The Preterist view: They see this passage as referring to first century Rome; the harlot is Rome, representing its sin, and the consequences of its sin leading to its judgment and downfall. This passage gives greater details that have taken place in chapter 16. They see the scarlet beast as the same beast of the sea in Chapter 13, namely Rome. The scarlet is the blood that was spilt by the devastation upon Jerusalem. A few in this camp see this as Jerusalem, and the giving of the events when Rome destroyed it in 70 A.D. Of all the key words in this passage that allude to Rome, one is also used for Jerusalem, the “great city.” Thus, others in this camp see Rome depicted as destroying and not being the one judged. Also, harlot is sometimes used for apostasy of the priests and kings of Israel (Is. 1:21; 57:8; Jer. 2:20).The usage of terms in this chapter is a good argument for this position in general.
The Futurist view: They see this passage as the Catholic Church or the rise of an “antichrist” figure causing apostasy in the Church. Many see that Babylon will be rebuilt or the Roman Empire rising up again, the sacrificial system restored, and the need for the “red heifer” to atone for peoples sins. All this is happening at the close of the tribulation as the wicked rise up for one last volley against God, setting up the world for Christ’s return. Because Revelation is not necessarily in a chronological order, many in this camp have a hard time with this passage. Most say it is describing events prior to the judgment Bowls, and many see the seventh bowl as Christ’s second coming. There is a lot of discussion of at what point in the tribulation this all takes place. Most see Babylon as The Roman Catholic Church, a new Roman empire rising up, or a new, corrupt, religious system. Some see this as the reprising of the Vatican or it becoming more corrupted then ever before, mostly due to the description of dress of the harlot seen as priestly garments. Some have said the harlot could be apostate Christians who say they are serving Christ but are really serving other gods, or the decay of society as people “pimp” themselves to immorality and false gods. Others say that this harlot is the sum total of the pagan influences upon the world that the “antichrist” uses or develops for his purposes. The beast is seen the same as in chapter thirteen, but now showing her support, or else the political power behind the “antichrist.” Drunk is seen as the cruelty and bloodshed from the “antichrist.”
The Idealist view: They see this passage as the evils of the world, its corruption, and its consequential influences upon the Church. Babylon is anything that causes people to seek sin, be seduced by evil, or fight against God. Ancient Babylon is seen as the template for evil governments, their wickedness, and their oppression. Adultery is seen as the ruins of Roman providences, seeking the favor of Rome by evil acts. Others see it as the vices of Rome that led to its downfall. Wilderness is seen as the “detachment” of Christianity from civilization such as the monastic movements, or the lack of Christian influence in the governments. The scarlet beast, as the same beast of the sea in Chapter 13, is seen as Satan. The dressed in purple is the prostitution of Rome and how it led the men to further wickedness and apathy. The harlot is Rome and its depravity that led to its self destruction. Others see it as anything that distracts one from God—the lust of the world. Drunk is seen as the indulgences of Rome and/or how they persecuted the Church, and the blood that was on their hands because of it, such as Nero.
The Historicist view: They see this passage as the fall of the Catholic Church and the corrupt papal system, as the true Church gains victory. They see this chapter as giving extra insights of the events of chapter 16 and of the Turks and Muslim invaders too. Each of these key words is seen as descriptions of the Roman Catholic Church. Wilderness is seen as “Campagna,” the desert area that surrounds the city of Rome where the Vatican is. Ten horn and beast are the persecutions to the faithful by the papacy. Scarlet refers to the priests—their vestments and their pompousness. The Mother Harlot is seen as Pope Benedict the 13th. Others see this as the apostate churches that have spouted since the Reformation, such as liberalism. Cup and forehead refer to the papal indulgences prior to the Reformation, and causing the faithful to worship what is false or hidden from their sight, and languages, as the Mass was behind a veil in being spoken in Latin. Drunk is seen as bloody persecutions of the Medieval Period and the martyrs who tried to reform the Church, such as Wycliffe. (Some accounts have reported the slaughter of millions—up to 50 million faithful Christians by the papacy during the period of the fall of Rome and the Reformation.)