Lupus nephritis is a complication of systemic lupus erythematosus, a heterogeneous autoimmune syndrome involving multiple pathways. Accumulating data from the fields of genetics, clinical science, transcriptomics and basic immunology indicate that antiviral immunity has relevance in the pathogenesis of lupus nephritis. This idea is based on the existence of genetic variants that promote the persistence of nuclear particles in the extracellular space or inside lysosomes. Such nuclear particles mimic viral particles and their RNA or DNA components activate viral nucleic acid recognition receptors in antigen-presenting cells. These autoadjuvant effects of endogenous nucleic acids promote an inappropriate immune interpretation of the nuclear particles during antigen presentation. This process fosters the expansion of autoreactive T cells and B cells, which promotes autoantibody production and immune complex glomerulonephritis. The release of interferon α sets off an antiviral immune response with a coordinated induction of hundreds of antiviral genes both inside and outside the kidney. In this article we summarize the available data indicating that innate immunity triggers antiviral immunity in systemic lupus erythematosus. We also discuss the related implications for innovative therapeutic strategies.