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In 1 Corinthians 15:24ff Paul suggests that Jesus is at the beginning of the process of ruling:

[1Co 15:22-28 CSB] 22 For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at his coming, those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he abolishes all rule and all authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he puts all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be abolished is death. 27 For God has put everything under his feet. Now when it says "everything" is put under him, it is obvious that he who puts everything under him is the exception. 28 When everything is subject to Christ, then the Son himself will also be subject to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all.

But in Ephesians 1 it appears a fait accompli:

[Eph 1:19-23 KJV] 19 And what [is] the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, 20 Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set [him] at his own right hand in the heavenly [places], 21 Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: 22 And hath put all [things] under his feet, and gave him [to be] the head over all [things] to the church, 23 Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

What changed?

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It's true that Paul's letters show variation in the timing of the work of Christ. I think the best explanation of this is simply that Paul understands the work of Christ as a process begun but not yet finished. Therefore the variations are a reflection of Paul's varying focus throughout his letters.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 15.22-28 Paul is responding to a specific question from a local church. In verse 12 we read this:

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

The question is about the general resurrection of the dead, which obviously for both Paul and his readers is a future event. And (possibly because of the passage of time) some church members are starting to doubt or deny that the resurrection of the dead will happen. Paul's response is to argue that the resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee of the resurrection of the dead. That's the point of verse 20:

Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

The firstfruits metaphor comes from the OT ceremonial system, where the firstfruits was a thanksgiving offering from the initial portion of the harvest. The people would bring their offerings as a sign of trust in the God who will ensure the full harvest. In the same way, if Jesus truly has been raised from the dead then this becomes a sign that all who trust in him will at the right time be raised too.

So when does Jesus' rule take place? Paul's approach here is that it will not be a complete rule until the final resurrection, because although Jesus himself is already risen, the work of Christ is to restore the whole of creation, and that won't happen until the final resurrection when all things will be subject to him.

When we turn to the second text, Ephesians 1.19-23, we find a different focus. Here the resurrection of Christ is a past event, as in 1 Corinthians; but in contrast to 1 Corinthians the ascension and rule at the right hand of God is also described as a past event. How do we respond to this contrast?

The context here is Paul's prayer for the Ephesian church. He prays that they may know the limitless power of God, and as the key illustration of that power he points to God's act in raising Jesus from the dead. But this is not just from death to life, but from death to glory, from the lowest point to the highest point. By this illustration he is assuring the Ephesian readers that nothing is impossible for God.

If we take these two texts in isolation it is certainly possible to see a tension or even a contradiction between them. But the overall context of Ephesians leads us to a different conclusion. Although Ephesians 1.19-23 by itself may read as if the work of Jesus is a fait accompli, the letter as a whole shows the same process of restoration as in 1 Corinthians. Consider these examples:

  1. In Ephesians 1.13-14 the Ephesian believers experience the same past and future tension as in 1 Corinthians. On the one hand they are already "in Christ" and in possession of God's Holy Spirit (verse 13). On the other they are still awaiting the final receipt of their promised inheritance (verse 14).

  2. In Ephesians 2 Paul can describe the believers as already raised to life in Christ. Not only that they are alive, they are raised to heaven and seated with Christ at the right hand of God (verses 4-6). All this is set in the past tense. It is fait accompli. And yet when we get to chapter 4 we see the other side of the coin. The church which is already reigning in heaven needs to work to make that real on earth. Paul needs to urge them to live out their Spirit created unity unity (verese 1-3). They must use their Christ given gifts to build the church (verse 7-12). The building metaphor points to a process, as does the goal of being like Christ (verse 13-16). That goal is still in the future as Paul writes.

  3. The final appeal in Ephesians 6 is to put on the full armour of God and to keep praying (verse 10-20). Why? Because we are still in a spiritual struggle (verse 12).

So in summary it's simplistic to say that in Ephesians Paul writes of Jesus' work as a fait accompli. A careful reading of the whole letter shows the same kind of tension and balance between Christ's completed work and the application of that work in the church and the world that we see in 1 Corinthians 15. It is finished. It is not yet completed. Both are true.

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A more careful reading of the two passages reveals what my blind spot was in asking this question. The short answer is that while he was immediately endowed with all authority, there remained "enemies" who would refused to let him reign over them:

[Luke 19:27 KJV] (27) But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

[Matt 21:40-45 ESV] (40) When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" (41) They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons." (42) Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: "'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'? (43) Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. (44) And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him." (45) When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.

So what Corinthians is concerned with are the still remaining "enemies". Christ had stolen the keys of Death and Hell but had not yet unlocked the gates of Hell and emptied hADES.

[1Co 15:27-28 CSB] 25 For he must reign until he puts all his enemies under his feet.

The Ephesians passage speaks of his position at God's right hand, not his recognition by his enemies:

[Eph 1:20-23 ESV] (20) that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, (21) far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (22) And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, (23) which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

[Psa 110:1-2 KJV] (1) [A Psalm of David.] The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand [IE: I grant you authority], until I make thine enemies thy footstool. (2) The LORD shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.

However, his People (the Israel of God) are willing to serve him:

[Psa 110:3 KJV] Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth.

[Psa 59:16 KJV] (16) But I will sing of thy power; yea, I will sing aloud of thy mercy in the morning: for thou hast been my defence and refuge in the day of my trouble.

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