I have an acquaintance who presented a theory to me that the book of Revelation is really just figurative language written to a specific people at that time, and was not meant to result in an expectation of Jesus' return, a tribulation period, or anything of the sort. I completely disagree with him, but I'm curious as to whether any of your contributors have heard this theory and care to comment. Thoughts?
Some of the things you said are accurate, but some are not. For example, people in those days did expect Jesus coming back from heaven very soon. What we do not know is what they meant by "coming soon," since their sense of time was different from ours. They did not view the future, for example, as something very far away, this linear concept that we are used to, but more likely something fore coming which was already impacting the present. That is why Jesus announced that the kingdom of God had drawn "near."
Now the tribulation, and its related idea of a "second coming" of Jesus from heaven, is a modern concept conceived in the 19th century by John Nelson Darby, the founder of the Plymouth Brethren, and it is not to be found in the book of Revelation. In this book, tribulation refers to the harsh times that the believers were to experience before the end. If the original readers of Revelation would have been told of this idea of two different comings of Christ, one to rapture his church, the other to judge the world and establish God's kingdom, they wouldn't have a clue what it meant! The concept of "rapture" comes from 1 Thessalonians 4:17, from the Latin word raptio which translates the Greek word for being "caught up." But in that context it refers to the general resurrection of the dead at the end of time, not to a coming of Jesus to take up his church in anticipation to that event. That was never in Paul's mind.
As for the language being "figurative," I would say that all biblical language is religious language, not scientific, so there is a lot of it that is symbolic, metaphorical, even figurative, which does not mean that it is not true. As a matter of fact, it may even be truer than plain literary or scientific language. In the same way in which you don't use religious language to describe electricity, you don't use scientific language to describe the resurrection or salvation, just to give a couple of examples from the biblical record.
So, as I pointed out above, there are some things you said that I agree with and some that I disagree with. At the end of the day, you will have to come up with your own interpretation and accept that of others as being as valid as yours. The only thing you have to keep in mind is that if your interpretation oppresses other people, if it doesn't give life, then it is not valid whether it literal or figurative. The most important feature of any biblical interpretation is that it has to be ethical.
I hope this helps . . .