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In the past, we have been taught that this refers to the Roman Catholic Church. Yet, does this truly refer only to a church, or is it something more politically, economically, and militarily powerful and influential? Notice her identification contains the name "Mystery." (I Corinthians 2:7-9 also uses this term.)
A biblical mystery is something that God must reveal for one to understand. It is not something right on the surface that anybody looking into Revelation can stumble across and quickly understand. This Woman's identification is not something easily seen. Of "mystery," William Barclay's The Letters to the Corinthians says: "The Greek word musterion means something whose meaning is hidden from those who have not been initiated, but crystal clear to those who have" (p. 26). Thus, commentaries are of virtually no help in identifying the Woman of these chapters.
Protestant biblical commentators pay little or no attention to the end-time twelve tribes of Israel. To them, that Israel does not exist! Conversely, evangelical writers and a few mainstream groups focus exclusively on the tiny nation of Israel in the Middle East. However, the Mystery Woman of Revelation 17 and 18 is much more than what that nation displays.
Commentators wholly disregard God's promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to make Israel into a populous, powerhouse nation both physically and spiritually—promises that affect both race and grace. Ignoring the race aspect altogether, they teach that the promises of grace were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
However, God, as a blessing to His church, revealed the knowledge of the end-time location of Israel to Herbert Armstrong through other men who were seeking to find the "lost ten tribes." God did this so the church can make better sense of what is happening regarding the fulfillment of prophecy as the return of Christ approaches. In Daniel 12:10, God promises that the wise would understand, and the wise are those who keep the ways of the Lord (Hosea 14:9).
Almost all Protestants claim, as Herbert Armstrong did, that the Woman is the Roman Catholic Church, against which they have a prejudice. But Revelation 17 and 18 are a continued revelation of the same Woman, Israel, who appears in chapter 12!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Five): The Great Harlot