Providing the man's age functions to add two elements to the miracle.
- Magnify the nature of the miracle.
- Add symbolic meaning to the miracle.
Magnify the Miracle
The man had been in the condition since birth:
1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. (Acts 3 ESV)
The man had been born with the condition. Giving an age amplifies the ailment. Since he was 40-years old, it is likely his parents were no longer alive or able to care for him. It was also likely he was not married or had other family members to provide for him. His means of support was to beg at the Temple gate.
This was the "daily" routine. Adding the age, 40-years old, implies this was an "established" routine, something which had been going on for years and explains the impact on others:
9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. (Acts 3)
Obviously the man had not been begging since birth and we are not told how many years he had been begging at the gate, but adding the detail of his age, means this was probably something which had been going on for quite some time. Certainly long enough for "all the people" to recognize him.
There are two periods of "about" 40-years in the history of Israel to which this miracle has parallels:
- The Exodus from Egypt
- The length of the Davidic kingship in Jerusalem before the Temple was finished
The first parallel is to the Exodus; the man had to "wait" about 40-years before he was able to walk as the nation of Israel waited 40-years in the wilderness before entering the promised Land. Just as the man had his needs met by other during this time, the nation had their needs met by the LORD:
I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet. (Deuteronomy 29:5)
The second parallel is more subtle and pertains to the Temple:
10 Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David. 11 And the time that David reigned over Israel was forty years. He reigned seven years in Hebron and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat on the throne of David his father, and his kingdom was firmly established. (1 Kings 2)
37 In the fourth year the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid, in the month of Ziv. 38 And in the eleventh year, in the month of Bul, which is the eighth month, the house was finished in all its parts, and according to all its specifications. He was seven years in building it. (1 Kings 6)
The Temple was completed in the 44th year the Davidic kingship ruled the nation from Jerusalem (33 under David and 11 under Solomon). The period is not exactly 40-years, but is close enough to be considered "about" 40-years.
The miracle takes place outside the Temple where the man would beg for alms from those going into the Temple. The implication is what took place inside the Temple failed to provide the support the man needed. In other words, since the people provided financial support for the Temple, the leaders failed to use a portion to help the invalid man and as a result, he had to beg from individuals for support.
Ideally, the man's needs should have been met so his friends could take him inside the Temple where he could join the others in prayer. However, because "the Temple" failed to provide for the man's needs, his friends had to leave him outside to beg alms from those going inside for prayer.
Now all of this could have been accomplished by describing the man's age in general terms. So adding a number invites considering symbolism of the event.
The healing reveals the inefficacy of the Temple to either provide for the man's needs or to heal his affliction. It also implies a lack of concern from the leadership both for the man's daily needs and for his ability to participate in the Temple activities. One could say adding the period of about 40-years which recalls both the Exodus and the construction of Solomon's Temple, foreshadows the destruction of the Second Temple to remove the potential to confuse the Temple in Jerusalem with the Temple which is Christ's body:
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2)
This too references a period of "about" 40-years.