The Preterist view: Basically there are two views. One view is that all of Revelation deals with the early church and fall of Jerusalem. Others see the first half of the Book of Revelation as dealing with Jerusalem, and the last half as dealing with Rome. Chapters 15 and 16 are considered “half way.” Most in this camp see this passage as the judgments against Jerusalem for their sins of killing the faithful. Others in this camp see this having to do with the fall of Rome in the fifth century. Some see this as the results of the Trumpet judgments in chapter eight. The Mark of the beast are the loyal citizens of Rome or apostate Jews and God’s warning to them in Deut. 28 being fulfilled. Some see these as symbolic; others as literal past happenings. Others see this as the plagues that infested Jerusalem during and after the siege by the Romans, because of all the piled up dead bodies and resulting diseases, and the pollution of the water. Hence, the imagery of blood and plagues. Some see this as further details of the Trumpet plagues while others as a different judgment. The difference is the Trumpets were 1/3 and the bowls are full on. The altar refers to the saints calling out for vengeance. The sun’s heat is seen as symbolic for the persecutors of the sinful Jewish leaders. The throne of the beast is seen as Rome, and darkness is seen as the resulting political turmoil in Rome after Nero commits suicide.
The Futurist view: They see this passage as judgments that come quickly in sequence, or all at once as the consummation of God’s judgment at the close of the tribulation period. These are different from the Trumpet judgments but follow a similar succession. Most see this as a literal depiction of these events while others see some of these events as symbolic. All see these as literal plagues just like the ones poured out on Egypt, except far more devastating or completely destroying the earth. Most see the first bowl as effects of nuclear war and natural catastrophes that God allows to come in their fruition for His purpose. The second bowl is seen as the sea representing the Gentiles and the judgment upon them or that the sea is literally wiped out. The third bowl is mostly seen as symbolic to how devastating it is, but literal as how blood-thirsty the evildoers are. Most do not see the blood as literal rather what it looked like or symbolic to how awful it is, but not to minimize the literal destruction. The fourth bowl is seen as the ruling secular authorities getting their judgment while others see this as literal “astrometric” disasters. The fifth bowl is seen as the end of the Beast’s political power and or influences. There is a lot of speculation concerning how Russia or China will attack Israel and/or the United States, or about a nuclear war. But, according to Scripture, these things, although they may occur, have no real bearing on the second coming of Christ or His timing. They just may mean “birth pains” to His coming. The failure to repent and apostasy are the reasons for these judgments.
The Idealist view: They see this passage as God Himself ordering the angels and judgments that resemble the plagues of Egypt. The contrast is that Satan operates just like evil dictators, personified by Pharaoh’s oppressive regime and domination of the Israelites, and God’s subjacent judgments upon him and his rule. The other contrast is over the Trumpet judgments that affect 1/3 of the earth; these plagues bring total devastation. Some see these as parallel and literal while others as symbolic that calamity is certain if you do not repent. Some see this as the fall of Rome; others to how God deals wit the apostate Church as well as individuals. In between these two sets of judgments, the Trumpet and Bowl judgments gave abundant opportunity for repentance, but the wicked refused and brought judgment upon themselves. The other aspect of this passage is that it brings comfort to the persecuting Christians to whom John was writing. The sea is seen as humanity and the possible total devastation this may mean—the finality of humanity. The altar is seen as the prayers of the saints crying out for vindication.
The Historicist view: They see this passage as the last judgment on the corrupt papacy prior and during the reformation. Others see this as the civil wars and calamities of mankind in the 18th century and/or today. The mark of the beast here is seen as those loyal to and helping the evil Popes in the 16th through the 18th centuries. Others just see this as describing the reign of Napoleon and then the French revolution of the late 18th century (24,000 priests were killed during this time and many churches were destroyed too! Such a view is perhaps a “micro” application of the passage but not necessarily an actuality or verbatim of what it teaches us or what John saw). The sea into blood is seen as the removal of the papacies navel power and/or the changing political and naval powers of Europe due to war during the 19th century. The rivers are seen as the changing political landscape as borders and countries changed rapidly during this time climaxing with WWI. Blood is a symbolic for the papal persecutions of the righteous and the Reforming Church. The throne of the Beast is seen as papal Rome and the various wars over and with the Vatican from 1797 to 1798. Others see it as from 1794 through 1848, and world history during this time.