I am currently working on a paper looking, from a histoircla Jesus perspective, at the atonement. I am re-reading Wright and bringing him into dialogue with Pitre and McKnight. All three who are a well of scholarship. In a nutshell, and at risk of reductionism, here are their respective views.
Wright: ‘Jesus, then, went to Jerusalem not just to preach, but to die’1. He understood his death as the ‘taking of the messianic woes unto himself’. Jesus thought of himself, in his death, as the Messiah ‘the one through whom YHWH, the God of all the world, will save Israel and thereby the world’. In his death the ‘true exodus will come about and evil’, how ‘evil will be defeated’ and ‘sins be forgiven’. There was more than a desire for ‘martyrs glory’ but a ‘deep sense of vocation’ in which his own death would enact what would happen to Israel, at the hands of Rome. The death of Jesus, as the servant and shepherd would ‘result in YHWH becoming the king of the whole earth’. The cross, was for Jesus, the ‘symbol of victory’.2
Pitre: Jesus ‘spoke of his death imminent death and saw it as part of the eschatological tribulation.’3 However, ‘Jesus expectation of suffering and death in the tribulation was not merely eschatological but messianic’. He is the shepherd and Son of Man ‘who would meet his fate in the eschatological trial.’Jesus understood his death as being followed by bodily resurrection. He ‘also spoke and acted as if his death…would have soteriological and eschatological significance’ for ‘he deliberately took the sufferings of the tribulation upon himself to atone for the sins of Israel, sins which had led them into exile’ and the ‘restoration of the twelve tribes in a New Exodus.’4
McKnight: Jesus thought his ‘premature death was part, somehow, of God’s providential plan in history.’, and that his death was ‘the fate of a prophet’. His death was ‘representative’ and was the ‘beginning of the eschatological ordeal, an ordeal which is a prerequisite to the ‘onset of the kingdom of God.’. ‘The son of man is his job description’ but the ‘there is negligible evidence to suggest that he saw his life in the servant of Isaiah.’ Jesus understood his death, as the passover victim, as being ‘vicarious and protecting’.5
2The following is a summary of JVOG Ch 12. See also Chapter 4, Wright, N. T. The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. InterVarsity Press, 1999.
3 Pitre, Brant. Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement. 505
4 Pitre, Brant. Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement. 505-506
5McKnight, Scot. Jesus and His Death: Historiography, the Historical Jesus, and Atonement Theory. Baylor University Press, 2005. 336-339