My Sunday school class has been reading through the book of Revelation. I was recently asked to teach a lesson and it happened to fall on Revelation 17 which introduces the Harlot of Babylon. I prepared for the lesson by reading through several commentaries on the subject and noticed something they all have in common: they all claim the Harlot is the Roman Catholic Church. Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible says, for example, “The image here is that of papal Rome, represented as an abandoned woman in gorgeous attire, alluring by her arts the nations of the earth, and seducing them into all kinds of pollution and abomination.”
Of those commentaries that hold this opinion, I notice that they become fixated on Catholic Church and see that Church in every detail:
The purple and scarlet... it's the Catholic Church
The pearls and precious stones... it's the Catholic Church.
The golden cup full of abominations... it's the Catholic Church.
There's an old saying that when you're a hammer, everything else looks like a nail. When you allow yourself to become locked into one way of thinking, you suddenly have the same solution for everything. In this case, as these commentaries try to interpret the details of the rest of the chapter, all they can see is the Catholic Church.
Now I concede that a lot of the details seem to fit the Catholic Church but it would be rather pragmatic to insist that it is the Catholic Church just because it fits some of the details. When the Bible is ambiguous, it means to be ambiguous and I think there is great danger in advancing one interpretation of an ambiguous passage as though it is doctrine.
There are a lot of things I disagree with Catholics about but I am not a person who believes that no Catholic is saved. Concerning this passage, I must say one thing in defense of the Catholics. There is a very significant event that will happen between now and the time of Revelation that will fundamentally change the complexion of the Catholic Church. No commentary that I've read has factored this event into their theory. That event is the Rapture!
Think about this for a moment: Presently, in the Catholic Church, we have a world-wide, very affluent, religious organization seated in Rome. After the Rapture, we will have a world-wide, very affluent, religious organization seated in Rome – entirely comprised of people who aren't Christians! The Catholic Church at that time is not the same Catholic Church that exists now. It can't be. So even if the Catholic Church turns out to be the harlot in question, it's not the Catholic Church that the commentaries are attacking now.
Could the Catholic Church be the harlot of Revelation 17? Maybe. It fits the description. But the Bible isn't absolutely clear about it so therefore, I have to remain open minded. Maybe it is or maybe it isn't.
There are some things the Bible is absolutely clear about. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). That's very clear. If someone ever asked me if Muslims can go to heaven, I can say with certainty they cannot. If someone asks me if the Catholic Church is the Harlot of Babylon, I have to answer, “I don't know.”
As you do your own study on the subject, no doubt you will come across the same opinions that I've heard expressed. When you do, ask yourself if they are taking the Rapture into consideration as they point a finger at the Catholic Church. If they don't at least mention that there will be no Christians among the Catholics at that time, they are painting an unfair picture of the Catholic Church.
Remember, only the Bible is infallible. All other opinions are suspect.