17:1 great whore. The “great whore” is obviously a symbolic woman, since she is riding on a symbolic “beast” (Revelation 17:3), who in turn is said to be sitting on “many waters,” which are then explained as “peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues” (Revelation 17:15). Thus both the waters and the beast represent the nations of the world, upon which the whore rides into prominence and influence.
The word “whore” is the Greek porne (also rendered “harlot” in Revelation 17:5), and is closely related to porneia (fornication) and pornos (“fornicator” or “whoremonger”). It actually refers to anyone involved in sex outside of normal marriage. Often it is used in a symbolic sense to refer to anyone who worships and serves other “gods” than the true God and Creator. The latter is the primary theme here, although the two—that is physical fornication and spiritual fornication—commonly go together.