The primary issue among interpreters in regard to the Harlot is whether she is to be understood as being a separate but related entity to Babylon, the city. Many interpreters take her to be a separate ecclesiastic system at the time of the end which undergoes a separate judgment and destruction than Babylon, the city. This view is based on a number of points:
Mystery is written on the womans forehead (Rev. Rev. 17:5+). Some take this as part of her title, denoting her mysterious nature and identity.
Religious aspects of the harlot are thought to be more strongly emphasized in Revelation Rev. 17:1+, whereas Revelation Rev. 18:1+ emphasizes commercial aspects.
If modern ecumenical liberalism continues, then it seems likely that disparate religious systems will eventually amalgamate into a one-world global religion at the time of the end.
We discuss the merits of each of these points below. One other matter which we should mention regarding the identification of the Harlot: the tendency of unevenly emphasizing interpretive clues provided by the text. Scripture gives us some clear and definite sign-posts to help guide us in our task of interpretation. When we fail to heed those sign-posts, but drive right by them, we miss the main fork in the road leading in the proper direction and drive down the wrong road which takes us miles from the proper destination. It does not matter how many small back-alleys we investigate in the local neighborhood if we are already in the wrong city! Ignoring very clear and definite statements, interpreters often spend great effort analyzing other less-clear passages in attempting to identify her. In the case of the Harlot, several definitive statements are given to us about her identity. She is explicitly said to be a city: And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth (Rev. Rev. 17:18+). The phrase, the great (Rev. Rev. 17:3+), is reminiscent of the great city , Babylon (Rev. Rev. 16:19+; Rev. 17:4+; Rev. 18:2+, Rev. 18:21+; Rev. 19:2+), although the phrase is also used of Jerusalem (Rev. Rev. 11:8+; Rev. 16:19+) and the New Jerusalem (Rev. Rev. 21:10+). We are not left to wonder which city is meant, whether Jerusalem, the New Jerusalem, Babylon (or even Rome, New York, or Tokyo!). It is Babylon which is explicitly identified with the great harlot (Rev. Rev. 19:2+ cf. Rev. Rev. 18:21+). Whatever else the Harlot denotes, we must not lose sight of these simple, clear sign posts: she is a city and that city is Babylon.