A quick quote from chapter 5 of Rob Bells provocative book, and then a short summary of the rest of the chapter.
“is the cross about the end of the sacrificial system, or a broken relationship that’s been reconciled, or a guilty defendant who’s been set free, or a battle that’s been won, or the redeeming of something that was lost?…. Why all the different explanations? For these first Christians, something massive and universe-changing had happened through the cross, and they set out to communicate the significance and power of it to their audiences in language their audiences would understand. And so they looked at the world around them, identifying examples, pictures, experiences, and metaphors that their listeners and readers would have already been familiar with, and then they essentially said: what happened on the cross is like…” p 127/128
“For the first thousand years or so of church history, the metaphor of victory in battle, Jesus conquering death, was the central, dominant understanding of the cross. And then at other times and in other places, other explanations have been more heavily emphasised.”
He then seems to say that because our culture does not understand sacrificing things to gods to appease them it is not a great way to communicate the cross. He says it is off people’s radar and though it may work in some small pockets of primitive cultures around the world it is not helpful in ours.
I think though that God was purposefully trying to create his own culture in his own people as a context for Jesus’ saving work to be understood. A lot of sheep lost their lives so we could “get” sacrifice!
For me, the fact that Jesus took my place, owned my sin and bore God’s wrath for me are the foundation upon which all the other aspects of the atonement are based. It was necessary for my sin to be dealt with in order to be brought into a relationship with God as Father. I was guilty and the means of my acquittal was Jesus bearing my sin. It cost God to redeem me because something so precious (his son) needed to be given to die in my place etc. The victory over sin and death was through my sin being dealt with in Jesus.
He then moves on to the resurrection; life from death, and notes that John has seven miraculous signs in his gospel before the resurrection. Jesus rising from the dead is therefore the first act of a new creation. He emphasises that it is not just people that are saved but the earth is renewed, all of which are quite helpful insights for me.