We are told that in chapter 17 of the Apocalypse, the angel took John into a wilderness, and John said he was in the spirit (Revelation 17:3). In other words this was not a physical experience for John. The angel brought him into a wilderness in vision (cp. Ezekiel 11:34). Moreover, the text says that John saw a woman and a beast. He described the beast as scarlet in color, having seven heads and ten horns, and it was also full of the names of blasphemy.
The fact that the woman sits upon the beast in no way means she controls it. A man or woman sitting upon a horse, for example, does, indeed, control the animal, causing it to go this way or that, to gallop or to stop. This is not so, as it pertains to the great harlot who sits upon the beast. The context of Revelation 17:3 is that the great harlot prefers to trust in the power and influence of the beast rather than to trust God and submit to him. Instead, the great harlot has permitted the beast with all its names of blasphemy to influence and mold her, instead of her, through the influence of the Scriptures and a godly example, affecting and molding the behavior of the beast.
John’s description of the beast, indeed, mentions seven heads and ten horns, but he doesn’t say whether a single head has ten horns, or if a total of ten horns grows out of the whole seven. Moreover, he tells us that the woman’s attire is purple and scarlet in color, and she is decked out with gold, precious stones and pearls (Revelation 17:4). In a story Jesus told in Luke 16:19-31, the rich man was clothed in purple! Moreover, in Exodus 28:1-5 we are told that garments of the high priest of the Jews were purple and scarlet in color. The curtains of the Temple were also purple and scarlet (Exodus 26:1). The high priest’s ephod, which he wore while judging Israel was purple and scarlet (Exodus 39:2), and it was arrayed with twelve precious stones.
It seems to me that such a coincidence should not be overlooked as we consider the identification of the great harlot. Just as the righteous woman of Revelation 12 brought forth the man child who was to rule the world, so the unrighteous harlot of Revelation 17 was the mother of harlots and abominations (Revelation 17:5). If the woman of Revelation 12 was righteous Israel who brought forth the Messiah, so it is logical to conclude the great harlot was unrighteous Israel who persecuted the righteous (Revelation 17:6).
In the woman’s hand was a golden cup, which John tells us was full of the abominations and filthiness of her fornication. But, what does this mean? In Revelation 17:2 we were told that the kings of the earth committed fornication with the great harlot. Whatever this means, it is described as wine, which has made the ‘inhabitants of the earth’ drunk. Earlier, I had identified the inhabitants of the earth as the common Jewish people all over the world, but especially those in Palestine. Drinking wine will cause one’s behavior to change for good or for evil. If too much wine is drunk, that one would inevitably stumble and fall. The picture John is giving us is that the high priestly rulers of the Jews have covenanted with gentile rulers for protection. This covenant is further described as fornication, meaning the great harlot had abandoned her covenantal relationship with the Lord in order to be ruled and protected by a fleshy source. How this played out in history is described as wine, which changed the behavior of the whole Jewish nation. Through the example and teaching of their rulers, the people served the physical rather than the spiritual. They could not serve two masters, so they served the gentiles and abandoned their God.
The great harlot is called Mystery Babylon the Great, and is described as the “mother of harlots” in Revelation 17:5. The name shows she is called “Babylon” in a spiritual sense, not a literal sense, so Babylon, here, is not the Babylon in Mesopotamia. Although she is similar to the literal Babylon, she is not that Babylon. As the mother of harlots, she is a fountain or spring (Revelation 16:4) of evil. A fountain is often the “mother” or source of a river, so if the fountain is evil, so is its river. The point is Spiritual Babylon the Great is the source of all the evil and abominations of the earth (Revelation 17:5). Paul mentioned in 2Thessalonians 2:7 that the mystery of lawlessness was already at work, and would be restrained only as long as (Paul) was free and able to do so. So, that mystery of lawlessness—the abominations of the earth, if you will—was present in the early church, seeking to influence the Church of God in the way it was able to influence the whole world (cp. Revelation 17:2).
 See my earlier study: The Wine of Her Fornication