The use of genetic resistance is considered to be the most effective and sustainable approach to the control of plant pathogens. Although most of the known natural resistance genes are monogenic dominant R genes that are predominant against fungi and bacteria, more and more recessive resistance genes against viruses have been cloned in the last decade. Interestingly, of the 14 natural recessive resistance genes against plant viruses that have been cloned from diverse plant species thus far, 12 encode the eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E (eIF4E) or its isoform eIF(iso)4E. This review is intended to summarize the current state of knowledge about eIF4E and the possible mechanisms underlying its essential role in virus infection, and to discuss recent progress and the potential of eIF4E as a target gene in the development of genetic resistance to viruses for crop improvement.