Sheep and Goats – Who are They?

Calvinists have an uncanny flair to misread, misinterpret and even misquote passages in Scripture with one thing in mind – to defend Calvin’s doctrines of grace. One of the passages they often use to substantiate their agenda is Matthew 25:31-46 that of the sheep and goats.

Sheep and GoatsWhen the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

The Calvinist version of sheep and goats:

They casually say that Jesus Christ laid down his life for the sheep (the elect) and not the goats (the non-elect).

What they mean, of course, is that the elect have always been his sheep, even before their very existence and before the foundation of the world, making them worthy candidates for God’s salvation.

In one of my debates with a Calvinist I asked him: “If you’ve always been a sheep and not a goat, it follows that you have always heard, understood and obeyed Jesus Christ’s voice because He very distinctly says: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

That would amount to the fact that you’ve never been lost.

In his rebuttal he admitted that Calvinists have always been Christ’s sheep and only needed to be made aware of it by having their minds enlightened monergistically by the Holy Spirit.

To verify this they refer you to Acts 16:14. Lydia already worshipped God and only needed to have her heart opened by the Holy Spirit (made aware) that she was one of his sheep.

The notion that the elect only need to be made aware that they are and always have been God’s sheep sounds a lot like the Emergent fraternity who say the very same thing, although they have a different agenda which is Universalism. Tony Campolo says:

“What I am trying to say is that Jesus who incarnated God 2,000 years ago is mystically present and waiting to be discovered in EVERY person you and I encounter” (Tony Campolo, “A Reasonable Faith” 1983 page 171)

“One of the most startling discoveries of my life was the realization that the Jesus that I love, the Jesus who died for me on Calvary, that Jesus, is waiting, mystically and wonderfully, in every person I meet. I find Jesus everywhere.” (Tony Campolo in an address at Prestatyn in the UK, 1988) . . .

“I do not mean that others represent Jesus for us. I mean that Jesus actually is present in each other person.” . . . and  “That a new humanity will be brought forth from this Christ consciousness in each person.” (Tony Campolo “A Reasonable Faith” 1983 page 192 and 65.)

The only difference is, Calvinists believe that Christ has always been mystically present in his sheep/elect (even before the foundation of the world) without them actually knowing it and the Emergent fraternity believe that Christ has always been mystically present in all people, without them knowing it.

Calvinists would probably counter this with the argument that the elect had always been God’s sheep without Jesus or the Holy Spirit residing in them in a mystical way.

Well, in that case, they could never have been obedient to the Good Shepherd’s voice because it is only possible to obey Him through the empowering work of the Holy Ghost.

Let’s assume that the elect have always been Christ’s sheep because they were born into his sheep fold (not as goats but as sheep) and that this reality dawned on them when the Holy Spirit monergistically regenerated and took up residence in them.

Even if this were true, they would still have to explain how they were able to hear and obey the voice of the Good Shepherd while they were void of the Holy Spirit prior to their monergistic regeneration? The only alternative answer they can give, is that they’ve not only always been his sheep but that the Holy Spirit has always lived in them (i.e. always have been saved and never lost)

Another Calvinist explained it to me like this:

The bible never says that God’s people [the sheep] were ever bound for hell, it says they were chosen “in Christ” before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). The conviction of sin is usually misinterpreted by God’s people to be the conviction that they are hell bound, the gospel explains to them that they are not, because of what Christ did FOR them.

Conviction of sin is the belief in the reality of sin in light of God’s holiness and perfection.

Many of God’s children believe this to mean that they are going to hell. They are not.

That is why they need to hear the good news of their salvation, so that they can believe it, rejoice in it, and profit from it.

The gospel doesn’t make their salvation true, their salvation IS TRUE and the gospel proclaims it to the Lord’s people who receive it by faith and profit from that understanding.

I answered him as follows:

The point is, and I hope you would put on your thinking cap, is that the elect cannot be convicted of judgment because, according to you, they were never lost.

Only those who are lost and know it can be convicted of judgment (that they are on their way to hell).

It is rather silly to convict the elect of judgment when they’d never been under God’s judgment. How on earth can the elect who’d already been regenerated be convicted of judgment?

When dealing with passages like Matthew 25:31-46 I usually take Jesus’ words in Matthew 4:7 “It is written also” as an example of sound hermeneutics.

By this I mean that any passage that seems to be at variance with the Gospel message must first be evaluated in the light of other passages before coming to any conclusive QED (Quod erat demonstrandum).

It is imperative that every single verse in the Bible harmonize with one another because if they don’t the very character of God would be in jeopardy.

God cannot and will never contradict himself because contradictions are nothing else than lies in disguise.

If it had been possible for God to contradict Himself, especially with regards to the redemption of souls, we would have to put Him in the same cadre as Satan and his fallen angels (John 8:44). But that, we know, is magnanimously impossible.

One example that comes to mind is 1 John 2: 2:

“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

We may transliterate this verse as follows: “He is the propitiation for our sins but not for ours only (the many who are already saved) but also for the sins of the entire world (the many who are not yet saved and who have the same opportunity of being saved than the many who are already saved).

When we say “there are many people in the world” we are not using the word “many” to the exclusion of some of the world’s inhabitants.

The “many” includes all people. Now, how do we determine that the word “many” in passages like Matthew 26:28 and Isaiah 53:12 do not refer to a select few only but to the entire world and all of its inhabitants?

To find a satisfactory answer we must look at the phrase “He is the propitiation for . . . sin.”

And this is where Calvinists miss the boat because they lay emphasis on the word “many” instead of “He is a propitiation for . . . sin.” If the latter is true, it follows that Jesus died for all, simply because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

The alternative is too preposterous to even contemplate because if the “all” in Romans 3:23 refers only to the elect, it means that only the elect have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Similarly, when we take into account what Jesus said in Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost,” it cannot have the slightest reference to the elect alone.

Are only the elect lost? Perish the thought for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

If Jesus died for sin, the very thing that separates us from God, there is no way that Calvinists can narrow down the word “many” to mean the “elect” only.

Once again, such a notion would mean that only the elect are lost sinners and separated from God through their sins.

The most distressing thing about Calvinists’ interpretation of “many” in those passages is that their emphasis on the “many” (the so-called elect) is a flagrant denial of the propitiatory (vicarious) death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

In fact, I have gone so far to prove to Calvinists on Facebook that their doctrine of limited atonement is an outright denial of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, albeit a partial denial because Jesus allegedly did not die for all people.

If He did not die for the so-called non-elect it follows that He was not born (incarnated) for them either which borders dangerously close on antichrist’s blasphemous denial that Jesus Christ came to the world in the flesh. This is pure Gnosticism.

The Biblical version of sheep and goats

Let us now consider John 10:11, 15 which says that Jesus died for the sheep (not the goats, per Matthew 25:32-33). Context plays a decisive role in determining the meaning of “goats.”

Matthew 25 is the only place in the entire Bible (with the exception of Daniel 8) where goats are used to describe the character or personality of people.

This alone tells us we must take a good look at the context. As in many other places in the Bible, where animals are used to describe the characteristic traits of people (Luke 13:32; By the way Jesus did not say “tell that goat” but “tell that fox” to convey how sly, wily, crafty and cunning Herod was ), the goats in Matthew 25 tell us something of the people to which they refer.

Goats are known for their resilient stubbornness and headstrong rebellious nature. Their bucking, opposing and resisting nature is a formidable picture of the hearts of some of the men, women and children who are going to live through the seven years tribulation period.

How do we know it refers to the seven year tribulation period? Jesus Himself warned of the tribulation in Matthew 24: 21: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” (Matthew 24:21).

If Matthew 25 is the chronological and sequential follow-up of Matthew 24, which I believe it is, then the five wise and five foolish virgins cannot be the believers (the Bride) in this age who are waiting for the return of Jesus Christ at the Rapture.

Therefore, the metaphor of five wise and five foolish virgins can only refer to the saved and the unsaved (professing Christians) during the tribulation period.

The one thing that substantiates my claim is verse 10: “And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.”

The marriage feast, as I have reiterated many times in the past, will take place on the earth while the consummation of the marriage itself will occur in heaven.

For this to happen the Bride will have to be taken up (raptured) into heaven before the seven year tribulation period can begin.

It follows that the Bridegroom in verse 10 will not return alone (at the end of the tribulation period) but indeed with his Bride. Jesus said:

“Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning (be ready);

And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately.

Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.” (Luke 12:35-37).

This is a perfect picture of the wedding feast here on earth subsequent to Jesus’ return from the wedding together with his Bride when He Himself will be the Host to serve the guests at the wedding banquet. (Jude 1:14). Who is the Bridegroom and Bride’s friend? Remember what John the Baptist (a Jew) once said?

“He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.” (John 3:29).

The Jews in particular are not Jesus Christ’s Bride but God the Father’s wife.

“For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called. For the LORD hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God.” (Isaiah 54:5-6; Ezekiel 16).

The friend of the Bridegroom, in modern speaking terms, is the best man. This was commonly the nearest friend and an extremely high honour.

From this we may safely deduce that the virgins in Matthew 25 are Jews who are admonished to let their lights burn while they are waiting for the Bridegroom to return with his Bride.

If ever there is a time when everyone will know that the imminent return of Christ as the Bridegroom together with his Bride is at the door, it is the last three and a half years of the seven years tribulation period (the Great Tribulation) when a multitude of signs will herald the soon return of the Bridegroom. There are no signs for the Rapture.

Sadly, many Jews and Gentiles will not be ready for the Second Coming of our Lord when He returns with his Bride from the wedding.

Through their own resilient stubbornness and headstrong rebellion (like unto that of goats) they are going to remain unprepared right up to the very moment when Christ returns.

When it is already too late they are going to scuttle, dash and scamper for help to be saved but it will be too late for them. Hence Jesus’s words “Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.”

These are the goats mentioned in verses 32 and 33 – the stubborn ones who remain rebellious to the call of repentance and salvation to the very end despite the many signs that the Bridegroom’s return with his Bride is at the very door.

As I’ve already said, Matthew 25 is the only place in the entire Bible where goats are used to describe the stubborn and rebellious attitude of some of the people in the Great Tribulation.

Therefore, we cannot and dare not use the same metaphor for the unbelievers or the so-called non-elect in our present age. In fact, even the unbelievers in this age are called sheep and not goats. (Isaiah 53:6).

If the sheep here, as Calvinists love to assert, refer only to the elect, it would once again mean that only they have gone astray.

I once asked a few Calvinists whether they believed that they had always been Jesus Christ’s sheep and never goats.

They all affirmed that they had always been his sheep because when He called (John 6:44) they heard his voice (John 10:27) and responded in faith to his call. Goats, (the non-elect) cannot hear or respond to his call because they are obviously not His sheep.

The irony, however, is that, according to Paul Washer, John MacArthur and others, even the sheep (the elect) are unable to hear and respond to Jesus Christ’s voice because they are as dead as a cadaver in their sins and trespasses (like unto that of Lazarus before he was raised from the dead).

The sheep (elect) must, therefore, first be raised from the dead (made alive, quickened) and be given faith as a gift before they, as His sheep, can respond to his voice and follow Him. Calvinism is a very confused and confusing religion. It makes no sense.

Why would anyone need a Saviour when they’ve never been lost and on their way to hell? I can only conclude that Calvinism is another Gospel with another Jesus, inspired by another spirit.

Sadly and even worse is, as I believe, the darker than pitch black darkens that covers their eyes so that they cannot see, understand or admit that they have another Gospel that cannot save.

Hence the grave warning in 2 Thessalonians: “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12).

Many Calvinists have called me the Antichrist for saying this but I strongly believe that this is an indisputable fact.

Calvinists love to twist Scripture to fit their agenda. One of the verses they twist is John 10:15. Instead of quoting the verse correctly, they twist it to say “and I lay down my life for MY sheep.” It says no such thing. Both verses 11 and 15 say THE sheep.” Who are the sheep? Well, Isaiah 53: 6 provides the answer:

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Many Christians have been indoctrinated to believe that God makes a distinction between sheep and goats in our present day and age.

That’s not true. As I’ve shown from Scripture, the only distinction between sheep and goats will be made at the end of the Great Tribulation when rebellious sinners will remain resilient in their stubbornness to repent right up to the moment when Jesus Christ returns with his Bride to set up his 1000 years kingdom on earth, despite them knowing that his return is at the very door.

The question you may want to ask, is: Aren’t those who are presently resilient in their rebellion and stubbornness to repent not like the goats in Matthew 25? We need to turn to 2 Peters 3:9 for an answer.

“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

God’s longsuffering is going to come to an end right at the end of the Great Tribulation (last three and a half years of the seven year period of tribulation) and all the inhabitants of the world who live through the tribulation will know this.

The great catastrophes God is going to send on the world will be a sure sign that Christ’s return is at the very door.

This is precisely what God did in the time of Pharaoh. He sent ten plagues as signs to warn Pharaoh and the Egyptian people that they should repent before He passed his final judgement on them and their idolatrous ways. We all know what happened then.

Pharaoh who hardened his own heart from the very beginning when Moses first appeared before him, remained adamant to repent, even to the extent where God had to say. “OK, if you persist in hardening your own heart I will assist you in the hardening of your own heart so that you may remain stubborn throughout the severest of my plagues and so that I may accomplish my goal and purpose with my people (the Jews).”

To summarize the sheep and goats:

Goats as a metaphor for the resilient stubbornness of people who refuse to accept the cross of Christ as the only means God provided for the salvation of mankind (1 Corinthians 1:18) appear only once in the Bible, i.e. at the Second Advent of Jesus Christ to the earth at the very end of the Great Tribulation to pass judgment on the nations and to determine who may enter into his rest (1000 year reign on earth).

One may say that “goats” as a description for lost people is exclusively a judgment term because it illustrates how Jesus is going to judge the nations at his Second Advent – i.e. as a shepherd who divides sheep from goats.

The problem that verse 32 seems to offer is the fact that it speaks of the dividing of nations into sheep and goats. Are some nations in their entirety goats and others in their entirety sheep? Perish the thought.

There are going to be many individuals among the nations who will be rewarded for their benevolent and compassionate treatment of the Jews during the tribulation.

Bearing in mind that the seven year tribulation is primarily the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7), the Jews are going to be persecuted with relentless hatred and by all the nations under Antichrist when they realize that he (Antichrist) with whom they have signed a peace treaty at the beginning of the seven year tribulation, is nothing but an imposter when he places a statue of himself in the most holy of holies of the newly built temple in Jerusalem and orders everyone to worship him as God. (Matthew 24:15-21).

Indeed, it will be a Great Tribulation for the Jews because two thirds are going to be wiped out by the Antichrist and his cohorts.

Nevertheless many Jews are going to be saved through the preaching of the Gospel and many redeemed Gentile individuals from all the nations are going to help them to survive.

Hence the magnanimous passage in Matthew 25:35-46. Many people take this as an example to prove that good works is a prerequisite for salvation.

That is not so because the gentile individuals from every nation who help the persecuted Jews prove by their good works toward the Jews that they are already saved.

Here then, we find the nations who oppose and persecute the Jews being tagged as goats and the saved Jews and all the saved Gentiles from among the nations who assist the Jews being tagged as sheep.

John 17:9 is yet another pet verse Calvinists use to substantiate their doctrines. Here again context is the key to an understanding of the verse:

“I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.” (John 17:9).

Isn’t it strange that whenever it suits the Calvinists’ “world” refers only to the elect but when it becomes a little too difficult to make “world” applicable only to the elect, their chameleonic egg dance solves the problem for them; Or does it?

For instance: In John 3:16, they dare say, “world” refers only to the world of the elect” or “all kinds or sorts of people” as if there are some kinds and sorts of people who are not part of this world but are aliens from a distant planet living on the earth. And yet, suddenly, without the twinge of a muscle, they declare that “world” in John 17:9 must refer to the non-elect because Jesus Himself said that He did not pray for the world.

What did Jesus mean when He said that He did not pray for the world? The simple answer is that He could not pray that particular prayer for unbelievers because:

  • They cannot keep his Word (Verse 6b).
  • They do not know or acknowledge that all things given to Jesus are of the Father, which is a confession that the Father and the Son are ONE. (Verse 7)
  • They do not accept and acknowledge that Jesus came from the Father in heaven and that He was sent by the Father (Verse 8).
  • Jesus cannot be glorified in them as He is glorified in believers. (verse 10)
  • They cannot be one in spirit with the believers as the Father and the Son are one (Verse 11).
  • They cannot have Jesus Christ’s joy fulfilled in them (Verse 12)

Acts 20:28 and Ephesians 5:25-27 do not in the very least or even slightly suggest that Jesus Christ died only for the elect (the church or body of Christ). The phrase “which he hath purchased with his own blood” cannot possibly be interpreted as a purchasing of the elect only. Had that been true, it would have been a contradiction of verses such as:-

“But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. (2 Peter 2:1).

From this it is very clear that Jesus purchased with his blood even the false prophets who bring damnable heresies into the church. He paid the price (ransom) for their redemption, When He cried out “Tetelestai.” He paid in full the ransom demanded by his Father for the purchasing of lost sinners, including those who reject His cross.

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Tom Lessing (Discerning the World)

Tom Lessing is the author of the above article. Discerning the World is an internet Christian Ministry based in Johannesburg South Africa. Tom Lessing and Deborah Ellish both own Discerning the World. For more information see the About this Website page below the comments section.

8 Responses

  1. Paul Bortolazzo says:

    “All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet…‘I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.” Matthew 13:34-35

    Parables reveal the truths kept secret from the foundation of the world. (Mat. 13:34-35) A parable is a story with a spiritual meaning. Our Lord taught three parables during His Olivet Discourse: the unfaithful servant, the ten virgins, and the talents. (Mat. 24:45-51; 25:1-13, 14-30) Each story tells us what happens after the Son of Man comes back and His angels gather His elect from the wrath to come. (Mat. 16:27; 24:30-39; 25:31-46)

  2. Paul Bortolazzo

    Are you referring to Jesus’ return att the Pre-Trib Rapture or to his return to the earth at the end of the seven years tribulation? And, who are the elect your refer to?

  3. Joy Michael says:

    How many judgments are there in the New Testament?

  4. Joy

    >> How many judgments are there in the New Testament?

    Why don’t you study the bible to find out? 🙂

  5. Thank you for this. Love the use of lots of scripture to back up all you have written. It is sad that calvinists are blinded to the truth and that so called ‘great teachers’ such as paul washer and john MacArthur only seem to look at one verse at a time.

  6. Julie Dufaj says:

    I do not think it is helpful or gracious to use a negative, critical mind and the calling of names to judge people who honestly discern things differently. There is not one Christian alive who is not wrong in some point of doctrine, myself included, I continually remind myself. Therefore, I hold lightly all beliefs except those at the core of our faith. I believe it grieves our Lord when we condemn and judge other Christians harshly. We can lovingly agree to disagree and respectfully do so, knowing that if our Lord desires, He will enlighten the one who is wrong.

  7. Julie Dufaj

    The Word of God encourages a critical mind.

    But the natural man receiveth, not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)

    By the way, the “mind of Christ” is something similar to calling some people sheep and others goats.

    And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. (Luke 13:32)

    Perhaps you would rather prefer the following biblical name calling to assist you in your unbiblical judgment.

    Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. (Revelation 22:14-15)

    There is no such thing as discerning things differently. There is only one way to discern things and that is by the Word of God, and your inordinate judgment proves that you are not prone to judging things according to the Word of God, but rather your own insights.

    I agree, let us judge lovingly. So here goes.

    The apostle John lovingly and endearingly said, “For without are the dogs” and Jesus lovingly and endearingly called King Herod a fox. Surely, if, as you said, we shouldn’t judge other Christians harshly, we shouldn’t judge unbelievers in that way also, or should we?

  8. Julie Dufaj

    “….who honestly discern things differently”

    Bible says: John 10:27 “27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:”

    To discern different means you do you near His voice.

    Yes everyone and I mean everyone gets trapped into the lies of false teachings, but Jesus Christ does not leave you there to drown in doctrines of demons. The Holy Spirit will warn you and show you the lies, in this way you discern correctly through the power of the Holy Spirit and you are snatched out of the fires of false doctrines, and very quickly I might add.

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