Most biblical prophecy is “forth-telling” rather than foretelling. Prophecies on the whole were meant to be understood by an immediate audience. Therefore, it is not helpful to try to figure out what every unknown symbol means when reading Revelation prior to understanding what these symbols mean throughout the whole Bible to contemporary hearers. We must be careful of using a “this means that” approach from a modern vantage point. Revelation is a prophecy, not a cryptic jigsaw puzzle.
However, John meant his intended hearers to understand when the Book of Revelation was read. This pastoral letter was written to them, after all. In Revelation 6:10,11, when the fifth seal was opened, the martyrs cried out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” The answer came, “A little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” We should imagine that these were martyrs who were known to John’s audience. This would have elicited a strong emotional reaction. When the sixth seal was opened, those who persecuted the saints were judged and their doom was made absolutely certain (Revelation 6:12-17). This speaks of God’s temporal judgments upon the persecutors of the first century saints hearing the prophecy. Therefore, I find little reason to think John’s hearers would expect “a little while” to mean many centuries later.
The seven letters to the seven churches are written to John’s companions in tribulation. Suffering and death will come to those who bear the testimony of Jesus. John writes of the martyrs who have come out of tribulation in the present tense. In a later passage, the “great tribulation” (Revelation 7:11) is described as being the same as the suffering and martyrdom experienced by the first century churches of Asia Minor in the first three chapters. This “great tribulation” is attributed to the tyranny of a “king” who now “is” (Revelation 17:10).
Furthermore, when we compare the historical context of Revelation to parallel passages in Daniel, we should understand that John was alluding to Daniel to demonstrate to believers in his day that the prophecy of Daniel concerning the Fourth Kingdom was being fulfilled.