"... God’s son gives life to whom He is pleased to give it." (John 5:21)

"For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so God’s son gives life to whom He is pleased to give it." (John 5:21)

What does 'raises the dead' mean?

Jesus is not talking about raising a dead physical body into a living physical body. This is a misnomer created by those who identify with their temporary physical bodies. 

We are not these temporary physical bodies. The physical body is operable for a few decades, and then it dies, and the living spirit (the spirit-person) leaves the body.

This is why Jesus also said:
"Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." (John 3:6)
"The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life." (John 6:63)
"I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him." (Luke 12:4-5)
In the last statement, Jesus is talking about what happens to the person once the body is killed. If the body is killed, and the person can still go to hell, who can go to hell? And who can go to heaven after the body is killed?

Many sectarian teachers have taught over the centuries that the dead body somehow rises up from the grave at the second coming. This is simply fantasy. It has no reality. Have they ever seen a body that was buried even a year or two previous, not to speak of decades or hundreds of years? The body completely decomposes. The bones might decompose a bit slower, but they still decompose. Those ancient bones we find sometimes in archeological digs have been extraordinarily preserved: Most bones completely decompose within a few decades.

So are these sectarian teachers saying that we are these rotting, decomposing flesh and bones, and the decomposed matter (most of it digested within worms) will somehow rise up and dance on their graves? This is unscientific and unrealistic.

The reality is that Jesus clearly taught that we are not the physical body. Even Jesus' more remote followers (such as Paul, who was not a direct disciple of Jesus) understood that we are not these physical bodies:
"And I know that this man-whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows-" (2 Corinthians 12:3)
So as Jesus speaks of how God raises the dead, he is speaking of raising the spirit (the person) from a self-centered life of emptiness to a life of loving service to God. It is God Who ultimately allows each of us (spiritual individuals) to return to Him and have life. This is also, by the way, the true meaning of being "born again" (a term literally translated as "born from above" according to the Greek).

Here Jesus is speaking of God's ability to purify us and bring us home to Him. The term "raises the dead and gives them life" refers to God giving Jesus the ability to "gives life to whom He is pleased to give it.".

How does Jesus 'give life'?

Jesus is stating that because he is God's loving servant and representative, he can bring people back to God. This is because God has empowered Jesus to do so. 

Even still, it is only by God's will that this happens.

The Greek word used here is θέλω (thelō), which means to wish or desire. Is Jesus referring to his own desire or wishes to raise the dead - bringing us home to God? No. He is talking about God's wishes. He is talking about God's will. How do we know this? Consider a couple of other very important statements that Jesus made:
"For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50)
“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:22)
Both of these statements illustrate that doing God's will - or pleasing God - is Jesus' life, and the goal of life. Why would Jesus, God's representative, suddenly want to do his own will? We know also that Jesus considered that he had a oneness with God. This oneness is a oneness of will. Jesus' will was serving God: doing God's will. That creates a oneness between them.

Why? Because Jesus loves God. They have a loving relationship. Jesus is not God. He is God's intimate loving servant, and it is by seeing and being able to enter that relationship that we, too, can be "raised from the dead."