The one-world religion described in Revelation 17:1–18 as “the great harlot” will be part of the end-times scenario. The term harlot is used throughout the Old Testament as a metaphor for false religion. The actual identity and makeup of the religion has been debated for centuries and has resulted in a number of different views among Bible commentators and theologians. There are convincing arguments for the one world religion being Catholicism, Islam, the New Age movement, or some form of religion not even invented yet, and an internet search will produce many more possibilities and theories. There is no doubt that some sort of one-world religion under the false prophet will be a part of the end times, perhaps made up of a number of different religions, sects, and isms that are around today.
Revelation 17:1–18 gives us several characteristics of the one-world religion. The false religion will dominate all the “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” of the earth (Revelation 1b, 15), meaning that it will have universal authority, no doubt given by the Antichrist, who rules the world at that time. Verses 2–3 describe the harlot as committing adultery with the “kings of the earth,” referring to the false religion’s influence among the world’s rulers and influential people. The reference to being drunk with the wine of her adulteries may refer to those who are drunk with the power they receive from worshiping the false god of the false religion. Satan frequently ensnares those whose lust for power drives them away from the worship of the true and living God. The alliances forged by the false religion will unite church and state as never before.
Verse 6 describes the harlot as being “drunk with the blood of the saints” and the blood of those who testify of Jesus. Whether they will be martyred at the hand of the Antichrist or by being systematically starved, believers who are on the earth during the tribulation will experience the wrath of the harlot and her power source, the Antichrist. Those who oppose the worldwide religion will be killed, and those who refuse to worship the Antichrist by accepting his mark will be unable to buy and sell, thereby making survival very difficult (Revelation 13:16–17).
Eventually, the harlot will lose favor with the Antichrist, who will want to receive the world’s worship for himself. He will not share the adoration of the world with the prophets and priests of the false religion, no matter how obsequious or fawning they may be. Once the Antichrist gains the world’s amazed attention by his miraculous return from the dead (Revelation 13:3, 12, 14), he will turn on the false religious system and destroy it, establishing himself as God. The deception, Jesus tells us, will be so great that, if it were possible, even the elect would fall for it (Matthew 24:24).