Sympathetic Savior… His Temptation

by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project

James wrote that God cannot do wrong or even be tempted to do wrong. Jesus, having laid down all divine privilege as God, fully man, was tempted to sin. He was tempted to do wrong. Think about that for a minute.

God is never tempted to do wrong… Temptation comes from our own desires… James 1:13-14 (NLT)

Fully human, and somehow not altogether God, Jesus had human desire to the extent that he must have been flawed by the temptation to act according to selfish desire.  If not, he could not truly be tempted to sin. Temptation would not be authentic if not for the capability to act upon selfish intention.

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. Romans 8:3 (NKJV)

(NOTE: I could not use the New Living Translation here since the translator opted to parse it’s words in such a way as to not impose the truth of what Jesus deliberately came to do; to know you and me by his personal experience.)

“Sympathetic Savior, Christ’s Humanity” addressed the matter of Jesus coming into the human race “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3), concluding that the human nature of Jesus, God made fully man in the flesh, was vulnerable to selfish sin with intentions and choices independent of a Divine nature.  It concludes that Jesus the human being could have sinned or it wouldn’t make sense that he could be tempted to sin. What this is not meant to be is a point of contention or something to squabble about regarding Scriptural interpretation, doctrine, or theology; rather the intention is to consider the entire scope of the humanity in the flesh for the person who is today the King of kings and Lord of lords as He was prior to being made human for the better part of thirty three years. While in the grand scheme of things the humanity of Jesus might not be that important of a discussion, it is important to me and I am sharing it with you if you are interested.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. Philippians 2:5-7 (NLT)

For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4 (NIV)

One might suggest that Jesus, while born in the likeness of sinful flesh, did not live in the flesh but lived in the Spirit, fully God while in the flesh. I do not believe that is what this passage of Scripture is teaching. While Jesus DID NOT sin, I suggest he could have. If not, then the temptation he endured was not authentic temptation… it wasn’t real temptation (how could it be?)… because he was not able or have intentions toward selfishness. But what if, as Apostle Paul wrote, that Jesus literally gave up—laid down—his divine privilege and became something less than fully God? What if Jesus actually could sin as a human being, fully human, less than God? Only then, could Jesus sin, and therefore be tempted to sin. Only then could Jesus die, having taken into his human soul all of the sin of every single person that ever lived and will ever live.

So then, since we have a great High Priest (Advocate) who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe.  This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.  So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NLT)

Ask yourself this question: Why is it so hard to believe that the three-person union that is God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) could by choice “create” the visible manifestation of Himself to be of a fully human nature, void of His divine nature, with a need to depend on the divine nature and authority of the other two persons of God? Is it because it would be too great a shock to our religious traditions and customs of what we claim to be sound doctrine and theology? Some will not even ask the questions or have a discussion about it; perhaps since such a discussion would lead to quarreling about doctrine. I am asking that you be open to asking the question guided by Scriptural truth, particularly that spoken of by Jesus himself about himself while flesh as a human being.

“I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.” John 5:30 (NLT)

Sympathetic Savior is a four part series. The following are links to the other parts:
Part 1: Christ’s Humanity, Part 3: Christ’s Relationships, Part 4: Christ’s Sacrifice

Early Childhood

Jesus, the Bible says, was conceived of a virgin, that being Mary, a virtuous young woman God found favor with.  History suggests that Mary was no more than thirteen or fourteen years old.  Joseph, the man Mary was engaged to marry, was likely in his late twenties or early thirties.  According to the culture of the day, boys were considered men around age thirty and girls were considered to be eligible women in their early teen years.  It was common, and even expected, for thirty-year-old men to marry teenage women.  Jesus was born into a family that knew and loved God.  This is important when considering that Jesus was in human form.

Jesus, born as a baby, needed the love and support of strong godly parents that would be committed to raising their son in the ways of the law of God.  Jesus, in early childhood, would need to be taught the difference between right and wrong, and good and evil.  He would need to learn about God from his earthly parents.  He would need to learn how to walk, how to talk, how to read, and most importantly, how to pray.  Along the way, as a young child, Jesus likely made mistakes.  At times as a young boy, too young to discern the difference between right and wrong, Jesus likely behaved mistakenly in ways that were unacceptable to his earthly parents, whose authority he was under.

Jesus, as a small child, likely took something that didn’t belong to him.  In ignorance of what is good, fair and just, young Jesus likely hurt someone’s feelings, likely had a temper, likely got lazy (“I’ll do it later, mom”), and likely got into stuff he shouldn’t have, not knowing any better. In my opinion, to suggest otherwise, when small children react impulsively and compulsively in ignorance and innocence, you would then also have to conclude that infant Jesus never screamed or cried out when he was hungry, cold, tired, or had a tummy ache. You would have to conclude that he was never in need of support, affection, or encouragement from mere earthlings at any point in his human existance. Children behave compulsively according to their nature.

Appropriate behaviors ideally are encouraged and rewarded by parents and others in authority, while inappropriate behaviors are discouraged and often punished by parents and others in authority. At 3o years old, Jesus said that he had no divine authority as a human being (John 5:30), what does that say about where he stood on the matter as a child? Does this mean Jesus sinned if he behaved impulsively in manners considered inappropriate, dare I say, disobedient, as a child?

Absolutely not!

Are we to conclude that as a young boy Jesus had the ability to control himself, his impulses to act out spontaneously in the moment, as a small child? We cannot conclude that either if he was indeed fully human. It is important to consider that this is not an issue of sin for a young child.  If it is, then non-repentant young children would have an eternity issue should they die before having the authentic belief in Jesus as their redeemer.

To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Romans 5:13 (NIV)

Bible translators have translated this Scripture to say that people were sinning but because there was no law until Moses, it was not counted against them as sin.  If that is true, then Adam and Eve did not sin since there was no law given yet.  While Cain killed his brother Abel, it was not the sin of murder since the law had not been handed down to Moses.  I believe that Apostle Paul wrote that until a person discerns right from wrong—the law being written on his or her heart—selfish choices and behavior are not counted as sin.  Therefore, Jesus the small child, could have selfish thoughts resulting in impulsive child-like behavior while acting out human selfishness and still be innocent of sin.

Children are innocent until they have understanding of right and wrong, just as Adam and Eve were innocent until they ate of the fruit that revealed to them knowledge of good and evil. In the time of Christ, the law was documents written on scrolls that were held and read in the temples and synagogues.  As Jesus, the boy, learned to discern the difference between right and wrong, and as he learned to discern the difference between what was honorable and pleasing to his Heavenly Father, and what was sinful, Jesus chose rightly and fairly.

It must have been difficult for Mary and Joseph to convey to their son, Jesus, the exact nature of his pedigree as the Son of God to be the savior of his people.  I have imagined that they encouraged Jesus to ask God to reveal to him the thing he was destined to fulfill.  I wonder if Joseph explained to Jesus as a boy that God was his father in a different way.  I can see the earthly father and mother of Jesus encouraging him to ask his Heavenly Father to reveal to him his calling.  I can see Joseph and Mary repeatedly insisting to Jesus that there would be a day in which he would be about the business of his Heavenly Father.  Until then, I assume that Jesus was a boy being a boy in a “boys will be boys” kind of way.

When Jesus was an adolescent, there was at least one occasion when he behaved in a way that did not exactly honor his parents.  When Jesus was twelve years old, he accompanied his family to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover.  It took a few days for families that lived considerable distances from Jerusalem to get there.  A number of families would often travel together in a caravan-type fashion.  The children probably had fun running around, playing games, perhaps games of tag and hide-and-go-seek.  It is likely that during their travels they did not see their kids for substantial periods of time.  Families and their relatives and friends stuck together.

The Adventure 

After participating in the Passover Festival, it was time to head back home.  The families packed up their gear and began the journey back to Nazareth.  It is safe to assume that Mary, a mother responsible for the son she knows is the Christ, believed that Jesus was, or would soon be, with the group returning home.

By now, Jesus was likely a responsible young man upon whom his mother generally could depend.  When it was time to go, he would certainly be obedient and responsible to return with his family.  I have a difficult time believing that Mary and Joseph would have clumsily lost track of the Son of God. Jesus was likely at some point with the group and seen by his parents and siblings as they prepared for the trip back home.

Perhaps as they were all leaving from Jerusalem, they passed by a synagogue.  Jesus stepped in to listen to educated scholars of the Law of Moses in deep thought and discussion.  It would just be a minute or two and then boy Jesus would catch up with the group.  Perhaps these scholars debated interpretation of principles within the document written on a scroll.  One of them notices boy Jesus just inside the gate, and says facetiously, “Hey, let’s see the kid thinks!”  The scholars all look to the kid in the doorway and one of them says with a condescending voice, “Got an opinion, kid?  Enlighten us!”  Then after stumbling over his words for a moment, boy Jesus shares his perspective on the topics they were discussing.  What we know for sure, is that those in the Jewish temple were astounded by his insight and continued asking him questions and continued to be amazed by his answers.  I can imagine them wondering to one another, “Who’s protégé is this young fellow?”  Well, you know how kids are, especially young boys.  It appears Jesus forgot where he was expected to be and continued to be caught up in the moment.  The attention was likely thrilling for him, and perhaps a bit spellbinding.

Search & Rescue for the Savior of All of Us

The families and friends with the family of Jesus had traveled for most of the day, when Mary put the word out, “Have you seen Jesus lately?”  Someone shouts back, “I haven’t seen him…Let me ask my boys if they have seen him.”  Eventually, the word gets around camp that Jesus is missing.  They could not find Jesus anywhere.  He was nowhere to be seen.  Mary may have recalled when Herod set out to kidnap and kill her son when he was a year or two old.  At that time, Joseph took his family in the middle of the night and fled to Egypt until Herod was dead. What could have happened to Jesus, this time?  Where was the Son of God?  Mary, only about 26 or 27 years old at this point in time, is entrusted by the God of the universe to care for His Son, and now he’s missing.

What might have happened?  Could Jesus have been killed by an animal?  Could he have been kidnapped by bandits who could have profited much turning the boy in to the authorities who’d escaped King Herod ten years ago?  So Mary and Joseph traveled the rest of the day, into the evening, back to Jerusalem to look for Jesus, their missing son.  They hope he simply got adventurous and trust they will find him before too long.  However, there is no sign of him anywhere. Their sense of panic intensified the longer they searched without finding him.  Where could he be?  Who knows how long they searched, and how many people a desperately frantic teary-eyed mom asked, “Oh, please tell me, have you seen my son?”

The boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem.  And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in their company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances.  So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem seeking Him. Luke 2:43-45 (NKJV)

Finally someone responded to Mary, “I saw him not so long ago in the temple.”  Can you see Mary running ahead to the temple, anxious tears streaming down her face?  There he is, the Son of God, mystifying religious scholars with his knowledge of, and insight into the law.

And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. Luke 2:47 (NKJV)

“Jesus!” shouts an incredibly relieved mother who has found her son after hours upon hours of searching.  She runs to her son and exclaims how worried she’s been.

So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us?  Your father and I have sought you anxiously.” Luke 2:48 (NKJV)

Jesus must have seen the emotion in his mother’s eyes and face. Perhaps due to having the  maturity of a 12-year-old boy, it is possible that he did not appreciate how Mary agonized for son to be alright when he responded,

“Why do you seek Me?  Did you not know that I am about My Father’s business?”  But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Luke 2:49 (NKJV)

Moral Dilemma

Do you see the conflict for us as we examine this response more closely? We tend to contextualize the response of Jesus as a moment of clarity for Jesus, as he understood that he is the Christ.  Perhaps it was. I do not doubt for a moment that Jesus was wise beyond his years as he was full of the Holy Spirit.  I have been reminded in discussions on this topic that children called to ministry have deep insight into what God is preparing for them at an early age.  And in this case we’re talking about the Son of God; God made flesh.  But still we need to remember that Jesus was a kid—a sixth grader by our standards.  It would be close to twenty years yet before he would enter into full-time ministry.

We should recognize that, while he was gaining insight into who he was as the Christ, with the acumen to discern the law and teachings of the prophets, he likely had the maturity of the adolescent he was at that time (though he was likely more mature than most).  His response to Mary, a mother in a desperate crisis until she located her son, may not have been the most mature thing to say to his mom at that moment.  Mary knew her son, and did not understand his response to her; didn’t understand because she didn’t get the meaning, or she didn’t understand because she didn’t get the timing.  While the response of Jesus is revealing about his position as Savior, Mary at the very least did not at all appreciate the timing of what her 12-year-old son had just said to her.

Did Jesus, compulsive and unaware, behave in “disobedience”, on some level, against his parents?  Perhaps, unwittingly or lacking full maturity, he did… perhaps.  He may have lost track of time.  You know how kids are at that age.  Then, when he realized he missed his ride, Jesus continued to hang out in the temple until someone came back to get him.  What else was he going to do?  It would be almost two days before his parents would find and retrieve him.  Where did he sleep overnight?  What all did he do while he waited?  Did he get scared, even a little bit?  Or was he so engrossed in being about his father’s business that he threw caution to the wind knowing that his Heavenly Father had his back?  That’s certainly possible.  I imagine that Jesus had it drilled into his head by his parents as he grew up that he had been chosen to be a king for all the Jews.  He likely was told repeatedly of his mother’s story about her experience with the angel when she was told that she was going to bear a son, God’s Son.

I’m sure Jesus was taught throughout his early childhood that God was his Father in heaven with a mission for his only Son.  It is more likely to me that Mary and Joseph probably did not tell Jesus that it would require his death in order to save the world.  That would certainly be a tall order for a young boy.  It likely was point that the parents of Jesus had not yet considered themselves.

As 12-year-old Jesus gained insight into the law and perhaps had an idea of his calling, to have the attention of the teachers of the law in the temple must have been quite a delight.  He was told again and again that he would someday be at the business of what he was doing in the temple at that very moment.  He was about his Father’s business.  He had no idea of the consternation his mother was going through for a number of hours trying to find him. So boy Jesus got caught up in the excitement and having a blast while his mom was caught up in the trauma of losing track of the Son of God.  Then they finally encountered one another.  Mothers reading this can certainly relate to Mary.  Mothers with boys can recall similar experiences.  Jesus behaved the way a young boy would behave, full of excitement, busting at the seams to tell his mom and dad what he’s been doing.  He’s feeling really good about himself.  Mary and Joseph on the other hand, have been scared to death for their son for hours.  When it all comes together you have what we’ve seen in Scripture.  Panicked parents scolded their boy, saying, “What were you thinking?!” while their son responds, “Why are you worried?  I’m doing what you said I’d be doing, the business of my heavenly father.”

Was He Disobedient? Did Young Jesus Sin?

Was young Jesus disobedient as an less mature, impulsive adolescent boy?  I suppose concerned parents can draw their own conclusions. Did Jesus sin?  No.  This is an important point to consider.  He was an idealistic young boy that did what he believed was right.  And maybe he was right.  Or maybe he made an error in judgment.  Maybe he was just a kid who erred when he chose to hang around a little while longer in a place he truly came to love.  He was developing a deeper relationship with his Heavenly Father, and perhaps he felt ready to jump into the fray of his calling.  Boy Jesus did not really understand the emphasis of his earthly parents.  This is what adolescent kids do.  He had enough of an independent mind to decide on something without enough awareness and/or maturity to recognize how his decision affected other people.  Do you know any kids like this?  Of course you do.  Most kids behave this way.  The worst thing Jesus may have done under the circumstance was behave with the maturity of a 12-year-old boy. While he was most likely mature and wise beyond his years he was still a boy none-the-less.

Remember what we observed earlier from the Bible:

For before the law was given, sin was in the world, but sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Romans 5:13 (NIV)

One might argue that I am saying here that Jesus sinned but was not held unaccountable for it until he learned that he was a sinner.  That is not what the Bible says, nor am I suggesting that.  All I am supposing is that Jesus was flesh, as the Bible says he was (“in the likeness of sinful flesh” per Romans 8:3), and that he behaved in the flesh, yet without sin.  I am suggesting that he made mistakes.  He erred in his human understanding as a child.   Jesus was imperfect in the flesh, yet led a sinless life.  Once again, if it cannot be said that Jesus could have made imperfect behavior choices when he was more likely to give in to impulsivity as a boy, how could he realistically be tempted to give in to temptation when he is far less impulsive and under far stronger conviction and control as a man?

Jesus spoke of his imperfections in Scripture, which will be addressed in subsequent chapters.  Jesus needed to depend on his earthly parents for guidance and direction until he discovered the full essence of his relationship with his Heavenly Father.  Jesus, the little boy, needed parental supervision and discipline.  He needed the love of godly parents.  His relationship with his parents likely had conflicts like most relationships between sons and parents.  He needed to model the behavior of godly parents.  He needed to learn from godly parents.  He needed to learn from them about God.  He needed to learn from them about sin.  My point in going on about this is to establish the human weakness of Jesus Christ.  It is in his weakness in the flesh that he sympathizes with your weakness and mine.

No Doubt, Jesus Needed His Mother

Jesus experienced most everything that people experience in a lifetime.  Because of this he would know the emotions associated with life’s ups and downs. Jesus experienced grief since, during life on earth, he buried his earthly father.  Though Joseph was not his father by blood, Jesus was raised by this man appointed by God in Heaven to raise the Savior of the world from infancy to adulthood.  Jesus learned his trade as a carpenter from his earthly father.  He developed a strong and steady work ethic by watching his dad and then by working with him.  As a boy, Jesus was taught by Joseph how to treat people.  He learned how to appreciate women, watching his father adore, encourage, comfort and provide for his wife and family.  Jesus must have had great love and affection for Joseph.  He must have mourned when his dad died.  This was not the only time Jesus would mourn the loss of a loved one.  John (the Baptist) was beheaded in a grueling bloody execution for preparing the way for Jesus to begin his ministry.  Jesus, a young adult barely thirty years old, was affected profoundly by the death of his cousin.
His mother Mary was the role model that Jesus would emulate as he grew into adulthood.  Jesus listened to, paid attention to, and respected the wisdom of his mother throughout his life – even in his ministry.  The Bible shares a key moment with us early on in the ministry of Jesus when Mary is insightfully instrumental in the timing of His first miracle.

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding.  And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”  Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”  His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”  Setting there were six waterpots of stone, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece.  Jesus said to them, “Fill the water pots with water”…And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.”  And they took it.  When the master of the feast had tasted the water that had been turned to wine, he did not know where it came from, but the servants who had drawn the water knew…” John 2:1-8 (NKJV)

It is clear in this passage of scripture that Mary, led by the God’s Spirit, was influential as to when it was time for her son to begin the business of his heavenly father.  When she approached her son about the matter of the wedding reception being out of wine, Jesus responded, “What does this have to do with me?”  I think it’s safe to assume that when Mary addressed the servants, saying to them, “Do whatever he says” she is doing so right there in the company of her son, as if to communicate to him, “It is time, let’s go.”  And so the season of miracles, signs and wonders in the ministry of Christ Jesus began.  This is monumental in the ministry of Jesus, as he trusted and submitted to the wisdom of his mother as being led by God.  It speaks to the amazing human relationship Jesus had with his mom. I detect a bit of irony here.

At twelve years old, Jesus seems to be brimming with confidence in the temple about being about his Father’s business.  Then, eighteen years later, Jesus was hesitant about the timing of being about his Father’s business.  His mother, sensitive to the Spirit of God, persuaded her son to realize the time is now.  Jesus, now a mature adult, listened to his mother and responded with his cooperation.  Kids often don’t appreciate the wisdom of their parents until they are grown up.  I suppose it requires a degree of maturity to submit to the will of the ones that really know better.  Wow!  My guess is that there has never been a tighter bond between mother and child in all of history than the relationship between Jesus and his mom. We can only imagine, after everything Jesus and Mary experienced throughout Christ’s life on earth what they must have been feeling while Jesus was on the cross as the only sacrifice for sin.  Mary would see her son spat on, rocks thrown at him, screams and shouts of ridicule from every direction mocking him—how tempted Jesus could have been to react but only if received from God the Father to react.  In the midst of it all, Jesus would glance down and see his mother in her own agony as she watched her son executed to death.

Tempted until the Very End

This study for me was important to gaining a deeper insight into the human life of the one the Apostle Paul writes sympathizes with my weakness because of how fully human He was during His time with men and women, boys and girls, mother and father, brothers and sisters, friends and enemies.  The extent to which Jesus was tempted to sin, whether it be dealing with the Pharisees and so-called merchants in the temple (when he could have been tempted to sin in his anger), or with Mary Magdalene (someone Jesus was obviously close to and quite fond of and was likely vulnerable to sensuous temptation), one can speculate but will we will never know.  What we do know is that Scripture states matter of factly that Jesus was tempted in every way, while remaining innocent of sin.

Jesus also knew what it was to be entirely misunderstood by the best of family and friends.  His purpose for coming to earth was challenged by those He knew best and hoped knew Him best.   Jesus was tempted until the very end. Peter tempted Jesus to seek another means to carry out the necessary sacrifice so that Jesus would be around to fulfill His promise to restore Israel (something that would not happen until 1948).  Rather than respond to Peter, Jesus responded to His real tempter (Satan), saying to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” (I could not imagine Jesus saying that to me.)

While praying in the garden, Jesus asks that if there is any other way… not my way, but “Your will be done.”  One of the thieves on a cross next to Jesus chides him that if he is everything he says he is, Son of God, King of the Jews, and all that; “Save yourself! And oh by the way, rescue me too. We tend to say that Jesus had the authority to come off the cross if he so chose to do so.  Maybe he did. But maybe he didn’t. Jesus said that on his own he had no authority and only received authority as he chose the will and purpose of his Father (John 5:30).  We can safely conclude that it was not the will of the Father that Jesus come down from the cross alive.  His sacrifice was indeed the mandate for our reconciliation with God because of sin.

Thank you Jesus, that in the midst of insurmountable temptation You chose not to satisfy your need to survive since You would not have been You defying the will and plan of God—Your will and plan from the beginning.  Thank you for being faithful until the very end of your time on earth.  Thank you for sticking to the plan in the face of temptation and opportunity to attempt to deviate from that plan.  Thank you Jesus for putting it all on the line to understand human frailty, limitation, and weakness to really get to know me in every way, on every level.  Thank you that today you are my High Priest advocating for me until the very end.

So then, since we have a great High Priest (Advocate) who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe.  This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.  So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NLT)

Thank you.

Continue reading by clicking Sympathetic Savior – Christ’s Relationships.

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One Response to Sympathetic Savior… His Temptation

  1. Richard Khoza says:

    I love it, keep us posted.

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