It was the Holy Spirit Who carried John while the angel accompanied him. In the same way that John was transported to heaven to see the vision of the throne (Rev. Rev. 4:2+), so now he is transported to the wilderness, the vantage point for viewing the Harlot. See commentary on Revelation 4:2. His previous vision of the Beast rising from the sea was seen while he stood on the sand of the sea (Rev. Rev. 13:1+). Later, John will be carried away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain where he is shown the New Jerusalem (Rev. Rev. 21:10+).
I saw a woman
John sees this woman in the wilderness , whereas he saw the woman of Revelation Rev. 12:1+ as a great sign in heaven. The woman is The Great Harlot which the angel was to show John (Rev. Rev. 17:1+). Later, she is specifically identified: And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth (Rev. Rev. 17:18+). In this case, great city, is Babylon (Rev. Rev. 14:8+; Rev. 18:10+, Rev. 18:16+, Rev. 18:18-21+; Rev. 19:21+).
sitting on a scarlet beast
Scarlet is κόκκινον [kokkinon] : Scarlet cloth, dyed with κόκκος [kokkos] , a scarlet berry, actually the female of a scale insect that clings to oak leaves, dried and crushed to prepare a red dye.1 The beast is scarlet, because it is closely related to the fiery red dragon which empowers it (Rev. Rev. 12:3+ cf. Rev. Rev. 13:2+). Her sitting on the beast may speak less of influence and more of support. The Woman seated on the Beast does not signify that she will rule over him, but intimates that he will support her.2 Because the Beast represents a series of kings and kingdoms stretching through history, there is a tendency among many expositors to take the Harlot as an exclusively religious figure. The fact that she is seen riding upon the Beast is thought to necessitate her identification as exclusively religious, but not political:
The fact that the woman is riding the beast and is not the beast itself signifies that she represents ecclesiastical power as distinct from the beast which is political power. Her position, that of riding the beast, indicates on the one hand that she is supported by the political power of the beast, and on the other that she is in a dominant role and at least outwardly controls and directs the beast.3While we do not deny the significant religious role assigned to the Harlot, taking her to be an ecclesiastical system contradicts what Scripture recordsthat she is a city (Rev. Rev. 17:18+; Rev. 18:21+-Rev. 19:2+). There is no reason why she must be an ecclesiastical system when Scripture says she is a city. Moreover, she is also associated with wealth and excess (Rev. Rev. 17:4+)these may speak equally of both politics and religion. The Beast represents the historic development of kingdoms empowered by the dragon (Rev. Rev. 12:3+; Rev. 13:1+) and its ultimate manifestation at the time of the end. The Harlot is the city Babylon in all its aspectscombining commercial, political, and religious influence. She has ridden the beast throughout history.
full of names of blasphemy
The Beast which arose from the sea had a blasphemous name (Rev. Rev. 13:1+; names, MT and NU texts). The blasphemous names reflect the blasphemous mouth which speaks great things against God (Rev. Rev. 13:5+). See commentary on Revelation 13:5.
having seven heads and ten horns
The Great Harlot rides upon the same Beast which arose from the sea (Rev. Rev. 13:1+) which also had seven heads and ten horns (Rev. Rev. 13:1+). These same heads and horns were seen upon the great red dragon who empowers the Beast (Rev. Rev. 12:3+). The seven heads are seven mountains and seven kings (Rev. Rev. 17:9-10+). The ten horns are ten kings (Rev. Rev. 17:12+ cf. Dan. Dan. 7:7, Dan. 7:20, Dan. 7:24). See commentary on Revelation 12:3 and Revelation 13:1. In order to understand what this chapter reveals concerning the Beast, the seven heads, and its ten horns, see Beasts, Heads, and Horns.