So much of the interpretation of these chapters depends on (a) how to apply the Old Testament allusions, (b) how literal the reader should be, and (c) the chronology of events.
Back in Zechariah 4, there was a vision of a woman in a basket being taken to Babylon where a temple to idolatry was set up. It was a vision, not a literal activity. If Revelation 17 alludes to a vision like that, should we expect the Babylon of Revelation 17 or 18 to be a literal place or symbolic of idolatry, worldliness, or something else? Since the ancient city of Babylon no longer exists, some interpreters would insist that it will be physically rebuilt at some point in the future.
It rather seems that as we approach the climax of history in these final chapters we need to try to be “big” in our thoughts. The Babylon of chapter 17 represents the whole sum of idolatry, values, fashions and trends that are “the world” – and it would seem from the end of chapter 17 that it will actually implode; society destroying itself as God delivers people over to themselves (in Romans 1 & 2 terms). Under the sovereign control of God, Babylon is destroyed seemingly by itself. The nations mourn its loss, God’s people are told to withdraw, and meanwhile heaven rejoices.
Why does heaven rejoice? Because this collapse marks the vindication of God, his righteous judgement, and also the end – the time for the marriage of the Lamb to his bride. Literalists berate others for “over-complicating” or “over-spiritualizing,” and yet terms like “Lamb” and “bride” are so symbolic as to demand that we be exceedingly careful over being “over-literal.”
But we have come to the point we’ve been waiting for: Jesus’ return! There are some lovely pointers here back to the letters to the churches. Jesus is called “Faithful and True” (Laodicea), has eyes like blazing fire (Thyatira), and his words are a sword (Pergamum). How wonderful! This same Jesus who knows his churches and walks among them is the one who will one day return to claim his bride. And what of the persecutors? They will be destroyed in an utterly one-sided affair. How can the creature destroy the Creator?
But we need to note that the beast and the false prophet are particularly singled out as being thrown into the lake of fire. I mention that because it’s important when we think about the vexing millennium of chapter 20.