There are essentially four ways of interpreting Revelation.
The first, or preterist view, places the events and visions described as belonging to the past, particularly to the Roman Empire of the First Century A.D.
The advocates of this position explain the highly-symbolic character of the book as an endeavor by John
to hide the real meaning of what he was saying to the general populace but which would become apparent to the insiders who lived at the time.
People holding this view believe that the main purpose of Revelation was to encourage the early believers that God would ultimately intervene in the affairs of mankind.
The second view, or the historicist view, says that what we have in Revelation is a panoramic view of history from the First Century until the Second Coming of Christ.
This was the view of most of the Protestant Reformers. In our opinion, this is an untenable position because historians
have not been able to identify precise events in history which would correspond to the visions symbolized in the Book of Revelation.
The third view is the symbolic view which states that the Book of Revelation portrays the continuing conflict between the forces of good and evil throughout the entire span of human history.
According to this view, the Book of Revelation was mainly designed to give encouragement, since at the end good will triumph over evil.
The fourth view is the futuristic view which asserts that Rev.4-22 deals with events of the end time.
According to this view, the Book of Revelation was not concerned with events of John's own day as much as with later historical events,
and particularly those happenings that WILL take place in connection with the Second Coming of the Lord in the future.
This view takes seriously the predictive element in the book ( Rev 1:19; Rev 4:1 ).
Very definitely the final chapters of Revelation deal with the last days and a definitive change in the things as they are today.
Rev 1 deals with the past; Rev 2-3 tells us about things that were current at that particular time and which were to follow;
Rev 4-22 informs us about the things which were to follow their time period. (Morris Bible Book Synopsis)
After the introduction and the apostolic blessing, 1:1-8 , the book contains seven visions or series of visions, extending from 1:9-22:7 , followed by a conclusion, 22:8-21 .
I. The first Vision , 1: 9-3:22 , is that of the glorified Christ in the midst of the Church, directing John to write letters of reproof, of warning, of exhortation and of consolation to seven churches of Asia
II. The second Vision , 4:1-8:1 , reveals God as ruling the world’s destiny, and the Lamb as taking the book of the divine decrees and
breaking the seven seals of which each one represents a part of God’s purpose, the first four referring to the terrestrial, and the last three to the celestial sphere.
Revelation 5:1 MSG I saw a scroll in the right hand of the One Seated on the Throne. It was written on both sides, fastened with seven seals.
2 I also saw a powerful Angel, calling out in a voice like thunder, "Is there anyone who can open the scroll, who can break its seals?"
3 There was no one--no one in Heaven, no one on earth, no one from the underworld--able to break open the scroll and read it.
4 I wept and wept and wept that no one was found able to open the scroll, able to read it.
5 One of the Elders said, "Don't weep. Look--the Lion from Tribe Judah, the Root of David's Tree, has conquered. He can open the scroll, can rip through the seven seals."
6:1 I watched while the Lamb ripped off the first of the seven seals. I heard one of the Animals roar, "Come out!"
2 I looked--I saw a white horse. Its rider carried a bow and was given a victory garland. He rode off victorious, conquering right and left.
3 When the Lamb ripped off the second seal, I heard the second Animal cry, "Come out!"
4 Another horse appeared, this one red. Its rider was off to take peace from the earth, setting people at each other's throats, killing one another. He was given a huge sword.
5 When he ripped off the third seal, I heard the third Animal cry, "Come out!" I looked. A black horse this time. Its rider carried a set of scales in his hand.
6 I heard a message (it seemed to issue from the Four Animals): "A quart of wheat for a day's wages, or three quarts of barley, but all the oil and wine you want."
7 When he ripped off the fourth seal, I heard the fourth Animal cry, "Come out!" 8 I looked. A colorless horse, sickly pale. Its rider was Death, and Hell was close on its heels.
They were given power to destroy a fourth of the earth by war, famine, disease, and wild beasts.
6:9 When he ripped off the fifth seal, I saw the souls of those killed because they had held firm in their witness to the Word of God.
They were gathered under the Altar, 10 and cried out in loud prayers, "How long, Strong God, Holy and True? How long before you step in and avenge our murders?"
11 Then each martyr was given a white robe and told to sit back and wait until the full number of martyrs was filled from among their servant companions and friends in the faith.
Between the sixth and seventh seals an episode is introduced to show the safety of the people of God amid the judgments that are inflicted on the world.
12 I watched while he ripped off the sixth seal: a bone-jarring earthquake, sun turned black as ink, moon all bloody,
13 stars falling out of the sky like figs shaken from a tree in a high wind, 14 sky snapped shut like a book, islands and mountains sliding this way and that.
15 And then pandemonium, everyone and his dog running for cover--kings, princes, generals,
rich and strong, along with every commoner, slave or free. They hid in mountain caves and rocky dens, 16 calling out to mountains and rocks,
"Refuge! Hide us from the One Seated on the Throne and the wrath of the Lamb! 17 The great Day of their wrath has come--who can stand it?"
8:1 When the Lamb ripped off the seventh seal, Heaven fell quiet--complete silence for about half an hour.
III. The third Vision , 8:2-11:19 , shows us seven angels, each one having a trumpet. After an angel has offered up the prayers of the saints to God,
the seven angels blow their trumpets, and each trumpet is followed by a vision of destruction on the sinful world,
the destruction of the last three being more severe than that of the first four.
8:2 I saw the Seven Angels who are always in readiness before God handed seven trumpets.
3 Then another Angel, carrying a gold censer, came and stood at the Altar.
He was given a great quantity of incense so that he could offer up the prayers of all the holy people of God on the Golden Altar before the Throne.
4 Smoke billowed up from the incense-laced prayers of the holy ones, rose before God from the hand of the Angel.
5 Then the Angel filled the censer with fire from the Altar and heaved it to earth. It set off thunders, voices, lightnings, and an earthquake.
6 The Seven Angels with the trumpets got ready to blow them. 7 At the first trumpet blast, hail and fire mixed with blood were dumped on earth.
A third of the earth was scorched, a third of the trees, and every blade of green grass--burned to a crisp.
8 The second Angel trumpeted. Something like a huge mountain blazing with fire was flung into the sea. A third of the sea turned to blood,
9 a third of the living sea creatures died, and a third of the ships sank. 10 The third Angel trumpeted.
A huge Star, blazing like a torch, fell from Heaven, wiping out a third of the rivers and a third of the springs.
11 The Star's name was Wormwood. A third of the water turned bitter, and many people died from the poisoned water.
12 The fourth Angel trumpeted. A third of the sun, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars were hit, blacked out by a third, both day and night in one-third blackout.
13 I looked hard; I heard a lone eagle, flying through Middle-Heaven, crying out ominously, "Doom! Doom! Doom to everyone left on earth!
There are three more Angels about to blow their trumpets. Doom is on its way!"
9:1 The fifth Angel trumpeted. I saw a Star plummet from Heaven to earth. The Star was handed a key to the Well of the Abyss.
2 He unlocked the Well of the Abyss--smoke poured out of the Well, billows and billows of smoke, sun and air in blackout from smoke pouring out of the Well.
3 Then out of the smoke crawled locusts with the venom of scorpions.
4 They were given their orders: "Don't hurt the grass, don't hurt anything green, don't hurt a single tree--only men and women,
and then only those who lack the seal of God on their foreheads.“ 5 They were ordered to torture but not kill, torture them for five months, the pain like a scorpion sting.
6 When this happens, people are going to prefer death to torture, look for ways to kill themselves. But they won't find a way--death will have gone into hiding.
7 The locusts looked like horses ready for war. They had gold crowns, human faces, 8 women’s hair, the teeth of lions,
9 and iron breastplates. The sound of their wings was the sound of horse-drawn chariots charging into battle.
10 Their tails were equipped with stings, like scorpion tails. With those tails they were ordered to torture the human race for five months.
11 They had a king over them, the Angel of the Abyss. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, in Greek, Apollyon--"Destroyer."
12 The first doom is past. Two dooms yet to come. 13 The sixth Angel trumpeted. I heard a voice speaking to the sixth Angel from the horns of the Golden Altar before God:
14 “Let the Four Angels loose, the Angels confined at the great River Euphrates." 15 The Four Angels were untied and let loose,
Four Angels all prepared for the exact year, month, day, and even hour when they were to kill a third of the human race.
16 The number of the army of horsemen was twice ten thousand times ten thousand.
I heard the count 17 and saw both horses and riders in my vision: fiery breastplates on the riders, lion heads on the horses breathing out fire and smoke and brimstone.
18 With these three weapons--fire and smoke and brimstone--they killed a third of the human race.
19 The horses killed with their mouths and tails; their serpentlike tails also had heads that wreaked havoc.
20 The remaining men and women who weren't killed by these weapons went on their merry way--didn't change their way of life,
didn't quit worshiping demons, didn't quit centering their lives around lumps of gold and silver and brass, hunks of stone and wood that couldn't see or hear or move.
21 There wasn't a sign of a change of heart. They plunged right on in their murderous, occult, promiscuous, and thieving ways.
Between the sixth and seventh trumpets there is again an episode describing the preservation of the Church.
10:7 that when the seventh Angel blew his trumpet, which he was about to do, the Mystery of God, all the plans he had revealed to his servants, the prophets, would be completed.
8 The voice out of Heaven spoke to me again: "Go, take the book held open in the hand of the Angel astride sea and earth."
9 I went up to the Angel and said, "Give me the little book." He said, "Take it, then eat it. It will taste sweet like honey, but turn sour in your stomach."
10 I took the little book from the Angel's hand and it was sweet honey in my mouth, but when I swallowed, my stomach curdled.
11 Then I was told, "You must go back and prophesy again over many peoples and nations and languages and kings."
IV. The fourth Vision , 12:1-14: 20 , describes the conflict of the world with the Church of God.
The Church is represented as a woman bringing forth the Christ, against whom the dragon representing satan wages war.
In successive visions we behold the beasts which satan will employ as his agents, the militant Church, and the advancing stages of Christ’s conquest. (Berkhof NT Introductions)