Although elements of the explanation unpacked in your question detail are popular amongst certain denominations and schools of thought, I don’t believe this view is supported by the context and structure of the prophecy containing this vision, namely the unsealed scroll prophecy, starting at ch 10. If you will indulge me in a rather long (albeit thorough) answer...
Immediate context of the prostitute vision
The immediate context of this vision is the declarations of the 3 angels found in Revelation 14:
6 Then I saw another angel flying in mid-air, and he had the eternal
gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation,
tribe, language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and
give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him
who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.’ 8
A second angel followed and said, ‘“Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the
Great,” which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her
adulteries.’ 9 A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice:
‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on
their forehead or on their hand, 10 they, too, will drink the wine of
God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his
These announcements form three ‘headings’ in chiastic form (see section on structure of the prophecy, below) which are unpacked in the ensuing narrative:
Angel 1’s message
- Fear God because the hour of judgement has come.
- Unpacked in 14:14 – 16:21 (the two angels with the two harvesting sickles, and the 7 plagues)
Angel 2’s message
- Fallen is Babylon the Great
- This is our vision of the prostitute and the account of her demise (17:1 – 19:10).
Angel 3’s message
- Judgement to anyone who worships the beast
- This is elaborated in 19:11 – 21.
Greater context of the prostitute vision
The greater context of these announcements is the vision of the second scroll, which begins at ch 10. It is worth noting various features of this second prophecy (10:11), the first being the sealed scroll of ch 5 ff.
The bones of the passage where the scroll is given to John (Rev ch 10):
10 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven… 2 He was
holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand... When he
shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke. 4 And when the seven
thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven
say, ‘Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it
down.’ 5 Then the angel … said, ‘There will be no more delay! 7 But in
the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the
mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his
servants the prophets.’
This vision is given on an open scroll, signifying the present outworking of its prophecy: “There will be no more delay!” (v 6). However, the “seven thunders” are still sealed, indicating that they are still some time off. The "seven thunders" is the collective singular portent of coming judgement, inserted into Revelation as a kind of refrain. Collective singulars are frequent in Revelation, e.g. the 7 spirits (1:4), the 7 lampstands (1:12), the 7 stars (1:16), etc.):
From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of
…and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and
See Rev 11:19b, 16:18a and 19:6a for the other refrains.
Note the connection between sealing/unsealing a scroll and the implications for its contents:
Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this
scroll, because the time is near.
But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the
time of the end.
(The "thunder" in ch 6 is more 'thunder-like': "... in a voice like thunder..." (6:1). The 'quartad' of judgements in this chapter is already opened, i.e. occurring in the here and now. There are a couple of other occurrences of the word ‘thunder’, but they do not have the same refrain-like quality in context, e.g. Rev 14:2.)
Overall message of the second (open scroll) prophecy, containing the prostitute vision
But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet,
the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his
servants the prophets.
This mystery is revealed at the sounding of the seventh trumpet:
The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in
heaven, which said: ‘The kingdom of the world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
and he will reign for ever and ever.’
The use of "loud voices" highlights this section of the narrative.
Overall structure of the open scroll prophecy
Formally, this prophecy is chiastic. For the sake of brevity, I won’t substantiate in cases where my chiasm headings have involved a measure of interpretation:
A: The measuring (i.e. the admiring of measurements and ratios) of the temple (the seat of God’s glory and the heart of Jerusalem) but excluding the outer courts (and, by implication, the rest of the city)
B: The defeat of God’s prophets by the beast from the abyss and the gloating of those who are pro-beast; prophets lie dead in Jerusalem but are then resurrected and called up to God.
C: The 7th trumpet; the mystery of God announced
D: Three character pairs
a: The woman & her child(ren)
b: The dragon & his beasts
aʹ: The Lamb & his 144 000
Dʹ: Three messages of judgement
a: Judgement has come
b: Fallen is Babylon
aʹ: Judgement of those pro-beast
Cʹ: The 7 bowls of wrath, introduced by the two angels harvesting the earth, following which Dʹ plays out
Bʹ: The seizing of the dragon (note the dragon/beast interchangeability in the narrative, alla the Lion/Lamb of ch 5) and locking away in the abyss; the defeating of the beast, dragon and those pro-beast
Aʹ: The measuring and admiring of the New Jerusalem, which now has cubic dimensions like the inner temple in A would have had, looks a lot like a priestly breastplate but including the names of the tribes of Israel and the apostles, and extends to include the whole city.
Looking at this structure, we can note that the vision is not linear in its timeline at all, but is focused on showing the hearer the ways in which the kingdom of the world gets turned on its head (or rather reverted to its rightful position) through the final judgement of God, highlighted by the structural interjection of the 7 bowls, inserted between the announcement and effecting of the 3 angels’ decrees.
The vision of the prostitute
So where does this all leave us in determining the meaning of the prostitute vision?
From the vision itself (ch 17), we can see that the prostitute embodies:
- Materialism (17:4)
- Excessive luxury at the cost of human lives (17:4; 18:13)
- Sexual immorality (17:4b)
- The pursuit and persecution of God’s people (17:6)
- An attitude of complete rebellion against God (17:3b [by extension/association])
- The celebration of everything evil (18:2)
- She is associated with many nations (17:1,2 & 15)
- She sexually corrupts king and subject alike (17:2)
- She is supported by a beast (17:3b)
- Her name, "Babylon the Great" (17:5) is mysterious in nature and references the ancient culture of the same name that epitomised an evil society in opposition to God. Babylon is "great" and "a mystery" because unlike the original Babylon, it represents many nations geographically (17:15) and through time (17:10,11)
- She is a representation of the evil culture of the current ruling authority, Rome (17:18). Bear in mind, though, that the beast she rides (from which she derives her political authority: the kings and crowns all emanate from the beast) is currently 'offline' from John and his audiences’ perspective, so this is by no means her ultimate political manifestation (see below).
Regarding the beast that underpins her:
- It sports seven heads and ten horns (17:3), just like the beast of ch 13 – but also just like the dragon of ch 10.
- It comes up out of the abyss (17:8) – the same place where Satan is bound and from whence he will emerge at the end (20:7).
- It was, is not (at time of John's writing), but will come up out of the abyss and go to its destruction at the end (17:8).
- Its 7 horns represent 5 past kings, one present ruler (at time of writing), and one future ruler (17:10).
- The beast itself (currently ‘offline’ at time of writing) is an eighth ruler who will rule with the final 10 kings for a short time (“one hour”; 17:12) before its destruction (17:11).
- The ten 11th hour kings will yield to the beast-king and together will kill the prostitute, an allusion to a final time marked by everything that she stands against: global peace; equality; morality; fair distribution of resources; an apparent acknowledgement of God and of good; and an apparent rejection of everything evil. (17:16; Compare this killing of the prostitute to the “powerful delusion” sent to mislead people in 2 Thess 2, notably vs 11.)
Regarding the immediate context of the vision:
- Her destruction happens quickly (18:8, 10, 17 & 19).
- There appears to be an ideological/cultural destruction of her values, pictured symbolically by the kings' burning of her and eating of her flesh (17:16) as well as a material destruction of her cities through God’s plagues (18:8).
- However, the emphasis is on her physical destruction (the second angel’s message in ch 14 is sandwiched between announcements of judgement).
Regarding the greater context (the unsealed scroll vision):
- Her physical destruction, and the ending of all the anti-God ideals for which she stands, is central to the judgement from God on the world which results in the turnaround from ‘kingdom of this world’ to ‘kingdom of our Lord’ (see chiastic structure above).
The prostitute, therefore, rather than representing the Pope or Catholicism in general, stands for the materialistic, hedonistic, immoral, excessive, persecuting ideologies and accompanying cultures that have infiltrated and consumed nations across the ages, bringing destruction and suffering to so many, including the worshippers of the Lamb. Her destruction, both culturally and materially, are key to the renewal and transformation of the world from being a place belonging to the earthly powers that underpin worldly societies, fueled by Satan, to a place that manifests the kingdom of God and shines with his glory, peace and love.