The idealist interpretation could also be called the symbolic or spiritual interpretation. It can perhaps be best understood in distinction from the other major interpretations of Revelation. The futurist view would see the vast majority of Revelation as awaiting a future fulfillment. The preterist (from the Latin word preter, which means “past”) sees the vast majority of Revelation as having been fulfilled around AD 70 with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. The idealist interpretation sees Revelation as being fulfilled all the time throughout the history of the church.
In the idealist interpretation, the symbols in Revelation are not normally thought to refer to specific individuals and historic events but to typical individuals and events. For instance, every generation will have an “antichrist” and a “mark of the beast”—any number of individuals, world leaders, or empires who exalt themselves against God are the “antichrist,” and those who follow those leaders receive his “mark.” Some part of the church is always going through tribulation, and there will be martyrs in every generation. The idealist interprets Revelation as the ongoing struggle between God and His people and Satan and those who follow him.
Regardless of the interpretation that one assumes, it seems that every interpreter applies Revelation in an idealistic way. The preterist thinks the primary interpretation refers to past events, but what is taught about those events is supposed to give strength and encouragement to the saints in their current struggle. The futurist expects the specific events in Revelation to unfold at the end of time, yet Revelation is still applicable today as the saints face struggles that prefigure that final struggle. By looking at how God will deliver the saints in the end times, the present-day church is to receive encouragement to persevere. The way the preterist and futurist apply Revelation is the way that the idealist interprets Revelation.