the lie and a murderer and he does not stand in the truth (John 8:44). Jesus is the Lamb (Rev 5), Satan is the Dragon or the serpent (Rev 12). Jesus leads to God and puts his Father in the spotlight (John 14:6), while the serpent leads away from God and puts the ego in the spotlight with its lust (1 Mo 3, Eph 2:1-3). Jesus humbled himself and became obediant until death (Phil 2:8) so that man can live (eternal life is an inheritance [Lk 10,25; 18,18; Eph 3,6] = new covenant [Heb 9,15-18 while Satan destroys man through war and seduction [Rev 12] so that he may exalt himself (Isa 14: 13-14). Jesus waited with homage (= worship or acknowledgment and assurance of loyalty) until God granted it to him (Rev 5), while Satan already demanded homage in the wilderness (Math 4:8-10).

Jesus, as the bearer of the life of himself, had to die in order to inherit his eternal life and divinity to us humans (2nd covenant).

Satan did not leave Jesus the salvation of the people without a fight. On the contrary, Satan severely tortured Jesus on the cross so that he would commit a sin as a son of man and not be resurrected (at the same time, the torture should have softened the father to renegotiate with Satan) because Jesus’ divinity died the second death on the cross. In addition, Jesus was raised according to the 1st covenant (based on the law). - That’s why it needed the First Covenant, which was fulfilled only by Jesus as the only human being. - (Incidentally, the enthronement of the Lamb = High Priest on the throne of God made sense only if Jesus was not yet sitting on the throne.)

Satan’s nightmare is that we, as children of God, are allowed to follow the throne of Jesus. What he claims for himself is given to the faithful, and the death he demanded for the sinners day and night falls back on his head in the end.

Excursus: All three images of God (Monotheism vs. Modalism vs. Trinity) are static, biblically substantiated, and the discussions are emotionally charged, which is why they block the view of the narrative development of salvation as a processual event.

The binding nature of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs and the IBMTE, along with the "Delimitation of the Academic Freedom" do the rest.

Mr. Sigve Tonstad,

Thank you very much for your very readable articles, especially those about the 144,000 in connection with the Holocaust touched me deeply.

Gerald Heidrich

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The first time I read that observation, I, too, decided that Michael could not be Jesus. IMHO,to call anyone else one of the chief princes would be a compliment; to call Jesus merely “one of” them" would be blasphemy.

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I would have thought that calling Him “The Son of Man” would be even more disgusting.

As I understand it, that description started out as “like the son of a man”. In other words, “in human form” or “in the form of a human person”.

Later, it was shortened to “the son of man”.

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Jesus and Michael

A thought–As much as we might wonder at the precise identity of the angel of the Lord, and whether or not his name was Michael, there can be no doubt that Michael was not Jesus. Perhaps the best text to illustrate this is [Jude 1:9] There we are told that Michael did not dare to accuse Satan, but deferred to the Lord. In essence, Michael said, “I don’t dare rebuke you, Satan. I leave that to the Lord, and I ask him to do it.” Jesus, on the other hand, rebuked Satan personally and directly — even before he had defeated Satan on the cross ([Matt. 4:10] Jesus had the authority and prerogative that Michael lacked.

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All four had human forms. No angels in the entire Bible are described as having wings. Cherubim had wings–and four legs, (Check the illustration in the SDA Bible Dictionary.) The makers of Indiana Jones put angels on the Ark instead of cherubim. Ellen White claimed she saw wings on human toddlers after resurrection, but she seems to have seen whatever she expected to see. William Foy claimed to see wings on deceased Adventists in heaven, since he learned that we become guardian angels for our living loved ones when we die. Baker never mentions that when he defends William’s visions as the same stuff Ellen’s. (Mmmm, well.)

(I seem to remember that the Review masthead angels have finally lost their wings, but I have let my subscription lapse.)

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