The book of Revelation speaks of two witnesses who preach during the great tribulation period. You can read about this in Revelation 11:3-12. I will quote these verses here in full using the NASB:
“And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.” (Revelation 11:3-6)
“When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. Those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days, and will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.” (Revelation 11:7-10)
“But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet; and great fear fell upon those who were watching them. And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here ” Then they went up into heaven in the cloud, and their enemies watched them.” (Revelation 11:11-12)
We know from Revelation 11:3 that these two witnesses prophesy for exactly 1260 days (exactly 3.5 years based on a 360-day Jewish year). This is without a doubt a literal 3.5 years, based on Revelation 11:2 which lists 3.5 years as “forty-two months” (furthermore, the 3.5 years in Revelation 11:2 appears to coincide with the 3.5 years in Revelation 11:3 and I think it makes sense that it does). In other words, based on Revelation 11:2-3, the book of Daniel’s method of interpreting prophetic references to a day as being equal to a year does not apply here. We should take the time periods denoted in Revelation 11:2-3 as literal.
In verse 7, these witnesses are killed. Then, “after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet … and … they went up into heaven in the cloud”. Thus, these witnesses are resurrected and raptured. Note carefully what happens. They are resurrected – like the “dead in Christ” are in 1 Thessalonians 4:16b – and they are raptured – like “we who are alive and remain” are in 1 Thessalonians 4:17a. This is truly a unique situation that is not found anywhere else in Scripture. For example, in the case of Enoch, he is “raptured” but he is not resurrected (because he never dies). The same holds true for Elijah. The same holds true for all of the believers at the rapture. But, for some reason, these two witnesses receive “special treatment” over and above what the others do who become Christians and are killed during the great tribulation period (Revelation 20:4). My question is, why?
Those who become Christians during the great tribulation period do not receive their bodies back until after the tribulation period has ended. This is obvious from Revelation 20:4, which reads, “I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshipped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4b). The context of this passage is after the great tribulation has finished.
But these two witnesses are given special favour. They are resurrected clearly before the great tribulation period has finished. How do we know? Because just after they are raptured, we read, “there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven” (Revelation 11:13). There is no reference to the tribulation period being over here, and there is no reference to any of these others who are killed during the tribulation period being resurrected here – only the two witnesses.
After they are raptured, we read, “The second woe is past; behold, the third woe is coming quickly.” (Revelation 11:14)
So more judgments follow. The tribulation period is not over yet. Yet these two witnesses have been raptured. It seems a little unfair to the rest, who have wait to receive their bodies, until you consider that perhaps these two very special witnesses were already believers before the great tribulation began (and hence, before the rapture began). Then, everything falls into place, because it would mean that they actually merited being raptured along with the others, because they were believers in advance, but were “held over on special assignment from the Lord”.
Now when a person is held over on special assignment at their place of work, for exactly how long are they held over? The answer is quite plain and obvious. They are held over only until their special assignment is complete. How long then is this, in the case of these two special witnesses? Their special assignment is complete exactly three-and-a-half days after they die. Why three-and-a-half days? Probably to parallel how long their Lord was in the tomb after He was brutally killed – and the Lord wants to use this to bring conviction upon the entire earth. The “half day” added to the three days may be to make sure that everyone knows that they have been dead for at least three days to parallel what Jesus said about His body being in the tomb for “three days and three nights.”
I can only imagine the news headlines blasting around the world at that time:
“Two men rise from the dead after three days!”
And then, conviction! As you know, headlines travel fast. It would not take more than a few minutes before the news spread around the world! No wonder the next line says, “And in that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.” (Revelation 11:13, emphasis added)
Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. Now, someone is finally deciding to listen.
Those two witnesses will be used of God powerfully, indeed.
The two witnesses are deserving of being raptured, because they qualified in advance. They were Christians prior to the great tribulation period (and thus prior to the rapture). But they were held over on special assignment from the Lord.