The book of Revelation has these literary genres:
- Prophecy – by self designation (22:19), messages to God’s people of rebuke and encouragement given in Spirit inspired oracles.
- Apocalyptic – a literary form which uses symbolism to depict the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom into history.
- Epistle – it was a circular letter to the churches, and includes 7 specific letters to 7 churches in chapter 2-3.
- Visions – it is a series of Visions given to John.
- Poetry – The Literary Study Bible points out the amount of imagery and allusion, common stuff for poets.
It is best to keep all of these ideas in view, rather than to stress one only.
Regarding Symbolism – I like John Stott’s comment: “Further, the symbols of Revelation are to be understood, not visualized. If we were to visualize them, the result would often be grotesque. For example, god’s redeemed people are said to be wearing robes which have been ‘made…white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14). Now I confess that I have never tired to launder dirty linen in lamb’s blood, tut he concept is rather revolting, and the consequence would not be to make them white. The interpretation is beautiful, however, namely that the only righteousness which qualifies us to stand in God’s presence is due to the atoning death of Jesus Christ, in whom we have put our trust.”
John Stott, The Incomparable Christ, IVP, 2001, p. 171
Oddly, as visual as this book is, trying to visualize it is difficult, and literalist drawings based on it are often unhelpful. Maybe if an Impressionist or Expressionist painter gave it a go, it would make more sense.