Bible Commentaries
John 19

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Verses 1-3

Scourging and Mockery

Although Pilate is convinced of the innocence of the Lord Jesus, he takes Him and scourges the Lord of glory. He does not do this personally. He orders his soldiers to do so, but in doing so he is primarily responsible. The great injustice and inhuman treatment inflicted on the Lord knows no end. Scourging is a horrible cruelty. Once Satan gets the opportunity, he will do anything to humiliate the Son of God. And He allows it. We hear Him utter no complaint: “While suffering, He uttered no threats” (1 Peter 2:23; Isaiah 53:7). In everything He is perfect, even in the deepest suffering.

The soldiers play their game with Him, while He is greatly weakened by a night of interrogation and a scourging. They amuse themselves with the Ruler of the universe, the Son of God Who bears all things by the word of His power, Who has given Himself into their hands. The peace and loftiness He displays are all the more proof to them of vile weakness with which they love to mock. They have heard that He is a King. They will crown Him.

The crown is made swiftly. It is a crown of thorns. Thorns have come into the world as a result of sin (Genesis 3:18). By putting this crown of thorns on His head, it is as if they are blaming Him for all the misery in the world. They do not realize all this, but the devil does. The robe they put on Him is supposed to increase their fun. It is a purple robe, the color of the Roman empire and of royal dignity.

In their play they pretend that He is really a King, but a King conquered by them. They greet Him with mocking deference and slap Him contemptuously in the face. Thus the soldiers horribly mess with Him Who has always done good and is here to declare the Father also to them. And He does not resist them (James 5:6).

Verses 4-8

New Negotiation

When the soldiers have played their game with the Lord Jesus, mistreating and disfiguring Him, Pilate comes out again. He announces to the Jews the coming of the Lord Jesus. He will bring Him out to them to convince them that he finds no guilt in Him. For the second time he pronounces the innocence of the Lord (John 18:38). Each time he, representing the judicial authority, declares the innocence of the Lord, he increases his guilt for the Lord’s condemnation.

Pilate does say that he will bring Him out to them, but even in this deep humiliation we read: “Jesus then came out.” The Lord does not let Himself be sent, but comes Himself. And how He appears there before the public. What a sight! There He stands, their King, crowned with the crown of thorns and the robe of mockery around His shoulders. His appearance is disfigured by the maltreatment. The blood runs down His face because of the crown of thorns. Pilate points the people to Him and says: “Behold, the Man!”

The meaning of this is deeper than Pilate realizes. Here stands the Man of God Who has fallen into the hands of men. On this occasion, man without God has shown how deeply he has fallen and how he has indulged his hatred against God against the goodness of God. In this Man of God we see the perfection of God’s love and longsuffering by allowing this to happen and not intervening in judgment. At the same time, precisely in the face of this incomparable goodness, the very worst in man emerges and is expressed. He regards and rejects the Son of God as dirt.

The hatred of the Jews is so great that they are not satisfied with this humiliation. Pilate has sought to arouse their pity, but when they see Him, instead only their bloodlust is increased. They are only satisfied with His death and that is His death on the cross. That is what they cry out for, so much are they filled with hatred against Him Who told them of the Father and showed Who the Father is in goodness and mercy. What absolute wickedness of man is demonstrated here! It is clear that there is not a shred of goodness in man, nothing that is even open to a single ray of God’s love.

Pilate now gives them a free hand to crucify Him. As he does so, he declares for the third time that he has found no guilt in Him. What a horrible paradox. He is convinced of His innocence and clearly expresses it. Yet, while shrugging off His responsibility, He hands this Innocent over to a bloodthirsty people with His permission to crucify Him.

The Jews, however, do not accept His offer. They feel they have Pilate in their power and go to the extreme. They want him to carry out the judgment. The charge is that Jesus made Himself the Son of God. They refer to their law by virtue of which He should die (Leviticus 24:16). What a false charge! He has abundantly proven to be the Son of God.

His sentence must be carried out, and by the appropriate authority. Not that they didn’t want to do it themselves, but it must be done with Pilate’s signature. Otherwise it could be said later that they had acted arbitrarily. Pilate has lost his grip on the situation long ago. Every participant in this demonic spectacle is controlled by the invisible power of darkness, while God Himself is the great Director.

Pilate is guilty through and through. He has already openly confessed the innocence of the Lord Jesus twice. His conscience is clearly touched and troubled by the unmistakable evidence that he has an extraordinary Person before him. He is an idolater who believes in the existence of invisible powers. Perhaps the Person Who stands before him possesses such powers. He does not want to show that he is inwardly touched, but he is. God’s Spirit is telling here that he is becoming even more afraid than he already was.

Verses 9-11

The Lord Again Before Pilate

The indecisiveness of this authority figure is tragic. He has become entangled in a situation he never wanted and, through all the attempts to free himself, is working himself more and more into the snare. Here there is no politics to be done, no diplomatic solution to be devised. Here events are taking place that are controlled from on High and in which he is forced to make a choice that he does not want to make, but still has to make.

Pilate again goes into the courtroom and asks the Lord the question where He is from. If the question had been the expression of a spiritual exercise, the Lord would certainly have answered, as in the beginning of this Gospel according to the question: “Where are You staying?” (John 1:38)? Now He does not answer. He will never let Himself be forced, but is perfectly guided by His Father.

Pilate is visibly offended that the Prisoner does not answer Him. What is that? What impertinence! Threateningly he speaks to the Lord about the authority he has, both to release Him or to crucify Him. Like once Nebuchadnezzar, Pilate will be forced to acknowledge with Whom real authority lies (Daniel 4:32). With what he says about his authority, Pilate passes judgment on his own inability. Formally he has that authority, but morally he is in the power of the crowd and much more in the power of Him Who stands before him as Prisoner.

He experiences this when the Lord tells him how it really is with his authority. Pilate experiences here that the Prisoner takes the place of the Judge and speaks in a quiet tone of a higher authority than that of the Emperor. The temporarily limited authority which Pilate has at his disposal is granted to him by the Man Who stands before him. That Man determines the measure of the guilt of both Pilate and the Jews. That Man, in fact, is the Son to Whom the Father has given all authority (John 5:27). He Who stands before Pilate is Himself “from above”. He has given him that authority, but Pilate abuses that authority.

Pilate, the heathen, is obviously guilty, but Judas and Caiaphas and the Jews are even more guilty. Pilate has been given authority by God in the world, but the Jews have been entrusted with the words of God, words of the living God that bear witness to the Son. The Son is the center and object of it. This One has shown to the world words, works and ways that the world has never heard or seen before, and that One they reject.

Verses 12-16

Pilate Hands Over the Innocent

Pilate is inwardly convinced of Christ’s innocence and of the authority He possesses. Unfortunately, it only remains a rational conviction of His innocence. His conscience is addressed, but he does not bow down to his Prisoner. For that he loves his position and the approval of his boss in Rome too much. As a result, He remains a puppet of the Jews, who increase the pressure on Him. They threaten to send a message to Caesar that he is releasing Someone Who is a threat to the empire. The hypocrites! Never will they acknowledge the hated regime, but now that it suits them, they are hypocritically pledging allegiance to the emperor.

Pilate succumbs to the pressure. He makes the decision that the Son of God must be put to death. Against all evidence of innocence, he chooses to have Him crucified. We might cry out: ‘Where is justice?’ However, here are powers at work that are not influenced by human reasoning, but by their own evil intent. Yet from the perspective of faith, an even greater power is present, and that is the power of God Who governs everything according to the counsel of His will.

As has been said many times, this does not mean that Pilate is not fully responsible for his condemnation of the Lord Jesus. As the judiciary that must render a just judgment, he fails miserably. The cause is that he loves himself and the honor of his lord in Rome more than God. He does not even think about God at all.

He leads the Lord Jesus out. To give his false decision the semblance of authority, he formally takes his seat on the judgment seat to confirm the judgment. The name of the place is given in both Greek and Hebrew. It emphasizes that the unjust condemnation of Christ is done by both Gentiles and Jews and that the whole world is guilty of the murder of the Son of God.

All this takes place during the preparation of the Passover. In preparing the Passover, the Jews went through their homes to remove every bit of leaven from it (Exodus 12:15). Leaven is the picture of sin (1 Corinthians 5:6-Ruth :). While they are scrupulous about getting rid of the slightest trace of literal leaven so that they can be outwardly clean for the Passover, they are defiling themselves in the grossest way: they are committing the greatest sin by killing the true Passover. They strain out a gnat and swallow a camel (Matthew 23:24).

John again has an eye for the detail of the moment when Pilate pronounces judgment (John 1:39; John 4:6John 4:52). By Roman time standards, it is about six o’clock in the morning. They are early to execute the evil deeds on which they have unscrupulously reflected during the night shamelessly at the first light of day (Hosea 7:6-Judges :). Pilate knows he has lost. Therefore, he sarcastically points out to the Jews their King once more. When he utters the words “behold, your King” with contempt, the Jews erupt in anger. They give way to all their hatred against the Lord Jesus. With the twofold exclamation “away with [Him]” they put their signature on the sentence. He must be put on the cross.

Once more Pilate challenges them by speaking of their King and that He had to crucify Him. Then they speak those memorable words: “We have no king but Caesar.” With these words they pronounce their own condemnation. They deny their Messiah and with this fateful word call down the judgment of God on themselves. Under its miserable consequences they groan to this day.

Barabbas and Caesar – for both these names they spoke out – sum up their whole history of misery of twenty centuries. They have suffered from gangs of robbers in the land (as Barabbas) and from enemies from outside the land (as Caesar of Rome). They have been crushed, as it were, between two millstones. The prophetic scope of their choice only comes to an end when the Jews will recognize in the Son of God their true King.

Then Pilate hands Him over into the hands of the Jews to crucify Him, a crucifixion actually carried out by Pilate’s soldiers.

Verses 17-18

The Crucifixion

The word of Christ’s rejection is out. They have nothing in common with Him, they deny any connection with Him. At the same time, God’s Word is thus fulfilled and they can take Him. Again we see the exaltedness of the Son of God. They can take Him, but in fact He Himself goes out. He is not led, but takes the lead Himself, while He also carries His cross Himself.

In this Gospel we see no signs of human weakness that the Lord also had. Here we see how He takes the path of suffering in the exaltedness of the Son of God. He Himself goes to the goal, the place of execution. He is not brought there. The name Place of a Skull is the symbol of the end of all human glory. That is what remains of the once celebrated human being.

The Lord goes to that place with the cross on His back. The cross is and speaks of the most humiliating and painful way to die. Not only is the end humiliating, but so is the manner in which this end occurs. As a Roman invention, crucifixion expressed prideful contempt. Barbarians were nailed to the cross like vermin and tortured to death. And to that death Christ is handed over by the Jewish leaders. In rendering the name of the place of execution in the Hebrew language, we again see their involvement in His being handed over.

John does not say much about the crucifixion itself. Nor do we hear any reaction from bystanders. His concern is to bring out the glory of the Son of God as a perfectly devoted Man to God. To this end, his reference to the two others who are crucified with Him also serves. It does not matter what they did wrong. It is enough that they are two “other men”, men so completely different from Him. They only matter in order to make the glory of the Lord Jesus stand out all the more.

When John describes the two other men each being crucified one on either side of the Lord, it is clear that He is hanging in between. John places additional emphasis on this by stating that Jesus hangs “in between”. All light shines on Him.

Verses 19-22

The Inscription on the Cross

Pilate also wrote an inscription to be put on the cross. It was common practice to state above the cross of the crucified person why he hung there, as a warning to all who read it not to commit the same crime. The “crime” of the Lord Jesus is the testimony of truth.

What Pilate is probably doing to hurt the Jews is a testimony of truth regarding the plans of God. It contains the twofold truth that this despised Nazarene is the true Messiah. The testimony that Pilate put on the cross is read by many of the Jews. The city is full of people who have come for the feast. The huge uproar caused by the Jews to get the Lord Jesus killed by all means before the Passover has attracted massive attention, although they had wanted to avoid it (Matthew 26:4-Deuteronomy :). Many have flocked together and also gone along outside the city. It is a welcome distraction in anticipation of the feast.

The Lord is taken outside the city to be crucified there (Hebrews 13:12). Yet it does not make the city any less guilty. It reveals by this terrible act a depravity that can rival that of Sodom and Egypt (Revelation 11:8). The crime takes place, so to speak, right under the smoke of the city. The people do not have to go far out of town for it.

Pilate, under the governing hand of God, had the inscription written in three languages. In these three languages the whole world in all its parts is represented and judged. The Hebrew language is mentioned first. It is the language of religion. It is primarily the religious leaders of the people who are guilty of the death of the Son of God. Latin is the language of heathen imperialism, the language of politics, of which Pilate is the representative. That field, too, is guilty of the death of Christ. Greek is the language of culture and the wisdom of the world. Through wisdom the world has not come to the knowledge of God; they have not known Him Who came and have rejected Him (John 1:10). The whole world is united in the rejection of God’s Son.

The inscription has the effect with the Jews that Pilate wanted. They are irritated by it and want him to change the inscription. As it stands, it is an admission that He is their King. They don’t want that under any circumstances. But Pilate has no intention of changing the text. He finds pleasure in being able to thwart the Jews one more time after all, because he knows that he is in fact the loser.

Verses 23-24

The Soldiers Divide the Garments

For the soldiers, the crucifixion is routine work. What they are more interested in are the possessions of the Crucified. His possessions consist of the garments He was wearing. That is all, but even that has been taken from Him. Before the crucifixion, they took off His garments from Him. The Lord Jesus is hung naked on the cross, like a shorn sheep, stripped of all covering. The soldiers divide His garments into four parts, so that everyone has something.

John mentions separately the tunic with the special features that it is without a seam and that it is woven in one piece, literally ‘from the upper part through the whole’, so in its entirety from the top down. Garments express what a person is, his behavior and habits. In this garment we see Who He is. The characteristics of His tunic are mentioned by John because it has symbolic meaning and value. Everything of our Lord, whether His Person or His work, is in one piece, without any seam. Everything He has spoken is perfect, all His words form a seamless whole. The same is true of His deeds. What He does is no different than what He says. His words and deeds fit together perfectly.

How different is it with man fallen into sin who has made an apron of fig leaves. This apron cannot cover man’s imperfections, but shows countless seams.

The Lord’s garment is also woven “from the upper part”. This indicates that He has come from above. He came from heaven as the Father’s good pleasure and brought the perfection of heaven to earth. The perfection of His garment is also an expression of the Father’s good pleasure (cf. Genesis 37:3).

The soldiers see the value of the garment; they note that it is a seamless garment. It would be of no benefit to anyone if they tore this beautiful garment into four. They propose to cast lots for it. Without realizing it, the soldiers thus fulfill a prophecy of Scripture (Psalms 22:18). John still emphatically mentions that this prophecy was fulfilled by the soldiers. So powerful is the Word of God that it can also use unscrupulous soldiers for its fulfillment.

Verse 25

The Women Standing by the Cross

After presenting to us the part played by the four soldiers in the crucifixion, our attention is turned to four other persons standing near the Lord’s cross. Four raw soldiers disappear from sight and four women who love the Lord wholeheartedly take their places on the scene. They each have their own relationship with Him.

There stands Mary, the mother of the Lord. The sword has gone through her soul as spoken to her by Simeon at His birth (Luke 2:35). There also stands the sister of His mother, the wife of Zebedee (Matthew 27:56) and thus the mother of John and James (Matthew 4:21). This means that John is a full cousin of the Lord Jesus. Further, John mentions Mary, the wife of Clopas. She is the mother of James and Joses (Matthew 27:56). Finally, John mentions Mary Magdalene, the woman with the greatest possible love for the Lord.

Verses 26-27

Behold, Your Son – Behold, Your Mother

When the Lord sees His mother and sees John standing nearby her, He first of all addresses the word to her. He is not concerned with Himself. He is concerned with His mother of Whom He knows that she needs care and protection. He entrusts her to the care of John. He tells her that she may see John as her son and from that confidential relationship receive his care. We can see from this that Joseph has already died. He could not entrust her to His brothers either, for they did not believe in Him (John 7:5).

It is noteworthy that the Lord addresses His mother as “woman.” He wants to avoid the impression that in His care for His mother He would only be guided by natural feelings (cf. John 2:4). The Roman catholic church is committing an abominable idolatry with its worship of Mary. This idolatry cannot be justified in any way by the words of the Lord.

He also addresses the word to John and commends His mother in His care. The way the Lord Jesus connects His mother and John testifies to the perfection of His human feelings. With the call “behold” to each of them, He is saying that they should look at each other in the awareness of the relationship He has just established. In our care for one another, we are also to look at one another in accordance with the relationship in which the Lord has placed us to one another.

Verses 28-30

The Dying of the Lord Jesus

In His Divine omniscience and wisdom, the Lord knows that in entrusting His own to care for one another, all that He had to do on earth has been accomplished in declaring His Father. There is still something else to do and that is to fulfill a word of Scripture. His great suffering does not make Him forget that. His statement “I am thirsty” is not primarily an expression of a physical need, but of a spiritual need. This also fits with this Gospel in which He is always shown to us in His exaltation above suffering, although He senses its full gravity.

After His exclamation He is given sour wine which He takes. How great must have been the agony of knowing that there was a jar full of sour wine close to the cross and that it was impossible to take any of it. But at the determined time He receives of it as a result of the fulfillment of a Scripture word. When also the last Scripture word has been fulfilled that was yet to be fulfilled during His life on earth, He utters what only He can say: “It is finished!”

There have been servants who, like Paul, could say that they had completed the course (2 Timothy 4:7). But no servant has dared to say that the work he has done was accomplished and finished. All servants worked, but when their lives ended, others continued with it. We can complete a certain activity and say it is finished, but it will never be exclusively our work and there will always be human imperfection attached to it.

The Lord Jesus perfectly accomplished the work He was given to do with an everlasting and unchanging result. He could also judge His own work, while all others must humbly await the judgment of their work at the time determined by Him (2 Corinthians 5:10).

The exclamation “it is finished” is just one word in Greek, tetelestai, but what word has so much content? It does not point us primarily to the accomplishment of the work of the cross on behalf of us as lost sinners. This word also fits into this Gospel and indicates that He accomplished the work for which He had come to earth, namely, the glorification of the Father (John 17:4).

After this, the Lord bows His head. This means that He lays His head down in repose. On earth He had no place where He could lay His head (Matthew 8:20). Here He finds that place, on Golgotha, and He can rest in death. His spirit He gives up to His Father. Here we do not hear the recommendation of His spirit into the hands of the Father. He does that as the true Man in the Gospel according to Luke (Luke 23:46). Here the Son gives up His spirit as an act He performs of His own free will, with Divine authority. No one takes life from Him, but He Himself lays it down (John 10:17). Like everything else in this Gospel, also the initiative in His death emanates from Him.

Verses 31-37

The Side of the Lord Pierced

The Jews have achieved their goal. Jesus is dead. Their next concern is to maintain outward purity. The Sabbath immediately following the Passover is at the same time the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. To them, therefore, a special holiness is attached to that Sabbath. In view of that great Sabbath, they want to observe all the more scrupulously the precept that the bodies must not remain on the cross during the night (Deuteronomy 21:22-Isaiah :). Imagine that their land would be defiled as a result! That they have just made their land a Field of Blood by their murder of the Son of God (Matthew 27:7-Ruth :) does not occur to them.

Pilate granted their request to break the legs of the crucified and sent out some soldiers to do so. This would bring about immediate death, which otherwise could take days. Remarkably, they first break the legs of the two men crucified with the Lord. So they do not go from left to right or vice versa, but from outside to inside. All attention is again on the Lord Jesus, even as He hangs dead on the cross. When the soldiers come to Him, they see that He has already died. Therefore they refrain from breaking His legs. Their logical conclusion that it is not necessary coincides with the fulfillment of Scripture.

Yet one of them cannot help but still scorn Him, even now that He has already died. In what must be a fit of contempt, he pierces the Lord’s side with his spear. It is an utterly senseless, disrespectful act that can only serve to express his contempt for that Person. But the response in the blood and water that comes from the side of the Lord Jesus shows how God judges His Son. It is a response that shows His overwhelming grace precisely to such despisers of His Son. The blood and water coming from His side show the meaning of His work and the appreciation God has for it.

In the first place, the water and the blood testify that He truly died. But its significance goes beyond the mere observation of His death. The blood is the basis for the forgiveness of sins, for without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22). The blood cleanses from sins in view of God. Through the blood the sinner is reconciled to God and God can give him all the blessings He had in His heart to give. The water as a picture of God’s Word discovers the sinner to himself, leading him to repentance and confession of his sins. God then forgives the sins and the sinner is cleansed from them (John 15:3; 1 John 1:9).

John also writes in his first letter about the water and the blood (1 John 5:6). Blood speaks of reconciliation through judgment. Water speaks of cleansing through acknowledgment and confession of sins. Reconciliation through judgment and confession of sins are not separable. In his letter, John adds the Spirit by which we know that we have received eternal life. Blood and water come from a Savior Who died; the Spirit comes from a glorified Savior. With the three of them they give testimony that whereas in us there is no life, in the Son we have eternal life.

John strongly emphasizes here that his testimony is true. He is not making these things up. He knows what he is talking about. He has seen it himself, is convinced of it himself, and would like everyone who reads his Gospel come to faith. He not only points to his own testimony of truth, but also cites Scripture. Everyone can see by reading the Scriptures that everything relates to the Lord Jesus.

Scripture is the certain basis for faith in Him. If Scripture says that something does not happen to Him, it does not happen. Scripture is also fulfilled by the omission of things that would dishonor Him. The breaking of His legs (Psalms 34:20) would be a sign of an imperfect walk, whereas in His whole walk on earth the Lord actually glorified God. That is why this is emphasized, so that in His death He would not have something to blame Him that would cast a stain on that perfection.

John quotes another Scripture to make his testimony of truth even stronger. This time it is a testimony to something in Scripture that did happen to Him (Zechariah 12:10). The piercing of the Lord’s side with a spear had to happen so that the Scripture word can be fulfilled that they will see Him Whom they have pierced (Revelation 1:7). The fulfillment is still in the future, but the condition for the fulfillment has already been met.

What a powerful threefold testimony – John’s own testimony and two Scripture words – to convince every reader of the truth of the life, death and return of the Lord Jesus. For the second Scripture word also includes His resurrection, glorification and return. John cites this Scripture again in the book of Revelation he wrote (Revelation 1:7).

Verses 38-42

The Burial

After the testimony of John and the Scriptures, it is wonderful to see someone who is going to openly confess the Lord when at first he did not. Pilate is visited again. Before the bodies are taken from the cross, Joseph of Arimathea comes to him asking if he may take the body of the Lord Jesus from the cross. Joseph turns out to be a disciple of the Lord, but had not yet come out openly for it. Fear of man had kept him from making himself known as a follower of Christ. But if there is real life from God through faith in Christ, the time comes when this life can no longer remain hidden. Life must show itself.

For Joseph, the moment has come to confess Him as He hangs dead on the cross. Now is the time to do it. He steps forward and commits himself to the Christ Who has died. It is a clear evidence of new life when a person commits himself to a Christ Who has died and thus confesses his faith in Him.

The courageous testimony of Joseph is followed. Someone joins him who also had not previously come to open testimony for the Lord. Nicodemus once sought the Lord by night and heard impressive things from Him (John 3:1). Perhaps he remembered what He said to him about His exaltation (John 3:14).

The Lord then sowed the seed of the Word in him. That Word has begun to germinate. A first tentative confession passed the lips of Nicodemus when his fellow Pharisees spoke of taking Christ captive. He then expressed a reservation that caused him to receive scolding remarks from his colleagues (John 7:50-1 Thessalonians :).

Here he joins Joseph with a quantity of ointment. He has prepared this moment. Together, with great reverence and caution, they take down the body of the Lord Jesus from the cross. They wrap His body in linen cloths in which they also put spices. This is customary among the Jews when they bury someone. This counters the smell of decay. They do not remember that God has said in His Word that He will not see decay (Psalms 16:8-1 Kings :). The Lord comes into a tomb that has never had any contact with death. In this respect also He has not seen decay, He has not been in contact with it, nor has His body known it.

Preparation also plays a role with Joseph and Nicodemus. John mentions that “Jesus” is laid in the tomb. Note that it does not say “His body”; He is, even though He died, the Person Jesus. Jesus is laid in that tomb “because the tomb was nearby”. We know that God’s hand directed everything in this way. What seemed to be a humanly practical solution that fit well within the circumstances was included by God in His counsel. It could not have been anything other than this tomb.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op John 19". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.