In His early months of ministry in Israel, Jesus attracted great multitudes to hear His messages, receive His miraculous healings, and eat the bread He offered. Many of the Jewish leaders had rejected Him and claimed His power came from Satan (Matthew 12), but the people—for the most part—flocked after Him.
Then comes John 6.
Just as the Jewish leaders had done, the people sought a sign to prove Jesus was who He claims to be: the promised Messiah. What Jesus gave them instead was a teaching that many found far too difficult. He asked them to trust in Him completely and to submit to His authority as the "bread from heaven." Many who claimed to be His disciples rejected Him and left.
Since the multitudes had turned away from their promised Messiah, Jesus began a six-month period of private instruction with the Twelve, those He would prepare for the time of this death, resurrection, and departure. Previously, Jesus had not mentioned these events and certainly not in explicit terms, which explains Peter's shock and consternation (Matthew 16:22). But with Israel's rejection, the shadow of the cross grew ever larger.
Seeking seclusion to instruct the Twelve, Jesus retreated to what would then be known as "heathen lands." The leaders in Israel harassed him because of their animosity to His teaching, and no place within the region would allow Him a time of true private instruction. The Twelve Apostles would serve as the core of the future church, and this time would prepare them for—from their vantage point—the catastrophe of His death. His instruction during this time culminated in the Transfiguration, witnessed by the three members of the "inner circle," Peter, James, and John, an event that fortified their faith and left an indelible impression on their later ministry (see 2 Peter 1:16-21).
Adapted from the lecture notes of Dr. Doug Bookman, professor of New Testament Exposition at Shepherds Theological Seminary (used by permission).