Jesus continues his teaching of his disciples. But, as we expect from the Saviour, his teaching is not a detached impartation of knowledge. He feels for his pupils. He is aware of what the future will hold for them, a knowledge that is revealed in his description of the soon denial of Peter. So as he begins to describe the kind of lifestyle he wants them to live after he has parted from then, he commences with a very endearing description of them: ‘Little children.’ He speaks to them in a manner similar to how a mother would address her infants.
As David Brown observed, ‘From the height of His own glory He now descends, with sweet pity, to His “little children,” all now His own. This term of endearment, nowhere else used in the Gospels, and once only employed by Paul (Gal 4:19), is appropriated by the beloved disciple himself, who no fewer than seven times employs it in his first Epistle.’
Jesus’ use of this description reveals how he saw his own role towards them. As with endangered little children, they needed to be protected; as with ignorant little children, they needed to be instructed. We can imagine him looking around at each of their faces, all of them so very dear to him. He was aware that they would miss him, that they would seek for him. But where he was going they would not be able to go for a long time. ‘As their friend and guide, as a man, he felt deeply at the thoughts of parting from them, and leaving them to a cold and unfeeling world’ (Albert Barnes).