Jesus had several disturbing things to say of the seven churches in the book of Revelation chapters two and three. They are so disturbing that many Christians find it difficult to apply the warnings to Christians. When we apply such verses to unbelievers, we throw away God’s admonitions to His children – which are directly related to helping us get ready for Christ’s coming. For example:
“Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Rev. 2:16).
“Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works” (Rev. 2:22-23).
“Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee” (Rev. 3:3).
“So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:16 ).
These things are so severe that many believers assume that Jesus must be speaking to the unsaved in the churches. Jesus cannot be speaking to the unregenerate. Each of the letters is addressed to an angel of a church, and the name of the local church’s city is given that will receive the message. When the New Testament refers to a church, does it refer to a building where people gather (a meaning commonly used today), or does it refer to a group of called-out people who have confessed Christ?
Let’s say we have a group of one hundred people. Fifty are atheists. Fifty are Christians. All are meeting in a single room. Let us also say that Christ wishes to address the church in that area. Who are the words addressed to? The saved or the unsaved in the room? If His words were a blessing, we would say, “the saved people.” But if the message were a warning, should we answer, “the unsaved”? If we change the meaning of church depending on the positive or negative contents of the message, we may be interpreting a passage according to a theological bias.
The church is always the church. The definition does not change based on the content of the message addressed to the church. The severe warnings are addressed to the saved, that we may turn in fear from sins that God will severely judge at the judgment.