For Luther the sins of man are inextricably linked to the human condition and the believer therefore requires Moses' commandments to be aware of his sinfulness. He must realize that an attempt to fulfill the commandments set down by the censorious Old Testament God is condemned to failure and will dispair over this. This despair is as it were the prerequisite for salvation through Christ and the Gospel. In accordance with the distinction between the Law and the Gospel as highlighted by Luther the painting in Gotha exhibits a dichotomic composition. The image is divided at the centre into two halves by a tree, which is dried out on the left and bears green foliage on the right.
The forlorn, sinful man is chased by Death and the Devil into the blazing flames of hell on the left. He looks to the right where Moses, standing among a group of Old Testament prophets, points at the tablets bearing the Ten Commandment. By depicting Original Sin and the Last Judgement in an expansive landscape both the source of and the punishment for mankind's transgression are indicated. Also represented is the scene where the brazen serpent is lifted up ¿ an episode from the Old Testament which played a significant role for Luther and typologically prefigures the crucifixion -, illustrating how the Israelites were saved from the poisonous snake bites by following God's instructions.
To the right of the tree trunk St John the Baptist is shown with the naked man from the left side. John as the last prophet before Christ represents Luther between the Law and the Gospel, which is why he is assigned the role of mediator here. The naked man stands calmly with his hands folded, while St John draws his attention to the crucifixion at the right edge of the painting. Blood spurts out of the wound in Christ's side and lands on the naked man's chest. The Holy Ghost represented as a dove appears in the blood. It is manifested here that only Christ, who died in place of mankind and whose good news is transmitted by the Holy Spirit, can revoke the damnation levied by the Law. Only through his faith, sola fide, can mankind be blessed with the divine forgiveness represented by the blood. Through the Resurrection of Christ, who ascends into the sky above the tombstone behind the cross, the Devil and Death, who had pursued the sinner on the left side are banished: both lie vanquished in front of the cross beneath the Lamb of God. Like the Risen Christ it also holds a victory banner. Here however the sinner from the side illustrating the Law is righteous, whereby the panel in Gotha elucidates the issue of simul iustus et peccator. In the background on the right side the annunciation to the shepherds is represented outside the gates of Bethlehem. Like the raising of the brazen serpent, which is shown next to it on the other side of the tree, this scene depicts mankind's recognition of God's word. For the viewer it is apparent that both the Law and the Gospel proclaim the same good news, which always leads to Christ. Quotations from the Old and New testaments on the lower part of the panel emphasize this statement, while at the same time serving as a biblical legitimization of the image.
[Görres, in Bonnet, Kopp-Schmitt, Görres 2010, 170]