Just as the identities of the Beast, his mark, and the false prophet have resulted in much speculation, the same may be said for the identity of the "great whore that sitteth upon many waters" in Revelation 17:1 - 18:24. She is described as a woman without morals, who commits fornication with the kings of the earth (17:2-3), and is "arrayed in purple and scarlet colour and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication" (17:4). Even her name, written upon her forehead, shows her identity is meant to be hidden: "MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH" (17:5).
"Mystery" is translated from the Greek μυστήριον (mystērion), a derivative of muo, meaning "to shut the mouth." In other words, it is something that is hidden until it is revealed. The word appears in twenty-two New Testament verses, and describes, among other things, the secret nature of the kingdom, the blindness of Israel, the death of the Messiah, the Church, the Rapture, and Christ's Second Coming. Mystery, like prophecy, involves two factors: information and time. In the case of mystery in the Bible, God does not reveal information to some or all of mankind until He is good and ready. When that time comes, those intended to know what has been kept secret, will know. Ultimately, everyone will know, but for the majority of humanity, it will be too late.
Getting back to the "great whore," Revelation 17:1 says she is seated "upon many waters." These waters are defined for us in verse fifteen as being "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues." Whoever she is, she is being supported, at least at first, by the whole world's population. We know this by comparing a similar phrase used to describe the worldwide reaction to the death of the two witnesses (Rev. 11:7-10). It could be that she is even accepted by Israel prior to their eyes being opened half way through the Tribulation; if so, there is no way she represents a worldwide religion. At some time during the Seventieth Week of Daniel (Dan. 9:24-27), however, she transfers from sitting on the population of the world, to riding on the Beast having "seven heads and ten horns" (17:3, 7).
It is at this point that John tells us much about the "scarlet coloured" Beast (17:3, 8-17). He apparently lives, dies, and then his dead body is made alive again by being possessed by a demon spirit who ascends out of the bottomless pit (17:8). As I have suggested before, it seems reasonable to believe he is dead for three and a half days before his body appears to live again. Another reason for believing he is dead for that length of time is the fact that God has "outdone" His opponents throughout history. The "miracle" done by Satan is doubled by the Lord raising the two witnesses in Revelation 11:11, just as the rod of Moses devoured the serpents of Pharaoh's men (Ex. 7:8-12). I mention that example because, some time later, the saints in heaven, which certainly includes the two witnesses, sing in victory "the song of Moses" (Rev. 15:3). To be continued.