If the resurrection has broken into the world, however, why do we still live a world entangled in violence, injustice and death? Why do innocent people die in bombings in Syria? Why is there senseless structural violence against black people? Why does cancer continue to eat away at our lives? Paul knows as well as we do about what he calls “the sufferings of the present time” (Romans 8:18). And that’s why he writes the third and last paragraph of our passage.
Has Jesus’s resurrection power already beamed us up into heavenly existence? No. Paul carefully explains that we are not at the end; rather, we are in the middle of an unfolding story. “In Christ all will be made alive … But each in order.” There is a careful sequencing here of three acts of the unfolding drama: “Christ the first-fruits; then at his kingly coming those who belong to Christ.” (That’s us – we who will be raised from the dead at Christ’s triumphant return.) And only then do we reach the end, the final act: when Christ hands over the kingdom to the Father who will at last destroy all the evil and pain in the world and wipe away every tear from our eyes.
So we find ourselves in the middle of the story. But notice how Paul describes the political reality of this middle time we inhabit: “It is necessary for Christ to rule until God places all his enemies under his feet.” In the present time, the Risen Christ is in fact ruling now, even though his enemies continue to carry out their ultimately futile attacks on his kingdom. Paul is painting a picture of prolonged military struggle, in which our captain, the Lord Jesus, is reclaiming territory previously occupied by enemy forces.