Original Research

The kingdom of God: Utopian or existential?

Gert J. Malan
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 70, No 3 | a2109 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v70i3.2109 | © 2014 Gert J. Malan | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 09 December 2013 | Published: 26 June 2014

About the author(s)

Gert J. Malan, Reformed Theological College, University of Pretoria, South Africa


The kingdom of God was a central theme in Jesus’ vision. Was it meant to be understood as utopian as Mary Ann Beavis views it, or existential? In 1st century CE Palestine, kingdom of God was a political term meaning theocracy suggesting God’s patronage. Jesus used the term metaphorically to construct a new symbolic universe to legitimate a radical new way of living with God in opposition to the temple ideology of exclusivist covenantal nomism. The analogies of father and king served as the root metaphors for this symbolic universe. They are existential root metaphors underpinning the contextual symbolic universe of God’s patronage in reaction to the collapse of the patronage system which left peasants destitute. Jesus’ paradoxical use of the metaphor kingdom of God had a therapeutic value and gave the concept new meaning. The initial motivation for proclaiming God’s patronage originated in Jesus’ primary identity formation by Mary as single parent and was reinforced in his secondary identity formation by John the Baptist. From these results can be concluded that kingdom of God was not meant to be understood as utopian, but existential. In order to clarify the meaning of kingdom of God and God’s patronage for the 21st century, emythologisation and deconstruction can be helpful especially by highlighting the existential meaning of the kingdom of God.


kingdom of God; utopia; existential, metaphor; symbolic universe; root metaphor; patronage; identity formation; demythologisation; deconstruction


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