John is clearly writing to the seven churches and consequently to people being persecuted by Rome. Rome was a blood-thirsty, pagan empire that oppressed its people, especially Christians, who were considered criminals and slaves and used for sadistic entertainment. Rome was extremely corrupt and fell because of it. Thus, the imagery of Rome in this passage may be referring to the persecution and martyrdom the early Christians faced in life under Rome, either as illustration or as the principle point. In addition, this is a template for how evil and its power operates in the past, present as well as in the future. This is also leading to its future, its self destruction. Rome at this time gave away food to appease its citizens while they enticed them with sins and heinous amusements of people being slaughtered in arenas. Placating to Rome gave one privileges; standing up to it gave one death or the loss of land and rights. The issue before the Church was compromise and loyalty—would their allegiance be to a prostitute Rome, to Christ, or to what? Some theologians have suggested that “Babylon” referred to apostate Jerusalem, but there is little Jewish evidence for that. The principle arguments against Jerusalem as the subject matter of this passage is that it does not sit on many waters nor did it reign over other nations at this time!
The main issue at stake is compromise and how we seek to rationalize our sins as OK, ignoring our Lord, and doing as we please. This is the way of the world that leads to judgment and condemnation. In Christ, there is no condemnation but there is still the choice to do as we please in our Christian lives, which I called “liberty.” He still loves us, but are we going astray in our churches and personal lives? Are we seeking out the harlot and not Him? Remember, this letter is to Christians who are misleading their churches!