Similar to you, I find preterism [editor’s note: this is the view that the majority of the visions in Revelation involve things which happened in the early period of Christianity] as the best interpretation of Revelation. However, I struggle with interpreting the events (especially the plagues). I also do not know what to do with the last few chapters. In which historical events do you see Revelation’s complete fulfillment? And how can the last chapters be separated from the rest of the book?
I cannot give a specific historical event to match every single symbol and vision in Revelation. In fact, this is certainly not the intent of the book itself. These are visions which are intended to teach us primarily spiritual lessons about God and the spiritual battle behind the scenes.
Nevertheless, there are definitely some connections between the visions and historical events. For example, the Beast in Revelation 17 is Rome, as is clear from the text. Rome was the city on seven hills (Rev 17:9). Rome attacked arrested and killed the saints at the time John wrote (Rev 17:6,14). We can identify with great certainty the seven kings (they are Augustus, Tiberius…..Nero, Vespasian and Titus). We also know who the eight king—the one who attacks the saints—is; He is Domitian.
Then in Rev 18 we see that Babylon (the physical power of Rome to attack the saints) will fall. Gog and Magog (see Ezekiel 37-38) is any earthly power that sets itself up against the saints and the kingdom of God. Revelation 19-20 takes us fast-forward to the future and final judgment. The Beast, the False Prophet and the Dragon will all be judged and will be thrown into hell. Revelation 20:11-15 is a scene at the final judgment at which all of us will discover our final fate. Revelation 21-22 is a scene from the new heaven and/or the new earth, depicting the place of final victory for God’s saints.
I strongly suggest you not get too caught up in the details but get the big picture of Revelation. I am convinced that this is what God has in mind here. The saints will be attacked. Some will fall and others will be killed. But God will judge the enemies of the saints and, in the end, we win! This is the message and it is the principle meaning and purpose of all the visions.
I am copying and pasting below from my outline on Revelation Ch 17-18:3. I believe this will help you to get the “drift” of what is going on prophetically and its relationship to actual events on the earth. The full outline is available at my web site. Just do a search.
Revelation 17 The Woman and the Beast
Rev 17-19 The victory of the lion/lamb. This is the working out of the seventh bowl.
17:1 Come, I will show you the destruction of the “great prostitute”. This is Rome, probably emphasizing her financial/business empire. The rise of the Prostitute is foretold in Daniel 11:36-39.
17:3 A woman sitting on a scarlet beast. This is Rome the persecutor and the murderer of God’s people. This beast has seven heads and ten horns. These are the same seven and ten of Revelation 13. Political Rome (the beast) made materialistic Rome (the Prostitute) possible.
Purple = corrupt greedy political power
Scarlet = blood.
A golden cup filled with abominations and adultery
The abominations the Prostitute has for sale are very attractive (v. 4). Jeremiah 51:7
v. 6 Who is this woman? “drunk with the blood of the saints.” There is no possible doubt. This is Rome.
Who is this woman? v. 8, 10 It is the Roman persecutor who once was (Nero) now is not (a period of relative peace for the church during the reigns of Vespasian and Titus, and perhaps even the early reign of Domitian), but is “yet to come” (v. 8b, 10).
17:8b and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. This is Domitian (and the later Roman persecutors he represents ,such as Galerian, Decius and Diocletian)
To the saints: This terrible news calls for a mind with wisdom.
In case you do not get it, it is made perfectly clear!!! v. 9 The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. There is no question at all that this is Rome, the city on seven hills. (the Palatine, Aventine, Capitoline, Caelian, Esquiline, Quirinal, Viminal)
17:10 The seven heads are also seven kings. Five have fallen (Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero) One is (Vespasian)
Rev 17:10 The beast “is not” Implies that Vespasian is ruling when John wrote. This may be possible. Either that or it is a slight flashback.
The other has not yet come, but will remain for a little while (Titus, who ruled for less than two years).
17:11 Nero is about to be resurrected as an eighth king. Domitian.
In Rev 17 Domitian is a kind of resurrection of Nero. He is the eighth king and eight represents resurrection (Cyprian called Sunday the first day and the eighth day). The Sibylline Oracles call Jesus 888—the resurrected one.
Tertullian: Domitian is a “limb of the bloody Nero.”
In case the Church and the disciples are fearful, they should remember that “He is going to his destruction” (v. 11)
17:12 The ten horns are ten kings who will be given their authority along with/by the beast. These are the client kings of Rome, such as Armenia, Cappadocia, Galatia and Commagene and, of course, Herod. (Alternately, they could be future emperors who, like Domitian, will persecute the church. The problem with this is that it is hard to see how they could come to hate the woman. On the positive side for this view, future persecuting emperors “have not yet received a kingdom” (v. 12), on the other hand, their authority is “along with the beast.”)
17:13 The eighth head and the ten horns will make war against the Lamb. How? By persecuting and even killing his saints.
Bad news, right? But the Lamb will overcome them because he is King of Kings. (v. 14)
This is reminiscent of Daniel 7:23-28, where the eighth king is an eleventh king (because it does not ignore Galba, Otho and Vitellius). A king who will attack the saints for “time, times and half-a-time” but whose power will be taken away forever!!!
The beast and the ten horns will hate the woman. The Roman empire and the client kings will hate the central authority of Rome and will eventually destroy her.
v. 18 The woman is the great city. Rome.
Revelation 18 Babylon (the woman/Great Prostitute) has fallen!!!
Rev 18: The Great Prostitute is judged and destroyed.
Rev 19 The Beast and the False Prophet are judged and destroyed.
Rev 20 The Serpent/Satan judged and destroyed.
Rev 18:1-8 Fallen is Babylon the Great.
Babylon/The Great Prostitute is “the world.” It is the materialistic aspect of Rome. Babylon is the woman of Rev. 17 and Babylon is the Great Prostitute.
Much of the language of the entire chapter comes from OT prophecies of the destruction of Babylon (Is 13:20-22, Jer 50:39, 51:37)