The Preterist view: They see this passage as taking place prior to 70 A.D., and the Christians in the early church suffering as they are slain like animals by Jewish oppressors. Their blood cries out for vengeance; they are still being persecuted and Jerusalem is judged for it (Matt. 23:35; 24:29-34; Luke 13:1-3). The preponderance of this passage is its symbolic imagery dealing with the Olivet Discourse of Jesus and the destruction and judgment of Jerusalem (Mal. 3:2). The astronomic imagery refers to the end of the Temple as corresponding to the fall of Edom (Isa. 34:4; Ezek. 32:7-8). The hiding in the caves is literal, as the Christians did this during the Roman carnage of Jerusalem. This view is perhaps an application of the passage but misses the main point.
The Futurist view: They see this passage as the state of the tribulation taking place in the future. The souls crying out are the people remaining after the rapture who are suffering during the tribulation. They see the Martyrs either as not Christians, or people converted after the rapture. The astronomic imagery refers to the catastrophes that the last days will entail, the scope of thought ranging from the literal to the representative, as signs in the heavens. Such things include literal earthquakes, civil wars, government oppressions or breakdowns, nuclear war, volcanic eruptions, terror, and chaos. Subsequently, there are several schools of speculative thought on how and when the rapture and tribulation comes about from this passage, even though this passage does not teach anything close to it. This view makes for good novels and fun discussions, but not good, biblical theology. The rest of this passage they see as the representation of Christ’s martyrdom.
The Idealist view: They see this passage as symbolic for the suffering church, including political upheavals through the ages, the faithful who have died crying out for relief and vengeance, and those who cry out for justice. This passage’s main theme is sacrificial essence and character of the faithful. Also, it is about the distinctions of people who live for God versus the people who live for themselves and evil (1 Pet. 4:6; Heb. 12:26; Rev. 4:13). They see this passage as still dealing with the Seven Churches and as metaphorical for God’s judgment. They do not see the great Judgment appearing until chapter 20. Thus, the astronomic imagery is the judgment for Jerusalem and Rome for their persecution of the Christians. Some, having this viewpoint, share similar beliefs to the Historicists. This view is an application of the passage, but, again, misses the main point.
The Historicist view: They see this passage as comforting those who are being persecuted, as God consoling them. They see these sufferings happening under the emperor Diocletian (384-303 A.D.) and/or Maximian (270-383 A.D.), called the “era of the martyrs” in church history because of the carnage and suffering the church endured. The images represent the fall of paganism and the rise of Christianity in the world, from the time of the Romans on to today. After this period, Constantine became Emperor and Christianity slowly became accepted and then became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Others see this passage as the Christians suffering by Jewish oppression in the early church. The earthquakes represent spiritual revolution, and the astronomic imagery is earthly dignitaries in rebellion to God and/or the shaking of Jerusalem for its evil. This view is an application of the passage but also misses the main point.