After Iscariot left the table, the Master said His farewells to the men who had followed Him over the course of the last several years. “My little children, I am with you a little while longer,” He told them (John 13:33). Disciples of a sage considered their rabbi as their spiritual father and head of household, and the sage considered his disciples to be his spiritual sons.
Ordinarily, Yeshua steered away from the father-son language when describing His relationship with His disciples. He often admonished them to become like little children and to regard God as their heavenly father. On other occasions, He referred to the disciples as “children,” but He did not refer to them as “my children.” Instead, He told them, “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven” (Mathew 23:9).
In this instance, Yeshua directly referred to His disciples as His children. In the context of the family Passover Seder meal, He performed the role of the father at the table, and His disciples participated as the children. Moreover, by addressing His disciples as “my little children,” Yeshua signaled the beginning of His farewell discourse: John 13:31-17:26.
Farewell discourses in the Bible and Jewish literature follow a consistent pattern. A father gathers his children (or a spiritual leader gathers his followers) and announces that he is about to die. His children express sorrow and dismay, but he encourages them to be strong and courageous. He reiterates significant life events and interprets their meaning. He directs his children to follow the commandments and keep the Torah. He expresses his love for his children and instructs them not to quarrel but to love one another and strive toward unity. He warns them about particular vices and temptations. He predicts the future and warns his children about trials and difficulties to come. He promises them that God will protect them so long as they remain faithful, and he encourages them not to worry. He might pick a successor. Finally, he closes with blessing or prayer. The Master’s last discourse in John 13-17 follows most of the farewell conventions.
In the farewell discourse, Yeshua communicates His “realized eschatology.” That is to say, He explains to the disciples how they will experience the kingdom of heaven in their lives even though the Messianic Era has not commenced. The promises and predictions of the Messianic Era will bear early spiritual fruit in the disciples. They will experience the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, miraculous answers to prayer, a new revelation of God and relationship with the Father, fraternity, love, and peace. In other words, Yeshua’s disciples will enter the world of the Messianic Era before the Messianic Era enters this world.